Simply Superlative

by gnash

Words for Buckley.

Consider the statistics. During his nearly 60 years in the public eye, William F. Buckley Jr. published 55 books (both fiction and nonfiction); dozens of book reviews; at least 56 introductions, prefaces, and forewords to other peoples’ books; more than 225 obituary essays; more than 800 editorials, articles, and remarks in National Review; several hundred articles in periodicals other than National Review; and approximately 5,600 newspaper columns. He gave hundreds of lectures around the world, hosted 1,429 separate Firing Line shows, and may well have composed more letters than any American who has ever lived.

He seemed to be the embodiment of Anthony Trollope’s aphorism: “There is no greater human bliss than twelve hours of work, and only six hours in which to do it.”

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.

He did all this with singular flair and joie de vivre. Moreover, he did it with a welcoming spirit which earned the gratitude of those whose lives he touched. In my own case, I recall the first time I met him, in 1971. I was then a graduate student embarking on a doctoral dissertation about American conservatism. I wrote to him asking for an interview about his career and hoped that he might favor me with an hour at his office in New York. Instead, he telephoned me and invited me to lunch with him four days later — the day after Thanksgiving — at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. I ended up having several unforgettable hours in his company — and a terrific interview. It was the first of many instances of his generosity and encouragement of my work.

He gave us his words — and his ideas and his example — and now, in words, we reciprocate. What memories we conservatives have and what a legacy to treasure. But even superlatives cannot do full justice to the life and achievements of our friend and paladin, Bill Buckley.

– George H. Nash is author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America.