WFB Today
What might he recommend?


When people ask me what William F. Buckley was like, I always tell them that he had the best manners of anyone I ever met. Understandably, people first think I’m referring to decorum or personal dignity — or maybe they think I mean he always knew which fork to use. But while he was of course, decorous, dignified, and knowledgeable of all the proper ways to do the proper things, that’s not at all what I mean.

At their core, good manners are the things we do and say to show others respect. Sometimes they are formalized. Of course, some people use these formal manners, customs, and rules of etiquette to belittle or ostracize the unwashed or uninitiated. “Oh you don’t know what that spoon is for? What are you, a farmer?” Buckley might even call such practices a ritualized esoteric gnosis. Though, given his playfully obscurant tendencies, he’d no doubt construct an even more daunting sesquipedalian and holophrastic term for the guild-like tendency of excluding the uninitiated.


But while he could build gilded cages with words, he always left the door open for conversation. He had the sort of good manners that stem from near-biological certitude that every person had something worthwhile to share, at least until proven otherwise. For a man with so much to say, he was among the best listeners I ever met.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met people with stories of his generosity of spirit that only served to confirm my own experience. I’m neither naïve nor an egomaniac. I understand that some of it must have been an act, not least because I know what I had to say to the man couldn’t have been that interesting. But while good manners may be a reflection of character, they are measured by what you actually do. And if he was playing a part, I personally never saw him break character.

And such charm was essential to the role he played. The conservative movement, in its infancy, was a chaotic constellation of cranks, dyspeptics, recluses, oddballs, and extroverts. Brilliant eccentrics with poor social skills and bitter geniuses quick to grievance were a dime a dozen. Doctrinal disputes could emerge from perceived slights, never mind competing agendas. William F. Buckley’s gift lay in his ability to smooth over differences, entice the wayward, corral the incorrigible, and convince the heretical to craft a movement built on common cause. That took genius. That took energy. That took commitment, patience, and courage. But all of those things could be found among the generals-without-troops on the right. As much as anything else, what made Bill the indispensable man was his ability to demand — without asking — the same respect he showed others.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and author of The Tyranny of Clichés.

In books like Cruising Speed, Bill described his own life with merciless good humor. It was very definitely not the life of a saint, or of a philosopher, or of a political leader, though he has often been confused with all three. Especially after he married Pat, Bill’s life had more than a touch of Cole Porter. Together they had:

[T]oo many cars, too many clothes,
Too many parties and too many beaus
They have found that the fountain of youth
Is a mixture of gin and vermouth, etc., etc.

The beaus were, of course, Pat’s. She was rarely without a witty, well-dressed, gay walker in tow. But the parties, the clothes, the cars, and the Martinis were decidedly mutual. Bill’s life was the life of a star — a star of Tales of Manhattan rather than Tales of Hollywood — but a star nonetheless.

But he was a star who, unlike most stars, wrote his own dialogue. Early in the game, he emerged from an impromptu television interview through which he had quipped his way with his usual effortless superiority, to say to one of his close circle of loyal friends: “I can keep this s**t up indefinitely.” Not perhaps Bill’s usual elegant essay in verbal acrobatics, but it was true. 

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