William F. Buckley, Jr. is the father of the modern conservative movement. Buckley had already achieved notoriety — if not celebrity — with the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951. He attacked the undergraduate education on offer at Yale for its hostility to Christianity and its adulation of collectivism and sought to dispel the indifference of Yale alumni to their supervisory responsibility, calling on them to grasp the nettle of university governance.
When Buckley proceeded to found National Review in 1955 at the age of 29, he lit the fire that sparked the modern conservative movement. The magazine’s inaugural issue carried Buckley’s rousing “Publisher’s Statement.” It’s the conservative version of the shot heard ’round the world — what a brilliant and audacious statement of purpose:
We have nothing to offer but the best that is in us. That, a thousand Liberals who read this sentiment will say with relief, is clearly not enough! It isn’t enough. But it is at this point that we steal the march. For we offer, besides ourselves, a position that has not grown old under the weight of a gigantic, parasitic bureaucracy, a position untempered by the doctoral dissertations of a generation of Ph.D’s in social architecture, unattenuated by a thousand vulgar promises to a thousand different pressure groups, uncorroded by a cynical contempt for human freedom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, leaves us just about the hottest thing in town.
And what a saga the half-century story of the rise, spread, and development of American conservatism, from Buckley and the infancy of National Review to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, and the joys of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here). Fifty years ago conservatism was widely held to be virtually un-American. Today, every French-souled intellectual thinks that to be American means virtually to be conservative.
Michael Uhlmann reflects lyrically in the forthcoming Summer issue of the CRB on Buckley’s astonishing career, on his and conservatism’s implausible triumphs, and on the important work that conservatives still have to do. This eloquent review/essay performs the difficult task of doing justice to Buckley’s career, and we proudly debut it here for your enjoyment over the holiday weekend courtesy of our friends at the CRB: “The right stuff.”