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William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement Hardcover – April 12, 2010
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About the Author
Lee Edwards is a leading historian of the conservative movement, having written The Conservative Revolution, The Essential Ronald Reagan, and Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution, among many other books. He is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation and an adjunct professor of politics at Catholic University. Dr. Edwards lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, Anne.
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The author begins by describing Buckley's early years, including his upbringing and years at Yale, and then moves on to the 1950s, when Buckley built the conservative movement. He discusses the founding of National Review, and discusses how Buckley united the different factions of conservatism under one tent. Conservatism necessarily maintains a healthy tension between authority and tradition on one hand and justice and freedom on the other, and Edwards discusses the "fusionism" that Buckley used to unite traditionalists with more libertarian conservatives, while at the same time reading the Birchers and Randites out of the movement.
Edwards traces Buckley's life and magazine as they became more influential in American life from the 1960s through the 1980s, discussing the Goldwater nomination, Buckley's candidacy for mayor of New York City, Ronald Reagan's election, and the ultimate victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The book recalls the famous Blackford Oakes spy novels and closes by discussing Buckley's commentary on the War on Terror of the past decade.
All conservatives would enjoy this book, but younger conservatives who want to learn more about the history of their movement would especially profit by reading this short biography of one of the giants of recent American life.
Buckley left a voluminous oeuvre: 50 books of both fiction and non-fiction, 5,600 newspaper columns, and 1,500 episodes of 'Firing Line' (his hour-long weekly TV show that ran for 33 years, 1966-1999). He was an editor (and founder of National Review, a fortnightly magazine that survives him), author, columnist, sailor, raconteur, politician (he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in New York City in 1965), and, above all, a thinker who changed the course of history. Without Buckley, there would not have been Goldwater. And without Goldwater, there would not have been Reagan.
He brought together under one roof the three major strands of contemporary American conservatism: economic conservatives, social conservatives, and anti-communists. Early on (1962), Buckley read the John Birch Society out the conservative movement; had he not done so, this reviewer believes that conservatism would have never attained the intellectual respectability that it has.
Central to his persona was his unwavering devotion to Catholicism. The author of this biography argues persuasively that Buckley's faith had a leavening effect on his personality. He was a fierce and menacing combatant in the marketplace of ideas, but he didn't have a mean bone in his body. Liberals--except for the lunatic, Gore Vidal--mostly loved him. He had a towering intellect. His mastery of English rivaled H.L. Mencken's.
He was the master of the pithy phrase. The night before the 1965 election for mayor in New York, he was asked what he would do if he awakened the morning after and found out he had won; said Buckley: "Demand a recount." In the spring of 1966, I attended a talk he gave in Glendale, California. Afterward, I elbowed my way up to him and asked him to sign my program. As he did so, I asked, "Mr. Buckley, do you expect to seek elective office again?" He froze in mid-signature, looked up as if to the heavens, then gazed down at me, and said: "Not unless my Cre-a-TOR deems it necessary!"
Even those who are familiar with Buckley, as I was, will find this book accessible, informative, and entertaining. It is a well-written chronicle of Buckley's life. I recommend it to those who enjoy political biographies, to right-of-center conservatives, and to those who seek to understand how the Republican Party became the party of ideas. As Reagan proved, ideas change the world. America would be a different and not nearly so great a place had Buckley not graced us with his elegant presence.
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A supreme prognosticator....... The Cause marches on...