Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, RIP

I observed, with much sadness, the passing of Bill Buckley yesterday. I hesitated, briefly, about whether to post something about this or not. Mr. Buckley was among the greatest conservatives of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction among many of those with whom I interact will be that being conservative equals being a republican equals all sorts of unpleasant –isms.

I certainly didn’t agree with everything Mr. Buckley espoused – he held several views with which I would squabble. His (albeit with some reservations) support of Joe McCarthy, his late conversion to support for civil rights, and his support for southern whites seeking to retain their culture come to mind.

I remain, however, in awe of his intelligence, wit, vocabulary, and debating skills. Even those with whom he disagreed came to admire him for these same qualities, except, perhaps, for Gore Vidal and Ayn Rand.

I feel my inferior command of the English language surfacing even as I write this – as I somehow wish to rise to a level which befits him. I am not alone. His writing style was well known for its wit, erudition, and use of an immense vocabulary. He inspired others to seek (as if it were possible) the high plain from which he spoke. Here, for example, is a letter written to Mr. Buckley when his was editor of National Review from Julian Schmidt: "Dear Mr. Buckley: You can call off the hunt for the elusive "encephalophonic." I have it cornered in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, where the noun "encephalophone" is defined as "an apparatus that emits a continuous hum whose pitch is changed by interference of brain waves transmitted through oscillators from electrodes attached to the scalp and that is used to diagnose abnormal brain functioning." I knew right where to look, because you provoked my search for that word a generation ago, when I first (and not last) encountered it in one of your books. If it was used derisively about you, I can only infer that the reviewer's brain was set a-humming by a) his failure to follow your illaqueating (ensnaring) logic, b) his dizzied awe at your manifold talents, and/or c) his inability to distinguish lexiphanicism (the use of pretentious words) from lectio divina. I say, keep it up. We could all do with more brain vibrations."

Bill was, without a doubt, a child of privilege. But, unlike many born with a silver spoon, he went on to accomplish much: founder of National Review; host of Firing Line; newspaper columnist; author of more than 40 books; a sailor; an accomplished musician; and the standard bearer for the conservative movement of the latter half of the 20th century. Recently, he gave grudging, lukewarm support for George W. Bush and spoke out about the war in Iraq, of which he said the war was: "…anything but conservative. The reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous." He added: "This isn't to say that the Iraq war is wrong, or that history will judge it to be wrong. But it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events.”

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Buckley, you can find many videos of him on either Google or Youtube.

A commentator on the National Review website yesterday said that today Heaven was a little more heavenly, and rest assured that God has sent an angel for a dictionary, knowing Bill was coming.