Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Farewell William F. Buckley, Jr.

God bless William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008).

William F. Buckley, Jr. died this morning, at his desk, in his study, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. Buckley was one of the most fascinating political figures of the 20th century, and he is largely responsible for founding the "modern conservative movement". His work, along with Russell Kirk's brilliant 1953 book The Conservative Mind, gave political conservatism in America an intellectual foundation which had been largely lacking previously. Buckley's impact on American politics simply cannot be overstated.

I first encountered Buckley's work in college, reading his brief 1961 book Up from Liberalism. I found the book intriguing not only because of Buckley's famed masterful use of the English language, but because he engaged the political opinions held by Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the patron saints of 20th century American liberalism, without attacking her personally. It occurred to me that Buckley was a true rarity in today's world; he was a gentleman.

Through books (like 1951's God and Man at Yale, a prophetic indictment of American higher education which has only been proven more correct in the ensuing years), magazine commentaries (he founded National Review in 1955), and television appearances (such as PBS' Firing Line and frequent guest spots on The Tonight Show with his friend Johnny Carson), Buckley spread his brand of political conservatism from coast to coast, becoming a tremendous influence on important figures such as Irving Kristol, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Rush Limbaugh, among others. He believed in giving as much power as possible to people rather than the state, and that in every meaningful area of life, one's character and personal integrity matters.

Four things have always impressed me about William F. Buckley, Jr.

First, I was always dazzled by his eloquence, both onscreen and in print.

Second, he was apparently a devoted Roman Catholic who faithfully attended Mass, and whose political beliefs sprung from his faith, not simply from his own experience. I wish we had more Americans who took their faith as seriously.

Third, his basic political opinions helped form my own. I believe wholeheartedly in having "checks" on institutions in order to prevent too much concentrated power, and keeping taxes low and people of integrity in place seem excellent ways of doing just that.

Fourth, he was a real "renaissance man". Though best known as a political philosopher, he was a talented musician, a best selling novelist, CIA agent, and a first rate celebrity, who was always able to laugh at himself. I love the idea of being involved in - and perhaps even good at - several things.

America is better for having had William F. Buckley, Jr. as a citizen; the Church is better for having him as a servant and a model of piety. His legacy will last for decades to come.


Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for the post. I have always enjoyed reading thoughtful people no matter what their politics; there is far too much nastiness in political debate and name-calling, even in the Methoblogosphere!

That does not mean, of course, that we cannot argue our points of view forcefully and with passion, but that is different from so much of the insults I read even coming from Christians. I frankly think such a posture is quite self-righteous and arrogant.

Anonymous said...

On the Colbert Report last night Colbert showed clips of Buckley shutting down anti-Vietnam-war folks and even making Reagan stutter. Then, he contrasted it with O'Reilly's blunt and coarse personal attacks. Made me wish that this guy had been around in my era. He seemed like a more charming, personable, and gentlemanly Tim Russert who would provoke real political commentary without all the sound bites and sensationalism.

Jeff Kahl said...

Good thoughts on a great man's legacy!