Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley

"William F. Buckley's life," writes Jonah Goldberg, "was marked by enormous joy. He had a lust for life as well as for letters and debate. He raised a wonderful and accomplished son, loved and was loved by a formidable and beautiful wife, had more friends than he could count — or, in a sense, even know — and will be remembered for generations to come. Sadness is to be expected at times like this, and I certainly feel it. But let's leave room for, if not a celebration, then at least grateful appreciation, of a singularly remarkable life."

My first introduction to Bill Buckley's work was in discussions with a software engineer from Raytheon who supervised the first and the original Belmont Club -- a place at which I roomed in Belmont, Massachusetts. The residents were a motley crew. There were normally at least six persons at the rooms; 3 medical students ; one from the Business School, another from MIT. And yours truly. On autumn nights we'd walk to the Friendly's Ice Cream shop every now and again when funds permitted and time allowed. I don't think anybody slept more than five hours a night for years during those grad school days.

But one evening after the ice-cream run, I learned about Bill Buckley. He was described to me as a maddening figure. Someone who saw through the cant of the Left while being too eloquent and intelligence to be easily reviled by them; who bearded them in their own dens even while an undergrad at Yale. And so they left him alone, or so I imagined, as part of an undeclared truce. There was easier targets to mess with.

Thus I learned the myth where Jonah Goldberg knew the man. But the myth was enough. It is hard now, when we take the Internet for granted, to realize how lonely the life of a political rebel was in a world where the Left dominated every discourse. Where every newspaper, magazine, network and book review screamed that you were wrong, it needed faith to remain true to your own thinking. And in times of doubt, when the urge to follow the stampeding herd was greater than ever, there always returned the inspiration of the myth.

That too, was a kind of memory. And as I grew older I realized that all true memories are not just those we have of others, but of something they remind us of in ourselves. Bill Buckley and I never met. But we were old friends.

Listen to Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal discuss, not Vietnam -- though that's ostensibly what its about -- but power in society.




16 Comments:

Blogger Fat Man said...

The three men most responsible for reviving conservative thought in the US during the last half of the 20th Century were Bill Buckley, Milton Friedman, and Ronald Reagan. All, sadly, gone over the last four years.

Fortunately, we do not have to have their courage, to stand up against universal derision. All we need is the fortitude to carry on.

2/27/2008 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Requiescat in Pace.

2/27/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Brock said...

Wretchard,

I'm glad you've included the blogroll, but do you know what I would really love? Your book roll. I'd love to know what books were formative to your thinking.

2/27/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

As much as I admire WFB's contributions, one thing I saw as a bit of a flaw was his fantastic speaking vocabulary. What in the world am I talking about?

The point of communication is to... communicate. I think that sometimes he used his impressive vocabulary as a form of intellectual intimidation, rather than for precision.

FWIW, that small criticism is coming from someone who always scored 99th percentile on verbal tests.

On a more humorous note, when watching him on TV these last few decades I never could quite decide if his slightly slurred (to my ears) diction was the result being overly genteel, or mildly sloshed :)

2/27/2008 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

As Jonah Goldberg states in National Review: "As George Will once said, "before there was Ronald Reagan there was Barry Goldwater, before there was Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was William F. Buckley." As conservatives — and as Americans — we are all standing on his shoulders. "

Amen to that!

I'll miss him.

2/27/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

Newscaper,

Yeah, Bill's vocabulary would put most post-graduates to shame. However, so many people are interested in the man's thoughts they just read his writing with a dictionary handy.

I picked up one of his books at a thrift store and it appears to be signed by him. Somewhere on my file-system there is a letter to him asking for a specimen of his signature so I can confirm it. Just another thing in life I have missed.

2/27/2008 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

WFB was a brilliant intellectual. I remember watching his show, “Firing Line” on pbs as a teenager. He was inspiring and courageous. His satire was wonderful. His smile, infectious. I’d have to say that through his interview show, magazine and books, he was the primary political teacher for myself and many of today’s conservatives.

2/27/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Bill Buckley was skeptical of the Iraq war. I think it's fair to say
he opposed it before it happened. Still, he thought it sound conservative principle that once the nation goes to war, it is a good idea to win it.

Buckley was a big influence on me and he didn't seem to be trying very hard. When firing line first came on I would watch it a couple times a month. I was a junior and senior in high school at the time (in Ohio). I remember he'd have leftists on and it was intellectual gladiatorial combat (with Bill slouching in the chair -- it was like he was spotting style points).

It was easy to pick up on the "fight" aspect of the show. I wasn't much of an intellect myself but I always understood what Buckley had to say. The words I didn't know I would scoot over and figure out what he was saying from all the other ones. He did come off a little weird, but it was cool: he so, like, totally didn't care what you thought, man. And he sailed out into the Atlantic to smoke weed. Now, isn't that something we can all relate to?

I used to stop at the library sometimes and read NRO, The Nation Magazine and The New Republic -- to compare and contrast what they had to say. In those days I was in sympathy with the left. But I guess those winter mornings spent with Bill must have worked their wonders on me.

I stopped reading The Nation. But I can give you the left's take on most issues without having to read it. In fact, I could write it (though not as well as the coupon clipping pinko babes do, of course).

2/27/2008 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

SF author and computer columnist (and former aerospace industry geek) Jerry Pournelle also opposed the Iraq war, I'd say on practical grounds more than anything, but is another one who absolutely believes that once begun it should be "won" -- certainly not doing a repeat of Vietnam where the Dems turned their back on a war that had also already been turned around.

2/27/2008 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

I just remembered: it wasn't NRO back in the late 60's. It was NR-OTSATPL (National Review -- On the Shelf at the Public Library).

2/27/2008 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I agree with Newscaper. I found it difficult to understand Mr. Buckley. I think he could have found easier and more persuasive ways to make his point. However, there is now doubt that he was courageous and, despite his inability to connect with me, successful in communicating the fundamentals of conservatism to a lot of people (all probably much smarter than me).

I think when you are as bright as he is that perhaps it is boring to take the easy or direct route to explaining something. Like a cat toying with its prey before it devours it.

2/27/2008 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

When I was a young high school student in 1962 my grandfather -- one of Buckley's professors at Yale -- introduced me to his works. It was one of the greatest gifts (of many) he gave me. By 1964 I was working with the Goldwater campaign.

Grandpa, an old Democrat ward-heeler until FDR came along, was really proud. Mr. Buckley, thank you.

2/27/2008 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

William F. Buckley once said that he was committed to “standing athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’”

Without Bill Buckley, conservatives would have been standing athwart history, yelling “What?”

2/27/2008 05:53:00 PM  
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2/27/2008 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

Indeed, a moment of silent reflection on this icon, this man of interest, and a brief remembrance of how closely his life imitated that of his Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, the man from Nazareth, who, it sometimes seemed, died soley for WFB alone.

The body, we are informed, was found by the body's personal cook, who reported the incident to the body's personal butler, who called the body's personal doctor, who pronounced the body dead, upon which news, the body's personal spokeswoman issued a formal statement.

I cannot think of another individual who has been right on some many things as I have, he said, of himself.

Words fit for a tombstone.

During one viewing of Firing Line, my father suddenly sat up in his chair. "Robert, that guy is the most self satisfied son of a bitch I've ever seen in my life."

2/27/2008 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Old Navy said...

Yeah, a lot of stupid, inarticulate bastards said that.

3/21/2008 10:05:00 PM  

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