WFB Today
What might he recommend?


Five years ago today, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. passed away at home, at his desk, while working. We miss him and wonder what he might be writing and advising and asking today. Some NR family and friends remember and consider.

WFB was smart, devout, funny, generous, etc. etc. Maybe what we should most remember now is how hard he worked, and how accustomed he was to the long haul. He founded this magazine, his love child, in 1955. There was not a president to his liking for 13 years — and then he turned out not to be to his liking. So there was not a president to his liking for 25 years — and even then not everything was magically fixed. The Berlin Wall fell after 34 years, the Soviet Union after 36. 


You could extend the list of bad things that lasted a long time. During all that time, WFB ran, or oversaw this magazine, shot his TV shows (1966 to 1999), wrote his three-times-a-week column (1962 until the day he died).

The man he admired most was Whittaker Chambers, and the Chambers line he quoted most often was that political activism was a dance along a precipice — the precipice being the temptations of quietism and despair. No handwringers or crybabies need apply. If you don’t want to work, go home — and leave the job of defending your home to others. 

Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor at National Review and author, most recently, of James Madison.

Bill was a master fusionist at National Review, able to bring together and keep together the most disputatious of intellectuals — Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, Ernest van den Haag, Jeffrey Hart, etc. He never forgot a metaphor which his Yale mentor Willmoore Kendall often used in class. 

Conservative forces, Kendall said, were strung out in isolated outposts over a wide front, allowing liberals to overrun them one at a time. Only when the conservative outposts united in recognition of a common enemy would conservatism prevail. 

Bill Buckley constantly reminded traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-Communists (and later neoconservatives and New Rightists) of their common enemies — liberalism at home and Communism abroad. And for decades they formed a unified movement, inspired by that remarkable political fusionist, Ronald Reagan.

Bill would do the same today, exhorting the conservative faithful in their varying denominations to lay aside differences and unite to roll back the welfare state — “Leviathan delenda est!” And he would chide those who would read this or that “faction” out of the movement, pointing out that in the house of conservatism there are many rooms. 

— Lee Edwards is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of William F. Buckley.: The Maker of a Movement.

One evening, back in 1958, and quite by accident, I came upon William F. Buckley Jr. being interviewed on television. I had never seen him or heard him speak, although I was vaguely aware he had written a notorious book, God and Man at Yale. But what could a Yale snob who talked like Little Lord Fauntleroy have to say to me, a Jersey City working-class guy? I listened to what he was saying in that unique aristocratic drawl, and I liked what I heard. The wit, the easy manner, the civility, the reasonable, if not always persuasive, arguments — all quite captivating. I subscribed to National Review and, in 1960, had my first paid article published in the magazine, a satire on Japanese student riots called “Rave, New World.” (Oh, well, it sounded clever at the time.)

Those were the early days when NR set the tone that still inspires the magazine today: scrappy, confident, irreverent, and tough-minded, with a happy-warrior feistiness. Every two weeks I awaited the newest issue and read it straight through, learning about conservative principles, not in some textbook fashion but in the slam-bang, head-on collisions of clashing ideas and current controversies that constitute NR’s unique glory. National Review was not simply a by-the-numbers catechism of conservative principles, but an intra-family battleground where arguments over freedom and virtue, and libertarian and traditional values, were fought.

There was a lot I had to learn and NR proved to be my post-graduate school of political and cultural education. The night I saw Bill on television for the first time changed my life. He gave me somewhere to stand in order to fight for what we both believed in. And, later on, I was fortunate enough to work with his sainted brother Jim. 

Conservatism today needs Bill’s happy-warrior spirit. 

William F. Gavin is author of Speechwright, from which this is adapted, and a former assistant to Senator James L. Buckley.

