It was customary practice in my family to gather at my grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner after church. Loyal to our Southern traditions, we would, after eating, divide company: men into the living room, women into the kitchen or den. My brother and I, still children, would sit silently, for the most part, while my grandfather, father and uncles bandied about the names of politicians and discussed the day’s sermon or newspaper headlines.
I first learned of William F. Buckley Jr. during these Sunday afternoons, as he was often the topic of conversation. I was too young to know much, but young enough to learn a lot quickly, so I began to follow this man, this Buckley, to the extent that I could, from those days until the day that he died in February 2008.
Overcommitted to supposedly universal political ideals and to the spread of American liberal democracy throughout the world, Buckley was not my kind of conservative. He could be tactless and cruel, as when he violated the ancient maxim de mortuis nil nisi bonum (“Of the dead, speak no evil”) in an obituary to Murray Rothbard wherein he wrote that “Rothbard had defective judgment” and “couldn’t handle moral priorities.” Buckley then trumpeted some unflattering anecdotes about Rothbard before likening Rothbard to David Koresh.
Despite such tantrums and vendettas, I always liked Buckley. Something in the way he conducted himself—his showy decorum, flaunted manners and sophisticated rhetoric—appealed to me.
Carl T. Bogus, an American law professor and author of the biography Buckley, seems to share my qualified respect for Buckley, despite disagreeing with Buckley on important political and theoretical issues. “I should tell the reader up front,” Bogus warns, “that I am a liberal and thus critical—in some instances, highly critical—of Buckley’s ideology.” Yet, adds Bogus, “I admire William F. Buckley Jr. enormously.”
Unlike bobble-headed television personalities and think tank sycophants, Bogus does justice to his subject, treating Buckley’s ideas evenhandedly on the grounds that he (Bogus) is “disheartened by the present state of partisan animosity,” one solution to which, he says, “is to take opposing ideas seriously.” Bogus not only takes Buckley’s ideas seriously, but credits them for changing America’s political realities. Read the rest of this entry »