William F. Buckley, Jr. RIP

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William Frank Buckley, Jr. was an American original. Syndicated columnist, former CIA agent, National Review founder, United Nations delegate, author of over 40 books, Buckley is considered the grandfather of American political conservatism, having formed a coherent ideology out of disparate sources following the Second World War.

Throughout his life Buckley was a devout Roman Catholic, regarding that loyalty as greater than his affiliation with the Republican Party or even the conservative movement. After serving as a Second Lieutenant during WWII and graduating from Yale, he wrote the controversial God and Man at Yale, where he argued that an institution like his alma mater ought to have an established religion. John B. Judis, Buckley’s biographer, wrote that in the book Buckley’s failed to note that if his alma mater had indeed declared an official religion, it would be Protestantism, and not Roman Catholicism. Buckley was a young 27 when he published the book.

National Review, after its founding on November 19, 1955, stitched together a seemingly improbable alliance between religious conservatives, paleoconservatives and libertarians. The editorial arguments between early NR writers Garry Wills, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk and the young and diplomatic editor Buckley are the stuff of legend. It is, in retrospect, remarkable that such a young man — a recent college graduate — was able to manage so many headstrong intellectual heavyweights.

Buckley, vigilant about protecting the credibility of the movement, took on racism in the form of George Wallace, as well as the eccentric conspiratorial theories of the John Birch Society, which threatened to marginalize American conservatism. His literary feud against the legendary Gore Vidal culminated at the infamous 1968 convention. Buckley, lamentably, used a bigoted slur against Vidal. The remark was particularly galling considering her had been lifelong friends with Marvin Liebman, himself a gay man. Buckley further inflamed questions about his social tolerance when he suggested tattoos for HIV-positive Americans, a noxious policy anithetical to the libertarianism he embraced in his later years.

In his last days, Buckley, a friend of the Bush family and proto-conservative, inveighed against the notion that the President was a conservative. Buckley cited the failures of the Iraq War and the growth of government spending during the Bush, 43, years.

Buckley died at his home in Stanford, Connecticut and is survived by his son, Christopher, a writer. May he rest in peace.

(image via stetson)