Editor's Note: One of the don’t-miss features in every new copy of National Review
when it arrived at newsstands and in mailboxes was the latest William
F. Buckley, Jr. “RIP” tribute to some national figure who had just
passed on, whether a big name, like a former president, to a name
obscure today but a factor (for better or worse) in the politics of the
period, from the likes of Scoop Jackson to Owen Lattimore to (recently)
Lady Astor. Buckley did not cherry pick the headliners. That was
because William F. Buckley, Jr. loved life, and appreciated life—every
life. It was a measure of the man that he paused to pay homage to those
who passed and left their footprints on the stage of history.
Here today we pause to offer our tributes to
Mr. Buckley, who passed away this week at the age of 82. Buckley was a
fan of Grove City College, and in fact was our baccalaureate speaker in
May 1991. May this remarkable, faithful man rest in peace.
By Richard G. Jewell, J.D.
I was in the Zurich airport on a very wintry
day in February 1981. I had been negotiating a technical license
agreement with a Swiss Company for a client and was returning to the
United States. I was in a large bookstore in the airport that was
deserted except for two potential customers rummaging through a large
bin of discounted books. We didn’t really take close note of each other
until we were about three feet apart and were both reaching into the
bin for the same book. I looked up and instantly recognized William F.
Buckley. I introduced myself as a Grove City College graduate. He knew
the school very well and not surprisingly in a very favorable manner.
With Mr. Reagan having just taken office as president, I asked him how
he felt now that the republic had once again been preserved. “Nothing
could be finer,” I recall him saying (and he, as we all know, was not
from Carolina). He told me he was skiing near his place in Switzerland
and was returning to New York City (and his Connecticut home) via
Frankfurt. I bid him goodbye and returned to Pittsburgh through Boston.
Later I met him in 1991 when I was a trustee of Grove City College and
he came that spring to deliver the commencement address.
“William F. Buckely, Jr.—Yale and Higher Education”
By John A Sparks, J.D.
In 1951, the late William F.
Buckley, Jr. issued one of the best-known challenges to higher
education. In what became a conservative classic, God and Man at Yale, Buckley, then a recent Yale graduate, first
called upon U.S. colleges and universities to rejuvenate the Christian
spiritual and moral roots from which they had sprung. Buckley
began with the question which many parents of college-bound students
would ask over the next several decades: “whether Yale [substitute
almost any university or college] fortifies or shatters the average
student’s respect for Christianity.”
Buckley referred to Yale’s ancient charter of 1701,
which charged the Yale leadership to “erect a collegiate school” where
students could be instructed in the arts and sciences and “who through
the blessings of almighty God may be fitted for public employment both
for church and civil state.” Yet, continued Buckley, A. Whitney
Griswold, installed as Yale’s 16th president almost 250 years later (1950), did not even mention Christianity in his inaugural address, though he cited other “vital forces” and “traditions” which shaped Yale. What had happened, and what had actually accelerated after 1950, was
the secularization of much of American higher education. In fact,
today, as George Marsden puts it, any faith-based analysis of the
important questions of God and man is viewed by many in academe as
The second complaint pointed out by the young Buckley
was the willingness of Yale faculty to dismiss “free enterprise” and
“limited government” which “had served this country well.” If Yale
students came to college expecting to have freedom and individual responsibility explained and elaborated, they instead
received a one-sided case for the deification of collectivism—that is,
increasing governmental intervention in the economy, statist
redistribution of wealth, heavier tax burdens and an advocacy of the
regulatory state. In this regard, Yale was certainly not
alone over the next six decades. The typical university campus today,
with some exceptions, is properly categorized as leftist. In fact, as
Russell Kirk often put it, the American campus is so politicized that
the stances of its students and professors (again with some exceptions)
can only be described as “lunatic.”
Thankfully, a few schools, including my own,
Grove City College, maintained and watered their religious roots and
stood strong for liberty and a vigorous private sector; but not many.
