Posts tagged with: william f. buckley

On November 5th, 2015, the Acton Institute was pleased to host Dr. Bradley J. Birzer for a lunch lecture and book launch celebration for the release of his latest book, Russell Kirk: American Conservative.

Russell Kirk has long been known as perhaps the most important founding father of the American Conservative movement in the second half of the 20th century. In the early 1950s, America was emerging from two decades of the Great Depression and the New Deal and facing the rise of radical ideologies abroad; the American Right seemed beaten, broken, and adrift. Then in 1953, Russell Kirk released his masterpiece, The Conservative Mind. More than any other published work of the time, this book became the intellectual touchstone for a reinvigorated movement and began a sea change in Americans’ attitudes toward traditionalism.

Brad Birzer’s new biography recounts the story of Kirk’s life and work, with attention paid not only to his writings on politics and economics, but also on literature and culture, both subjects dear to Kirk’s heart and central to his thinking.

Dr. Bradley J. Birzer holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College, and also serves as an Associate Professor of History. We’re pleased to present Dr. Birzer’s presentation for your edification here on the PowerBlog.

(After the jump, I’ve included the latest edition of Radio Free Acton featuring Brad Birzer, as well as some audio and video highlights of Russell Kirk’s appearances at Acton’s first Annual Dinner, and as part of the 1994 Lord Acton Lecture Series.)


Isabel Paterson

Isabel Paterson

“If there were just one gift you could choose, but nothing barred, what would it be? We wish you then your own wish: you name it. Our is liberty, now and forever.”

Isabel Paterson came to influence the likes of Ayn Rand and William F. Buckley, but her early life was rough and tumble. One of nine children, Paterson had only two years of formal education but loved to read. Her father had a difficult time making a living and was constantly uprooting his family in search of work. However, Paterson credited her early life for teaching her self-sufficiency and hard work.

As a teen, she moved to Calgary and began a career as a journalist. It was in Vancouver that she found her voice, writing about the changing role of women both in the family and in the world, and chiding those with servants for their snobbish attitudes towards those who worked for them. (more…)

Review of The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, by Jonah Goldberg, (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2012)

With proper training, and maybe a bit of experience on the debate team, it’s easy to recognize logical fallacies in an opponent’s argument. When it comes to popular give and take, the sort of thing we have so much of now on opinion websites and news channels, there hasn’t been decent preparation for arguments outside the columns and blog posts of Jonah Goldberg.

In The Tyranny of Cliches, the National Review contributor, syndicated columnist, author of the bestseller Liberal Fascism, and American Enterprise Institute fellow, convincingly demolishes the Left’s oft-repeated, bumper-sticker slogans that seemingly defy repudiation by many who fear being depicted as a heartless jackanape.

For example, if an impassioned public figure pleads that yet another government expansion and encroachment is “for the children” it is therefore ipso facto in the best interests of everyone. This is a “case-closed” logical fallacy that circumvents rational discussion by declaring that if millions of cute kids benefit, only meanies, bullies, or some contemporary amalgamation of Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Darth Vader could oppose it.

Not so fast. Goldberg’s new book wonderfully dissects such liberal shibboleths as “social justice,” “diversity,” attacks on organized religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular, and “separation of church and state” to reveal the hollowness within. In this regard, Goldberg resembles most William F. Buckley, with the difference that the latter stood athwart history yelling stop, and the former stands astride postmodernism to scream “enough!”

The Thomas Nelson company sent me AmSpec alumnus Jeremy Lott’s William F. Buckley. I will write a full review later, but I have just begun the book and can already tell that Lott is going to bring attention to some underappreciated territory.

His hook is that Bill Buckley was more or less a prophet. His aim is to show how Buckley’s faith influenced his life and his politics.

Only nine pages in I have been treated to the following quote by JFK in response to a Harvard speaker who crowed that the school had never graduated either an Alger Hiss or a McCarthy. JFK roared, “How dare you couple the name of a great American patriot with the name of a traitor!” (Whatever happened to the Kennedy’s?)

Of course, the book is not about JFK, but about WFB, and I am sure from what I have read so far that the effort will be a worthy one.

