A Tribute to William F. Buckley Jr.
As you now know, the father of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley Jr., passed away this week. Bill Buckley was many things to many people: founder of National Review, enfant terrible, mischievous maverick, and host of the award-winning Firing Line. Here at Regnery, we were proud to know him as one of our beloved bestselling authors.
In 1952, Regnery published Bill Buckley’s very first book-the groundbreaking God & Man at Yale. It’s been selling steadily and influencing new generations of conservatives ever since. Fifty years later, we were honored to publish Buckley’s moving, elegant autobiography, Miles Gone By.
Nothing we can say will do justice to this literary master. So we mourn and honor him with his own words. The following excerpts are taken from Miles Gone By, which chronicles Buckley’s extraordinary life, from his childhood in Sharon, CT, to his college days at Yale, from his transoceanic sailing exploits to debating Ronald Reagan or chauffeuring Whittaker Chambers.
Excerpts from Miles Gone By, A Literary Autobiography.
Conflict Over Unusual Words.
Some words, Dwight Macdonald wrote in a celebrated review of Webster’s Third, belong in the “zoo section” of the dictionary. I.e., the words do exist, but the need for them is so remote, you can-and should-keep them caged up in the zoo until it is absolutely necessary to take one out, which may be never. I know a word that describes the feeling you have in the roof of your mouth when peanut butters sticks to it, but I will never use it; in fact, I decline to disclose it.
Why Don’t We Complain?
We are reluctant to make our voices heard, we are afraid that our cause is too trivial to justify the horrors of a confrontation with the Authority…As I write this, on an airplane, I have run out of paper and need to reach into my briefcase for more. I cannot do this until my empty lunch tray is removed from my lap. I arrested the stewardess as she passed empty-handed down the aisle on the way to the kitchen.
“Would you please take my tray?”
“Just a moment, sir!” she said, and marched on sternly.
Shall I remind her that not fifteen minutes ago she spoke unctuously into the loudspeaker the words undoubtedly devised by the airline’s highly paid public-relations counselor: “If there is anything I or Miss French can do for you to make your trip more enjoyable, please let us-” I have run out of paper.
On Yale and God.
Yes, God and Yale coexist…As I think back, I wonder that any apologetics need go any further than the remark I ran into at Yale.
“I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop.”
I wish I had said that.
The Secret of Fireflies.
Outdoors it was very very still, and from our bedroom we could see the fireflies. I opined to my sister Trish that when the wind dies and silence ensues, fireflies acquire a voice.
“Why do they care if it’s quiet outside?”
I informed her solemnly that it was well known to adults that fireflies do not like the wind, as it interferes with their movements. Inasmuch as I was thirteen and omniscient, my explanation was accepted.
The Essence of Sailing.
When you are in the harbor, four congenial people around the table, eating and drinking and conversing, listening to music and smoking cigars, the wind and the hail and the chill outside faced up to and faced down, in your secure little anchorage-here is a compound of life’s social pleasures in the womb of nature.
On Ronald Reagan.
Yes, there was the legendary aloofness, but this was forgivingly accepted…Reagan sat at one end of the table with sandwiches and a glass of wine telling stories, making Thanksgiving credible for his friends. It’s hard to imagine him out of action, and best not to dwell on it.
On Whittaker Chambers.
The tokens of hope and truth were not, Chambers seemed to be saying, to be preserved by a journal of opinion, not by writers or thinkers, but only by activists. Though Chambers was intellectual, insatiable and relentlessly curious, it was action, not belletrism, that moved him most deeply.
I said to Johnny Carson that to say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.
Regnery joins the rest of the conservative community to
mourn the passing of our founding father. RIP, WFB.
Source: Human Events-email.
Buckley Athwart History.
I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.
— “God and Man at Yale,” 1951.
It seems altogether possible that did National Review not exist, no one would have invented it. . . . For we offer, besides ourselves, a position that has not grown old under the weight of a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of Ph.D.s in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town.
— “Statement,” National Review, 1955.
The attempted assassination of Sukarno last week had all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Everyone in the room was killed except Sukarno.
— Editorial, National Review, 1957.
