Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The death of a legend

William F. Buckley, founder of National Review magazine, died today at the age of 82. Few people have had a more profound impact on the political environment, while not being a household name, than William F. Buckley. I would hazard a guess that most people who vote Republican in November have no idea who Buckley was or that he was one of the driving forces behind where the GOP is today. Other than Ronald Reagan, no other person has the level of impact on the intellectual underpinnings of American conservatism.

My family has always held Buckley in the highest esteem. The intellectualism, the dry wit, the biting sarcasm and the smarmy mean streak all appeal to us as a family. But American conservatism has moved beyond the elitist, libertarian roots that Buckley represented. The Republican party, the two-party system representative of conservatism in America, looks very different from the Ivy League elite men's club it used to be. Buckley championed Christian virtues in American culture, but it struck me that his idea of Christian virtue was more a philosophical idea than a life-changing reality. Nonetheless, Buckley was one of the great champions of the small government, libertarian, anti-communism that were the hallmarks of the Reagan revolution.

The reliance of Buckley conservatives on the Southern and Midwestern religious conservatives to build a voting coalition, rally the troops and get the grassroots efforts needed to win elections is grating. I have always gotten the sense that ideological purity has trumped political pragmatism. Bully for Buckley and company, but that leads to lots of Democrats in high office. On the other hand, Buckleyites seem to revel in misery and harrumphing about the state of things, so maybe he enjoyed being out of power and complaining about those who are in. He was a funny fellow, in a dry, almost humorless sort of way.

Rest in peace Bill.

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