To borrow the aphorism so often spoken of one’s parents, when I was young I couldn’t believe how ignorant William F. Buckley was, but now that I’m older I can’t believe how smart he got. As I explained in one of my early contributions to National Review Online (Part I is here, Part II is here), I was once a proud liberal, the product of a Jesuit high-school education followed by a period of what can only be described as indoctrination at an elite university.
It was a chance encounter with a copy of National Review, left behind for my discovery by some traveler at O’Hare Airport, that caused the scales to fall from my eyes. I soon became a subscriber, and not long after that a contributor to Mr. Buckley’s annual appeal. Some on the Left had their knickers all in a twist over one of Roman Genn’s cover illustrations, and Mr. Buckley’s response to the ensuing uproar was, to distill his words to their very essence, “Tough.”
I happily submitted a check for whatever sum my public servant’s salary allowed, and with it I enclosed a letter expressing my admiration for a man who refused to be cowed into groveling at the altar of political correctness. Soon thereafter, I was thrilled to receive a note of thanks from Mr. Buckley, and was further thrilled to see the letter I had written appear in the “Notes and Asides” section of the magazine. I still have the note he sent me.
It was some years later that an e-mail exchange with Jonah Goldberg led to an invitation to write for NRO, and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to do so for these last eight years. I am not among those privileged to have known or even met Mr. Buckley, but he was a profound influence on me nonetheless. I often wondered if he read my columns, and if so, what he thought of them. It was the mere possibility that he might read them that caused me sometimes to anguish over the use of a certain word or, as my wife can attest, to work on a column well into the small hours while questioning myself on the placement of a single comma.
Mr. Buckley’s passing comes at a time when his gifts will be greatly missed, as the very meaning of conservatism is being called into question. Does the movement’s viability, it is today asked, demand the adoption of positions that are not . . . conservative? Or is the best we can hope for merely a more gradual leftward course than another, but a leftward one in any case?
As Mr. Buckley proved to me, reasonable people can be persuaded by reasonable arguments. I am aware of no one more persuasive than he, who through the years opened my eyes to Locke, Burke, Hayek, Friedman, and so many others. Perhaps the well deserved tributes that have attended his passing will open more eyes, and bring more people to say to themselves, as I did years ago, “Dammit, that Buckley guy was right.”
— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.