Wednesday, February 27, 2008
William F. Buckley Jr. is dead at age 82. What a day: First Myron Cope, now WFB. Regardless of one's political persuasions, there's no denying Buckley was a titan in the world of journalism and commentary. He possessed refinement and a razor-sharp wit, and his prose sparkled with a patrician arrogance blended with a genuine graciousness and a true appreciation of the chase -- qualities that helped endear him personally to many of those who detested his opinions. I began reading National Review, the magazine he founded and that today mourns his passing, while in college, and I continue to do so because the writing is first-rate, and the depth of its commentary runs deep, in stark contrast to so much of the shallow shrillness that permeates talk radio and the farther reaches of the Internet. Buckley loved big words no one had heard of, and his passionate opposition to communism, scorned for so long by so many of our leading literary lights, helped lay the intellectual foundation for the eventual demise of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and freedom for untold millions. He was a revolutionary, in the truest sense of the word. He excised anti-Semites from his ranks, and sought to win his various wars of ideas with reason. He even acknowledged his mistakes, telling Time magazine in a Q&A a few years ago that he regretted his opposition to forced integration during the civil rights era. "Federal intervention," he said, "was necessary." He also sparked some controversy on the Right with his opposition to the Iraq war. He wrote prolifically, with a long-running newspaper column and books on topics ranging from religion to sailing to a series of spy novels, but the autobiography of his life as a Catholic is my among my favorites, as is God and Man at Yale, the forcefully argued work that challenged the intellectual landscape at his alma mater and kick-started his career in the early 1950s. His son, Christopher, has authored many books himself, including Thank You For Smoking, which was later adapted into a terrific film. Buckley's influence was truly boundless, and his legacy will be much commented upon in the coming days. As well it should be. R.I.P.