Thomas Sowell

Writing in 1954, Lionel Trilling said that most conservatives do not "express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas."

One of the perks of being a liberal is disdaining people who are not liberals. However, as of 1954, Trilling's dismissive attitude toward conservatives' intellectual landscape was painfully close to the truth.

Trilling wrote ten years after Friedrich Hayek's landmark counterattack against the left in his book "The Road to Serfdom." But that was a book with great impact on a relatively small number of people at the time, though its influence spread around the world over the years.

Trilling also wrote eight years before Milton Friedman's first book aimed at a popular audience -- "Capitalism and Freedom" -- and a quarter of a century before Rush Limbaugh pioneered conservative talk radio.

They say it is always darkest before the dawn. One year after Lionel Trilling's dismissal of conservative intellectual thought, William F. Buckley founded National Review, the first in a series of conservative journals of opinion that would build on its success.

In short, Bill Buckley revitalized conservatism, with his wit, his intellect, and his inimitable mannerisms that made him a TV icon as a guest on many programs, even before he created his own long-running program, "Firing Line."

Some people like to believe that objective forces shape history but the right person in the right place at the right time can change everything. William F. Buckley was that person when he burst on the scene at the nadir of conservative thought in the 1950s.

There were of course conservative journalists before Buckley, including irrepressible black conservative journalist George Schuyler who was writing decades before Bill Buckley.

In a similar vein, there were ballplayers who hit home runs before Babe Ruth, but not nearly as many home runs. William F. Buckley revolutionized the conservative intellectual scene as much as Babe Ruth revolutionized the way baseball was played.

Today we take it for granted that there are conservative journals of opinions like The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, City Journal and of course the National Review.

We also take for granted that there are dozens of conservative talk radio programs, led by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, as well as conservative columnists like Charles Krauthammer, George Will and many others.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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