The 10 Best William F. Buckley Jr. Moments 10 Years Later

RIP, WFB.

This week marks ten years since the death of William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of the post-World War II conservative movement. Buckley entered into the public consciousness when he published God and Man at Yale, which excoriated his alma mater for infecting its students with collectivist and atheist ideologies. Four years later, Buckley founded National Review to unite traditionalists and libertarians by their shared anti-communism within a conservative coalition that would "stand athwart history yelling stop." He weeded out the kooks, bigots, and obsessive atheists—really, are there any other kind?—and his efforts lent intellectual heft as well as wit, grace, and charm to the American Right. His television show Firing Line aired for 33 years and became the longest-running public affairs program in history.

Ten years on, here are ten quintessential WFB moments for Buckley's lapidary if not eristic intellectual progeny.

1. "I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University."

While Buckley called for a conservative elite to serve as tablet-keepers, he expressed a constant trust in the wisdom of the American people over the hubris of their self-appointed benevolent betters.

2. "Mr. Buckley, do you think mini-skirts are in good taste?"

William F. Buckley Jr. vigorously defended tradition and morality, but he was never a scold. Humorlessness is best left to the Left; conservatives might emulate Buckley's grace and wit.

3. "Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi..."

After endless provocation from the bitter conspiracy theorist Gore Vidal, WFB insulted him on national television. While the civilized Buckley deeply regretted stooping, even briefly, to Vidal's debased level, the rest of us merely marveled that he kept his cool for so long.

4. "Demand a recount."

William F. Buckley Jr. ran for mayor of New York City in 1965 against liberal Republican John Lindsay, who officially registered as a Democrat just six years after his mayoral run. Buckley ran against the liberal Republican to push his party to the right and galvanize a conservative base in the left-wing city. When asked what he would do if he won the election, Buckley responded with characteristic wit, "Demand a recount."

5. 'Does the Playboy philosophy reject Judeo-Christian morality?'

Firing Line regularly featured prominent leftists to discuss politics and culture with the conservative firebrand. Unlike today's tedious, televised crossfire, Buckley's conversations added to the public discourse by illuminating different perspectives and poking holes in the liberal consensus. Such civilized and edifying conversations seem anachronistic today. Thankfully the Internet is forever.

6. 'What are the odds I should ever disagree with Ronald Reagan on public policy?'

Buckley never hesitated to disagree when he deemed it necessary even with allies as important as Ronald Reagan. The Gipper largely credited Buckley with his conversion to conservative thought, and WFB provided constant advice and support during Reagan's political endeavors. Nevertheless, the men disagreed over who should own the Panama Canal, and they debated the issue in good faith on national television.

7. "Nearer my God..."

As with so many conservative intellectual titans, the Catholic faith formed the foundation of Buckley's political vision. He eschewed the philosophy of Ayn Rand for her obsessive atheism and wrote eloquently of his own faith.

8. Debating hippies with a commie

Buckley regularly invited the late erstwhile leftist polemicist Christopher Hitchens onto Firing Line, and there was nothing out of the ordinary about their relationship. Buckley remained friends with many prominent leftists, notably Norman Mailer, during his life.

9. 'BIlly Graham, has any modern doctrine strained your faith?'

Buckley observed that the conservative point of view was regularly relegated to the fringes of mainstream media coverage, and so while Firing Line billed itself as an equal exchange of ideas, this didn't prevent WFB from inviting guests with whom he broadly agreed.

10. "It's going to happen sometime..."

A good Christian till the end, Buckley did not fear death or oblivion but rather looked forward to returning to his Maker after a life well lived. Buckley's friend Fr. George Rutler offered a fitting homily on the occasion of that return during WFB's requiem mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York one month after his death ten years ago.

How should conservatives commemorate Buckley in 2018? Read more about his extraordinary life, binge old episode of Firing Line on YouTube, and above all keep thwarting history.

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