Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Day of Sadness and Celebration

As you all know, I'm sure, yesterday morning William F. Buckley, Jr. passed away in his study.  He was 82.

I thought about trying to say something semi-profound here about the importance of Buckley to the modern conservative movement, which in turn has had such a strong impact on all Americans (whether they like it or not) and the face of the world, but instead I think I'll let the facts of Buckley's life and the opinions of his colleagues speak for themselves.

Buckley was an astoundingly productive individual. Of course, he started National Review in 1955, taking his stand "athwart history [ie. the rising tide of collectivism], yelling `Stop' at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who urge it."  He wrote more than 50 books in his life, fictional and non-fictional, on an incredible range of topics.  He hosted the debating show Firing Line for 34 years (the longest run of any one host in U.S. television history), and in his prime gave more than 70 speeches and lectures a year.  Somehow, he also found time to become an accomplished harpsichord player, a skilled trans-oceanic sailor, and a fervent skier.

(For a number of moving tributes to Buckley's great personal decency and goodness --qualities that surely deserve mention alongside his discrete accomplishments-- see The Corner.)

George Will has argued, only half-jokingly, that Buckley won the Cold War.  But maybe the best description of Buckley's role that I've seen comes from Mona Charen in today's Washington Post:

The credit for reviving conservatism as a respectable intellectual tradition must be widely shared. Milton Friedman, Whittaker Chambers, F.A. Hayek, Thomas Sowell, Robert Bork, Irving Kristol and many, many more provided essential support. But no one could match Bill Buckley for elan. He was our Samuel Johnson and Errol Flynn rolled into one.

That would be an appropriate note to close this post on, but I feel compelled to end instead with a passage from Buckley's famous mission statement for National Review:

We have nothing to offer but the best that is in us. That, a thousand Liberals who read this sentiment will say with relief, is clearly not enough! It isn't enough. But it is at this point that we steal the march. For we offer, besides ourselves, a position that has not grown old under the weight of a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of Ph.D's in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town.

Indeed.  R.I.P.


Tom said...


One of the things I've found so interesting in the tributes to Buckley is the unvarying citation of his personal kindness and concern for "regular" people.

As a man of faith, Buckley was ready for death, and the reunion with his departed wife that would follow. I was watching the Charlie Rose tribute, and was very moved when Buckley said that he was tired of life and ready to die; he said so in the way that only someone who has lived a very full and rewarding life could have.

It's a sad time indeed.

Brian said...

Well said, Tom. I saw the segment with Charlie Rose you referred to; Buckley's comments about being ready for death were among the most honest and most bracing that I've ever heard in any interview. Yet who could deny that he was as deserving of rest and peace as anyone could be.