The Corner

Culture

Bill Buckley and Final Truths

National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.

I have shared this before, and find it appropriate to do so again today, the tenth anniversary of our founder’s death. Soon after Bill passed away, our friend Allen Roth had sent then-NR chairman Dusty Rhodes a long-forgotten piece of WFB correspondence. In 1962 Bill had written to the editors of The Individualist, the newsletter of Young Conservative Club of Walt Whitman High School (on Long Island), responding to their inquiry about something he had written in Up from Liberalism concerning “final truths.” I find Bill’s response to be very powerful and instructive.

In the passage you quote from Up From Liberalism I intended, indeed, to refer to the religious truth that is our central heritage and to the moral philosophy and human insight that derive from it. Sometimes this position is referred to (in a phrase going back, I believe, to the days of the Roman Empire) as “the morality of the last days”—by which is meant the world-view of men who know that death is close. But, in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. That is why the morality of the last days always applies to what is “finally important in human experience.” All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.

To those of you who pray, offer one today for the man who has meant so much to this great nation and to the defense of those self-evident truths with which our Creator has endowed us.

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