Lee Edwards calls William F. Buckley Jr. “The St. Paul of the conservative movement.” No other 20th century figure made such a vast contribution to the intellectual force of political conservatism. He paved the way for the likes of Ronald Reagan and all of those political children of Reagan who credit the former president for bringing them into politics. He achieved what no other had done and that was his ability to bring traditional conservatives, libertarians, and anti-communists together under the same umbrella. Late in life, when asked why he continued working so hard despite fame and wealth, a surprised Buckley said, “My Father taught me that I owe it to my country. It’s how I pay my debt.”

Lee Edwards offers an excellent story of Buckley’s founding and overseeing of the modern conservative crusade in William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. Edwards traces the roots of those who influenced Buckley, from libertarian author Albert Jay Nock, conservative political scientist Willmoore Kendall, the anti-communist Whittaker Chambers, and political theorist James Burnham. Buckley fused together these right of center factions that were often feuding with each other more than with their common foes, the statists. Kendall, Burnham, and Chambers were all closely associated with National Review, launched by Buckley in 1955. Russell Kirk was also an essential conservative voice in the mix who agreed to become a contributor to the magazine. Buckley purged Ayn Rand and her anti-Christian and morally bankrupt philosophy of Objectivism from mainstream conservatism. He dismissed anti-semitism from the movement by dismissing it from his publication. The conservative historian George Nash simply said, “Much of the history of American conservatism after 1955 is the history of the individuals associated with the magazine William F. Buckley Jr. founded.”

A significant aspect of this book, and one that has received more attention since the death of Buckley, was his magnanimous personality and financial generosity. It is estimated that since he was paid a nominal salary by National Review, he diverted $10 million to the magazine because he forwarded speaking fees, lecture fees and other fees to National Review’s coffers. He waived his speaking fee for the Acton Institute in 1992 because according to Edwards, “He was taken with the idea of an organization dedicated to explaining the relationship between-free market capitalism and Christian morality.” Edwards offers other points of generosity:

He once visited a young man in a Texas hospital recovering from wounds in Vietnam. The soldier’s doctors had told him he would never see again. Buckley paid for his flight to New York City, where after an eye examination by one of the world’s leading eye surgeons and three operations, the young veteran’s eyesight was restored.

Buckley’s wit, sunny personality, and charm was infectious. Edwards tells a story about how Buckley was wildly cheered by Harvard students at a debate because of his biting wit and intellectual prowess. It became apparent that Buckley was cut from a far different mold than the stereotypical angry or dour faced conservative.

The weight of his commitments to National Review, Firing Line, his column and book writing, lecture schedule, and assisting other conservative organizations was staggering. He even found time to run for mayor of New York City in 1965. Buckley wanted to raise national awareness of conservative and libertarian ideas and when asked what he would do if he won he famously quipped, “Demand a recount.” He called for welfare reform in the campaign, saying recipients should work for assistance, outlining the ideas future Republican lawmakers would embrace in their own calls for reform. He supported free enterprise zones in ethnic minority neighborhoods long before Jack Kemp would popularize the idea. Buckley shocked many pundits with a respectable showing in the race, garnering support from many ethnic, Catholic Democrats and middle class Republicans. These, of course, were the same groups Ronald Reagan would later tap into in his presidential campaigns.

Buckley’s Roman Catholic faith was intricately tied to his conservative views. He believed in human liberty but understood that liberty itself could not lead to an earthly utopia. He penned a meditative account of his Catholic faith in Nearer, My God. Edwards reminds us his anti-communist views stemmed “not just because it was tyranny but also because it was heresy.” When he was asked by Playboy Magazine what he wanted as an epitaph, he replied, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Buckley’s friendship with Ronald Reagan was deep and abiding, even among the occasional political disagreements. Both men shared a passion for not merely containing communism but defeating it. Buckley called Lech Walesa, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and Andrei Sakharov the great heroes of the 1980s and they had earned their place in “freedom’s House of Lords.” But the political leader was Ronald Reagan, with his strategic vision. Reagan too praised Buckley saying at the 30th anniversary celebration of National Review:

You and I remember a time of the forest primeval, a time when nightmare and danger reigned and only the knights of darkness prevailed; when conservatives seemed without a champion in the critical battle of style and content. And then, suddenly riding up through the mists, came our clipboard-bearing Galahad: ready to take on any challengers in the critical battle of point and counterpoint. And, with grace and humor and passion, to raise a standard to which patriots and lovers of freedom could repair.

