William F. Buckley, Jr.

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William F. Buckley, Jr., on his long-running television show Firing Line

William Frank Buckley Jr. (born November 24, 1925), is an American author, conservative journalist and commentator based in New York City and Sharon, Connecticut. He founded the influential conservative political magazine National Review in 1955 and hosted the award-winning television show Firing Line from 1966 until 1999. In articles for the National Review and in personal correspondence, Buckley signs his name as "WFB."

Buckley is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist whose work appears in more than 300 newspapers and has also authored many books, both fiction and non-fiction. His writing style is characterized by strong opinion and use of uncommon words. Over the course of his career, Buckley's views have changed on some issues, such as drug legalization, which he now favors.

Buckley is the author of a series of novels featuring the character of CIA agent Blackford Oakes. He also has written several books on writing, speaking, history, political thought and sailing.

Buckley refers to himself "on and off" as either libertarian or Conservative.<ref>C-SPAN Booknotes 10/23/1993</ref><ref>Buckley, William F., Jr. Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist, Random House, ISBN 0-679-40398-1, 1993.</ref>


[edit] Childhood

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Buckley was born in New York City to lawyer and oil baron William Frank Buckley, Sr., of Irish Catholic descent, and Aloise Steiner, a southerner of Swiss-German descent. The sixth of ten children, young Buckley moved with his family to Sharon, Connecticut. He soon moved to Paris where he attended first grade and learned French. By age seven, he had received formal training in English at a day school in London. As a boy, Buckley developed a love for music, sailing, horses, hunting, skiing, and story telling. All of these interests—and his strong Roman Catholic religious faith—would reflect in his later writings. He is also an accomplished amateur harpsichord player. He attended St John's Beaumont in England at age 13 just before World War II.

[edit] Education, military service and the CIA

Buckley attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico (or UNAM) in 1943 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army the following year. With the end of World War II in 1945, he enrolled in Yale University where he became a member of the secret Skull and Bones society, and was an active member of the Conservative Party and of the Yale Political Union, and served as Chairman of the Yale Daily News.

Buckley graduated from Yale in 1950. That same year, he married Patricia Taylor, (born July 1, 1926), the daughter of industrialist Austin C. Taylor. He met the Protestant from Vancouver, British Columbia, while she was a student at Vassar College. They have one son, the writer Christopher Buckley.

In 1951, Buckley was recruited into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) but served for less than a year. Little has been published regarding Buckley's work with the CIA, but in a 2001 letter to author W. Thomas Smith, Jr., Buckley wrote, “I did training in Washington as a secret agent and was sent to Mexico City. There I served under the direct supervision of Howard Hunt, about whom of course a great deal is known.”

In a November 1, 2005 editorial for the National Review, he recounted that:

When in 1951 I was inducted into the CIA as a deep cover agent, the procedures for disguising my affiliation and my work were unsmilingly comprehensive. It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live. If, a year later, I had been apprehended, dosed with sodium pentothal, and forced to give out the names of everyone I knew in the CIA, I could have come up with exactly one name, that of my immediate boss (E. Howard Hunt, as it happened). In the passage of time one can indulge in idle talk on spook life. In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico? "I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President." He thought this amusing, and that is all that it was, under the aspect of the heavens.

While in Mexico, Buckley edited The Road to Yenan, a book addressing the communist quest for global domination, by Peruvian author Eudocio Ravines.

[edit] Career

In 1951, the same year he was recruited into the CIA, Buckley's first book, God and Man at Yale, was published. The book was a critique of Yale University, arguing that the school had strayed from its original educational mission.

Buckley worked as an editor for The American Mercury in 1951 and 1952 before founding National Review in 1955. In 1957 Buckley published a review of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers, ostensibly "reading her out of the conservative movement."<ref>Big Sister is Watching You</ref> Objectivists have accused Chambers of merely skimming the novel.<ref>A Half-Century-Old Attack on Ayn Rand Reminds Us of the Dark Side of Conservatism</ref> In 1960 Buckley helped form Young Americans for Freedom.

Five years later, in 1965, he ran for mayor of New York City as the candidate for the young Conservative Party, because of his dissatisfaction with the very liberal Republican candidate John Lindsay. Buckley finished third with 13% of the vote. When asked what he would do if he won the race, Buckley issued his classic response, "I'd demand a recount."

Buckley appeared in a series of televised debates opposite Gore Vidal during the 1968 political conventions. In their penultimate debate on August 22 of that year, the two disagreed over the actions of the Chicago Police and the protesters at the ongoing Democratic Convention in Chicago. At one point Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”, to which Buckley replied, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face, and you'll stay plastered.”<ref>Vidal calls Buckley a 'crypto-Nazi'. Buckley calls Vidal a 'queer' and threatens to punch him</ref>

This feud continued the following year in the pages of Esquire Magazine, which commissioned an essay from both Buckley and Vidal on the television incident. Buckley's essay "On Experiencing Gore Vidal," was published in the August 1969 issue, and led Vidal to sue for libel. Vidal's September essay in reply, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley," was similarly litigated by Buckley.The presiding judge in Buckley's subsequent libel suit against Vidal initially concluded that "[t]he court must conclude that Vidal's comments in these paragraphs meet the minimal standard of fair comment. The inferences made by Vidal from Buckley's [earlier editorial] statements cannot be said to be completely unreasonable." However, Vidal also strongly implied that, in 1944, Buckley and unnamed siblings had vandalized a Protestant church in their Sharon, Connecticut, hometown after the pastor's wife had sold a house to a Jewish family. Buckley sued Vidal and Esquire magazine for libel; Vidal counter-claimed for libel against Buckley, citing Buckley's characterization of Vidal's novel Myra Breckenridge as pornography. Both cases were dropped, but Buckley's legal expenses were reimbursed by Vidal, and Vidal's were not. Buckley also received an editorial apology in the pages of Esquire..”<ref>Buckley and Vidal: One More Round</ref>

In 1973, he served as a delegate to the United Nations. In 1981, Buckley informed President-elect (and personal friend) Ronald Reagan that he would decline any official position offered to him in Reagan's administration. Reagan jokingly replied that that was too bad, because he had wanted to make Buckley ambassador to (then Soviet-occupied) Afghanistan. Buckley replied that he was willing to take the job but only if he were to be supplied with "10 divisions of bodyguards."<ref>Reagan: A Life in Letters, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 64.</ref>

Buckley participated in a debate following the airing of The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about the effects of nuclear war. A staunch anti-communist, Buckley consistently defended the strategy of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War. In 1991, Buckley received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush.

William F. Buckley, Jr., on the cover of his autobiography Miles Gone By

Buckley retired as active editor from National Review in 1990, and relinquished his controlling shares of National Review in June of 2004 to a pre-selected board of trustees. The following month he published the memoir Miles Gone By. Buckley continues to write his syndicated newspaper column, as well as opinion pieces for National Review magazine and National Review Online. He remains editor-at-large at the magazine and also lectures, grants occasional radio interviews and makes guest appearances on national television news programs.

Buckley has recently criticized certain aspects of policy within the modern conservative movement. He has said, "Bush is conservative, but he is not a conservative", and that the president was elected "as a vessel of the conservative faith." According to Buckley, the war in Iraq was "anything but conservative. The reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous." He was careful to add: "This isn’t to say that the Iraq war is wrong, or that history will judge it to be wrong. But it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events".<ref>Season of Conservative Sloth</ref> In a column published earlier this year in NRO-and distributed by Universal Press Syndicate-Buckley stated unequivocally that, "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." Buckley has also stated that "...it's important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure."<ref>It Didn’t Work</ref>

[edit] Final Public Speech

On November 1, 2006, at the Yale Political Union Buckley delivered a speech which he said would be his last on matters of policy. The topic of his speech was "Resolved: The Democratic Candidates for November 7th should Withdraw". Ref: http://yaledailynews.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=34099

[edit] Firing Line

For many Americans, Buckley's erudite style on his weekly PBS show Firing Line was their primary exposure to the man. In it he displayed a scholarly, non-confrontational and humorous conservatism and was known for his facial expressions, gestures and particularly probing intellectual questions of his guests.

As could be expected from a high-profile media figure, Buckley throughout his career has received much criticism, largely from the American left but also from certain factions on the right, such as the John Birch Society and the Objectivists. Critics claim he is unwilling to participate in debates where his chances of winning are not good. Some others perceive snobbery in Buckley evoking his wealthy New England background to seem glamorous (e.g. in God and Man at Yale).

[edit] On language

Buckley is well known for his command of language, but some regard him as arrogant<ref> See Schmidt, Julian. (June 6, 2005) National Review. Notes & asides.(Letter to the Editor) Volume 53; Issue 2. Pg. 17. ("Dear Mr. Buckley: You can call off the hunt for the elusive "encephalophonic." I have it cornered in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, where the noun "encephalophone" is defined as "an apparatus that emits a continuous hum whose pitch is changed by interference of brain waves transmitted through oscillators from electrodes attached to the scalp and that is used to diagnose abnormal brain functioning." I knew right where to look, because you provoked my search for that word a generation ago, when I first (and not last) encountered it in one of your books. If it was used derisively about you, I can only infer that the reviewer's brain was set a-humming by a) his failure to follow your illaqueating (insnaring) logic, b) his dizzied awe at your manifold talents, and/or c) his inability to distinguish lexiphanicism (the use of pretentious words) from lectio divina. I say, keep it up. We could all do with more brain vibrations.")</ref> and believe his clipped Mid-Atlantic English accent to be an affectation. Few know, however, that Buckley came late to the English language, not learning it until he was 7 (his first language was Spanish, learned in Mexico, and his second French, learned in Paris).<ref>William F. Buckley, Jr., Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography. Early chapters recount his early education and mastery of languages.</ref>

[edit] Quotations

  • "I would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by the 2000 members of the faculty of Harvard University."
  • "The purpose of an open mind is to close it, on particular subjects. If you never do — you've simply abdicated the responsibility to think."
  • "The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry."
  • "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views."
  • "Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive."
  • "There is no way to get around the grotesque historical fact, which is that soldiers fight heroically no matter the character of the government they serve."
  • "They told me if I voted for Goldwater, he would get us into a war in Vietnam. Well, I voted for Goldwater and that's what happened."
  • "Government can't do anything for you except in proportion as it can do something to you."

[edit] Family

  • When Buckley was a young man, his father, William F. Buckley, Sr., was an acquaintance of libertarian author, Albert Jay Nock. William F. Buckley, Sr., convinced his son to read Nock's works.

[edit] Trivia

  • Comic actor Joe Flaherty frequently portrayed Buckley on the television show SCTV.
  • Buckley has taken Ritalin for decades, for low blood pressure.
  • Buckley is also a great fan of Bach and has said that he would want it played at his funeral.
  • Buckley has made several transoceanic sailing voyages across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
  • The comic strip Mallard Fillmore mentioned Buckley, encouraging him to run for president in 2008.<ref>[1]</ref>

[edit] Footnotes


[edit] Books

[edit] Blackford Oakes book series

  • Buckley, William F., Jr. (2005). Last Call for Blackford Oakes. Harcourt. ISBN 0-15-101085-4.
  • Buckley, William F., Jr. (1999). The Blackford Oakes Reader. iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 1-58348-383-7.

[edit] References

[edit] Books

  • (2001) Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of American Writers. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster.
  • (2003) Contemporary Authors. Farmington Hills, Michigan: The Gale Group.
  • Buckley, Reid (1999). Strictly Speaking. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-134610-4.
  • Lamb, Brian (2001). Booknotes: Stories from American History. New York: Penguin. ISBN 1-58648-083-9.
  • Gottfried, Paul E., The Conservative Movement, 1993. ISBN 0-8057-9749-1
  • Smith, W. Thomas, Jr. (2003). Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-4667-0.
  • Straus, Tamara (1997). The Literary Almanac: The Best of the Printed Word: 1900 to the Present. New York: High Tide Press. ISBN 1-56731-328-0.
  • Winchell, Mark Royden (1984). William F. Buckley, Jr.. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8057-7431-9.

[edit] Web sites


[edit] External links

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William F. Buckley, Jr.

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