This sample William F. Buckley Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
As a columnist, lecturer, novelist, essayist, and television host, Buckley was a leading spokesperson for conservatism in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century. While Buckley s outspoken, strongly conservative position on controversial issues has resulted in divided critical opinion, his engaging wit and energetic prose style are widely admired.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
An Influential Father
William F. Buckley Jr. was born on November 24, 1925, in New York City. William Buckley Sr. was the primary influence on his son’s development. The Buckley fortune had arisen from Mexican oil interests, and Mexico was a country where Buckley Sr., known as Will, had great influence until the revolution of the late 1910s. Will joined in counterrevolution ary activities to support the government against the insurgents, and when the government was overthrown, his activities led the new regime to confiscate all of his Mexican holdings in 1922. The lessons imparted by Will infused the intellects of all the children with a fierce family pride, a strong Catholic faith, and a hatred of revolution and communism.
Educating a Future Conservative
William F. Buckley was privately tutored and went to school in England and France, an experience that helped to moderate the isolationism so much favored by his father. In 1938 Buckley enrolled at Saint John’s Beaumont, an exclusive Catholic public school in England, on the same day that Neville Chamberlain’s agreement with Adolf Hitler at Munich was announced, prompting Buckley to hang an American flag over his bed. Despite the fact that the Buckley children were pulled out of their English schools in 1939 and taken on a tour of fascist Italy, Buckley’s time at Saint John’s Beaumont was quite influential on his intellectual development. The coming war and his mother’s fragile health—she was pregnant— turned him even more toward religion, and he was quite receptive to the instruction by the Jesuits, which cemented his Catholic faith at the same time he began to pursue more secular intellectual interests.
In 1943 Buckley graduated from Millbrook, a small, private, Protestant preparatory school in New York, not far from his family’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. During his time at Millbrook from 1940 to 1943, Buckley was fully under the influence of his father’s isolationist views and vociferously opposed the United States entering World War II on behalf of Great Britain. Ultimately, Buckley was inducted into the army in June 1944 and barely passed his Officer Candidate School program. He left the army as a second lieutenant. He entered Yale in fall 1946, part of the great influx of former servicemen entering college for the first time. It was at Yale that Buckley came under the influence of Yale professor Wilmoore Kendall. His association with Kendall, a former Trotskyite who had become a fervent anticommunist, was the first example of Buckley’s tendency to gravitate toward people who had migrated from the political Left toward the Right. Kendall’s political intensity and cultural conservatism attracted Buckley, and he learned much from him.
During his junior year at Yale, Buckley became increasingly involved in the running of the Yale Daily News, eventually becoming the editor. Buckley was controversial in this position; he used the editorial columns of the paper to attack the demands on professors to publish at the expense of their teaching and to begin his attack on the idea of academic freedom. He was named student speaker at Alumni Day in 1950. He planned to deliver a scathing speech on the shortcomings of the Yale faculty, but the speech he wrote was opposed by the administration, and he withdrew from the honor. The rejection stung Buckley, and he soon made plans to write a book attacking the anticapitalist and irreligious thought of much of the Yale faculty.
From Yale to the CIA to Magazine Work
In April 1951, as he was finishing work on his book, Buckley was accepted into service in the Central Intelligence Agency. After a training period, he and his wife were stationed in Mexico City in September 1951. Buckley’s book on his academic travails, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” was published by Regnery in October 1951, the 250th anniversary of Yale’s founding, and vaulted Buckley into controversy and the national limelight. The book expands the idea he first expounded in the undelivered Alumni Day speech that Yale faculty members—many of them attacked by name in the text—were atheists and socialists and therefore unfit to teach at a university that still claimed a Christian heritage in a capitalist nation.
In March 1952 Buckley went to work for the American Mercury as an associate editor. After less than a year Buckley resigned over an editorial disagreement—the magazine refused to print one of his articles. The experience left him more certain of the need for a new conservative magazine.
Founding of the National Review
The taste of controversy and public success with God and Man at Yale and the frustration with his experience at the American Mercury had much to do with Buckley’s interest in starting the National Review. Buckley came to the fore-front of the push for a magazine after another controversial book publication. In early 1954 Regnery published McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning, which Buckley wrote with his brother-in-law, Brent Bozell. The book, because of its controversial subject and its even more controversial point of view of supporting McCarthyism, was greeted with silence. It had only one major review outside the conservative press, a negative notice in the New York Times. When his book was ignored by the mainstream press, Buckley became more involved in starting a magazine, in the vein of the New Republic and the Nation, and in which conservative books would be neither ignored nor vilified.