We deem it the central revelation of Western experience that man cannot ineradicably stain himself, for the wells of regeneration are infinitely deep. . . . Khrushchev cannot take permanent advantage of our temporary disadvantage, for it is the West he is fighting. And in the West there lie, however encysted, the ultimate resources, which are moral in nature. . . . Even out the depths of despair, we take heart in the knowledge that it cannot matter how deep we fall, for there is always hope. In the end, we will bury him.
— Address in New York, after Khrushchev was invited to speak at the U.N., 1960.
The glorious development of this year was the nomination of a man whose views have given the waiting community a choice. . . . Now is precisely the moment to labor incessantly to educate our fellow citizens. The point is to win recruits whose attention we might never have attracted but for Barry Goldwater: to win them not only for Nov. 3 but for future Novembers: to infuse the conservative spirit in enough people to entitle us to look about, on Nov. 4, not at the ashes of defeat but at the well-planted seeds of hope, which will flower on a great November day in the future.
— Address to Young
Americans for Freedom,
At a press conference during his campaign for mayor of New York City: Do you have any chance of winning?
Q: Do you really want to be mayor?
Buckley: I’ve never considered it.
Q: Well, conservatively speaking, how many votes do you expect to get?
Q: And who would cast that vote?
Buckley: My secretary.
— 1965 (When later asked what he would do if elected, he replied, “Demand a
A good debater is not necessarily an effective vote-getter: you can find a hole in your opponent’s argument through which you could drive a coach and four ringing jingle bells all the way, and thrill at the crystallization of a truth wrung out from a bloody dialogue — which, however, may warm only you and your muse, while the smiling paralogist has in the meantime made votes by the tens of thousands.
— “The Unmaking of a Mayor,” 1966.
I first met [Whittaker] Chambers in 1954. An almost total silence had closed in on him. Two years earlier he had published “Witness.” . . . The bitterness of the Hiss trial had not by any means subsided. For some of the reviewers, Hiss’s innocence had once been a fixed rational conviction, then blind faith; now it was rank superstition, and they bent under the force of an overwhelming book. . . .
The tokens of hope and truth were not, he seemed to be saying, to be preserved by a journal of opinion, not by writers and thinkers, but only by activists, and I was to know that he considered a publication — the right kind of publication — not a word, but a deed. Though Chambers was a passionate literary man, always the intellectual, insatiably and relentlessly curious, in the last analysis it was action, not belletrism, that moved him most deeply.
— “Odyssey of a Friend,” 1969.
Henry Gibson: Mr. Buckley, I have noticed that whenever you appear on television, you’re always seated. Is that because you can’t think on your feet?
Buckley: It’s very hard to stand up carrying the weight of what I know.
— Appearance on “Laugh-In,” 1970.
I am lapidary but not eristic when I use big words.
— Column, 1986.
How gifted do you need to be to publish Whittaker Chambers and Russell Kirk, James Burnham and Keith Mano? . . . If an editorial note is reserved for me in the encyclopedias, it will appear under the heading “Alchemy.” . . . And, yes, we did as much as anybody with the exception of — Himself — to shepherd into the White House the man I am confident will emerge as the principal political figure of the second half of the 20th century . . . He said, at a critical moment in history, that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was an evil empire. . . . We were missing only the galvanizing summation; and we got it from President Reagan: and I think that the countdown for Communism began then.
— Address at National Review’s 35th anniversary banquet, upon his retirement as editor, 1990.
Above all, conservatives tend to intuit that materialist terminology is insufficient to express the depth of American attachments to their ideals. It remains, for some reason, arresting that one speaks of the “sanctity” of life, of our “devotion” to our ideals, of the “holy” causes in which we engage. American conservatives never exclude those who discountenance transcendent perspectives, but we tend to live by them.
— “To Preserve What We Have,” essay in The Wall Street Journal, 2002.
Ah, but the sea always has something lying in wait for you. . . . You are moving at racing speed, parting the buttery sea as with a scalpel, and the waters roar by, themselves exuberantly subdued by your powers to command your way through them. Triumphalism — and the stars also seem to be singing together for joy.
— “Thoughts on a Final Passage,” essay, 2004.
Despair is inappropriate for a culture as buoyant as our own.
— Address at the Yale Political Union, 2006.
Source: Opinion Journal. (WSJ)
While this video is 51:31 minutes long, it is truly a must listen!
Hat tip: Andrei.
I haven’t been able to put into words the shock and dismay I am feeling, so I have allowed those who knew him better than I to do so for me. Thank you.
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