The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Friday, February 29, 2008


Now we're talking. After my initial take on Wednesday, I have found two terrific obits of the William F. Buckley, Jr. which fit the category of "must reads". You would be well served if you read them in their entirety:

From the eloquent, classy, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan--a masterpiece:

I am not sure conservatives feel despair at Bill Buckley's leaving--he was 82 and had done great work in a lifetime filled with pleasure--but I know they, and many others, are sad, and shaken somehow. On Wednesday, after word came that he had left us, in a television studio where I'd gone to try and speak of some of his greatness, a celebrated liberal academic looked at me stricken, and said he'd just heard the news. "I can't imagine a world without Bill Buckley in it," he said. I said, "Oh, that is exactly it."

It is. What a space he filled.

It is commonplace to say that Bill Buckley brought American conservatism into the mainstream. That's not quite how I see it. To me he came along in the middle of the last century and reminded demoralized American conservatism that it existed. That it was real, that it was in fact a majority political entity, and that it was inherently mainstream. This was after the serious drubbing inflicted by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal and the rise of modern liberalism. Modern liberalism at that point was a real something, a palpable movement formed by FDR and continued by others. Opposing it was . . . what exactly? Robert Taft? The ghost of Calvin Coolidge? Buckley said in effect, Well, there's something known as American conservatism, though it does not even call itself that. It's been calling itself "voting Republican" or "not liking the New Deal." But it is a very American approach to life, and it has to do with knowing that the government is not your master, that America is good, that freedom is good and must be defended, and communism is very, very bad.

He explained, remoralized, brought together those who saw it as he did, and began the process whereby American conservatism came to know itself again. And he did it primarily through a magazine, which he with no modesty decided was going to be the central and most important organ of resurgent conservatism. National Review would be highly literate, philosophical, witty, of the moment, with an élan, a teasing quality that made you feel you didn't just get a subscription, you joined something. You entered a world of thought.

I thought it beautiful and inspiring that he was open to, eager for, friendships from all sides, that even though he cared passionately about political questions, politics was not all, cannot be all, that people can be liked for their essence, for their humor and good nature and intelligence, for their attitude toward life itself. He and his wife, Pat, were friends with lefties and righties, from National Review to the Paris Review. It was moving too that his interests were so broad, that he could go from an appreciation of the metaphors of Norman Mailer to essays on classical music to an extended debate with his beloved friend the actor David Niven on the best brands of peanut butters. When I saw him last he was in a conversation with the historian Paul Johnson on the relative merits of the work of the artist Raeburn.

His broad-gaugedness, his refusal to be limited, seemed to me a reflection in part of a central conservative tenet, as famously expressed by Samuel Johnson. "How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure." When you have it right about laws and kings, and what life is, then your politics become grounded in the facts of life. And once they are grounded, you don't have to hold to them so desperately. You can relax and have fun. Just because you're serious doesn't mean you're grim.

You must read the rest.

Also in the Journal another grand recollection of WFB from someone who knew him well; another great speechwriter--William McGurn.

Finally from NRO: some great starting points for Buckley books to read. And if I might add my own: the audio (unabridged) version of Miles Gone By. Read by the author himself. And available on iTunes. Check it out.

UPDATE: I liked this, from David Brooks as well. A nice story which shows what a gracious, open and forgiving person WFB was.

And there is this recommendation from Mark Steyn (remember that Buckley also spent some time in the CIA...).

Finally, do not miss the fact that NRO has put an excellent Archive together. It's worth spending some time browsing.
DiscerningTexan, 2/29/2008 12:02:00 PM |