Editor’s Note: As part of the National Review Institute’s End-of-Year Appeal, NRI fellows are sharing words of wisdom and inspiration. Today, Jay Nordlinger discusses NRI’s programmatic virtues and shares his affection for and admiration of Bill Buckley. In that spirit, we encourage you to find out more about the Institute’s Buckley Legacy Project.
One of the most recurring phrases around here is “Buckley legacy.” What does it mean? I suppose it means different things to different people. WFB was big and multifaceted, and so is his “legacy.”
He loved life, for sure. Lived it with zest. His only fear, so far as I know, was that, for a second, he might be bored. He had a wide array of interests, from painting to sailing to gadgets. (He was one of the great gadget men of all time — a regular Inspector Gadget.) He had a wide array of friends: left, right, and center. Two of his best friends were named Galbraith: John Kenneth (on the left) and Van (on the right).
At his table, I met many liberals — including David Halberstam, Mario Cuomo, and Garry Trudeau. WFB engaged them. These days, people are apt to say, “Shut up” and “Go away.” WFB was more apt to say, “Come to dinner.”
He was world-minded, and so was his magazine. He stuffed it with reports and stories and opinions from all over. He also stuffed it with ballet, theater, “delectations,” etc.
WFB was devoted to high culture. And at his table were many, many artists. I thought of one of them the other night, for I reviewed her in recital.
This was Sharon Isbin. WFB said to her, “So, I understand you’re the best guitarist in the world.” She responded, “No, no. There is no ‘best guitarist in the world.’ That would be like saying there’s a best writer or something” — whereupon the great writer flashed his 1,000-watt smile and said, “Waal . . . ”
He got into the grubby day-to-day of politics, but he always kept high principles and high values. He was independent of party. He stood up to Left and Right. To do the latter was more painful, surely — it cost him more. (I could cite chapter and verse.) But he did it.
Everyone likes to “speak truth to power.” There is much glory in it. There’s a lot less glory in speaking truth to people. WFB did not shrink from it.
He was so confident in his views — in his ability to think and speak and write — that he accommodated other views. In an anniversary issue, he published an essay by a leftist, an essay by a liberal, and an essay by a conservative. Can you imagine such a thing? WFB did.
His TV show, Firing Line, featured a veritable human parade. He had people from all walks of life, with all sorts of views. He wanted to get from them what they knew. Everyone knows something — or many things. And WFB wanted to pull those things from them.
Everyone likes to ‘speak truth to power.’ There is much glory in it. There’s a lot less glory in speaking truth to people. WFB did not shrink from it.
I host a podcast called ”Q&A.” I, too, like to pull. In recent weeks, I have interviewed Angela Gheorghiu on opera, Mark Helprin on literature, and Ash Carter on defense. They know stuff, those people. Get from them what they know.
Also in recent weeks, I have been to Sweden, to look into their recent defense moves. (Putin’s Russia has concentrated their minds, and every other mind in the region.) I talked to several experienced and influential people, getting from them what they know, and passing it on to others.
I wrote about the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, given to an anti-nuke group. That’s a big, indeed apocalyptic, issue: nukes. I did a story about a onetime cabinet official from Colombia, now seeking political asylum in the United States. I did a report from the Salzburg Festival, describing an assortment of performances.
Once, as I was leaving for Salzburg, WFB said, “Say hello to music for me!” Another writer, Vikram Seth, has written, “Music is dearer to me than speech.” I think the same was true of WFB.
I went to Dallas to talk about him. The audience was a group of “regional fellows” of the National Review Institute. It was a pleasure to talk about him, and to meet them. I wrote a book on a strange and interesting topic: the sons and daughters of dictators. Thanks to NRI, I was able to go around the country talking about it, and making points about freedom and unfreedom. The best part of these events, almost invariably, was the Q&A.
As you might guess, I’m grateful to work for National Review and the National Review Institute. We are now raising money (natch). We like to say, “We’ve never had a sugar daddy, like George Soros.” The truth is — and more to the point — we’ve never had a sugar daddy of the Right. We have survived, and sometimes flourished, thanks to the donations of people who appreciate the enterprise and give what they can.
You can do this here. And, if you like, leave a comment, saying why you’re donating.
The question sometimes comes up, Why has National Review never had a sugar daddy? What’s the problem, what’s the hold-up? I’m not entirely sure. But I can tell you that a lot of people like a publication, or a group, or some other entity, that will toe a line. WFB was never much of a line-toer. And this meant that a lot of people parted ways with him. Which he bore.
He was a great nurturer of young people — young writers — and so is NRI. That’s one thing that your donations do. A very important thing. (To check out the range of NRI activities and purposes, go here.)
I can tell you that it is very, very encouraging to be around our young writers today. They are confident conservatives, for sure — but they are also allergic to charlatanism and mere partisanship. WFB would have loved them, as I do, and as you would (and perhaps do already).
Once, WFB twitted LBJ for saying — in a State of the Union address, I believe — “the future lies ahead of us.” When doesn’t it? Well, it may be equally twittable to say, “Young people are our future.” But there’s something to it.
Anyway, enough from me. I know there are thousands of causes in the world, and thousands of good causes. The National Review Institute is one. But it is one that makes a dent — a righteous dent — and thank you, thank you, for giving what you can. One of WFB’s many books is called “Gratitude.” I know the feeling.
P.S. This may be bragging, but what the heck (I’ve done worse). As a rule, I don’t ask others to give to what I myself don’t give to. Well, I am a donor to NRI — and, indeed, a member of the 1955 Society.
Discover what others are saying about NRI and why it merits your support. Rick Brookhiser explains the benefits to the conservative movement of NRI’s Regional Fellows Program. Kevin Williamson highlights NRI’s exceptional writer-training effort, better known as the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellowship in Political Journalism. And Jonah Goldberg looks at the breadth of NRI’s programs.
— Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor of National Review and a book fellow at the National Review Institute.