In Memoriam

The news of William F. Buckley Jr.’s death this morning saddened not just those conservatives who knew and worked with him, but everyone who came into contact with him over his 82 years.

Bill Buckley was there at the beginning. In fact, in many ways, he was the beginning of the modern conservative movement. His God and Man at Yale was the first real assault on the liberal secularist domination of American academia, and the founding of National Review in 1955 is the event from which all else flows.

In those days there was, as Lionel Trilling and other liberals almost exuberantly observed, no respectable conservative tradition or movement in the United States, but in a few short years Bill Buckley changed that by bringing together anti-communists like Whittaker Chambers, iconoclastic libertarians like Frank Meyer and traditionalist followers of Russell Kirk, creating an incubator in which they could argue, mix and bond and thereby sowing the seeds for the movement that would in short order lead to the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Bill not only provided an incubator for that nascent movement, but took it upon himself to travel the country popularizing its core ideas with wit, humor and a willingness to take on all comers. He was an inspiration to the young conservatives of my generation and he will be missed by those who knew him personally as well as by all who value freedom, tradition and the dry good humor he displayed in battle after battle.

Bill was not himself a politician, though his willingness to enter New York City’s mayoral contest in the very belly of the liberal beast at a time when few conservatives anywhere were taken very seriously helped encourage others to begin the process not just of popularizing the ideas underpinning the new movement, but of forging those ideas into a political movement that would change history.

Those of us who knew him were constantly impressed not simply by his brilliance, but by the breadth of his thinking and interests, his humanity and, perhaps most of all, by the energy that propelled him to deliver at least a speech a week and produce a column that ran for decades, all while editing a profoundly influential journal of opinion and hosting the longest-running public affairs program in the history of broadcast television.

To think that he did all this in between trans-Atlantic sailing expeditions, long and not-to-be-interrupted skiing adventures in the Swiss Alps and while writing best-selling novels on the side made those of us possessed of less energy (which is to say all of us) look on in wonder.

To say that Bill Buckley was important is an understatement. His life reminds us of what one man can accomplish but few even attempt. He will be mourned and he will be missed and, most of all, he will be remembered.


Keene is chairman of The American Conservative Union, whose website can be accessed here.

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