WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR.: THE MAKER OF A MOVEMENT
By Lee Edwards
ISI Books, $24.95
Reviewed by John R. Coyne Jr.
Lee Edwards, distin- guished fellow at the Heritage Found- ation, is a charter member of the conservative movement. He attended the 1960 conference in Sharon, Conn., at which the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was founded and served as first editor of YAF’s magazine, New Guard.
Mr. Edwards went on to become director of information for the Goldwater campaign and from there to a distinguished career as journalist, author, scholar and activist, through all of which he remained a valued friend and comrade in arms of the subject of this book, William F. Buckley Jr., the man who has been called “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century.”
In “William F. Buckley Jr: The Maker of a Movement,” Mr. Edwards traces the influences that shaped Buckley’s intellectual development and gave it substance and coherence - his tightly knit and accomplished family; his Catholicism (“His faith was his grounding,” says Frances Bronson, his brilliant personal assistant for more than 40 years); and the intellectual influence of four very different men - Albert Jay Nock, Willmoore Kendall, James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers.
As Mr. Edwards points out, “these four intellectuals - three of them formerly men of the left - were united in their opposition to the liberal zeitgeist. Buckley learned and borrowed freely from them all his life.”
Linda Bridges, “sterling editor, author and WFB collaborator,” as Mr. Edwards puts it, and co-author (with this reviewer) of “Strictly Right,” the most recent full and authoritative Buckley biography, agrees: “These four are certainly critical. Almost more than teachers, they were touchstones for Bill.” But, she writes, “It isn’t from them that he got that fundamental sense that the West, and its special case, the U.S.A., matter intellectually.”
“It was his father,” Ms. Bridges continues, “William F. Buckley Sr., who introduced his son (and all his children) to the Church and … to the whole Western literary and musical tradition, and to the importance of America. He, like those other four, was a touchstone for Bill.”
Ms. Bridges, who one day will write the final full and definitive Buckley biography, adds one more name - Friedrich von Hayek. “It was from Hayek principally (supplemented by Ludwig von Mises and later, Milton Friedman) that he picked up classical liberalism from the point of view of the polity. From Nock (and his disciple Frank Chodorov), and from WFB Sr., he got the sense that the state has no right to make most decisions for the individual. From Hayek, he got the sense that the state doesn’t have the ability to make intelligent decisions for citizens: central planners simply cannot process information as well as the market can.”
Mr. Edwards emphasizes Buckley’s intellectual life and development. But in strong, clean and elegant prose, he also celebrates the details of a life lived in full - the wit, charm, energy, drive and commitment Buckley brought to all his endeavors, both personal and professional - skiing; sailing; hosting “Firing Line”; debating; writing columns, essays, books and novels; and editing his beloved magazine, National Review.
Christopher Buckley, writes Mr. Edwards, speaking at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral memorial Mass, gave this account of his visit to the Sterling Library at Yale to inspect his father’s papers: “They totaled 248.8 linear feet, higher than the spire of St. Patrick’s. That did not include the 6,000 newspaper columns, 1,504 ‘Firing Line’ television programs, and some fifty-five works of fiction and nonfiction.”
That’s an output seldom equaled since mid-Victorian days and, as Mr. Edwards writes, all for the purpose of advancing ideas - ideas that most certainly had consequences. As Daniel Oliver, a longtime friend and colleague, puts it, Bill Buckley lived to see his goals achieved: “Communism defeated, free-market economics widely understood if not widely enough practiced, and some sense that government could be not the solution, but the problem.”