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An Affair for the Ages

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.
NRI is currently in the midst of its End-of-Year Fund Appeal.

The affair began, innocently enough, in Tehran one day during the winter of 1966.

My father was the U.S. naval attaché to Iran and Iraq back in the days when the Department of Defense felt that the two countries were similar enough (in their spelling?) that they could be covered by one diplomat qualified to pilot the embassy airplane.

We lived up north, far from the bustle of the city, in a house nestled against the Elburz Mountains. With snow canceling all events and limiting movement, and with no television to pass the time, it was shaping up as a slow day. My breakup with The Sporting News would last until pitchers and catchers reported, and so I had, shall we say, a roving eye for new enticements.

The colorful cover of my father’s recent issue of National Review — then, as now, the preeminent magazine for conservative thought and commentary — fairly beckoned to me from the top of the mail pile. He had recklessly left it unprotected from impressionable adolescent eyes.

I threw caution to the wind, and the passion of my affair has yet to wane a half century on — so much so that, today, it is my honor to serve as chairman of the National Review Institute, the non-profit journalistic think tank founded William F. Buckley Jr., which I hope you will support with a generous tax-deductible gift (NRI is in the midst of its End-of-Year Fund Appeal).

I intuited immediately that National Review was deeply involved with things that mattered. And any fool could see that it was fun! The ideas and the substance, the cartoons and the asides, were served with a huge dollop of Bill Buckley’s boisterous spirit.

Over the years, I feel as if my education was guided by — in some respects provided by — the pages of National Review.

As we conservatives know, there are no permanent victories and no enduring clarity in human affairs. They will always be messy, noisy, and confusing. The persistent challenges of sustaining a free society of laws do not take days, or decades, off. A new era would — in due course — require National Review to reformulate and restructure in order to carry its banner and its principles into a new century, characterized by surprising threats and unimaginable technology.

The new form of National Review can locate its genus in a strange place at an unlikely moment. In the summer of 1990, I wangled a berth on Bill’s madcap escapade across Europe and into the den of a very creaky Soviet Union. Bill and Priscilla Buckley, John O’Sullivan, Wick Allison, and Dusty Rhodes led a group of National Review enthusiasts on an epic trek from London to Prague to Moscow and to Rome.

Out of the fertility of that trip germinated ideas for various supplementary enterprises, one of which was National Review Institute (NRI) — created to complement the mission of National Review magazine by supporting and promoting NR’s best talent. In 2015, the Board of Trustees of NRI approved an institutional reorganization whereby National Review Inc. became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Institute.

This strategic structural change keeps the magazine separate, but permits NRI to buttress the uniquely salubrious role of National Review in the public square.

I believe Bill would be proud of what we have accomplished.

This year, NRI expanded its many and varied programs, bringing the classical conservative principles central to the National Review mission across the nation. It sponsored the weighty endeavors of a dozen NRI Fellows, and also the work of several more conservative prodigies, the WFB and Rhodes Journalism Fellows. NRI hosted events to launch important new books by several NRI fellows. Most spectacularly, and most fun, NRI hosted two marquee events for the conservative movement: the Ideas Summit, in Washington, D.C., in March, and the William F. Buckley Jr. Prize Dinner in Palm Beach in October.

All the while, National Review, Inc. continues to extend its influence through the articles and essays — in the magazine and on the website you are currently reading — that have established it as the most respected beacon of conservative journalism in America.

As the media world has changed, and venerable business models for magazines have collapsed, National Review has adapted effectively to the new digital world. NRI and NR, using different tools and addressing different markets, complement each other’s efforts to promote the National Review mission. And both are thriving.

When Bill Buckley created NRI, he characteristically saw well into the future to a time when these great principles would need to be defended not only through the pages of his magazine, but also through a multiplicity of events, conferences, and venues at which NR writers and scholars could elucidate conservative ideas. As you can read in NRI’s end-of-year newsletter, the Institute has been skillful in performing this mission, and adept at conceiving new ways to promote conservative principles. And I can confide to you that there are more bold and creative initiatives bubbling in the NRI laboratories.

But, as chairman, I must earnestly draw your attention to ways and means: The professionalism that NRI brings to this effort to complement National Review, and advance the common National Review mission, requires the steady and capacious generosity of the broader NR Nation.

So, as you enjoy National Review — whether on polychromatic paper or through pulsating cyberspace — remember that NRI’s mission is complementary, but broader. The Institute advances the NR mission in a new arena with new tools — but against familiar adversaries: statism, bureaucracy, social architecture, and the deprecation by the powerful of the moral and intellectual power of free men and free women pursuing their dreams in a self-governing society of laws.

NRI is currently in the midst of its End-of-Year Fund Appeal to raise support for the Institute and the NR mission. I ask you to consider the signal benefit to our enterprise of a generous (tax-deductible) gift to sustain the work of NRI.

Your gift, along with all those from the NR Nation, will provide the essential fuel for our mission to defend those consequential principles for which National Review has fought since 1955, and for which, with your support, it will carry the fight far into the future.

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