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March 1, 2008
Rival 'Weekly Standard' Pays Tribute to Buckley
The Weekly Standard notes the passing of William Buckley this past week by having 5 excellent writers eulogize the great conservative.
William Kristol, Editor in Chief, remembers a man who welcomed the competition to the National Review:
More broadly, Buckley was notable for a generosity of spirit and an intellectual ecumenism. He welcomed many kinds of conservatives, old and new, into the fold at National Review, and he welcomed the emergence of other conservative organs and institutions (including this magazine). He knew that different kinds of conservatism could possess different elements of truth--and he would even acknowledge that liberalism might occasionally glimpse certain aspects of the just or the good. He didn't ever relax his standards of critical judgment, but he recognized the limits of any one person's or group's judgment. This combination of principle and ecumenism was key to his own intellectual vitality, and to the health of the conservatism he fathered.Christpher Hitchens, reformed leftist:
Ahh, Firing Line! If I leave a TV studio these days with what Diderot termed l'esprit de l'escalier, I don't always blame myself. If I wish that I had remembered to make a telling point, or wish that I had phrased something better than I actually did, it's very often because a "break" was just coming up, or the "segment" had been shortened at the last minute, or because the host was obnoxious, or because the panel had been over-booked in case of cancellations but at the last minute every egomaniac invited had managed to say "yes" and make himself available. But on Buckley's imperishable show, if you failed to make your best case it was your own damn fault. Terry Eastland remembers his "gift for friendship:"
Once the signature Bach chords had died away, and once he'd opened with that curiously seductive intro ("I should like to begin . . . "), you were given every opportunity to develop and pursue your argument. And if you misspoke or said anything fatuous, it was unlikely to escape comment. In my leftist days, if I knew I was going on the box with Buckley, I would make sure to do some homework (and attempt to emulate him by trying to make sure it didn't show).
I once wrote a letter to my hero, hoping to get one back. This was early in 1976, and I'd recently taken my first newspaper job. William F. Buckley Jr., who was willing to challenge liberal orthodoxy and defend traditional norms like no one else, was as famous as I was obscure, and I could think of no good reason he would actually write back. He was, after all, the most prolific writer around, and he did his weekly Firing Line show and all the speeches, and then there was the skiing in Switzerland, the transatlantic sailing, and more. Andrew Ferguson on the show Firing Line:
But the busy Buckley-"Dictated in Switzerland, Transcribed in New York," it said atop the page-wrote back. He answered a question I'd asked him about Albert Jay Nock, ending with this: "By the way, I own the holograph of Jefferson," Nock's biography of Thomas Jefferson. That "by the way" sentence served to invite me into my hero's company: The two of us could discuss Nock and maybe other writers and ideas. But it was the next sentence that bowled me over: "That was a splendid essay you did on C.S. Lewis." It had appeared eight months earlier in the old Alternative, soon to be renamed the American Spectator, and it was my first magazine piece ever. That Buckley could remember it at all astonished me. That he liked it was a huge encouragement to someone toiling in the newspaper equivalent of low-A ball.
Buckley's original format was stripped bare: two chairs, a table, Buckley himself, with his clipboard and pen, and a guest, who would carry on a conversation for the full hour, at (in retrospect) an almost unimaginable level of cleverness. Unavoidably, there was punditry and commentary on the crises of the day--Vietnam, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Watergate, Jimmy Carter--but Buckley and Firing Line also brought us Rebecca West talking about the nature of treason, Stephen Spender on poetry, Eudora Welty on southern literature, Kingsley Amis on humor, Fulton Sheen on Augustine, and Gunnar Myrdal and Malcolm Muggeridge and B. F. Skinner and Walker Percy . . . for an hour at a time, without commercials.Joseph Bottum on Buckley's faith:
Along the way, many have remarked on his multiple lives. He had a rich man's existence, with the skiing in Switzerland and the sailing on the Atlantic and the parties on Park Avenue and the chauffeur-driven car coming into Manhattan from the estate in Connecticut. And then he had his writing life, creating the series of spy-thriller novels that began in 1976 with Saving the Queen and penning books about food and boating and his brief but depressing time at the United Nations. What a remarkable tribute from a rival publication.
All the while, he had his pundit's career, writing three newspaper columns a week and taping his television show and editing National Review and giving 70 lectures a year and plotting political adventures with the powers that be. It's enough to fill three lifetimes, and yet, somehow, in the accounts of all this, his Christian devotion seems almost to have disappeared. This was yet another of the simultaneous lives that he led, another string to his bow, and there was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when Buckley was also seen as the nation's leading Catholic layman.