Wednesday, February 27, 2008


William F. Buckley died today at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was at work in his study when death came. That's fitting, of course.

You'll be able to read millions of words about Buckley, his life and times, his exploits and his legacy. I don't really have a lot to add to this but I wanted to share how I understand him and his role. As anyone who's read this feature for more than a few entries realizes, I'm a cradle Catholic and my faith is central to my understanding of the world. In thinking about Buckley two important figures in Church history come to mind.

The first is St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas, more than just about anyone else, was able to synthesize the currents of Western thought and integrate the large lessons of antiquity and bring them to bear in understanding God. Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologica, which still underpins Catholic theology to this day. For conservatives, Buckley played a similar role. He gathered a talented cast of writers and thinkers on the staff of National Review, still the pre-eminent conservative journal in America. Buckley clarified the commonalities of classical liberalism, libertarianism and other strains of conservative thought. He began this process midcentury, during a time when liberalism was pretty much unchallenged, and stayed at it for the rest of his life.

I also think of St. Patrick when I think of Buckley. Like St. Patrick, it fell to Buckley to rid the snakes from the conservative movement. He was the primary reason that the Birchers, the anti-Semites, the America First acolytes of Charles Lindbergh and other people who traffic in hatred were regularly expelled from the conservative movement. From time to time these efforts caused him significant personal anguish, especially when Buckley had to get rid of his friend and protege Joseph Sobran, whose tenure at National Review had made him Buckley's heir apparent but whose work turned darkly anti-Semitic as the 1980s came to a close. Buckley understood that if conservatives were to have any influence in the government and/or the larger American society, they had to be seen as fair and as honest brokers. Even though it pained him greatly, Buckley sent Sobran packing. It was the right thing to do and Buckley knew it.

As he leaves the stage, conservativism is at one of its periodic moments of doubt. The current presidential campaign has exposed divisions within the movement. Buckley understood this and did not shy away from the challenges that lie ahead. While he will no longer be involved, he has left an enormous legacy that conservatives can use to excellent effect should they choose to do so. R.I.P.


Gino said...

america first= hate?

Anonymous said...

William F. Buckley was, without a doubt, one of the intellectual giants of 20th century America. It would be difficult to overstate Buckley's impact on America, and particularly, on American Conservatism. Without Buckley there would be no Goldwater movement; and without a Goldwater movement, there would have been no Reagan Revolution. The man reshaped the Conservative movement in the 50's and 60's, and in so doing, he reshaped America.
As a liberal, I may not have agreed with much of Buckley's philosophy, but I couldn't help but respect the man, and be incredibly entertained by him.

I can also appreciate that as much as he helped to reconfigure Conservatism, his honesty and intellectual force helped to reshape the American Left, too. By softening the public face of Conservatism while strengthening its message, Buckley forced liberals to address the inconvenient consequences of many of their policies, like moral hazard, reverse racism and political correctness.

I have to wonder what our country would be like today if Buckley had not "stood athwart history, yelling stop." I also have to point out that, one of the most bittersweet aspects of his passing at this time is that I don't believe that anyone at his magazine reflects his sensibilities any more. He was truly, a gentleman and a scholar.


Mark said...


There's lot of information out there about Lindbergh and the America First folks. They weren't good people. I'll try to get you a few links with more of the history.


NR isn't the same now, I agree. Then again, it couldn't be. Buckley was leading a movement that was so far out of power that people like Lionel Trilling thought the conservatives would never recover. At midcentury, that seemed a pretty good bet.

Buckley's gifts were so plentiful that it would be almost impossible to imagine anyone else like him. But as de Gaulle wisely observed, the graveyards are filled with indispensable men. Conservatives will soldier on without him. Maybe not as effectively and certainly not with the flair that Buckley did, though.

Gino said...

you see, i consider myself as fitting that phrase.
i'm not sure about the particulars of the others that brought the phrase upon them.

i'm often called an isolationist. and you would likely use that on me. most do. but its intellectullay inaccurate, and intended as a slur. a way to disregard the ideas instead of debating them on merits.

Gino said...

i also get the jew hater tag, because i oppose israel (mostly), and the idea that a jew should ever serve in our govt at many levels (this based mostly on current geopolitical realities).
like i said: its a quick slur, but dishonest.

Mark said...


I can't know what's in your heart and I agree that opposing Israel isn't necessarily anti-Semitic. The problem with the America First folks of yore were essentially two-fold; some (but not all) were anti-Semitic, while others (but again, not all) were fascist sympathizers. Lindbergh was a eugenicist and he did give prestige and intellectual cover to many who were openly anti-Semitic. The biographers are split on the meaning of all this; Lindbergh above all was someone who was interested in science and its application in the real world. He also spent a lot of time in Nazi Germany before the war, some at the behest of the U.S. government. I would also note that his views were fairly commonplace in America at the time; Joseph Kennedy pretty much saw the world the same way. When it came to fight, however, Lindbergh was willing to do so and was a pilot in the Pacific theater, serving with great distinction.

From what I can tell, you tend to come at these issues from an old-line libertarian angle; you are a Paul supporter and a lot of what you've espoused here and elsewhere comports with that. I don't agree with a lot of it, but I understand why a lot of people do. My own view is that we have to deal with the world as we find it and that while our foreign policy is needlessly complex and we are involved in many disputes that aren't really our business, we cannot simply withdraw without enormous and potentially horrific repercussions.

As for Israel, I have more to say about that, but I have to go endorse a local candidate this morning. So this will have to do for now.


Gino said...

"we cannot simply withdraw"

see? there ya go.

i never said we should withdraw from the world. and a noninterventionist doesnt believe it is wise policy,anyway.

Mark said...


I know you didn't say that. There are others that do, though. Maybe I don't understand where Ron Paul stood on that sort of thing, but it seemed to me that he was essentially arguing for an approach that while not isolationist per se would end up changing things to a point that would lead to a withdrawal from a lot of what is happening in the world, at least geopolitically. No matter which party occupies the White House in 2009, I don't see that happening for the reasons I've stated.

If you are arguing that we need to be a lot more careful about the interventions we take in the world going forward, I'm with you on that 100%. There are plenty of people who would like to turn the military into armed social workers and inject our troops into Darfur and other similar places. That would be really foolish. Our ongoing incursion into the Balkans is similarly foolish.

Gino said...

a noninterventionist, libertarian, old right mindset desires free and open trade with all nations, and with such, a free exchange of ideas and friendships. nowhere in the dictionary can such a level of openess be found synonomous with 'isolation'.

war/military would be used to keep sea lanes for trade open, and defense of our national soil/soveriegnty, and in the rare instance when it may become necessary to evacuate our citizens from regions that have become hostile.
we regard our right to trade with whomever we wish as part and parcel of the economic freedom we endorse.
circumstances/entanglements that may lead to war are to be avoided as potential threats to the liberty of our people. war always leads to loss of freedom at home, freedoms that generally are not returned after the 'threat' has subsided becuase there will always be another 'threat' on the horizon for the govt to exploit, justifying keeping these intrusions in place.

maybe when you heard the word 'withdraw', the context was a military one?(korea,japan,bosnia,etc.)