The conservative lion in winter

The metro section of today’s New York Times features Dan LeRoy’s poignant profile of William F. Buckley in anticipation of Buckley’s eightieth birthday: “The conservative lion in winter.” This profile is a timely reminder of the origins of the modern conservative movement as well as a reflection on a life well spent.
Buckley is of course the founder of the modern conservative movement that gained its political expression first in Barry Goldwater and then Ronald Reagan. At age 29 in 1955 when Buckley founded National Review as the voice of the movement, he performed two acts of statesmanship that were vital to the movement’s ultimate, if unlikely, success: he reserved exclusive ownership of the magazine to himself so as to prevent the kind of sectarian brawls that had killed other such magazines, and he prohibited John Birchers and other kooky anti-Semitic organizations from the magazine’s precincts.
Recall, as John Judis does in his biography of Buckley, that in 1954 the fortunes of the American Right had never appeared dimmer; the principal right-wing organizations were anti-Semitic and neo-isolationist throwbacks to the thirties and forties. Recall also that in the Publisher’s Statement of National Review’s first issue, Buckley defined conservatism as the willingness to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who do.”
Buckley conceived of the magazine’s mission as presenting “a responsible dissent from Liberal orthodoxy,” adding that the magazine’s editors had “a considerable stock of experience with the irresponsible Right.” Perhaps equally notably, the “responsibility” on which Buckley staked the magazine’s mission was never to be confused with dullness. Both he and the magazine took on the best that the liberals could furnish and bested them with a smile on their face and a glint in their eye.
Today National Review itself now celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. Last week President Bush invited Buckley to Washington in tribute to Buckley’s milestone birthday and NR’s fiftieth anniversary. NRO has posted President Bush’s humorous and insightful remarks here.


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