… so please forgive the laziness. I mean, I would like to talk about the Iranian nuclear situation or the looming doctor shortage or how the healthcare bill is hurting our country’s agriculture industry or zombie awareness month (be sure to wear a gray ribbon), but unfortunately I have exams to study for.
So, here’s some more vintage Carolina Review, from our august skipper Nash Keune (aka The Man Who Was Thursday) back in 2008, remembering William F. Buckley, Jr.:
Some wide-eyed youths have John Lennon, some have Kurt Cobain, some have Tupac, or some other figure to whom they feel personally attached, whose entire oeuvre is in their stock of accessible knowledge, whom they have never met yet nonetheless feel like they know as well as a best friend, and whose passing therefore elicits intense grief.
I have Bill Buckley.
William F. Buckley Jr. (known simply as “WFB” to the initiated) was born in 1925 in New York City and was raised in a Sharon, Connecticut home frequented by such superfluous men as libertarian writer Albert Jay Nock.
His father was a lawyer and oil-man born in Texas. In 1913, he founded an oil company based in Mexico where he was active in politics until, in 1921, he found himself on the wrong side of a revolution (a frequent experience for the Buckleys). He set the precedent for Buckley men to be counter-revolutionaries. WFB once said, “Father had been a dissenter all his life. Had he been an establishmentarian, there might have been a greater impulse to rebel.”
WFB’s youth was noted for evincing a degree of cosmopolitanism which many liberals would figure anathema to conservatives. WFB was fluent in French and Spanish at a young age (even before he had mastered English). His father imparted a life-long appreciation of classical music to him (his favorite composer was Bach).
Apparently a proponent of fiscal responsibility from birth, WFB wrote the King of England when WFB was eight or so, demanding that the King pay his war debt. He was educated in France and England before attending prep school in New York. His plans to go to Yale were postponed by World War II. Serving in the infantry, he ironically was a part of the honor guard for the FDR funeral.
After the war, he finally went off to Yale where he became the intellectual gadfly to the secular, liberal faculty. According to John Chamberlain, “Both undergraduates and professors were fascinated by Mr. Buckley. Some of them called him a ‘black reactionary;’ others said he was a true liberal in the old, traditional sense of the word… Clearly he was someone.”
He served as Chairman of the Yale Daily News, was active in the Yale Political Union and was elected by his peers to give the prestigious Class Day address. His address was devoted to the wayward faculty (which he would fully expose in his inaugural book, God and Man at Yale; mutatis mutandis, it is easily the most brilliant book on that topic), which shunned both God and individualism. It was so acicular that the devoutly open-minded, tolerant administration at Yale, who fought tooth-and-nail for academic freedom, decided it should not be given. He graduated in 1950 with honors.
Any list of WFB’s post-graduate activities is bound to be either overly truncated or overly cumbersome. WFB founded the National Review in 1955, wrote 55 books (starting in 1951 with God and Man at Yale, that works out to about one per year until his death) ranging from non-fiction to spy novels to general fiction, hosted 1,429 episodes of his television show Firing Line, gave 70 speeches and lectures a year, wrote upwards of 5,600 biweekly newspaper columns, not to mention thousands of lapidary articles, critiques, etc. published in outlets ranging from his own National Review to Commonweal to Popular Mechanics to Playboy (when asked why he would stoop to write for such a rag, he explained that contributing to Playboy was the best way for him to communicate with his 16 year old son). He served briefly as a CIA agent, was a delegate to the UN for Nixon, sailed across both the Atlantic and the Pacific and was an occasional concert harpsichordist.
WFB campaigned for countless conservative politicians and even entered the ring himself. In 1965, he ran for mayor of New York on the Conservative Party ticket, in the middle of that city’s grand liberal experiment (which would lead them into bankruptcy a decade later) against John Lindsay, the liberal GOP candidate. He himself called the endeavor quixotic (to wit, when asked at his first press conference what he would do if elected, he responded, “Demand a recount.”), but it did lead to the election of his older brother, James Buckley, to the U.S. Senate on the Conservative ticket in 1970, and the re-orientation of New York’s party politics.
Always willing to oblige his young admirers, he co-founded Young Americans for Freedom (a conservative college organization that provided the ground-swell for the Goldwater nomination and whose Founding Document, the Sharon Statement, was named after WFB’s estate, where it was formulated) and served as President of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (then called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists; the ISI is the parent organization of the Collegiate Network, which is the parent organization of the Carolina Review).
It’s hard to peg WFB. He wrote, but was more than “a writer.” He hosted a TV show, but was not merely a TV host. He was… well, as with most things, WFB put it best himself. In 1986, he said, “I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon.”
His efforts were hardly Sisyphean.
Many have credited Buckley with wedding economic libertarianism with a strong foreign policy and reverence for traditional values. Such people do not understand that economic libertarianism was a moribund ideology. In the post-World War II period, it was deemed “extremist” to assert that the federal government should withdraw from any social program, or even to propose that we need not add any new ones.
Thoughtful observers have recalled Lionel Trilling’s 1950 quote, “In the US at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.”
What with FDR’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal, that quote was frightfully accurate. Put bluntly, our nation had been founded on individualistic principles, but was now been run by “progressive” collectivist ones.
Beyond that, the post-World War II Republican Party had become the “me-too” party, indulging statist impulses as decadently as the Democrats. One need go no further than Eisenhower, President and ex officio most eminent figure in the Republican Party, to see this phenomenon.
Eisenhower’s foreign policy was accommodating to the Communists and his domestic policy was liberal through-and-through. He expanded Social Security, increased the minimum wage, created a Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and extended aid for low-income housing. In 1953, domestic spending had been 31 percent of the federal budget. Seven years later, it had risen to 49 percent. History had seemingly orphaned the belief that a society should be planed by individuals rather than a centralized and coercive government.
WFB’s objective, as he wrote in the inaugural issue of National Review was to “stand athwart history yelling Stop!” He countered the rote, turgid rhetoric of liberalism with his relentless logic, winning many converts to the formerly meager Right. Many commentators have attempted to sum up his importance. Also, in that inaugural issue of National Review, WFB wrote, “Let’s face it: Unlike Vienna, it seems altogether possible that did National Review not exist, no one would have invented it;” perhaps the best way to measure his significance is to imagine that no one had invented National Review, or William F. Buckley Jr. for that matter.
“Without Bill Buckley, no National Review, no Goldwater nomination,” George Will once said. “Without the Goldwater nomination, no conservative takeover of the Republican Party. Without that, no Reagan.” (Will went on to credit Reagan, and thereby WFB, with winning the Cold War, but that’s another topic for an entirely different discussion).
As if George Will were not enough, we have the testimony of Ronald Reagan who, at the 30th anniversary of the National Review in 1985, said, “If any of you doubt the impact of the National Review’s verve and attractiveness, take a look around you this evening. The man standing before you was a Democrat when he picked up his first issue in a plain brown wrapper; and even now, as an occupant of public housing (the battle between Reagan and WFB over who was wittier is determined by inches rather than miles) he awaits as anxiously as ever his biweekly edition- without the wrapper.”
It might be a tad hyperbolic to declare that Buckley, the Giotto of the Conservatives, “dethroned regnant Liberalism.” Anyone who has heard a reporter wonder whether the President can “manage the economy,” knows this isn’t completely true. Buckley did, though, provide an attractive (we would tend to say irresistible) alternative that frankly did not exist in 1955 and that, with Reagan’s election, had at least one day in the sun.
(Don’t you hate it when they say) TO BE CONTINUED tomorrow.