Magazine article The Human Life Review

William F. Buckley Jr.: Catalyst for Conservatism

Magazine article The Human Life Review

William F. Buckley Jr.: Catalyst for Conservatism

Article excerpt

His sparkling wit and trenchant analysis made him an institution in American political life.

It may be difficult for anyone coming of age in the post-Reagan era to fully appreciate the monochromatic character of American political culture during the first three and half decades after World War II.

Liberalism was the default position of most politicians, pundits, journalists, all academics, and most voters whose formative memories were the Great Depression and the New Deal. Even Republican presidents toed the line. It was Richard Nixon who claimed, "We are all Keynesians now." In 1950 the great liberal intellectual and critic, Lionel Trilling, viewed the fact that there were no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation as self-evident.

The election of Ronald Reagan as U.S. president in 1 980 is unimaginable but for the Herculean efforts of one man, William F. Buckley Jr, who passed away this week.

Buckley's personal achievement in catalysing an ambitious intellectual and political movement, which embodied elements of economic and social conservatism as well as anti-Communism and robust support for military preparedness, is testimony to his mental acuity and personal stamina.

According to George H. Nash, author of the definitive history of the post- War conservative movement, Buckley published 55 books (fiction and non-fiction); dozens of book reviews; at least 56 introductions; prefaces, and forewords to many books; 225 obituary essays; more than 800 editorials, articles and remarks in his magazine, the National Review; and approximately 5,600 newspaper columns. He delivered countless lectures (Buckley estimated about 70 a year over 40 years) and hosted 1 ,429 separate Firing Line shows, and, according to Nash, "may have composed more letters than any American who ever lived."

Buckley's televised performances, in which he engaged friend and foe alike with élan and civility, are like a fine wine when compared to the swill which is contemporary cable television and, yes, conservative talk radio.

The New York Times's obituary noted that Buckley's collected papers, which he donated to Yale University, weigh seven tons.

To use a reference from America's Revolutionary era, Buckley was a one-man Committee of Correspondence. Many commentators have observed that there would be no Ronald Reagan without Barry Goldwater; no Goldwater without National Review; and no National Review without William F. Buckley Jr.

Buckley founded the National Review in 1955 which he supported through his lecture fees and intense intellectual energy until he gave up his voting stock in 2004. He made it the premier publication of American conservatism even after other publications such as Irving Kristol's the Public Interest, the American Spectator and the Weekly Standard came into being years later.

In Buckley's hands the National Review was the forge which fused the distinct, sometimes quarrelling, strands of conservatism into a coherent intellectual whole. Economic libertarians, cultural traditionalists, and anti-Communists were strangers to one another until Buckley and other conservative intellectuals such as Frank Meyer were able to reconcile freedom and virtue, limited government with social cohesion, liberty and order.

Thus, the post-war conservative movement began to articulate more clearly the indispensable role that religion, morality, family, and social order play in sustaining and protecting a free market system as found in America. …

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