Paul Greenberg

The title said it all, but Buckley being Buckley even then, he expounded on his theme at a sesquipedalian length. Which was enough to reduce Yale's McGeorge Bundy, who would go on to become the architect of the Vietnam War and other disasters, to the sputtering rage of all capital-L Liberals when they're pinned like butterflies to a board, or rather like drab moths. It was just the sort of reaction Buckley thrived on throughout his career. (Years later, he would orchestrate the excommunication of the John Birch Society from the respectable right with the same touch.)

Buckley would go on to many another triumph, from his founding of National Review to his innumerable columns, essays, novels, books, travels, grand adventures and grander spoofs. My favorite among his book titles was the one he gave his history of the National Review. It's enough to warm the heart, and gut, of any editorial page editor: "Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription." As one of his critics noted, he had a talent unusual in someone of deep political convictions; he was unlikely to "ruin a dinner party." Quite the contrary. Where Buckley was, there was festivity.

If you seek his monument today, just look around. Conservatism is now the dominant American political philosophy, and liberalism the series of irritable mental gestures. But nothing disorganizes an army or cause like victory. Conservatism's intellectual dominance now shows in its smug self-satisfaction, its various cracks and fault lines, its slow subsidence from fighting idea to just reflex, its progression from courage to hubris. And there is no new Buckley in sight, someone who could both mobilize and re-invigorate the old true ideas, even while entertaining us all. But the sea change i American ideas that he presided over is unmistakable.

Between them, William F. Buckley in "God and Man at Yale," and his friend, mentor and conscience, Whittaker Chambers in "Witness," made a revolution in American political thought and action even if few could see it coming. It was Buckley's National Review that midwifed the intellectual revolution that preceded the popular one, as intellectual revolutions do. His wit, promise and general lilt overlay a steely mind and will that was Roman in the sense of both the Republic and the Church. What a rarity he was, unfortunately. Something tells me we have only begun to miss William F. Buckley Jr.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.