At Accuracy in Academia’s June 14 Author’s night, Heritage Foundation scholar Lee Edwards described the late William F. Buckley Jr. as the St. Paul of the conservative movement.
The founder of National Review, Buckley Jr. was a devout Catholic.
Buckley “could almost be called in some sense the patron saint of the tea party movement,” which supports limited government, is anti-establishment, and “love[s] to stick a finger in the eye of the Republican party, and the Democratic party…and all organized parties,” argued Edwards, author of William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. He described Buckley’s natural generosity:
“He [Buckley] was in Texas one day and…was introduced and went to a, to a young veteran of the Vietnam war who was blind and [they] said, well, we’re sorry but you’ll never see again. And it so happened that Bill Buckley knew a very prominent eye surgeon in New York City [and] got this young man on a plane to New York. The surgeon looked at him, said ‘I think we can do something here’ and after several operations, successful, the young man recovered his sight.”
For Edwards, Buckley’s life and actions strike a personal note. He said that he knew Buckley for almost 50 years and that Buckley had published his first article in National Review.
Buckley also once called Edwards’ wife, then single, about an editorial she wrote in the Young Women’s Republican Club of New York newsletter, he said. Not believing it was really the conservative writer, she initially hung up on him after dismissing the call as a spoof, he noted.
Edwards recounted how, in June 2007, in the last year of Buckley’s life, the elder statesman of the conservative Movement took an 8-hour train ride from Stanford, Connecticut down to Washington, D.C. in order to speak at the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial.
Edwards is the Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOCMF).
“Once asked to define conservatism Buckley responded that what National Review had striven to do from the beginning was to achieve ‘a consensus on the proper balance between freedom, order, justice and tradition,’” said Edwards. “As Buckley might have put it: ‘fusionism, anyone?’”
According to Edwards, Buckley was influenced by four major authors:
1. Albert J. Nock, libertarian author of Memoirs of a Superfluous Man;
2. Yale professor Wilmoore Kendall, an expert on John Locke;
3. Whittaker Chambers, a former communist spy; and
4. New York University professor James Burnham, author of The Managerial Revolution.
“By instinct and upbringing Buckley was an idealist but he learned to be a realist except in matters dealing with Communism under the influence of Chambers and that of the fourth and last political mentor in his life, James Burnham,” commented Edwards.
“It’s been called to my attention,” he said. “I didn’t go into this in this particular book, and this is important—that Friedrich Hayek did have a great deal of influence on Bill Buckley, that he read The Road to Serfdom when it first came out in 1944-45 and referred to it and to Hayek frequently.”
In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek argues that government intervention leads to declining civil liberties. “He [Hayek] recognized that, as a practical matter, the largely Catholic parties of the center—the Christian Democrats—would be the chief political force countering the new totalitarianism of the left,” argued Cato Institute Fellow Gerald O’Driscoll Jr. in the mid-90s.
Buckley Jr. was a mentor to many young conservatives, said Edwards. “So he would say give young people lots of responsibility but at the same time mentor them,” he said.
Edwards suggested that young people today “…go into academia, to get advanced degrees, think about teaching, because the professors, the liberal professors of the 1960s are dying or dead or gone and there’s some—there are openings now in colleges and universities across the country for young professors…”
Edwards recommended several books by Buckley, including God and Man at Yale, Nearer My God, and Miles Gone By.
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.