Our revered founder, William F. Buckley Jr., died in his study this morning.
If ever an institution were the lengthened shadow of one man, this publication is his. So we hope it will not be thought immodest for us to say that Buckley has had more of an impact on the political life of this country — and a better one — than some of our presidents. He created modern conservatism as an intellectual and then a political movement. He kept it from drifting into the fever swamps. And he gave it a wit, style, and intelligence that earned the respect and friendship even of his adversaries. (To know Buckley was to be reminded that certain people have a talent for friendship.)
He inspired and incited three generations of conservatives, and counting. He retained his intellectual and literary vitality to the end; even in his final years he was capable of the arresting formulation, the unpredictable insight. He presided over NR even in his “retirement,” which was more active than most people’s careers. It has been said that great men are rarely good men. Even more rarely are they sweet and merry, as Buckley was.
When Buckley started National Review – in 1955, at the age of 29 — it was not at all obvious that anti-Communists, traditionalists, constitutionalists, and enthusiasts for free markets would all be able to take shelter under the same tent. Nor was it obvious that all of these groups, even gathered together, would be able to prevail over what seemed at the time to be an inexorable collectivist tide. When Buckley wrote that the magazine would “stand athwart history yelling, ‘Stop!’” his point was to challenge the idea that history pointed left. Mounting that challenge was the first step toward changing history’s direction. Which would come in due course.
Before he was a conservative, Buckley was devoted to his family and his Church. He is survived by his son Christopher and brothers Reid and James and sisters Priscilla, Carol, and Patricia. Our sadness for them, and for us, at his passing is leavened by the hope that he is now with his beloved wife, Patricia, who died last year.