Earlier this month The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale held a conference in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of James Burnham’s Suicide of the West, republished in a new edition by Encounter Books. The festivities included introductory remarks by Donald Kagan followed by three panels and a keynote speech by former NSA/CIA director Michael Hayden. The Buckley Program conference videos are all accessible on YouTube here.
The Buckley Program is proving itself a fitting tribute to Buckley. Given the venue of the event at Yale and the participation of Yale faculty, the conference was also a credit to Yale.
Burnham was a founding editor of National Review. Jeffrey Hart etched a memorable portrait of Burnham at NR in chapter 2 of The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times. “His self-presentation suggested pure analytical intellect,” Hart writes. “The only problem with this interpretation,” he adds, “is that everything I knew about his tumultuous life contradicted it.”
Burnham was a consequential figure at the bloody crossroads of politics and literature. As a young man responding to the Crash and the Depression, he had a fling with “revolutionary politics and organizations that had less chance of seizing power than Little Orphan Annie” (Hart again). He taught philosophy at NYU. He wrote books that mattered. He served in the CIA. He was not only a founding editor of NR, until 1977 he contributed a regular column on the Cold War under the title “The Protracted Conflict.”
Our own Steve Hayward participated in the conference’s premier panel along with Burnham’s son and former NR editor John O’Sullivan, moderated by Encounter Books publisher Roger Kimball (video below). Clocking in at one second under an hour, not to put too fine a point on it, this is great stuff.