Politics & Policy

WFB Chrestomathy

The briefest tour.

Many collections have and will be compiled of the late William F. Buckley Jr.’s writing. Here is a brief and somewhat random starting point, review, or diversion for the fan or newcomer, focusing on his writing on the academy, where it all started, and the Cold War, which he helped end.


From God and Man at Yale (1951), summarizing the thoughts to be found in leftist economic textbooks:

All the society’s ills — the economic, the social, the ethical — can be ameliorated by Bigger and Bigger Government. No consideration of private property or individual economic freedom is to deter the government from spending ”up to the point where the marginal loss of satisfaction to those providing the revenue is just equal to the marginal gain in satisfaction derived by those benefiting from the expenditures” (Bowman and Bach, p. 720); and no doubts are expressed as to whether even the wisest governments know where this point is. The government, it seems, is to weigh numerical losses and gains in satisfaction; and just so long as there is a net gain (an intangible which the government is to interpret), any government policy is justified. Individual rights of the sort that for generations were never supposed to be prey to government action, are cheerily disregarded as unjustifiable impedimenta in the way of purposive and enlightened state policies.


In the second issue of NR, dated November 26, 1955, WFB reviewed Collectivism on the Campus, a book by E. Merrill Root about Communists on college faculties. While praising the book, its author, and his mission, Buckley admitted that its numerous examples can get a bit repetitive:

There is something to be said for giving us a statistical idea as to the extent of the Communist penetration of schools and colleges during the thirties and middle forties so long as there are those around like Mr. Barth and Mr. Commager, Mr. Conant and Mr. Hutchins, and others of such celebrated naiveté who talk of Communists in education as one might talk of water moccasins on Park Avenue. . . . But since event after event has shown that one can’t hope to get anywhere when dealing with minds so encrusted by clichés about the open mind as to leave them hermetically sealed against the impurities of realism, Mr. Root might have saved himself the trouble . . .


From an article on “the aimlessness of American education,” c. 1960:

There is a sameness, both dreadful and reassuring, in the statements one is pelted with these days on the aims of American education. John Barrymore said he could induce a severe case of delirium tremens by reckoning the amount of whiskey he had drunk during his lifetime and imagining it all in a single glass (about the size of a small movie theater) poised for him to start all over again. The young college president, freshly in office, must pale at the thought of the miles and miles of clichés that stand between him and that final baccalaureate address, twenty years hence, when he will say: essentially the same thing.


Syndicated column, May 5, 1968, regarding the recent riots at Columbia University:

You have, I hope, meditated the meaning of the charges that have been leveled against the New York policemen who liberated Columbia University. Brutality. It apparently has not occurred to a living soul, to judge from published reports, that the caterwauling students who are charging brutality because the police interrupted their week-long, whiskey-fed stercoricolous occupation of other people’s property could very easily have avoided brutality by simply obeying the policemen when they were finally dispatched to uphold the law.


From Four Reforms (1973), on the question of whether too many people were going to college:

[Ernest] van den Haag’s warning that we are graduating a class of people in whom we are cultivating discontent and frustration is unheeded — in part because the danger is so far unrealized. Perhaps in due course we shall face a lumpenbaccalaureate class that disdains the jobs for which its members consider themselves unfit, in virtue of the exalted testimonials to their achievements as rendered in their diplomas. But that is in the future. Meanwhile the governments, federal, state, and local, continue to feed the system, within which, we happily assume, the genuinely gifted are taking furtive nourishment, and the educational bureaucracy is content, not to say fat. The crisis is a theorists’ crisis, more keenly than a public crisis.


From an article circa 1980 reminiscing about his Yale days:

There was carousing, but not on the order of what one saw in Animal House.


Later in the same article:

A professor of European history had a lecture course, and each of his lectures — they ran exactly forty-eight minutes — was a forensic tour de force. His description of the Battle of Jutland could have had a long run off Broadway. Pyrotechnics were deemed, at Yale in 1946, a little infra dig, so it wasn’t thunder and lightning and morning lights that Lewis Curtis gave his students: rather, wit and polish. We could not believe it, and I still wonder at it, that someone can, three times a week, deliver discrete lectures sculpted as lovingly, as finely as a statue. How do they do it?


September 5, 1981, syndicated column, after President A. Bartlett Giamatti had warned incoming Yale freshmen against listening to the Moral Majority:

To be lectured against the perils of the Moral Majority on entering Yale is on the order of being lectured on the danger of bedbugs on entering a brothel.

Among other things, Giamatti criticized the Moral Majority because:

“they presume to know what God alone knows, which is when human life begins.” . . . How is it that the president of a distinguished and cosmopolitan university tells us that God alone knows when human life begins? If you penetrate this rhetorical formulation, you have a dimly obscured invitation to nescience. “God-alone-knows” is the safest way to say, “That-is-unknowable.” Inasmuch as God is not invited to teach a regular course at Yale, Mr. Giamatti is saying in effect that the search for the answer to “When does life begin?” should be abandoned — because no one can tell.


Syndicated column, December 7, 2001, on an address made by Prof. Gaddis Smith at Yale’s 300th anniversary commemoration:

A university conveys to its students the worth of the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The Congress that put us at war in 1917 had a less noble historical purpose, perhaps, than the Congress that put us at war in 1776: but the willingness to die remained a constant, salted by the empirical contribution of Gen. Patton to the effect that it were better that the enemy died than that we should die. It remains an uphill fight for the historian to proclaim the 35 Yale dead in Vietnam as uninstructed by their university, in contrast with those who shirked what we thought of as duty.



