Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., 1925-2008


Libertarian reaction to the death of William F. Buckley, Jr., is mixed. Billy Beck, among others, never had much use for Buckley. Robert Poole and Tibor R. Machan admired him for some specific reasons while acknowledging his flaws.

My own assessment of Buckley is similar to James Leroy Wilson's. As Wilson aptly puts it, Buckley was a "gateway drug." Up From Liberalism occasioned my divorce from the statist left; observing his valiant attempts to resolve the contradictions in modern conservatism convinced me it couldn't be done; and he accorded libertarian ideas a respect sans total adoption which sparked my interest and pointed me in the right direction. Buckley may not have been a libertarian -- but without Buckley I wouldn't be one either.

Also, the man could write. Unlike some who use a bunch of fifty-cent words as a way of appearing erudite while saying nothing of importance, Buckley dipped into his broad vocabulary for the opposite reason -- he often said a lot in one sentence, even if you had to go look up "nugatory" and "usufruct" to figure out what the hell he was saying.

I particularly enjoy his Blackford Oakes novels. Yes, they are Cold War stuff. Yes, they are occasionally didactic. Those things (which I don't mind anyway) aside, they're also revealing of the author's mindset. Buckley loved freedom. He hated tyranny. That much is clear. That he couldn't find a way to fight what he hated while leaving what he loved unsullied is not unusual. He tried. Millions of Americans never made the effort at all, and it was only the fact that Buckley loomed large on the American political scene which called his failure to our attention.

He died at his desk, still trying to get it right.

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