Buckley’s Gone

Some people are bred to be Conservatives, with Conservatism in their mother’s milk. They are raised with Conservative sensibilities by Conservatives parents and friends. However, these are few in number. Given the fact that there has been a right-ward political shift in the latter half of the twentieth century, most contemporary Conservatives where not born Conservative, but had Conservatism intrude on them. Thus, most Conservatives have story about how they became Conservatives.

I would like to claim that my Conservatism came upon me as a bolt from heaven on the road to Damascus, but my intellectual journey was a little more prosaic. It was the consequence of two books read back-to-back during my junior year in high school: The New Industrial State by John Kenneth Galbraith, and Up From Liberalism by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Galbraith painted a picture of the world dominated by economic elites who controlled the majority of us who could not think clearly for ourselves and bought into the consumerism that kept the elites wealthy. My goodness Americans were foolish enough to by cars with aerodynamically useless tail fins. Americans were helpless or worse  a little dull unless properly supervised by a caring Liberal government, people like Galbraith, whom we could entrust to make decisions on our behalf.

By contrast, Buckley painted a picture of individual autonomy that presumed a self-capacity for decision that Galbraith did not admit. Moreover, Buckley passed along an essential Conservative intuition. In our daily lives, it is by use of the money that we earn that determines the breath of our choices. The more resources we individually control, the freer, in an important sense, we are. Hence, when we are taxed by the government, a that freedom is diminished. This is not to say that taxes are never justified, it is just that when they are applied, the benefit of the taxes must be measured against the constriction of freedom they entail.

Although Buckley’s work was infused with the ideas of Edmund Burke, our Founding Fathers, Alexis De Tocqueville, Frederick Hayek, and Milton Friedman, he himself was not a first-rank theoretician. He was, rather, the clever, erudite, iconoclastic proselytizer of Conservative ideas. In this role, he excelled, founding the National Review, hosting television’s Firing Line, and even running for Mayor of New York to exploit it as a forum for his Conservative ideas and to critique contemporary Liberalism.

On the occasion of Buckley’s death much will be written about his accomplishments and to this I can add little original. However, it is likely that my small experience with Buckley’s prose was duplicated by many in different circumstances with a different set of Buckley’s writings (He was enormously prolific) but ended in the same result: another Conservative. It is a measure of the power of his mind that he could, through the use of words, influence the thoughts of many he would never meet, but who would nonetheless become his intellectual and political progeny.

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