From Up From Liberalism (1959):

Senator Ralph Flanders, a moralistic Republican from Vermont, rises on the floor of the Senate to ask whether an unnatural sexual relationship among Senator McCarthy’s chief counsel, Roy Cohn; Cohn’s assistant, David Schine; and Senator McCarthy doesn’t satisfactorily explain their bizarre mutual loyalty during the famous feud with the Army. To those unpossessed by mania, this was a smear. Yet in the days immediately following Senator Flanders’ address, the publicists worked round the clock to give birth to a new folk hero — the granite-faced, jut-jawed, tough-talking New England dragon-killer. Edward R. Murrow’s taut face momentarily relaxed as he contemplated benignly the great moral resources of our democracy. The blasé National Press Club in Washington broke precedent to give Senator Flanders a standing ovation.

One reporter was so prosaic as to press the matter, asking Senator Flanders to crystallize his charges. Are you, he said, saying that these men are perverts? Certainly not, said the Senator; I am merely “asking questions.” . . .


In the August 29, 1959, NR, an editorial by WFB scathingly criticized an upcoming visit by Nikita Khrushchev:

For Khrushchev, a trip to the world’s greatest power and most honored leader is the most effective of all possible moves to legitimize his regime and himself. The President of the United States will — in objective political meaning — be putting the seal of his acceptance on the Kremlin’s treatment of its subjects and captives. Let us put the truth brutally: the President of the United States and the chief of the Communist world enterprise will be shaking hands over the corpses of the Freedom Fighters.


Syndicated column, August 26, “The end of the dream in Czechoslovakia” (after invasion by Soviet troops to crush the Prague Spring):

The Soviet Union, unlike the United States, is humorlessly adamant in its purposes. When it chooses to move for strategic purposes, it moves. And before long, the forces of opposition somehow seem to sound tedious, repetitious, irrelevant. It was only a matter of months between the Soviet Union’s dispatch of tanks to run over the bodies of students in Budapest, and the promulgation of the Spirit of Camp David by a mollifying American President. Who would dare to say now, that history will not repeat itself? That Soviet representatives, on the heels of the most flagrant repression of the most modest appeal for freedom in postwar history, will not in due course resume their chummy dialogue with Western progressives, about peace and freedom? You watch.


April 22, 1975, syndicated column, responding to George W. Ball’s advice to let bygones be bygones in Vietnam:

We are all being asked to believe that there was something on the order of manifest destiny working for the North Vietnamese. That they really “owned” South Vietnam, in the same sense that the early Americans owned California. To get California we had to claw our way past a few Indians, and snooker the Mexicans into one of the great land grabs of the nineteenth century. But what was hardest about acquiring California was things like scaling mountains and crossing deserts and laying railroad lines.

What was hard about taking South Vietnam was — people. About 16 million people who were 80 percent opposed to living under the rule of the North. Eighty percent is slightly better than the number of Americans who sided with George Washington in the Revolutionary War. . . . If George Washington, leaning as he did on critical help from the French, had been dealt with as we finally dealt with the South Vietnamese, we would have lost that war, General Washington would have been hanged, and George Ball would now be giving us his instructions in an English accent.


Syndicated column, January 24, 1980:

Find yourself any old country, impoverished, agricultural, illiterate: by rigorous definition laid down by Marx himself, lacking the constituent parts to pass over into communism. But you need only require that the prevailing tyrant declare himself to be a Marxist, and the propaganda war is half won. If Machel of Mozambique had said everything he had said, done everything he had done, but announced that he was just a good old-fashioned bourgeois despot, he’d have been the target of universal obloquy from the beginning, in 1974. He has only to say that he is a Marxist, and he is accounted blessed among the ignorant, and the cynical, of this world.


In his syndicated column, March 30, 2001, regarding a protest against Hillary Clinton as commencement speaker at Yale, WFB recalls a similar experience of his own decades earlier:

At the University of California at Riverside, seated on the dais before speaking, I looked down on a cardboard box brought up and dropped on my lap by a dissenting student. The wiggling betrayed a live presence; from the box, offloaded from by lap, a small pig emerged and scampered over to the university president, who was engaged in reading a Rhodes Scholarship award to a proud young graduate, who needed now to maneuver his legs, since the pig was seeking a pissoir.

WFB goes on to oppose the movement to disinvite Senator Clinton:

Shortly after leaving Yale, I opposed a planned invitation to the head of the U.S. Communist Party, Gus Hall, and won the most exhilarating political victory of my life when the Yale Political Union, following the speeches and discussion, voted to rescind the invitation to him. That was worth high moral and intellectual exertion, but Mrs. Clinton isn’t in that category, for all that she has managed to embody the most offensive characteristics of her husband’s administration, supreme among them her overdoing her commitment to stay with him in sickness and in health. The health of the nation should have interposed, somewhere, in her balance of loyalties.



Syndicated column, September 14, 2001:

The word to Saddam Hussein should be: We are coming into Baghdad. We will arrive in force, together with Pakistani and Egyptian and Russian military units. Your aggressive war of 1990 and your shelter of terrorist units ever since make you an enemy.

From now on, enemies who are associated with terrorist activity will not cohabit the globe with the United States of America.


. . . and, finally, here is the end of his 1970 Playboy interview, coming after a long, intense grilling about Vietnam, civil rights, Communism, etc.:

PLAYBOY: Don’t most dogmas, theological as well as ideological, crumble sooner or later?

BUCKLEY: Most, but not all.

PLAYBOY: How can you be so sure?

BUCKLEY: I know that my Redeemer liveth.

NRO Staff — Members of the National Review Online editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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