Personal thoughts on the passing of William F Buckley jr
When he announced the news today on WTMJ-AM, Charlie Sykes remembered William F Buckley as the man who made conservativism respectable. And that was certainly true. Buckley’s battles with the anti-Semitic right, the Birchers, the Randians, and later, another round with the anti-Semites, purged the movement of those that would have prevented the conservative movement from becoming a major force in politics.
To me, and I’m sure many of my generation, Buckley will always be the gateway to conservative ideas. Not surprising to many of you, I spent much of my time in high school arguing with my teachers about current events, especially those in the social studies department. Frustrating to them and to me, I think, was that I was at least as knowledgeable about history and current events as any of them. Unfortunately high school is very much like the class in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and I was often arguing alone, or with at most one other classmate on my side.
Then I stumbled upon National Review. Where did this come from? And I began to read as many back issues as the library had. Then I discovered the editor wrote books. No, really. I poured over every essay, every collection. From there it was to other authors and other works on conservativism.
But it was two of Buckley’s non-political essays that truly hooked me, convincing me that the worst kind of person to be was the ideologue. The first was about his love of peanut butter. Here, in the middle of a book about serious political topics, was an essay about discovering the joys of eating a peanut butter sandwich. A few pages later I read how Buckley tried to offer an unsolicited and unpaid testimonial for an electric typewriter, and how the typewriter company failed to understand his purpose.
It would be a few years later that my education would allow me to understand that the conservative idea is not an ideology, but a rejection of ideology, but those essays instilled in me the instinctive understanding before I could articulate it.
And words. Who knew what sesquipedalian meant? Immanetize the eschaton? Is “jader” a word?
A Buckley column was almost always the right word with the right timing expressing the right thought – even if I disagreed. He wrote with wit, style, self-deprecating humor, and he did it boldly. He could be could be cutting and thoughtful, often in the same sentence.
Above all, he was happy in his work, and it showed, and it inspired his loyal fans to be happy warriors, too. Let the other side find comfort in their grim demeanors. Those of us who call ourselves conservatives will celebrate life.
Unfortunately, he passed away this morning, and our grief overwhelms.