This weekend would have marked William F. Buckley Jr.’s 88th birthday. What do you miss most about NR’s founder? We asked some friends.
I once described Bill Buckley as “incandescent,” but on reflection I realize that he was more of a North Star for the conservative movement. He was always there with a thoughtful column or editorial or Firing Line on the issue of the day, always available to speak at a conference or rally, always ready with a quip or a smile when you met him, always open to the work of the youngest and untried, always convinced and convincing that it was to conservative minds that the nation and the people would turn sooner or later. Do I miss him? As much as anyone I have known in my entire life.
— Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation, is author of William F. Buckley: The Maker of a Movement.
Remembering Bill Buckley on his 88th birthday is to remember modern conservatism’s stellar leader, entrepreneur, and inspiration.
Bill was an entrepreneur whenever he needed to be, and more often than most of us realized: Starting National Review when it was not only “politically incorrect” but intellectually inconceivable, since, we were told, conservatives didn’t have enough ideas to fill one issue of a magazine, let alone one that would presume to a regular publishing schedule. An entrepreneur who conceptualized and hosted his own long-running television series with intelligent discourse, not shouting at the other guy across a table. An entrepreneur who put up the first $100 seed capital to fund another conservative start-up with Milton Friedman, Don Lipsett, and me — the Philadelphia Society — which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next April.
He was an inspiration: hosting the younger generation and the Sharon Statement, challenging future generations to think clearly, dream big, and take on challenges.
When we were down, we knew he could cheer us up, and tell us what was really impossible, but worth doing nonetheless — Bill Buckley for mayor of New York City? Impossible, but inspiring, paving the way for the election of his brother Jim to the U.S. Senate, and for intermittently good government in the city.
“So, Ed, if you want to start a new conservative think tank in Washington, go for it, and I’ll help you any way I can!” A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of WFB and the seeds he planted to make an impact for the ideas we believe in.
For me, William F. Buckley Jr. will always retain his primary title: the inspiration of the modern conservative movement.
— Ed Feulner is the former longtime president of the Heritage Foundation.
William F. Gavin
I guess more than anything I miss his temperament, that magic combination of poise, equanimity, good will, good humor, and kindness that graced everything he did. His brother Jim has the same gift. There are too many people today calling themselves conservatives whose approach to issues is to scare the living hell out of people. William Blake (or somebody) once wrote, “Mercy has a human heart, pity has a human face.” Bill’s “human face” was there in all his debates and all his writings. He presented conservatism as it should be presented: not as a narrow ideological creed filled with anger and bitterness but as a thoughtful, reasonable way of looking at the world (which, of course, is exactly what conservatism is). Ronald Reagan had a similar gift. What we need is a rebirth of that kind of conservatism, one that is constantly being surprised — and surprising others — by joy.
— William F. Gavin is author of Speechwright and a former assistant to Senator James L. Buckley.
That it’s as painful as joyful to think of what one misses about WFB speaks for itself. Like a strong father, he seemed to inspire confidence in his very being; that he was simply among us and seemingly indefatigable amidst the battles and uglinesses of modern life made it certain that there was yet hope and beauty, that the slide toward the abyss not only might be arrested but would, and must. His unassuming boldness in bringing such unapologetically Christian figures as Malcolm Muggeridge to television audiences. The uniquely Americanized plumminess of his voice — those pronunciations that resurrected a fabled era of which he seemed the sole survivor: how “word” came out as a drawn-out “wood,” and how, as he spoke, one nearly beheld the tarnished silver of a silent butler. In debate, the lupine grin as he eyed his prey; the half-orchestrated facial quirks and tics that visually punctuated his baroque sentences; and how when he used them he didn’t give a sou whether one knew the meaning of such words as “lapidary” or “solecism,” or such phrases as “tu quoque.” To go on could break one’s heart. That he is indeed not dead, but in the realm of the resurrected, is our only but very real consolation, and that we have the faith to believe that — to know it — is owed, in part, to his happy and heroic years among us this side of the veil. Selah.
— Eric Metaxas is author of Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness.