It is impossible to begin to sum up the life of someone as articulate, imaginative, capricious and influential as William F. Buckley, Jr. Every conservative pundit in the old or new media owes him an incalculable debt and is to some degree attempting to imitate him. He died on Wednesday at his home in Connecticut, and I doubt that any of the many aspirants to his throne of right-leaning wit and wisdom are qualified to fill his shoes.
Buckley is credited with single-handedly reviving conservatism and breaking the political dominance of socialistic liberalism emerging from the Roosevelt era, both through his writing and speaking and through his work as publisher of the enormously influential magazine National Review for over 50 years. Buckley authored more than 5,600 articles and dozens of books, including a number of novels. He hosted the television show Firing Line for more than 30 years and it became the model for the talking-head style interview and debate shows which now dominate Sunday mornings and cable news.
Buckley was the epitome of traditional Republicanism with his unapologetic elitism, reverence for traditional values, libertarian views on civil rights and unwavering opposition to every aspect of socialism and communism. He also opposed those who perverted the basic values of conservatism, excoriating reactionaries, bigots and theocrats with as much vehemence as he opposed those who subverted liberalism to the service of collectivism.
Buckley championed individualism and was brilliant in his own individuality. He sometimes undermined his own serious points with his insidious and self-mocking humor and while he remained true to his values they eventually put him at odds with the conservative movement which he had empowered. He was at his height of influence with his support and encouragement of the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, a campaign which might never have gotten as far as it did without the involvement of young conservatives inspired by Buckley. It was that campaign and Buckley's writing which inspired the resurgence of conservative leadership in the Reagan era.
Although every conservative leader for the last 50 years admired Buckley, he was never willing to compromise his principles enough to be anything but a political outsider, often finding himself criticizing conservatives more than liberals and advocating positions which few others on the right were brave enough to embrace. He supported marijuana legalization and opposed the war in Iraq. He despised Neocons and other interventionists, rejected the legislating of morality and consistently supported individual liberty. He understood that you could have great faith without needing to impose your beliefs on others. He always opposed big government, statism and excessive taxation. He was a great and consistent voice for reason over fanaticism.