An American Hero: William F. Buckley

Jeffrey Neuzil

Well-Known Member
Nov 30, 2007
R.I.P: To the Memory of My American Hero, William F. Buckley

What can one say in the face of a loss so great. Without being unmanly, I should confess that I inwardly cried when I learned of his recent passing: The world of Journalism, of novelists, of politics, of sailing, and of—at last, what not—humanity said goodbye to its greatest benefactor today! I must confess to have always been charmed and bewitched by the grace and wit of Mr Buckley; but I think his greatest gift to American politics was his personal embodiement of virtue and nobility, which he had the unique talent for expressing in charming phrases and quizzical body language, always polite to his interlocuter, but when necessary ready to strike, like a serpent—with consummate rhetorical skill.
This combination of talents made Mr Buckley a unique contributor, not to say founder, to American conservative thought. It will, I venture, be a very long time before American conservatism again finds a man as able—quite literally, a man for all seasons—and efficient at defending at all levels, as well as promoting sound conservatism. He nourished the movement in all ways, but I think his greatest asset lay in his courage to take sometimes very unpopular stands on issues, even stands that are sometimes at odds with Mr Buckley's party of affiliation (I note, for example, Mr. Buckley's erstwhile defense of legalization of Marijuanna). I have read several of Mr Buckley's books, not a single one of which did I fail to profit from immensely; for Mr Buckley possessed the rare talent of rewarding his reader by supplying an immense and invaluable store of cultural references: what becomes most obvious to a reader of his varied works is that the author was a man of extraordinarily wide interests and learning; he had a voracious intellectual curiousity that was infectious and which was a noble reminder to all of his readers that there is always much more to learn about, and that it is a joy, and even in a sense a duty, for a responsible citizen of a democracy to be somewhat learned.
Here is the point at which my experience with Mr. Buckley's work approaches on my own heroic assesment of the man as an American patriot. He wrote a little book called "Gratitude" in which he argued that there should be an American civil service requirement, because Americans need to become more communally related (Mr. Buckley, like many conservatives of his generation, had the feeling that Americans needed a means of becoming more socially cohesive, and thus, in a very memorable quotation of word maven Buckley, America needs "more orthodoxy, not less"—a statement that I agree with under some conceptions of "orthodoxy," not all.
Mr Buckley's willingness to courageously defend the "spirit" of the Mcarthy investigations into communist influence in American government is manifest in his book "Mcarthy And His Enemies": it is one of the more memorable works I have read in my investigations of conservative thought in America, and it is the reason that Mr. Buckley—when all is said and done, all ideological disputes aside, for in politics, as H. L. Mencken said, "One must rise above principle"!, but in philosophy one rises above politics—approaches heroic status in my pantheon of "intellectual" gods: He had the courage—a rare and fallen virtue in our lost age—to defend the unpopular cause, and he did not think that winning the argument was all that mattered—like some ancient sophists and rhetoricians, "eristic" as opposed to "dialectic" to recur to the Platonic language—for in this work and others he presented a "reasoned" and meticulously documented "rational" argument—a model of good critical scholarship (which were paralelled in two other of Mr Buckley's works, "God and Man at Yale" and "Up From Liberalism") sorely lacking in our age of hurried freneticism and technological entanglement. Mr. Buckley enriched our conception of what it means to be America (in the phrase of author Jedidiah Purdy), for he contributed in so many ways to making us what we are: He defined the entire constellation of conservative thought, and he fed the vital wellsprings of that thought by being an inimitable and noble reflection of what America, at its best, could be and become—He held out to it the promise of a better age, and he contributed to the resources that would assure that age at least a hearing in the marketplace, if a barly audible one as yet.
Bill Buckley represented the best in America because he represented what an American can become to the degree to which he is willing to work toward establishing his own vision of America and defending it as a great deed; America is not defined by its constitution, but its constitution provides the basis and genesis for its self-definition through the process of politics and its evolution in historical time: America's destiny is an unfinished Destiny and only with the work and striving of great individuals and those whom they immortally inspire can the work of Light and goodness, of Enlightenment and Faith be carried to its destined completion—William F. Buckley did not cower in the face of the challenges of his age, but he confronted them courageously, seeking to both understand and to impart and share his understanding—his unique and noble comprehension of the world, man, society and cosmos, and it was in this spirit that he came to the defence of his alma matter Yale in seeking to restore the college to its original mission in light of its original, religious founding; like his chiding, that was meant to instruct and improve, of Yale, Mr Buckley similarly failed to be to be a flatterer of the liberal democracy, precisely because he sought to bring the regime to a better future state, because he was not unwilling to ask the question "Why not"? in seeking to further his vision of a better America, and he did all in his power to work on behalf of his ideals: Few men in the 20th century accomplished as much and none did it with greater finesse than my hero—William F. Buckley! Now He belongs to the Ages!