February 27, 2008

The Associated Press is reporting that William F. Buckley has passed away in his home. He had been suffering with emphysema for years.

Taki’s Magazine has had its disagreements with the current National Review to be sure. But at this moment, we”€™d be remiss not to think of Buckley’s tremendous intellectual achievement in editing NR over the course of four decades. Not only was NR home to Buckley’s splendid columns, but in its pages one could read stalwarts such as James Burnham, Russell Kirk, Hugh Kenner, Willmoore Kendall, Whittaker Chambers, Jeffrey Hart, and Joan Didion to name but a few. Our own publisher and editor made many memorable contributions. Current NR writers like John O’sullivan and John Derbyshire continue the tradition.

It’s perhaps not an exaggeration to say that William F. Buckley invented the modern conservative movement in 1955 with the publication of his new magazine with its characteristic blue borders. Great Buckleyisms such as, “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said,”€ are indicative of the charm and élan Buckley displayed in skewering his liberal opponents. Ronald Reagan was an NR subscriber, as was almost every major writer on the right.

Buckley is due for some criticism. The New York TImes has eulogized him for “making conservatism”€”not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas “€” respectable in liberal post-World War II America.” He certainly did this, and many point toward Buckley’s purging of the dubious John Birch Society from the conservative movement as a major achievement. But one wonders whether he didn’t expel a few too many important voices who didn’t fit into the conservative-Republican mainstream: Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard come to mind. By the late ‘90s, writers like Paul Gottfreid and Peter Brimelow were no longer welcome at NR.

In turn, Buckley was far too welcoming to those “€œoften clever, seldom wise”€ thinkers who entered the conservative movement from the left and who”€™ve counseled democratization, preemptive wars, and nation-building; he then looked the other way as the current editorial board attempted to purge conservatives who questioned the Iraq war. Moreover, NR was far too slow in recognizing the self-proclaimed “€œconservative”€ George W. Bush for what he is”€”a budget-busting liberal”€”and far too accommodating of the misdeeds of the Republican Party.

The conservative movement is in disarray, and the Republican Party faces electoral defeat and intellectual bankruptcy. William F. Buckley bears some responsibility.     

But to find serious, well-argued critiques of the kind of politics to which the GOP and much of the conservative movement have descended, one need look no further than NR in its heyday. For this, we should be immensely grateful. R.I.P. 


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