Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr. Gone But Not Forgotten

The father of modern American conservatism died in his home today at the age of 82. I am a Ronald Reagan Republican. When I first started taking an interest in politics and political thought, Reagan dominated the field. But as I began to read more about Reagan and the source of the ideology he personified for my generation, I became aware of the profound role that William F. Buckley Jr. played in giving birth to the modern conservative movement. I always admired Reagan for his qualities as "the Great Communicator," but William F. Buckley Jr. was the first person who ever awed me with his intellect and his skills as an advocate for a cause. His command of the English language and the world of ideas set the standard by which all other so-called intellectuals of his era were judged (and generally found wanting).

I subscribed for a number of years to the National Review, the magazine Buckley founded in an effort to "stand athwart history, yelling Stop!" Today the National Review Online remains one of my favorite websites. As you can imagine, they have quite a discussion of WFB going over at NRO, and included in all the memorials and tributes was the original mission statement published by Buckley upon establishing the National Review on November 19, 1955. It is amazing to read that statement and realize that the historical forces that were in play in 1955 are the same forces shaping the political landscape today. Likewise, although they have fallen out of favor recently, the bedrock principles of American conservatism laid out by Buckley over 50 years ago remain the benchmarks by which we measure the successes and the failures of the conservative movement today. Among the core convictions expressed by Buckley at the founding of the National Review were the following:

  • It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens' lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government(the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side.
  • The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.
  • The century's most blatant force of satanic utopianism is communism. We consider "coexistence" with communism neither desirable nor possible, nor honorable; we find ourselves irrevocably at war with communism and shall oppose any substitute for victory.
  • The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so. In this cultural issue, we are, without reservations, on the side of excellence (rather than "newness") and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).
  • No superstition has more effectively bewitched America's Liberal elite than the fashionable concepts of world government, the United Nations, internationalism, international atomic pools, etc. Perhaps the most important and readily demonstrable lesson of history is that freedom goes hand in hand with a state of political decentralization, that remote government is irresponsible government. It would make greater sense to grant independence to each of our 50 states than to surrender U.S. sovereignty to a world organization.
Although Buckley laid it all out for us in 1955 (and throughout the intervening years), it is disturbingly rare for modern "conservative" leaders to effectively articulate to the people the core principles that animate the conservative movement. Barry Goldwater did it. Ronald Reagan did it. Newt Gingrich has done it. Fred Thompson attempted to do it, but botched it. John McCain seems to have one leg in the boat, and one still on the dock. He's strong on some of these principles, but out of step with his party on others. The very fact that McCain is being held to answer for his conservative credentials (or lack thereof) by the Republican faithful is due to the long shadow cast by William F. Buckley Jr. He may be gone, but he will not be forgotten.


Speedzzter said...

An excellent eulogy.

Jack said...

Too bad he wasn't elected mayor of NY! (Even though it was the Libertarian Party) I drank a couple of Michael Collins IRISH WHISKEYS SINGLE MALT, ..I THINK I'll have another.

Tor Hershman said...

I don't mind attending the funeral (of William Buckley) if a lunch is provided, but I must be fed.

Special thanks to Charles Dickens the line.

Anonymous said...

What did Buckley feel was America's responsibity to the Third world. I suppose he would be opposed to foreign aid of any kind, especially while wearing that sporting tuxedo. Nonetheless, I did have time for him, because unlike many of todays conservatives, at least he was honest.