WASHINGTON -- William Buckley's pioneering influence in the creation of the modern American conservative movement has been well documented since his passing last week.
But little if any attention has been given to the influence and impact he had upon a younger generation of foot soldiers in that movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when he burst upon the political scene with the publication of his indictment of liberal academics, "God And Man At Yale," and with the founding of National Review magazine. The movement he helped to create produced a large cadre of thinkers, writers, political strategists, activists and fundraisers that eventually came to dominate American politics over the past half century. But Buckley stood as their intellectual leader, the paladin of the American right.
Nowhere was his influence felt more keenly than on America's college campuses, bastions of liberalism that viewed Buckley as their archenemy but soon saw his forces storming the gates and making inroads into their once impregnable territory. I was a college student at Boston University in the early 1960s who had read "God And Man At Yale," as all of Buckley's admirers had, and was astounded that the political prejudices he excoriated at Yale were the same ones we encountered in our own classrooms.
At B.U., one of my government professors enthusiastically spoke in his lecture hall about his admiration, work and support for John F. Kennedy. On the first day of an economics class my professor came in, opened up a book by John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard socialist, and read from it at length as his textbook. Another teacher promoted socialist Sweden as the only sensible economic system to follow. Republicans were bad and conservatives were dangerous. Capitalism was absolutely the worst of all the isms, bent on further enriching corporate power at the expense of the poor and the working class. Alternative views to this basic template were hard to find, if not extinct.
Buckley's books, magazine, writings and lectures provided us with a well-reasoned, intellectual defense of conservatism and free-market capitalism, and we carried his crusade onto our campuses and into our classrooms because of him. But hostility to conservative thought remained intense, though the fun was in the battle of ideas, as outnumbered as we were then.