William F. Buckley, Jr., perhaps the single most influential conservative thinker in America today, turned 80 on November 24. National Review,
the magazine he founded in 1955, became the engine for an intellectual
awakening among American conservatives. From the time I was
a teenager, I tuned in regularly to his television program, Firing Line, and watched Buckley at his best in intellectual combat and exchange.
Buckley is also one of the nation’s most prolific authors, having
written best-selling books ranging from political theory to spy
thrillers. Nevertheless, his first book is still my favorite. In God and Man at Yale, written
just after Buckley had graduated from the university, he skewered the
secularism, liberalism, and intellectual pretensions of his alma mater.
A selection: I have some notion of the bitter opposition that
this book will inspire. But I am through worrying about it. My concern
over the present-day educational practice stems from my conviction
that, after each side has had its say, we are right and they are wrong;
and my greatest anguish is not in contemplation of the antagonism that
this essay will evoke from many quarters, but rather from the knowledge
that they are winning and we are losing.
Further: I myself believe that the duel between Christianity and
atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the
struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle
reproduced on another level. I believe that if and when the menace of
Communism is gone, other vital battles, at present subordinated, will
emerge to the foreground. And the winner must have help from the
He was right, of course — and he has now lived long enough to see his ideas vindicated. Happy birthday, Mr. Buckley.
From a tribute by George F. Will: In
his 40th anniversary toast to his Yale class of 1950, William F.
Buckley said, “Some of us who wondered if we would ever be this old now
wonder whether we were ever young.” Those who were not young 40 years
ago, in 1965, can have no inkling of what fun it was to be among
Buckley’s disciples as he ran for mayor of New York vowing that, were
he to win, his first act would be to demand a recount.
From a tribute by Tim Geoglein, Deputy Director of Public Liason, the White House: How
do evil empires collapse? How do California governors rise and emerge
president of the United States of America? How does a man who tells the
truth about Hiss become the intellectual guardian of a new American
conservatism? How does a former Trotskyite become the intellectual
leitmotif of a magazine that will improbably become the most important
magazine of ideas in American in the 20th century?