William F. Buckley was the original enfant terrible.
As with Ronald Reagan, everyone prefers to remember great men when they weren't being great, but later, when they were being admired. Having changed the world, there came a point when Buckley no longer needed to shock it.
But to call Buckley an "enfant terrible" and then to recall only his days as a grandee is like calling a liberal actress "courageous." Back in the day, Buckley truly was courageous. I prefer to remember the Buckley who scandalized to the bien-pensant.
Other tributes will contain the obvious quotes about demanding a recount if he won the New York mayoral election and trusting the first 100 names in the Boston telephone book more than the Harvard faculty. I shall revel in the "terrible" aspects of the enfant terrible.
Buckley's first book, "God and Man at Yale," was met with the usual thoughtful critiques of anyone who challenges the liberal establishment. Frank Ashburn wrote in the Saturday Review: "The book is one which has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night. There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic. They will cover the face."
The president of Yale sent alumni thousands of copies of McGeorge Bundy's review of the book from the Atlantic Monthly calling Buckley a "twisted and ignorant young man." Other reviews bordered on the hyperbolic. One critic simply burst into tears, then transcribed his entire crying jag word for word.
Buckley's next book, "McCarthy and His Enemies," written with L. Brent Bozell, proved that normal people didn't have to wait for the Venona Papers to be declassified to see that the Democratic Party was collaborating with fascists. The book -- and the left's reaction thereto -- demonstrated that liberals could tolerate a communist sympathizer, but never a Joe McCarthy sympathizer.
Relevant to Republicans' predicament today, National Review did not endorse a candidate for president in 1956, correctly concluding that Dwight Eisenhower was not a conservative, however great a military leader he had been. In his defense, Ike never demanded that camps housing enemy detainees be closed down.
Nor would National Review endorse liberal Republican Richard Nixon, waiting until 1964 to enthusiastically support a candidate for president who had no hope of winning. Barry Goldwater, though given the right things to say -- often by Buckley or Bozell, who wrote Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative" -- was not particularly bright.