Bench Memos

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An Idyll


I have been AWOL from Bench Memos for a week by both choice and circumstance. The choice was one I made months ago to teach a seminar in South Carolina. The circumstance was that the seminar was so lively and engrossing that I had not a moment for communication with the outside world. Or, perhaps I should say, that I chose not to try. It was that much fun.

The Seminar topic was “Philosophical and Political Foundations of the American Republic.” My partner in leading the discussions was Brad Wilson, Associate Director of Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. (Many readers know that the brilliant scholar Robert George is head of that program.) Brad proved to be a terrific teacher; he made me look good by comparison in just one way: I chose him. The seminar participants were ten very sharp business and professional people. We read together the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist, and the Constitution.

The Seminar’s pupose was to re-create the world the founders inhabited and which they tried to preserve (in broad outline) for their descendants. I think the consensus (but not universal) view of those present was that the founders built very well indeed, but also that their world is just about unretrievably gone. The question we debated at Seminar’s end was, in fact, whether globalization had rendered the founders’ ideas irrelevant. I think that the house ended up undivided on the resolution.

Our nonpareil host was a (much) larger than life polymath named Buckley. Reid Buckley that is, youngest of the Buckley Boys.The Seminar is part of the regular programming of the Buckley School for Public Speaking, in Camden, South Carolina, a dear old town which is an integral part of the whole Buckley School experience. This Camden is a lot different than the one in New Jersey. In this Camden they call any house built since 1920 “new construction.” In this Camden you can have lunch at the antebellum mansion of Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chestnut, and dinner in the Lord Cornwallis House. (He’s the very decent chap who threw the Revolution our way.) In this Camden — and if you are lucky — you can share cocktails at Reid’s house with NRO columnist Kathleen Parker, as we did a few nights ago.

So where is this post going? To a book which I discovered on Reid’s desk, which I then bought at the airport Borders, and which I have not put down since. It is a marvelous read, and a book everyone reading these words should get. The book is called An American Family: The Buckleys. The author knows more than a little about his topic. His name is Reid Buckley.


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