Bill Buckley RIP

Posted by Helen Saturday, March 01, 2008 ,

My teenage years were dominated by newsprint. Literally. The house was filled with newspapers and magazines, which my mother periodically threw out. My father, on the other hand, was a true news and newspaper junkie. The day on which he could not get his fix was a bad day.

He subscribed to the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Daily Mail, the three heavy Sunday newspapers and the News of the World, the New Statesman and the Spectator as well as the Russian rags, necessary to his work as a leading commentator on the Soviet Union. Over and above that he (or quite often I on his instructions) bought Time Magazine and Private Eye. And then there came an addition: the National Review, the only exciting right-wing publication in the English language.

By this stage Bill Buckley (yes, I know his name was William F. Buckley but somehow even a teenage admirer in another country thought of him as Bill) had become a legend. He went on being a legend up to and beyond his recent death as this moving tribute by Peggy Noonan shows.

The facts of his life – his precocious entry into the world of political thought; his determination, brilliance and love of ideas and language; his hyperactive lifestyle – have all been told in numerous obituaries. I want to add several related points.

First is that Buckley, like Reagan and like Thatcher in some ways, was, as an American friend described him, a happy warrior. He took great joy in life and politics in whatever order that happened to come up. Buckley made conservative politics attractive through the joy he projected, the excitement with which he imbued all his activities: writing, broadcasting, entertaining, just living.

Whole new generations, mainly in the United States, but some in other parts of the Anglosphere, went to that side of the political spectrum, partly because what Buckley said was so absolutely right, in every sense of the word and partly because of his personality.

The obviousness of this is shown by the fact that until recently the Republican Party dominated politics and the right dominated political discourse in the US despite the stranglehold the liberal consensus acquired over the academia (as Buckley wrote as long ago as 1951 in his seminal “God and Man at Yale”) and the media.

Ronald Reagan and his presidency embodied in themselves these ideas and he showed them to be successful. Things change and different people come to the fore. The jury is still out on the Bush presidency, naturally enough since it will not be over till January of next year. It also looks as if the right has lost its appeal in the US. That, I suspect, is deceptive. Come November there may be a few surprises, especially for the British media, which managed to call the last presidential election wrong.

Even if the Democrats sweep into power, conservative ideas and conservative thinking will not be extinguished in that country – they may even become stronger.

What of Britain, which had a highly successful Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher? How much influence has Buckley really had?

On certain individuals his influence has undoubtedly been enormous. They are, however, the exception, the ones who look to America for ideas and think that Britain should be part of an Anglosphere instead of being stuck in an embarrassingly inward looking European project or try to revive the ideas of the Commonwealth.

What, however, the conservative movement has not taken on board is the sheer pleasure of proclaiming ideas that one considers to be right. There is too much hiding behind shibboleths, too much embarrassment, too much coughing and whispering, too many assumptions that one must not go beyond a certain point and that one must be “balanced” in what one says, writes or broadcasts.

Let us emulate the happy warrior as so many do in the US, in good times and bad: let us proclaim what we believe in without fear and without embarrassment. Only that way can conservatism be a mainstream ideology, which is what Bill Buckley made it in the fifty-odd years of his working life.

1 Responses to Bill Buckley RIP

  1. J. H. Wilson Says:
  2. We owe so much to Bill Buckley...I think more than we as a nation will ever really know. Thanks Bill. See you on the other side in the Shining City on a Hill. Tell Ronnie we miss him too.

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