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Buckley and Conservatism

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, conservative thinkers of our time has passed away today at the age of 82 – William F. Buckley, founder of National Review.

I wish I could say that Mr. Buckley had had a direct impact on my thinking, but I’ve read precious little of what he’s written. What I do know is that he’s had a tremendous impact on the thinking of many people I admire, including Ronald Reagan and the leaders of the modern conservative movement. Buckley is credited with giving shape and heft to conservativism as a comprehensive ideology, and to my knowledge, nobody else is even trying to do the same thing today. Indeed, that’s probably why the Republican Party has nominated someone so antithetical to conservative principles.

Buckley started the movement, but now there’s no one ready to carry the baton forward.

In a conversation with my Harvard-educated brother-in-law, he pointed out that conservatism as an ideology has essentially stalled, and that every Republican running for president was “just trying to win one more for the Gipper.” (I should point out that Buckley once famously remarked that he would “rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” That doesn’t apply to my brother-in-law, though, because his name is way down the alphabet and wouldn’t be anywhere near the first 400 names in the phone book.)

I find the lack of conservative thought depressing, as did Buckley, who had precious praise for the current administration, especially when it came to the war in Iraq. There isn’t a single person running for office in either party who truly believes that government should be significantly smaller than it is today. Statism is the default position of both parties, and everyone seems to think we should be more like Europe, which is a continent in decay. The European Union’s productivity and birthrate are dwindling to almost nothing, and the vast welfare states have created crippling unemployment and unsustainable demands on the economy. And yet we now have Barack Obama calling for a “green army” that’s going to cost us an extra 210 billion per year to enact similar socialistic nonsense here in the US. Universal health care and universal pre-K and universal college tuition – how do we pay for it? How about letting us keep the wealth so we can pay for it ourselves?

As Reagan was fond of saying, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.”

Who’s going to stop this? Where are the conservatives? Are there any left?

Rest in peace, Mr. Buckley. If ever we needed you, we need you now.

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  1. Well said. Buckley was an intellectual giant – someone who made it obvious that a person could be intellectual within boundaries – that intellectualism doesn’t have to be counter-cultural. I can’t think of anyone who can fill his shoes at the moment, and McCain’s nomination might have been what killed him. (OK, that’s hyperbole, but I’m positive it caused him great pain.)