Bill Murchison

Maybe we could just, you know, take a break from the Murtha mess and the rivalries that underlie it -- large as they are -- and note a notable birthday, that of William F. Buckley Jr., which occurs this Thanksgiving.

 Appropriately enough. As our brother becomes an octogenarian, some of us rosy-cheeked sexagenarians would offer thanks for the blessing of such a life and career as Bill Buckley's.

 The most flagrant offense likely to be charged to Bill Buckley, on his 80th, is that of helping to generate a conservatism capable of entering into the kinds of disputes that now rage over Iraq, the Supreme Court, federal spending, federal power, etc.

 Life would unquestionably be quieter, absent our brother Bill and also more fraught with peril and/or pure tedium. Without Buckley, without his wit, grace and brains, the dominant liberalism of post-World War II America might have washed all dissent out to sea. There would have been no conservative comeback; no Goldwater, no Reagan. The present menace to life and limb would be the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile, instead of the jihadist suicide bomb. Our taxes would certainly be steeper, our lives more bureaucratized, our hands less free to improvise and invent.

 That is because the essence of conservatism, as Bill Buckley understood and began advertising it, half a century ago, was Christian freedom as shaped by tradition. It was a proposition at odds with all the ends of human manipulation.

 Manipulation, by those who understood themselves to be wise and generous at heart, was the style of the times: the product mostly of the Depression era and vain, boastful science. Buckley and fellow believers in the higher freedom began as a scattered lot. Gradually, they came together under his leadership and inspiration to preach the gospel of human freedom as mediated by the spirit of Christianity.

 Buckley founded National Review in 1955. In 1960, a then-18-year-old Texan with whom I am on intimate terms discovered the publication and its learned, impassioned writers; swooned dead away with passion; subscribed; read every issue at a single sitting.

 National Review wasn't just a journal -- a mass cogitation. It was an ongoing, often hilarious, argument with society's most facile assumptions. Out in front of its readership NR shoved the expostulating, bickering, needling, wise-cracking likes of Willmoore Kendall, Russell Kirk, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers and the editor himself, William F. Buckley Jr.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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