Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

The note was unexpected, brief and witty. A few years ago, in The New York Times Book Review, I wrote about a book of William F. Buckley Jr.'s (one of his 50), a "literary autobiography" titled "Miles Gone By." I had found the book charming, and said so. From its pages emerged a portrait of a cheerful cultural and political warrior, a man who loved the clash of ideas, the hurly-burly of the arena--as well as wine, sailing, the Latin mass, John Kenneth Galbraith, Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan.

A few days after the piece was published, a National Review envelope arrived in the mail at home. It was a letter from Buckley, whom I did not know. He thanked me for the review, and added that he would endeavor to do nothing in his dotage to embarrass me.

He kept his word. His death last week at age 82--he was found at his desk at his country house in Sharon, Conn.--marked the passing of an influential public intellectual and further depressed an already melancholy American right. Conservatism in 2008 is as disparate and adrift as it was more than half a century ago, when the young Buckley helped move the right beyond isolationists and anti-Semites to build the coalition of fiscal, foreign-policy and cultural conservatives that elected Reagan president in 1980.

As Evan Thomas writes in our cover, Buckley led a grand and consequential life. An aristocrat, he was not a snob; an archconservative, he was not harsh; a devoted ideologue, he respected the other side. Buckley is on the cover this week, however, not to be lionized--he was tragically wrong about race in the civil-rights era--but to be assessed as both a shaper and a symbol of one of the two most important political movements in modern America (postwar conservatism is one; New Deal liberalism the other).

To understand Buckley is to understand the rise of the right, and some of the reasons for its recent fall. …

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