When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

28 February 2008


Original post, 27 February 2008:

Conservative intellectual icon William F. Buckley died today. He was 82.

The news just moved across the wires a few minutes ago; sad to say, most of the major news agencies are sure to have detailed obituaries that were prepared well in advance, since he had been sick for some time. But as of this writing, they're not yet up.

For more intimate reflections, National Review's blog The Corner will be the place to read in the coming days.

For my part, I will simply say that I began reading Mr. Buckley at a young age (around 14) and read him with pleasure and appreciation for my entire adult life. Although I never met the man, I did correspond with him a bit -- he was famously gracious about answering letters from readers -- and I feel like I've lost an old friend.

Bumped and updated, 28 Feburary.

Appreciation for Buckley from all points on the political spectrum:

Progressive author and history professor Rick Perlstein:

Nice people, friends, can disagree about the most fundamental questions about the organization of society. And there's nothing wrong with that. We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus.

And some, simply are mensches. Last year Bill called me to ask if I would blurb his next book, about Goldwater. I chose not to. But damn: I bit my nails a little. I wanted him to blurb my book! Now he'd certainly take out his revenge by refusing. That's the way you're supposed to behave in the literary game.

He didn't. Instead, when a reporter came calling to ask him about Rick Perlstein, he said something remarkably sweet for the record—for all I know, one of his last public utterances. Then, after sending him the galleys of my book last, I heard back from him post-haste: another self-reproach. He would love to endorse it, but could not; he was too frail. This in an email obviously drafted by himself: letters were missing, words garbled.

Buckleyism to the end: friendship, and adversarialism, coinciding. All of us who write about politics, may that be our role model.

Reason's publisher, Robert Poole:
By creating National Review in 1955 as a serious, intellectually respectable conservative voice (challenging the New Deal consensus among thinking people), Buckley created space for the development of our movement. He kicked out the racists and conspiracy-mongers from conservatism and embraced Chicago and Austrian economists, introducing a new generation to Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. And thanks to the efforts of NR's Frank Meyer to promote a "fusion" between economic (free-market) conservatives and social conservatives, Buckley and National Review fostered the growth of a large enough conservative movement to nominate Goldwater for president and ultimately to elect Ronald Reagan.
Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:
It’s impossible to overstate Buckley’s impact on America. No William F. Buckley, no National Review; no National Review, no Goldwater movement; no Goldwater movement, no Ronald Reagan… and on and on. Naturally liberals will find much of Buckley’s legacy to be ultimately malign. But what was undeniably valuable was how he forced mid-century liberalism, so self-satisfied, to rethink many of its basic premises, grapple with inconvenient truths and harsh assessments, and emerge (in my opinion) stronger.
We'll give the last word to Reason's Radley Balko, who remembers a time when "conservatism" meant something very different than it does today:
Buckley leaves an enormous legacy, but to the detriment [of] everyone, the right left Buckley years ago. Where Buckley stood athwart the tide of history and beat it back with wit, sophistication, and argument, we today get best-selling Regnery screeds from lowest-common-denominator clowns like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Glenn Beck. Where Buckley mistrusted government and aimed to slow the world down, he's been usurped on the right by the likes of William Kristol and David Brooks, men who want to use government to remake the world in their own image. Where Buckley flourished in cosmopolitan Manhattan and took delight in life's finer things, modern conservatism has grown disdainful of the marketplace of culture, commerce, and ideas abundant in urban areas (witness the last election, where many on the right weirdly smeared John Kerry as a "latte-sipper"—real Americans apparently drink Maxwell House). In fact, today's Bush/neocon-right is often contemptuous of commerce itself, sometimes calling the voluntary, unchecked exchange of goods, labor, and services—a pure free market—"ugly" and "crude."
And don't miss Buckley's obituary in The Daily Telegraph.

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