How do we become what we are?
Defining experiences and encounters with key people blend with the genes that form each one of us. So it is with the late William Buckley, who deeply affected not only your correspondent but the nation.
Public writing should employ the first person singular sparingly. Yet in the case of Bill Buckley it’s unavoidable with me as with so many.
I met him in college in the early ’60s and worked with him off and on for two years, mostly during summers, and then into the Goldwater campaign. At just the right age, for me philosophically, he raised the blinds and turned on the lights.
Bill was my first mentor (of three) and my first editor (of two). Inter alia, he was editor and I was research gopher for a book — “The Committee and Its Critics: A Calm Review of the House Committee on Un-American Activities” (Putnam, 1962) — and remain the last man on the planet to boast four hardback and three paperback copies. We exchanged edited chapters in his garage office in Stamford, Conn. In today’s vernacular, it was a seminal “learning experience.”
Bill was a happy, enabling, nexus kind of guy. Through him I met and sometimes worked with the dominant minds of the hour: former Communists Frank Meyer and Whittaker Chambers, free-market godfather Milton Friedman, political scientist David Rowe, and Willmoore Kendall (“John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority Rule”) — regarded by whack-left Yale as so intellectually inconvenient that the school bought his tenure to get rid of him. Heady stuff in heady times.
Bill also helped steer me to two years of graduate work in classical political philosophy, the American Founding, and persuasion with another mentor — the University of Chicago’s Leo Strauss — and was instrumental in my landing a job in Richmond, Va., where my feet have remained in concrete. And it’s fair to say Bill even redirected my marriage path because his wife Pat had one of her always-understated opinions (“she’s godawful”) about the girl-of-my-dreams I was dating when I knew Bill best.
But enough of all that. How did Bill Buckley, a genuine revolutionary, change the nation? In these ways.
Better than anyone, he understood the war we are in and saw the way to victory.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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