The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

October 24, 2017

REFERENCE DESK
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Triumph
Patrick Allitt - 02/04/11

L. Brent Bozell founded Triumph in 1966 as a journal for conservative American Roman Catholics. Bozell was a lawyer and author of The Warren Revolution (1966), a critical study of the activist Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was also the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley Jr., with whom he had worked on National Review for the eleven years previous to founding Triumph. Bozell was dismayed by the changes sweeping through the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), especially because they coincided with the social upheavals of the sixties and the sexual revolution in America.

Bozell and his fellow editors Frederick Wilhelmsen, Michael Lawrence, Gary Potter, and John Wisner opposed the tendency of Catholics (politically on the Right and on the Left) to pick and choose among doctrines and Church teachings. They believed the purpose of the Council had been to strengthen orthodoxy, not to dilute it. They hoped the Church would continue to act as though it alone was the avenue to salvation, would continue to seek converts, and would continue to condemn all other religions as well as other forms of Christianity. They disliked the switch from Latin to the vernacular languages but, placing loyalty to the pope above all other virtues, grudgingly accepted it when the time came. Enamored of Spanish Catholicism (the Bozells and Wilhelmsen had spent years living in Spain), they held classes at the Escorial Palace near Madrid every summer. Wilhelmsen pointed out that Spain alone had defeated Christendom’s two greatest enemies: Islam in the Reconquista, and communism during the Civil War. In Washington, D.C., a group of Triumph-led activists, the “Sons of Thunder,” staged America’s first pro-life demonstration (1970). They mystified onlookers by wearing the red berets of the Carlist militia and chanting Spanish slogans (“Viva Cristo Rey!”).

Buckley’s National Review had always been ecumenical, had always been willing to take Church teaching with a pinch of salt (“Mater sí, Magistra no!” it had once proclaimed in response to John XXIII’s encyclical Mater et Magistra), and had even preached agnosticism on the abortion question in 1965. When Triumph began raising doubts about America’s role in Vietnam and its consonance with Catholic just-war theory, the relationship between Buckley and Bozell became strained. Bozell declared that good Catholics, far from standing wholeheartedly in support of the nation, must estrange themselves from the United States because of its violation of religious and political principles on which compromise was impossible. The Catholic “tribe,” Triumph argued in the early 1970s, was adrift in a sea of heresy and paganism.

Many readers who had accepted the rigorous Triumph line on religion balked when the magazine’s writers spoke out against patriotism; neither did readers appreciate the fact that Triumph was almost as strident in its condemnation of libertarian capitalism as it was in its anticommunism. Circulation dropped off precipitously in the early 1970s. Appearing infrequently after 1972, the magazine closed down altogether in 1975, by which time its editor was suffering from bipolar disorder. In its heyday, however, Triumph had run vigorous articles by Wil-helmsen, brilliantly scathing editorials by Bozell himself, and thought-provoking columns by the likes of Jeffrey Hart, John Lukacs, and Thomas Molnar.

Further Reading
  • Allitt, Patrick. Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950–1985. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.
  • Bozell, L. Brent. Mustard Seeds: A Conservative Becomes a Catholic: Collected Essays. Front Royal, Va.: Christendom Press, 2001.
  • Lawrence, E. Michael, ed. The Best of Triumph. Front Royal, Va.: Christendom Press, 2001.
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