“The best defense against surpatory government is an assertive citizenry.”
William F. Buckley, Jr., grew up in an era that was embracing the ascendancy of government expansion under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Buckley’s heroic battle against modern liberalism was so pronounced and effective because of the seriousness of his ideas and the intellectual weight they carried. His 1951 book God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom, which highlighted the efforts of professors to indoctrinate students in liberal ideology and to cultivate a contempt for religious faith, served to establish Buckley as the founding father of the modern American conservative movement. Four years later Buckley created National Review Magazine, a publication that championed human liberty and the conservative cause. Buckley was often quoted as saying, “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.” His profile rose with his many books, famed vocabulary, and especially as host of the popular debate show Firing Line.
Never shy about hiding his beliefs, Buckley was also a committed Catholic. His Christianity was the foundation of his beliefs. In his autobiography of faith titled Nearer, My God, Buckley declared:
It is of course obvious that it is mostly features of this world from which we take our satisfactions. The love of our family, the company of our friends, the feel of wind on the face, the excitement of the printed page, the delights of color and form and sound; food, wine, sex. But there is that other life that only human beings can experience, and in that life, and from that life, other pulsations are felt. They press upon us, in the Christian vision, one thing again and again, which is that God loves us. The best way to put it is that God would give His life for us and, in Christ, did.
Perhaps one of Buckley’s greatest achievements was his ability to bring traditional conservatives, free-market advocates, and anti-communists together into a political movement. Not only did Buckley exorcize the American Right of its anti-Semitic elements, but he also popularized the once moribund conservative movement and elevated it to the center of American political life. He was essential in laying the intellectual foundations that brought America the likes of Ronald Reagan. “You didn’t just part the Red Sea — you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism. And then, as if that weren’t enough, you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom,” Reagan said of Buckley.
Buckley played an integral role in shaping American political culture in the twentieth century, and in challenging the West to live up to its higher ideals and purpose. He will always be remembered as one who had a deep faith, an infectious joy, and as a lover of freedom.
Hero of Liberty image attribution: SPC 5 Bert Goulait, US Military [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons