Paul  Kengor

I discovered William F. Buckley, Jr. in the late 1980s as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, where I was a pre-med student preparing for a career in organ transplantation. I had been bit by the political bug. It was a consequence of the times: the Reagan years, the end of the Cold War, tumultuous changes in the world. I soon found myself blowing off my Genetics exam to feed a growing obsession with politics, reading every newspaper I could get my hands on, and digging through microfiche to satiate a newfound infatuation with the Cold War.

I was also discovering I was a conservative. And it was that growing ideological realization that prompted me one day to ask my father where I could go to find a conservative magazine. Did such a publication exist? He responded without hesitation: “Buckley’s magazine.” I replied, “Buckley’s magazine? What’s that?” My dad answered: “National Review.”

I hopped in the car and headed to Walden Books at Clearview Mall in Butler, Pennsylvania. I found it—National Review. I couldn’t put it down. There was nothing else like it—nothing. The quality of the writing, the material, the insights, the intellect, the logic, the common-sense thinking combined with erudition, the overall smartness. I read it cover to cover, including the articles I didn’t understand. I allowed the thing to teach me. Malcolm Muggeridge, who’s he? I read and learned. I was enthralled.

That magazine led me in the direction of an entirely different field of study, to where I ended up a professor teaching and writing about those very issues and ideas.

Yet, Buckley impacted me more than that, even though I never met the man. I recall one day almost 10 years ago when I was meeting with Lee Edwards, another leader of the conservative movement, who was at Grove City College to do research for a history of the college. I told Lee about the book I wanted to write on Reagan and the end of the Cold War, and how I needed some funding to be able to go to the Reagan Library to do research. Lee suggested I put together a brief proposal, noting his endorsement, and send it to a small, under-the-radar foundation begun by Buckley to support projects like these by young conservative academics. I did just that, and received a check shortly thereafter. It ultimately led to two books on Reagan, God and Ronald Reagan and The Crusader. When I sent Buckley a copy of the manuscript for the first book, he responded with a short note, dated May 22, 2002, offering a nugget of advice on where to publish the work before closing, “I’m glad the little foundation was helpful in getting this done.”