Buckley's gone. And our world is a lonelier. He Stood Athwart History -Kathryn Lopez
When liberalism was dominant but hidebound in the second half of the last century, he pioneered a new direction that transformed American politics.William F. Buckley Jr.'s death severs the last remaining link between contemporary American conservatism and its founding generation.
In 1950, the literary critic Lionel Trilling could assert "the plain fact" that there were no conservative ideas "in general circulation." That confidence would be ground away. In 1951, Bill Buckley made his name with "God and Man at Yale," which critiqued his alma mater for its hostilities to capitalism and religion. Four years later, Buckley founded National Review. He was 29.
In its fecund early period in the 1950s and '60s, National Review helped introduce a modern conservatism into American political life. Buckley and his talented stable of editors and contributors gave coherence and shape to what he called "a fusion" of traditionalism, anti-Communist internationalism and free-market economics. Equally important, the magazine worked to discredit fringe elements like the John Birchers, the Jew-haters and the Lindbergh isolationists.
Taranto does him justice here
Buckley started National Review, with an understated founding statement:
Let's face it: Unlike Vienna, it seems altogether possible that did National Review not exist, no one would have invented it. The launching of a conservative weekly journal of opinion in a country widely assumed to be a bastion of conservatism at first glance looks like a work of supererogation, rather like publishing a royalist weekly within the walls of Buckingham Palace. It is not that, of course; if National Review is superfluous, it is so for very different reasons: It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.
National Review is out of place, in the sense that the United Nations and the League of Women Voters and the New York Times and Henry Steele Commager are in place. It is out of place because, in its maturity, literate America rejected conservatism in favor of radical social experimentation. Instead of covetously consolidating its premises, the United States seems tormented by its tradition of fixed postulates having to do with the meaning of existence, with the relationship of the state to the individual, of the individual to his neighbor, so clearly enunciated in the enabling documents of our Republic.
As NR's editors note in paying tribute to him today, Buckley's and his magazine's influence proved far-reaching:
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.)
We knew Buckley a bit and agree with that assessment. In a Commentary essay, also published today on WSJ.com, Buckley tells the story of how he worked with Sen. Barry Goldwater to marginalize the John Birch Society--a delicate matter for Goldwater, who told Buckley that "every other person in Phoenix is a member."
We need Buckley. No one fills those shoes.