In the process, Grove City students hear all views on a variety of
subjects, including arguments for faith and freedom, and
are not subjected to the provincialism and narrowness of a
leftist-leaning education. All this is in large part due to the man who
began alerting his fellow citizens about the rejection of Christianity and liberty at Yale. Thank you, William F. Buckley, for this and your many other contributions to ordered liberty.
By David Porter, Esq.
About two or three years ago, I was in New York
City on business. I had a few hours to kill, so I made a pilgrimage to
the offices of National Review. One of the staffers was there.
He showed me all around and we lingered for a while in WFB's office.
There was both a PC and an old Royal typewriter. The guy explained that
WFB still preferred to type much of the time. WFB's chair looked like
it was Civil War era. It was old cracked leather with stuffing come
out, etc. The guy said that from time to time people had offered to
have it taken out and rehabilitated. But WFB always vehemently refused;
he liked it just the way it was.
Here's the main point: I asked this staffer how long he had been with National Review.
He said 18 years or something. I expressed surprise at the length of
his service. He said that he was not unusual, that while the columnists
may come and go, the staffers tend to have very long service. Two
reasons for that, he said: First, they view it not just as a job, but
they believe in the magazine's mission, so they really want to be
there. Second, and more importantly, he said, "Mr. Buckley is just an
extraordinarily kind man."
“The Good Shepherd and Great Host of Modern American Conservatism”
By Michael Coulter, Ph.D.
The one time I met William F. Buckley, Jr.
(1925-2008), the great figure of modern American conservatism, he was
gracious and inviting. In 1991, he was the commencement speaker for my
graduating class at Grove City College. My friends were puzzled at how
excited I was to have the eminent Mr. Buckley speak to my classmates
and our families. His speech bore the title, “Reflections on Current
Contentions,” which was the generic title he used for most of his
public-speaking appearances. I can’t remember any particular phrases of
the speech, but I do recall that his manner of speech was calm and
reasoned. His aim was not to shock or scandalize. After commencement,
there was a luncheon attended by parents, graduates and school
officials, and there I went to Buckley’s table, interrupted his lunch,
and expressed my appreciation for his life’s work. We talked briefly
and he told me that if I were ever in New York that I should come by
and see him.
Buckley’s graciousness was certainly a product
of well-mannered character, but it also speaks to how he helped shape
the modern conservative movement. He wanted to invite people into the
fold. He wanted to show that one could be intellectual and be a
conservative. For Buckley, conservatism was not a narrow sect with
specifically defined beliefs; instead, conservatism was a set of
inclinations and broad goals. Those inclinations included an admiration
for the free market, a strong policy of anti-communism, and a respect
I am far too young to remember the early days of the National Review,
the magazine Buckley founded in 1955 and that was for many years the
flagship publication of the American conservative movement, but there
are excellent accounts of those days when the different elements of the
conservative movement argued with each other, both in the pages of the National Review
and in editorial meetings. Buckley provided a place for both
free-market devotees and traditionalist conservatives. Many of the
great conservative intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s reached a
broader audience through the pages of the magazine. In his own op-ed
column, distributed to hundreds of newspapers across the county,
Buckley introduced his readers to arguments, ideas, thinkers, and
books. It was in the small rural daily paper to which my parents
subscribed that I began reading Buckley.
Buckley was reputed for being a great host of
dinner parties, and great hosts bring people together and encourage
conversation and even collaboration. He served a similar role for
modern American conservatism. Through the National Review, his
own writings, and his television show "Firing Line," Buckley served
this great function of connecting modern conservatives. He helped with
the growth of conservatism and wanted a movement that was not centered
on him, but on key commitments of a free and orderly society.
Buckley wanted a conservative movement that was
broadly representative of conservative inclinations, but Buckley also
recognized that some of those attempting to shape modern conservatism
were harmful to the movement. Buckley and the National Review essentially
kicked the John Birch Society, an extreme right-wing organization, out
of mainstream American conservatism. In so doing, he lost subscribers
and supporters, but he did not believe that irresponsible voices needed
a seat at the table.
