Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 1:02 pm
The passing of William F. Buckley costs the country one of the giants of the 20th century. It’s impossible to overstate Buckley’s impact on America. No William F. Buckley, no National Review; no National Review, no Goldwater movement; no Goldwater movement, no Ronald Reagan… and on and on. Naturally liberals will find much of Buckley’s legacy to be ultimately malignant. But what was undeniably valuable was how he forced mid-century liberalism, so self-satisfied, to rethink many of its basic premises, grapple with inconvenient truths and harsh assessments, and emerge (in my opinion) stronger. What sort of ossification would have resulted had no one stood athwart history, yelling Stop?
Buckley had innumerable brilliant quips throughout his career. My personal favorite was one that his movement never took to heart: that there was an “ontological difference between liberalism and Communism.” It remains a mystery to me how Buckley could have aligned with Joseph McCarthy, who devoted his toxic existence to rejecting Buckley’s distinction, but there it was — a truism that was not a truism to many of those who admired Buckley.
I read a book of Buckley’s speeches, Let Us Talk Of Many Things, when I was going through a brief conservative phase in college. It remains on one of my bookshelves. But my preference was his hilarious, insightful and crisp account of his quixotic attempt at becoming mayor of New York City. The decline of the right, and perhaps of America more generally, is summed up in the intellectual slouch from the heights of Buckley to the depths of Hewitt and Reynolds and Limbaugh and Coulter and Kristol and O’Reilly and Hannity and Bush..
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