Remembering WFB
National Review's founding father and longtime editor, William F. Buckley Jr., was a prolific author and syndicated columnist; the frequently imitated but inimitable host of Firing Line; an indefatigable public speaker; and sailor, skier, and joyous friend to uncounted numbers of people. Herewith, a selection of photos chronicling a fraction of his activities over 58 years. -- Linda Bridges
WFB on the lawn at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, with the Long Island Sound in the background, c. 1985. An interviewer once asked: If you could live anywhere in the world that you wanted, where would you live? And he answered: “Where I live.”
A typical Firing Line dilemma: Which error shall I nail first?
On WFB’s wedding day, July 6, 1950, with WFB Sr.
Some five years later, with his son, Christopher
Bill with seven of his nine siblings, and spouses, c. 1958, in the patio at the Buckley family home, Great Elm, in Sharon, Connecticut.
At sister Priscilla’s 40th birthday party, in 1961, at the Unon League Club in New York. Left to right: Pat, National Review associate publisher Jim McFadden, Bill, sister Maureen (who had been an NR staffer in the early days), conservative impresario Marvin Liebman
Bill and Pat at the maisonette on 73rd Street, c. 1970. See Lawrence Perelman’s article “In WFB's Footsteps” for more on the Bösendorfer piano. The dog is a Pekinese, Horrible Foo.
Touch football at Great Elm, Thanksgiving weekend, c. 1971. Bill and Priscilla with numerous nieces and nephews
With Christopher on Cyrano, c. 1976
Skiing with friends in Gstaad, Switzerland, during the annual book-writing sojourn, c. 1980
More skiing buddies: With Lawry Chickering and Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman at Alta, Utah, c. 1979
With skiing buddy and political adversary John Kenneth Galbraith in Gstaad, c. 1984
Celebrating an early jape at National Review, in the first, cramped offices on 37th Street, 1957.  Left to right:  Priscilla, managing editor Suzanne LaFollette, senior editor James Burnham, Arthur the donkey, senior editor Willmoore Kendall, Bill
A bright idea has just struck! WFB in his office at 150 East 35th Street, c. 1969, in front of the wall of photos, fan mail, and hate mail
One way of getting to work: WFB riding down Park Avenue on his beloved Honda, c. 1970
A more conventional way of travelling: In the limousine, with Rowley, the Buckleys' first of many Cavalier King Charles spaniels, on his favorite perch in back, c. 1975
Editorial conference, Tuesday morning, c. 1973, in the conference room; WFB flanked by Jim Burnham and Priscilla
Editorial Wednesday is heating up at 150 East 35th, c. 1975.  Note Royal typewriter (pre computers), and, to right, a gift from a fan: a flag-waving device called the triple bifurcated chauvinator
Sometimes the press of work gets out of hand, c. 1976
But usually there's time to greet a visitor, c. 1980
A characteristic pose while breaking for a phone call, c. 1977
Dinner on an editorial-Tuesday evening, c. 1989, with Jim McFadden and new editor John O’Sullivan, at WFB's favorite restaurant, Nicola Paone (of blessed memory)
A debate during WFB’s “paradigmatic” mayoral race, 1965. He is less than thrilled by the debating style of his opponents, Democrat Abe Beame and liberal Republican John Lindsay.
A more festive campaign picture
The famous (infamous?) debate with Gore Vidal during the 1968 presidential campaign
At a Hollywood political event c. 1975, laughing with Hollywood maverick Morrie Ryskind, one of the magazine’s early backers and a contributor to the very first issue of the magazine.
With Ronald Reagan and National Review publisher Bill Rusher before NR’s 20th-anniversary dinner at the Plaza Hotel in New York, November 17, 1975
The famous Firing Line Panama Canal debate, January 13, 1978, in Columbia, S.C. As Bill later put it, "I won the debate, Ronald Reagan won the presidency."
Greeting Pope John Paul II, with David Niven and Malcolm Muggeridge, 1980.
El Presidente greets his old friend after toasting the magazine at a party celebrating the opening of NR’s new Washington office, March 20, 1983. In background, left to right: Rick Brookhiser, Priscilla Buckley, Joe Sobran, Jeff Hart
At NR's 30th-anniversary party, October 22, 1985, again at the Plaza; principal speaker: President Reagan. Left to right: George Will, Nancy Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, and WFB
Receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Bush, with Barbara Bush looking on, November 18, 1991.
On the ketch Sealestial, in mid-Atlantic, 1980
Ave atque vale
Updated: Nov. 24, 2013