Buckley will not be remembered as the greatest
intellect of the modern conservative movement, although he certainly
had a great intellect. He is certainly not the greatest political
figure; political office was not his calling. Buckley, however, served
a remarkable role in helping to make conservatism respectable,
intellectually compelling, and politically viable. To a man who did
more than most could accomplish in five lifetimes, may he rest in peace.
By Paul Kengor, Ph.D.
I discovered William F. Buckley, Jr. in the
late 1980s as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, where I
was pre-med. I had been bit by the political bug. It was a consequence
of the times: the Reagan years, the end of the Cold War, tumultuous
changes in the world. I soon found myself blowing off my Genetics exam
to feed a growing obsession with politics, reading every newspaper I
could get my hands on, and digging through microfiche to satiate a
newfound infatuation with the Cold War.
I was also discovering I was a conservative.
And it was that growing ideological realization that prompted me one
day to ask my father where I could go to find a conservative magazine.
Did such a publication exist? He responded without hesitation:
“Buckley’s magazine.” I replied, “Buckley’s magazine? What’s that?” My
dad answered: “National Review.”
I hopped in the car and headed to Walden Books at Clearview Mall in Butler, Pennsylvania. I found it—National Review.
I couldn’t put it down. There was nothing else like it—nothing. The
quality of the writing, the material, the insights, the intellect, the
logic, the common-sense thinking combined with erudition, the overall
smartness. I read it cover to cover, including the articles I didn’t
understand. I allowed the thing to teach me. Malcolm Muggeridge, who’s he? I read and learned. I was enthralled.
That magazine led me in the direction of an
entirely different field of study, to where I ended up a professor
teaching and writing about those very issues and ideas.
Yet, Buckley impacted me more than that, even
though I never met the man. I recall one day almost 10 years ago when I
was meeting with Lee Edwards, another leader of the conservative
movement, who was at Grove City College to do research for a history of
the college. I told Lee about the book I wanted to write on Reagan and
the end of the Cold War, and how I needed some funding to be able to go
to the Reagan Library to do research. Lee suggested I put together a
brief proposal, noting his endorsement, and send it to a small,
under-the-radar foundation begun by Buckley to support projects like
these by young conservative academics. I did just that, and received a
check shortly thereafter. It ultimately led to two books on Reagan, God and Ronald Reagan and The Crusader.
When I sent Buckley a copy of the manuscript for the first book, he
responded with a short note, dated May 22, 2002, offering a nugget of
advice on where to publish the work before closing, “I’m glad the
little foundation was helpful in getting this done.”
He was helpful in a yet deeper way. Though I do
not want to overstate this, I can honestly say that Buckley, and more
specifically, his magazine, had a profound effect on me spiritually.
When I began reading National Review I was an agnostic, having
abandoned the faith of my upbringing. Like many young folks at major
secular universities, especially in the hard sciences, I had forsaken
the God of Scripture for the idols of evolution, secularism, nihilism,
and all the wasteful, destructive idiocy that saturates the tragic
insanity of modern academia. I had come to National Review
through an interest in politics, but soon discerned that these
brilliant writers, whom I respected so much, just happened to be
Christians who seamlessly integrated their religion into their
politics—faith with reason, Christianity with conservatism. They fit
beautifully. This set me on a path to the Christian faith. I will not
proclaim that William F. Buckley, Jr. and National Review “saved my soul,” but they no doubt led me in the right direction.
Lastly, on a slightly bitter note, I’m
offended—but not surprised—by the conservative outlets who have barely
acknowledged Buckley’s death. They are sadly symptomatic of a culture
that lives strictly in the here and now, where only something new is
deemed newsworthy, and only then for a few minutes. Do these
conservatives not know that they stand not only Buckley’s shoulders but
in his shadow? He was their forerunner, the voice in the wilderness
long before their existence was considered tolerable let alone
possible. He never made the mistake of being defined by the moment,
which is why he was the quintessential conservative.
William F. Buckley, Jr. and the movement he
founded transcended a single news cycle and even a single generation.
He stood astride America yelling “stop” for over 50 years. Now, let us
pause to honor him with his due respect.