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  • William F. Buckley: Conservatism's Intellectual Godfather

    William F. Buckley (center) with former Attorney General Ed Meese (left) and Heritage President Ed Feulner (right)

    Sixty years ago this November, a recent Yale graduate published a book that outraged the distinguished university’s administration and launched a young conservative’s career. The book was God and Man at Yale. The man was William F. Buckley, Jr.

    The book’s success led Buckley to found National Review in 1955, which quickly became the preeminent conservative publication in the United States. As conservative historian George Nash noted, “Without Buckley, the movement might have floundered indefinitely in its search for sophisticated leadership.” Before there was a Tea Party, Ronald Reagan, or even Barry Goldwater, there was William F. Buckley, Jr.

    For those young conservatives who don’t know about modern conservatism’s intellectual godfather, here’s the scoop on William F. Buckley, Jr., who he is, and why he matters.

    William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925–2008) was the Renaissance man of modern American conservatism. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of National Review, a syndicated columnist, the host of “Firing Line” (TV’s longest-running weekly public affairs program), the author of more than 50 books, and a college lecturer for nearly five decades. His mighty stream of words is almost surely unequalled by any other writer of the last 100 years.

    When Bill Buckley came along, American conservatism was composed of “a congeries of ill assorted half-enemies.” Buckley purged the conservative movement of its extremist elements and united the rest by persuading traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists to focus on a common enemy—liberalism.

    Buckley’s vision of ordered liberty shaped and guided modern conservatism from its infancy in the 1950s to its present-day maturity as a political force that has transformed American politics. As George Will has written, “Before there was Ronald Reagan, there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater, there was National Review, and before there was National Review, there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 became a conflagration.”

    This question was reprinted from the new First Principles page at Heritage.org. For more answers to frequently asked questions check visit http://www.heritage.org/Initiatives/First-Principles/basics.

    Posted in Featured, First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to William F. Buckley: Conservatism's Intellectual Godfather

    1. WFB was the best! BEST writer, BEST conservative thinker, BEST boss!! I miss him "on the right" of things very much as do many. When I worked in a lower level position at National Review for about three years, I rarely saw him (I answered to his sister Priscilla, who at the time was in charge of the editorial department). I remember once being summoned "upstairs" by a senior editor to a Meeting where I knew Buckley was presiding. My legs melted into my shoes but all that anxiety vanished when I entered the boardroom and Bill nodded, said "Hi", then asked for what I had been required to fetch…someone's manuscript as I vaguely recall. It was all heady stuff for a part-time editorial assistant.

      Bill Buckley did, indeed, transform politics by creating a real politic for persons of the right that even the left had to respect. He would be invaluable in today's political arena, but much remains in his writings for those who have followed him to learn by. I am glad to see the Heritage honoring him.

    2. Georga says:

      I was thinking about Buckley not too long ago, and searched the internet to find most of the postings were about his relationship with Ayn Rand. I remember a tv documentary about him a few years ago when I began to admire him. It's so wonderful to see an American like William F. Buckley. He wasn't much of a family man as I recall, but he had a mission. Sometimes it's best for geniuses to stay single?
      Thanks for the article.

      • angelblair says:

        The Buckley Family motto, most notably heralded by F. Reid Buckley, is "God – Family – Country"

    3. Alan Koenig says:

      This man was brilliant yet all I hear about in college is Noam Chomsky. Why, I wonder?

      • Martha Copenhaver says:

        The reason we hear about Noam Chomsky instead of William Buckley is: We have Obama for a president instead of a conservative Republican. Buckley was one of our greatest Americans. Chomsky is a disgrace who has come up through the ranks of the Democrats , Socialists, and Communists.
        Ask Obama. He probably knows him well, as he knows Bill Ayers, the Communist professor from U. Chicago.

        The other reason is that many professors and lecturers at the college/university level have been taught
        (indoctrinated) by the liberal/socialist/communists who have become the new crop of professors and lecturers in the colleges and universities. "Monkey see; monkey do." Americans need to pay closer attention to how their children are being indoctrinated at some (not all) of our colleges and universities.
        It is "not a pretty sight".

        Bill Buckley is sadly missed. We can be thankful to him, however, for NATIONAL REVIEW and many wonderful novels.

        Charles Krauthammer is our nearest replacement for Bill Buckley, but he cannot be replaced.

        I hope we shall always honor William F. Buckley. What a wonderful man!

        The problem is that liberal professors often beget liberal minded students who then go on to be liberal teachers and professors. And so it goes.

    4. Helen Spingola says:

      There will never be a replacement for Mr . Buckley. He stands alone. A true super=American…..

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