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William F. Buckley Jr.’s Birthday

The inspiring founder of Conservatism 2.0 would have been 88 today.

by
Dave Swindle

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November 24, 2013 - 9:00 am
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This is Week 8 of Season 3 in my new 13 Weeks of Wild Man Writing and Radical Reading Series. Every week day I try to blog about compelling writers, their ideas, and the news cycle’s most interesting headlines.

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The top book I just finished reading and will blog about more soon. I’m a third into Ann Coulter’s extraordinary polemic and just starting Gregg L. Frazer’s fascinating book defining the founders’ variety of religious beliefs as “theistic rationalism.” And of course Bennett and Lotus’s America 3.0, one of my favorites of the year, is always hovering in the background…

Check out National Review today for a host of pieces in memory of William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of the world-changing conservative publication that would play a pivotal role in defeating the Soviet Union for the first time. Yes, unfortunately we do have to beat them again, but it’s nothing Americans can’t handle, especially with the inspiration of Buckley and the dozens of writers he nurtured throughout his long career. Here are some highlights but read all three pieces in full:

James Panero: ‘Call Me Bill’

“There is never a good time for a busy man to take a vacation,” Bill once said. “And since there is never a good time, he might as well take it whenever we wants.” But Bill never vacationed, even on vacation. He never took weekends off, most likely because his greatest fear was boredom.

So Bill gave himself the assignment of writing a book each year during his stay in Gstaad.

David Brooks said that “for all of Buckley’s contributions to conservative ideas, his most striking contribution is to the conservative personality. He made being conservative attractive and even glamorous.”

Neal B Freeman: WFB, Mentor

The first lesson: There is no such thing as a fulltime job.

For Bill Buckley, the work day, the work week, and the work year were all infinitely expandable. He had a prodigious capacity for work. You have all heard the remarkable datum that Bill published 55 books over the course of his career. What is even more remarkable is that every one of those books was written while he was fully engaged in some other project.

Yogi Berra would no doubt say it more memorably than I, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you work hard every single day for 60 years.

If our conservative enterprise was to be a truly national force, in Bill’s view, we couldn’t be a platoon of second-raters, a pick-up team of part-timers. If we wanted to pull off something big, we needed good people, and lots of them.

My sense was that, until that night, Bill had always thought of himself as a protégé — as the beneficiary of guidance from his mentors, people like John Chamberlain and Willmoore Kendall and James Burnham and Frank Meyer. But at about that time — he was then in his early 40s — Bill took stock of his fledgling movement and accepted the most important role of his career. He became a mentor — and for the rest of his life dedicated much of his time to identifying and inspiring wave after wave of promising young conservatives.

NRO Symposium: Missing WFB

GEORGE NASH
When I think of William F. Buckley, I often think of his friend Ronald Reagan and of a vital characteristic they shared.

One of Reagan’s greatest assets was his sense of humor. It helped to keep his rhetorical fusillades from coming across as shrill and overly combative. By the deft use of wit and amusing anecdotes, he could simultaneously soften his tone and sharpen his message. It was said of him that he “could get a standing ovation in a graveyard.”

I’ve had WFB on the mind quite a bit lately too. I’ve just finished his novel Getting It Right which I’ve been savoring a bit at a time over the past six months or so. The story is set in the early 1960s and the assassination of of John F. Kennedy takes place in the book as the lives of two fictional lovers — one working for the John Birch Society and the other Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Collective — intersect with the personalities and ideological battles that forged the conservative movement during the rise of Barry Goldwater. (And now the whole Kennedy Assassination story looks a bit different given Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa’s extraordinary revelations about Oswald’s knowledge of spy codes and the KGB Operation Dragon project disseminating conspiracy theories blaming the CIA and LBJ.)

The book is an excellent introduction to a number of important personalities and concepts that defined the conservative movement. It was because of the ideological battles on the Right in the 1960s that the foreign policy battles of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 could happen.

I’ll be blogging about Getting it Right more in the coming weeks along with other WFB and conservative titles as I continue attempting to sort the wheat from the chaff in arguing for which figures and books should be carried on to the next generation of activists fighting to defend American freedom. (Join the Freedom Academy Book Club — free — to see the titles on my reading-now shelf.)

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In the early 1960s I, still an undergrad., stumbled upon Buckley's National Review. What a wonder, a "good" Catholic boy comes together with ex-marxists or communists and produces a national shaking journal. To this day I enjoy reading ex-communists, e.g., General Pacepa, because communists themselves, leaving their eschatological ideology aside, were realists, i.e., they scrape off the agenda bull and look for real power relations. This procedure is continued as an ex-communist. James Burnham was my favorite (and I looked up his debates with his superior, Leon Trotsky, whom he accused of agenda-izing Stalin's Russia, and this led to his break). Even Sidney Hook, a social democrat, was "hard-headed" in his analyses. BUT, then there was Buckley himself. With a dictionary in hand, I read one article and one book after another of his. I could go on, but I miss profoundly his absence from current discussions. If I were to identify my conservatism in the mish-mash of conservatismS today, I would say: "I am a Buckley conservative and that says it all". My generation was blessed by a wonderful thinker and personality.
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