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Remembering the Real Bill Buckley

I hope that I may be forgiven yet another post concerning William F. Buckley, but I cannot offer effective resistance to the temptation. Many eloquent and affecting remembrances have been published today, and as I have not had the experience of employment in the offices of some conservative publication or other, I am irresistibly drawn to the testimonials of those who have had that experience.

My acquaintance with Buckley's writing, and National review, dates to the Autumn of 1991, a time when, perhaps, NR was no longer what it once was, though even then echoes of that storied past could still be heard. My father, an old-school conservative, noticing my developing interest in politics proper, and thinking it better that I read the political reporting in a conservative publication instead of Newsweek, took me to a newsstand and purchased me a copy of NR. My father had been a subscriber to NR through the Sixties, drifting away only when work and family responsibilities deprived him of the luxury of reading such things. Like Justin Raimondo, I often delved into an issue with a dictionary near to hand. National Review was still a philosophically diverse publication in those days, and this enabled me to discover the wealth of traditionalist, paleoconservative, and yes, even libertarian writings which held their positions in the conservative firmament.

Even though the relationship of my conservatism to Buckley's enterprise may therefore be tenuous, a matter of a father's small intellectual gift to a son, it nonetheless feels as though a chapter, perhaps a volume, of conservative history has ended. That Buckley passed at a time of general conservative disorientation seems symbolic.

I have another reason for adding to the burden of Buckley posts on this day, and that is something that relates to that deconstructionist, socialist faculty adviser mentioned earlier: at a time in my life when, finally liberated from my teenage cross of being bookish and intellectual at a time of life when this was a serious social liability, I was in peril of becoming a supercilious elitist, contemptuous of those uninterested in the life of the mind, my adviser set me straight. Details are inconsequential, of course, but the point is that my adviser, also a Christian, wished to inculcate the imperatives of charity, generosity, and humility. And, reading the recollections of Rod Dreher, John Miller, Dean Abbott, and Joe Sobran, I see, not, of course, that I should compare myself to Buckley (lest anyone think such a thing), but the exemplification of what my adviser wished to teach me. As Sobran wrote, upon learning of Buckley's emphysema, "I learned a lot of things from Bill Buckley, but the best thing he taught me was how to be a Christian."

I hope, that when accounts are published of Buckley's life and work, accounts which endeavour to situate him within both Postwar conservatism and the internecine struggles which have left conservatism debilitated, the role of simple friendship and charity in his decisions will be duly noted. Taki's remembrance is apposite in this regard; while Buckley's judgment, like that of every man, cannot be considered irreproachable, we should note that he was often loyal, sometimes to a fault (and his friendship with Taki does not count as a fault). This, I'd venture, is the real reason behind some of the judgments we might question. If one is going to err, doing so on the side of friendship is not a bad way to go about it. It is probably the best way, and one fundamentally conservative.

Comments (2)

Some of the comments at Taki's are damn nasty. The post is a tribute to a friend. I don't see why he allows it.

Cavett has two recent interesting posts on Buckley. http://cavett.blogs.nytimes.com/

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