No less praising is the truth Edwards articulates when he says Buckley, who was born into wealth, could have simply been a playboy of the Western world. But Buckley ferociously served and sacrificed in order to raise up the conservative cause and place it into the mainstream of American politics. He uplifted the intellectual debate of conservatives and the country, and always asked probing questions of the direction of the movement, most recently questioning the continued conflict in Iraq before his death. But never a quitter his last public comment on the war was “stick it out,” despite his skepticism of nation building in the Middle East, which he called “Wilsonian.”

William F. Buckley Jr. was a conservative icon. Generations of young conservatives grew up learning from him and tried to emulate his ideas and values. One of the greatest losses to conservatism with his death is the power of his ideas in times such as these. Many conservatives are reminded of this when we hear or read the anti-intellectualism and lack of critical thinking echoing from talk radio or the blogosphere. Buckley was the one who not only made conservatism respectable and mainstream, but reminded us too that it could tower over the liberals of the academy.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I reviewed a new book by George H. Nash on the history of the American conservative movement:

Reappraising the Right

By Bruce Edward Walker

In his 1950 work, “The Liberal Imagination,” Lionel Trilling famously stated that American liberalism was the one true political philosophy, claiming it as the nation’s “sole intellectual tradition.”

Unknown to him, two young men — one toiling as a professor at Michigan State Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) and the other finishing his degree at Yale University – would publish two articulate, galvanizing works. The first, Russell Kirk, unleashed “The Conservative Mind,” in which he defined conservatives as being wary of change, revolutions and ideologies in the manner of Irish statesman Edmund Burke. The second, William F. Buckley, first published “God and Man at Yale” and later inaugurated The National Review, the first issue bearing Buckley’s definition of a conservative as one who stands “athwart history, yelling stop!”

Slight differences, to be sure, but, as George H. Nash notes in his excellent “ Reappraising the Right ,” these variations are indicative of the inherent schisms in the modern American conservative tradition from its beginning.

Both Kirk and Buckley agreed that the conservative tradition had its roots in spirituality –specifically, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Morality and right-thinking come not from man, but from a higher power. Furthermore, humankind will continue to succumb to the temptations and appetites of the flesh it has been heir to since the Fall. The two men took as articles of faith that humanity is not perfectible and that the striving for earthbound utopias is foolhardy.

Kirk, writing from the “stump country” of Mecosta, Michigan, and Buckley, writing and speaking in his Brahmin-drenched New England patois, differed in their views of where conservatism derived, what precisely it was and where it should go. Despite their differences, Kirk wrote a column for nearly every issue of National Review from its inception and for almost 30 years.

The early 1950s were watershed years, to be sure, because as soon as a new conservative front was established, the fortress was besieged from within and without. The 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign against Democrat incumbent President Lyndon Johnson notwithstanding, the high water mark of conservatism in the lifetime of most readers would more than likely be defined as the victory of Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, supporter of Goldwater in the 1964 election, and former California governor, became an icon for all that modern conservatism came to represent: low taxes, personal responsibility and small government.


Saturday February 27 was the second anniversary of the death of the conservative giant William F. Buckley, Jr. I first saw Buckley in person when Ole Miss hosted Firing Line in 1997. I read National Review in High School even though I admit I did not always understand some of his words at that age. It was a wonderful reminder of the importance of  intellectualism and conservatism, and that I still had a lot to learn. The political left too had to respect Buckley’s brand of conservatism because of the seriousness of those ideas. It didn’t hurt that he was charming, gracious, and extremely generous.

After his death, Buckley was publicly honored with the Faith & Freedom Award by the Acton Institute at its annual dinner. He had long been a friend of Acton and Rev. Robert Sirico. Kate O’Beirne accepted the award on his behalf. It was a very touching evening and one we still remember well. The media department, with most of the leg work coming from Tabitha Blanski, produced this tribute video in honor of Buckley. It premiered at the 2008 Acton Annual Dinner. It is available publicly and on the Powerblog for the first time. The tribute is well worth the view.