William F. Buckley died this week at the age of 82. He was, among other things, the founder of National Review (my professional home for the last decade), architect and leader of the modern American conservative movement, host of "Firing Line" (where he was the longest-serving television host in history), renowned author of some 50 books - which included spy novels, political polemics, histories, biographies, sailing memoirs and countless animadversions of an acutely sesquipedalian flavor, as the peripatetic proselytizer of polysyllabism might say - harpsichord recitalist, syndicated columnist, esteemed lecturer (he gave some 70 speeches a year for decades), adventurer, father of acclaimed novelist and journalist Christopher Buckley and husband to philanthropist Patricia Buckley, one-time New York City mayoral candidate (when asked what he would do if he won, he responded, "Demand a recount"), mentor to countless young conservatives and inspiration to millions more.
In short, his life was richer and more packed than an overburdened sentence, such as the above.
In the inaugural issue of National Review, he set out to "stand athwart history, yelling Stop."
That rallying cry has always earned the scorn of liberals and leftists who believe in their bones that they are the servants of Progress, and that Progress is something you can't stand in the way of. (Alas, it has also elicited rolling eyes and titters from a new generation of self-described "compassionate conservatives" who believe that the government is there to love you.)
Still, it was the Marxists who best articulated this conviction that with every page ripped from the calendar, humanity was closer to the ideal of universal collective endeavor. They spoke of cold impersonal forces of history moving inexorably toward a utopia where, it just so happened, people like them would be in charge.
But Marxism was merely one expression of this conviction, which had stained the American soul well before Buckley was born. For example, in 1892, James Baird Weaver, the Populist Party's presidential nominee, spoke for coming generations of Progressives, reformers and activists when he proclaimed, "We have tried to show that competition is largely a thing of the past. Every force of our industrial life is hurrying on the age of combination. It is useless to try to stop the current."
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