William F. Buckley, Jr.

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William F. Buckley, Jr., on his long-running television show Firing Line.

William Frank Buckley Jr. (New York City, November 24, 1925 – Stamford, Connecticut, February 27, 2008) was a prominent Northeastern conservative - but occasionally globalist - author and commentator during the second half of the 20th century. He is best known for founding the National Review, which rarely addressed social issues. He also hosted Firing Line, a talk show featured for years on the otherwise liberal public television channel PBS. Buckley was admired on both sides of the political spectrum for his seemingly limitless vocabulary and his intellectual wit. But he was not a grassroots activist and had no outstanding political achievements. Buckley also led the intense liberal smear of the John Birch Society, which was his more conservative competitor in the 1960s.

Buckley's political views did not represent the future of the conservative movement as much as its past, and he did not speak out enough about the big social issues that would dominate the future of politics. For example, he was mostly silent about ERA, the defining issue for the modern conservative movement. Buckley was initially unwilling to take the pro-life side of the abortion issue, in the 1960s, for which he was sharply criticized by other conservatives at the time. When Buckley wrote March 1966 that fellow Catholics should not seek pro-life legislation, Midwest conservative L. Brent Bozell, Jr., retorted that Buckley's column "reeks of relativism. ... Mr. Buckley writes in this instance as though he had never heard of the natural law." Buckley also embraced globalist positions contrary to modern conservatives. For example, Buckley supported NAFTA and giving away the Panama Canal, despite its strategic significance and how the United States had built and paid for it. Buckley also favored legalizing marijuana, which is becoming a widely recognized disaster as voters begin to reject ballot initiatives.

In 1965, he ran for mayor of New York City on the New York Conservative Party line. He polled 13 percent of the vote in the liberal bastion but lost to the then popular liberal Republican U.S. Representative John V. Lindsay.

Buckley was against collectivism, as he summed up in his book "Up From Liberalism" (1959):[1]

I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and Liberals at bay. And the nation free.

Early life

Buckley was born to a devoutly Roman Catholic family. The son of an oilman who made a fortune in Mexico, Buckley was educated in an English preparatory school as a teenager. He studied Spanish in Mexico City (1943, UNAM) (Buckley's first language had been Spanish, having been raised by Mexican nannies).

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, future historian Alistair Horne became an evacuee, and grew up together with Buckley. They were lifelong friends.[2]

Buckley graduated from the Millbrook School in New York in 1943, and from Yale College in 1950.


His first book was a very successful expose the liberal failures of Yale College, "God and Man at Yale" (1951). It detailed what he saw as the collectivist and anti-Christian leanings of one of America's foremost universities.

In 1955 Buckley founded The National Review (NR), a biweekly magazine of political opinion. Ronald Reagan was a longtime subscriber to National Review. Through the magazine, he fostered the idea of a conservative movement.


Buckley belatedly supported intelligent design.

During World War II Buckley was in the U. S. Army, but was never deployed overseas.[3]

Buckley wrote over 50 books about history, politics and sailing, and a series of spy novels (which featured the fictitious Yale graduate Blackford Oakes) that were consistent best sellers.

In 1965, Buckley faced off in debate against the homosexual extremist James Baldwin at the University of Oxford. Baldwin's politically correct rebuttals to Buckley have lead many to falsely claim Baldwin as the victor of the debate. Baldwin pointed to the "alleged institutional oppression" of African Americans after the 1965 Civil Rights act. Baldwin made claims of the national disillusionment of African American in the 1960s; claiming victimhood. A ridiculous claim. However, many conservative thinkers believe Buckley provided superior arguments on the abilities of American capitalism in helping everyone become rich. [4]

Buckley, doing it his way, became one of the most influential writers and journalists of the past century – in the august company of Walter Lippmann, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and George Orwell. The latter two came to symbolize what was at stake in the spiritual and moral struggle against the totalitarian mentality. But Buckley spearheaded the counterrevolution in the West that emboldened Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II to confront and defeat the Soviet Empire.[5]
Even friendly biographers do not give him adequate credit in deconstructing liberalism ... Buckley did not elevate conservatism to a major political force simply because he was a charming guy, though that didn’t hurt; but because he laid bare with a penetrating logic the inconsistencies of liberal and leftist thought.[5]

Buckley liked to go yachting, twice crossing the Atlantic himself, and playing the harpsichord. He married Patricia Alden Austin Taylor in 1950.

Smear of the John Birch Society

In apparent appeasement of the liberal media, beginning in the mid-1960s Buckley embarked on a smear campaign against the John Birch Society. Buckley hosted a show on public television called Firing Line and used that to try to discredit JBS, as he did at 30 and again at 31 minutes after the hour in his December 1, 1966 interview of an unrelated guest.[6]

Opposition to the Republican Establishment

Buckley founded National Review in an atmosphere where RINOs ran the show. In the 1955 Mission Statement for NR, he lamented the "well-fed right" (who at that time was a combination of Eisenhower Republicans and Rockefeller Republicans) for their smears and mistreatment of rock-ribbed, future Reaganite and Tea Party conservatives.[7] To be a conservative meant to be a "non-licensed nonconformist" in an atmosphere dominated by conformist RINOs.[8] At the time of its founding, National Review was not popular among liberal Republicans, notably Allen Tate, mainly because of the magazine's strong support of Joe McCarthy,[9] and Peter Viereck[10]

Within a decade of the magazine's founding, the GOP would nominate a candidate strongly opposed by members of the Rockefeller wing of the party, Barry Goldwater.[11] Again, in 1980 Ronald Reagan was nominated to the consternation of Establishment Republicans wherever they could be found.

Death and legacy

Buckley died of a heart attack in 2008, he was 82.[12]

Historian George H. Nash wrote of him that William F. Buckley Jr. was arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half-century. For an entire generation, he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure. He changed minds, he changed lives, and he helped to change the direction of American politics.[13]

Shortly after Buckley's passing, Establishment Republicans began their attempts to co-opt the Buckley legacy by various means, most notably the ill-named "Buckley rule." Members of the Establishment have conducted similar activity with former President Reagan as well. Likewise, progressives have engaged in their own efforts to re-invent history, proclaiming how much they miss well-reasoned Buckley,[14] even though they engaged in efforts at the time to smear him as a Nazi[15] and things no different than what you can hear in the news this very week.


  • "The Founders sought out divine providence in several perspectives, as they gathered together to mint the American legacy. They staked out a claim to the “separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitled them. This tells us that, in their understanding, to assert persuasively the right of a people to declare their independence, something like a divine warrant is needed. The specific qualifications for such a warrant are not given—the signers were not applying for a driver's license. Were they supplicants, appealing for divine favor? Or is it a part of our heritage that they acknowledged a transcendent authority, whose acquiescence in their enterprise they deemed themselves entitled to? We do not find any answer to that in the Constitution. But the Declaration is surely the lodestar of the Constitutional assumption."[16]
  • "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views."
  • "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first two thousand people listed in the Boston phone book than to the faculty of Harvard University."[17]
  • "There is an inverse relationship between reliance on the state and self-reliance."
  • "Conservatives in this country — at least those who have not made their peace with the New Deal, and there is serious question whether there are others — are non-licensed nonconformists; and this is dangerous business in a Liberal world, as every editor of this magazine can readily show by pointing to his scars. Radical conservatives in this country have an interesting time of it, for when they are not being suppressed or mutilated by the Liberals, they are being ignored or humiliated by a great many of those of the well-fed Right, whose ignorance and amorality have never been exaggerated for the same reason that one cannot exaggerate infinity."[7]

See also

Further reading


External links