Farewell and goodbye, William F. Buckley

Matthew White

For many of us on the right, the first time we parted the pages of the National Review was a seminally important moment in our lives. It was an introduction to a Swiss Army knife of opinion, wit and sarcasm that parodied the left and equipped the right. And the architect of that great framework was William F. Buckley.

Last Wednesday, Buckley passed away while sitting at his desk. It’s likely he was writing a column for the magazine he founded in support of the movement he built and in defense of the principles that guided his life. In his career, Buckley wrote approximately 5,600 columns, 55 books and hosted one of the longest-running weekly television shows in history “Firing Line” (it lasted from 1966 to 1999). Many of his efforts, which were dedicated to the causes of freedom, morality, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency, sought to establish conservatism as the philosophy of the whole man and liberalism as the philosophy of man’s narrow material interests.

It’s fair to say Buckley was prolific and that a man of his unique character and quality won’t be seen again. He was simultaneously whimsical and serious — a trouble-making young conservative at Yale who earned both honors and scorn from his university. The Yale administration prevented Buckley from speaking at the Alumni Day celebration when it learned he planned to attack the university for having an atheistic and communist bent. In response, Buckley published a book: “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.'”

In 1955, Buckley started the National Review as voice for “the disciples of truth, who defend the organic moral order.” In the first issue, Buckley wrote: “It (the National Review) stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop,’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

And, with this meager platform, Buckley went on to inspire the young conservatives that pushed Sen. Barry Goldwater to the forefront as the 1964 Republican presidential candidate. Those same young men and women founded the American Conservative Union the next year and went on to boldly and passionately support Ronald Reagan for president in 1980.

But Buckley’s greatness will not be tied to his impact on the Republican Party, which frequently found his outspokenness troublesome. Rather, it was his role as the intellectual founder of the modern conservative movement that will leave a lasting impact on America.

Buckley’s modern conservatism included a mix of viewpoints from libertarians, such as Max Eastman and Milton Friedman, traditionalists such as Russell Kirk and anti-communist warriors such as Whittaker Chambers. It was about an America proud of its past, its goals and its aims and actively proclaiming them to the world.

Through it all, Buckley never shied away from intellectual conflict with the established liberal order. But he never failed to remember that sarcasm and humor can be the best ridicule for ridiculous behavior.

Farewell and goodbye, William F. Buckley.

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].