William F. Buckley, Jr has died at age 82. While the news is too recent for much reaction, National Review Online does note that he died while at work in his study, exactly how they think he would have wanted it.
Buckley’s great achievement, as noted by The New York Times, was to make conservatism “a system of ideas.” We might not agree with many of his ideas, but Buckley was the type of person to turn to in order to hear opposing viewpoints argued with intelligence and wit. In a day before blogs and twenty-four hour political coverage, The National Review and Firing Line provided intelligent discussion of politics regardless of whether I agreed with Buckley’s viewpoints. Buckley’s works also provided for an education in the English language along with politics.
Buckley’s attitudes provide an important contrast to the manner in which the conservative movement has degenerated in recent years. Contrast Buckley’s attitude with those ranging from Ron Paul to even Glenn Beck who would grant legitimacy to extremists which Buckley had ostracized. The New York Times notes:
National Review also helped define the conservative movement by isolating cranks from Mr. Buckley’s chosen mainstream.
“Bill was responsible for rejecting the John Birch Society and the other kooks who passed off anti-Semitism or some such as conservatism,” Hugh Kenner, a biographer of Ezra Pound and a frequent contributor to National Review told The Washington Post. “Without Bill, if he had decided to become an academic or a businessman or something else without him, there probably would be no respectable conservative movement in this country.”
Buckley not only rejected extremists such as the Birchers. In recent years he has rejected the biggest mistake made by the Republican Party writing, “One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.” Buckley’s death will certainly be a tremendous loss to the conservative movement.