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February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. Dies At 82

by Doug Mataconis

William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and arguably the founder of the modern American conservative movement, died today at the age of 82:

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn.

Mr Buckley, 82, suffered from diabetes and emphysema, his son Christopher said, although the exact cause of death was not immediately known. He was found at his desk in the study of his home, his son said. “He might have been working on a column,” Mr. Buckley said.

Mr. Buckley’s winningly capricious personality, replete with ten-dollar words and a darting tongue writers loved to compare with an anteater’s, hosted one of television’s longest-running programs, “Firing Line,” and founded and shepherded the influential conservative magazine, National Review.

(…)

Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.

In remarks at National Review’s 30th anniversary in 1985, President Reagan joked that he picked up his first issue of the magazine in a plain brown wrapper and still anxiously awaited his biweekly edition — “without the wrapper.”

“You didn’t just part the Red Sea — you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism,” Mr. Reagan said.

“And then, as if that weren’t enough,” the president continued, “you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”

I cut my political teeth on much of what Buckley wrote, subscribing to National Review when I was in high school and watching Firing Line, which remains one of the most unique political talk shows ever produced and far more iintellectual and reasoned than what passes for commentary today on shows like Hannity & Colmes or The O’Reilly Factor. I didn’t always agree with what I read, but it was the starting path down a road that lead me to discover people like Milton Friedman, a Buckley favorite, and F.A. Hayek.

Buckley was also different from what passes for conservatism today. Much more rational, eloquent, and respectful of dissenting opinions. In the 1950s, he rejected any coalition with John Birchers or other anti-semites, realizing, correctly, that they would only marginalize the political goal he wanted to achieve:

“Bill was responsible or rejecting the John Birch Society and the other kooks who passed off anti-Semitism or some such as conservatism,” Hugh Kenner, a biographer of Ezra Pound and a frequent contributor to National Review told The Washington Post. “Without Bill — if he had decided to become an academic or a businessman or something else — without him, there probably would be no respectable conservative movement in this country.”

And, since the libertarian movement had it’s roots in the rebirth of conservatism, one could make the case that libertarianism wouldn’t exist as it does today.

Buckley also had his libertarian streak. Back in 1973, he took his yacht outside the territorial waters of the United States and smoked marijuana to “see what it was like.” In later years, he publicly called for reform of the drug laws. And, though he supported the Iraq War in the beginning, by 2006 he was one of the few people on the right willing to admit that it was a failure.

He was, in other words, a thoughtful conservative. And there aren’t many of those any more.


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6 Comments

  1. “The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country.”

    Though tragically misled about the potential to spread democratic liberty through force of arms, Buckley died vindicated. Errors seen, admitted, and corrected. I for one will indeed miss him.

    Comment by Benjamin Kuipers — February 27, 2008 @ 6:52 pm
  2. Benjamin,

    I for one will indeed miss him.

    Why? He enthusiastically drummed your ilk out of the conservative movement because you were all a bunch of dead-enders who turn every political group they affiliate with into pariahs.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 27, 2008 @ 8:37 pm
  3. My ilk? I think not. Assigning meaning to words, value to our culture, and significance to the mores of the American people were tenets of Buckley’s life. If you ever had known or met the man, perhaps you would have understood. There is little to gain by attempting to “drum” out those who merely ask that the U.S. Constitution be enforced as it is written, according to those who wrote it. You take issue with steadfast dedication to principle and its universal application, this is tragic. Conspiracy theorists and bigots rightly feared his pen and cutting mind, but those grounded in the same principled foundation had nothing to fret over. In fact, they were, and are, the most fundamental basis for the preservation and perpetuation of our ideas.

    Third-rate “intellectuals” such as yourself were of little use to him. To him, as you are to me, you are nothing but a mouth, a mouth from which pours not reasoned argument and principled analysis, but rather, the dogma of a blind and elastic mind capable of rationalizing any level of tyranny…

    Comment by Benjamin Kuipers — February 27, 2008 @ 9:18 pm
  4. Benjamin,

    If you ever had known or met the man, perhaps you would have understood.

    If he’d ever heard your thoughts on the Confederacy he’d have condemned you and removed you from his presence…the same as he helped remove the John Birchers and the anti-Semites from the conservative movement. Buckley was many things, but judging by his public writings a racist wasn’t one of them, and if you did meet the man yourself it only confirms to me your quite appalling lack of intellectual capacity because you obviously learned nothing of moral value from him.

    Conspiracy theorists and bigots rightly feared his pen and cutting mind, but those grounded in the same principled foundation had nothing to fret over.

    You’re an apologist for a racist society and have claimed other cultures as being unworthy of freedom based on your stereotypical impression of them…had Buckley realized what you were he’d likely have told you that himself. And if Buckley was aware of your beliefs and accepted them, then the man was a fraud.

    To him, as you are to me, you are nothing but a mouth, a mouth from which pours not reasoned argument and principled analysis, but rather, the dogma of a blind and elastic mind capable of rationalizing any level of tyranny…

    Funny, since I’m not the one who supported the Constitutionality of state-sponsored slavery…that was you. Nor am I the one who seems to think that some cultures are more entitled to liberty than others (you again). If that makes me a third-rate intellectual I’ll take that over being a pompous hypocrite who sides with the bigots.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 27, 2008 @ 9:37 pm
  5. Actually, his response to a question on constitutional construction was, “you are the most strict constructionist I have met.” I have not mentioned here a single thought on the Confederacy, so I question either a) your direction of this comment to me, or alternatively, b) your sanity and ability to be intellectually honest. I have repeatedly addressed the U.S. Constitution, State-Compact Theory, the opinions of the founders on the issue of predominant sovereignty, and the controversy shrouding the creation of the federal union… but I have not addressed the Confederacy.

    “You’re an apologist for a racist society and have claimed other cultures as being unworthy of freedom based on your stereotypical impression of them”

    Buckley recognized the intrinsic distinctions between cultures, and he did not slip into your mindset to condemn those who see the failings of ideological and cultural viewpoints. Instead, he recognized the distinctions, the difficulties, and separated the individual moral worth of each human being from the value assigned to a particular culture. You see this as racist, but it is nothing of the sort, it is realist. It is logical to recognize that suffrage should be based on capacity, not on universal personhood, for the distinct reason that the voter does not exercise power alone over himself, but for everyone. Fundamentally, the people of America, of our communities, have a right to demand some safeguards concerning the acts upon which their welfare and existence depend.

    Of course I maintain that prior to the 13th Amendment, slavery was constitutionally protected. That is not bigoted, it is the truth. Lincoln and every historian in the country will agree…

    Only individuals can possess liberty, and some individuals are not capable of exercising it. Societies based on respect for the individual are indeed more entitled to have their people live in liberty, for they have, in the words of Franklin, “kept it.” Those who preserve the respect for the individual, those who never forget the price of individual liberty, and those societies which promote that remembrance, will deserve, and achieve, liberty.

    Comment by Benjamin Kuipers — February 27, 2008 @ 10:07 pm
  6. couldnt stand buckley. saw nothing “courageous” about him, but damn i like your style, Ben.

    Comment by oilnwater — February 28, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

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