In the mid-1990s, when I asked John O’Sullivan, who had replaced
William F. Buckley Jr.
as editor in chief of National Review, about Buckley’s relationship to the magazine he had founded, O’Sullivan said, “It’s simple. I run the magazine on a day-to-day basis. I make all the decisions except when he wants to make one.” Buckley, who died February 27, first came to national attention as the scourge of his alma mater (God and Man at Yale), and for decades he postured and pummeled nonbelievers as the host of public television’s Firing Line. But it was as founder, editor and perpetrator of National Review, born in 1955, that he made his mark.
Buckley’s stated hope for his magazine was to do for conservatism what The New Republic and The Nation did for liberalism. And indeed, deftly dipping into the Elmer’s glue of cold war anti-Communism, his magazine pasted together such previously disparate strands of right-wing theology as free marketeerism, traditionalism, isolationism (in the form of anti-UN-ism) and libertarianism–all done in the name of now-forgotten “fusionism.” This may sound hopelessly antiquated, but the fact is that Buckley’s magazine begat the nomination of
and gave birth to the conservative movement, Reaganism and, not to belabor the point, eventually–I would argue–the war in Iraq, to which even Buckley eventually took modest exception.
I recently confessed in the pages of Columbia Journalism Review (on the occasion of the publication of Buckley’s forty-ninth book,
Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription
) that in June 1988, with the permission of The Nation‘s literary editor, I asked
if, in the course of his review of
‘s biography of Buckley, he might remind our readers of all of the crude and cruel causes the by-then much-celebrated Buckley had endorsed early in his career.
At the time Sherrill said, “What I like about this assignment–it’s a good old-fashioned hatchet job.” On the occasion of Our Bill’s passing, let’s salute him as founder of a journal to whose politics we take exception and occasionally detest yet whose contribution to the national conversation we welcome. But for those who want the full story, we refer you to Sherrill’s “Squire Willie,” which appeared in this magazine on June 11, 1988. VICTOR NAVASKY