The first weekly issue of the National Review appeared on November 14, 1955. Even in the first issue, Buckley—as both publisher and editor in chief— attempted to enliven conservatism with wit and sarcasm instead of relying entirely on the deadly serious moralism so common in other right-wing journals. His own attitude toward conservatism made it easier to adopt such an editorial rationale. Unlike many conservatives and moderates, Buckley saw his political persuasion in full opposition to the status quo.
Politics and a Broader Media Career
Buckley and the National Review spent the next ten years battling what he saw as the liberal status quo. In the aftermath of the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, the first truly conservative postwar presidential candidate, Buckley decided to try politics for himself. In 1965 he declared himself a Conservative Party candidate for mayor of New York. His wit and love of controversy found fertile ground in the race against Democrat Abraham Beame and Republican John Lindsay, the eventual winner. Surprising everyone, including himself, Buckley received 13.4 percent of the vote.
His media success in the New York mayoral race led to the beginning of a debate and interview show, Firing Line, which was first broadcast on New York station WOR in 1966. Buckley’s influence grew beyond the National Review, and he soon entered the realm of fic tion writing with his successful Blackford Oakes spy novels. The magazine, however, remained influential.
Buckley and Ronald Reagan
In 1976, Buckley and the National Review supported Ronald Reagan in his bid to unseat Gerald Ford as the Republican presidential nominee, a bid that fell short and helped, along with the president’s poor campaign, to elect Jimmy Carter. As the 1980 election approached, conservatives once again supported Reagan. But during the debate over the Panama Canal treaties, which Carter had negotiated, Buckley supported Carter and opposed Reagan. Buckley and Reagan went as far as to debate each other in 1978, an event that brought Reagan a national audience. Buckley’s stance brought condemnation from many conservatives, but as Buckley noted in his book Overdrive (1983), his public support of the treaties and his opposition to Reagan may have ensured the latter’s election in 1980.
While he angered many conservatives, he did not endanger his friendship with Reagan, and following Rea gan’s election the National Review reached the pinnacle of its influence on official Washington. A decade later, in 1990, on the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first issue of the National Review, Buckley announced that he was stepping down as editor in chief. Buckley still had a nationally syndicated newspaper column and he continued to contribute opinion pieces for the National Review. He also lectured and made radio and television appearances and continued to publish books, including ten novels. He died at the age of eighty-two while writing a book about his relationship with Ronald Reagan (published as The Reagan I Knew in 2008).
Works in Literary Context
Although a controversial figure in American politics, Buckley is widely credited with bringing a unique and engaging blend of charm and combativeness to political discourse. As Gene Moore wrote in 1981,
Buckley’s flickering tongue and flashing wit have challenged a generation to remember the old truths while searching for the new, to abhor hypocrisy and to value logic, and to join in the worldwide struggle for human rights and human freedom.
During Buckley’s thirty-five-year editorship of the National Review, a magazine he founded in 1955 to present a ”responsible dissent from Liberal orthodoxy,” the magazine became one of the most influential journals of political opinion in the United States. He himself became one of the most recognizable figures in American journalism in addition to becoming both an inspiration and an icon to several generations of political conservatives. Buckley’s career as a magazine editor succeeded far beyond his wildest imaginings or those of his critics. The character of American conservatism, and therefore of contemporary American politics, would be quite different without the influence and the writing of Buckley.
Prior to Buckley’s founding of the National Review, the conservative movement lacked a mainstream magazine venue in which conservative ideas could affect the national debate on political and social issues. Many in the conservative camp shared this idea, but no one had a firm idea about how to proceed until Buckley came along. During its early years, especially during the 1950s, the National Review made few concessions to the reality, and seeming permanence, of the welfare state instituted during the New Deal. Indeed, the magazine seemed to follow the line that it would support most anyone on the Right, regardless of the position expounded, but Buckley’s political outlook grew as the magazine began to increase its circulation. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the National Review began influencing and changing conservatism rather than merely discussing conservative ideas. By the time Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, Buckley had helped transform conservative thought into a modern doctrine committed to such ideals as deregulation and individual initiative.
In addition to his stature as a political and social commentator, Buckley was well regarded as a writer of spy fiction. In such novels as Saving the Queen (1976), Stained Glass (1978), and See You Later, Alliga tor (1985), among others, Buckley relates the adventures of CIA agent Blackford Oakes. Buckley interweaves his fiction with historical events and figures, particularly those involved in East-West relations in postwar Europe. For example, See You Later, Alligator centers around the Cuban Missile Crisis. Critics have commented favorably on these works, praising Buckley’s clear prose, fast-paced narratives, and his use of parody, caricature, and other humorous touches to offset the sometimes grim action.
Works in Critical Context
Buckley’s career as editor of the National Review made him one of the most recognizable and controversial figures in American journalism. Although dismissed by some critics as a mere gadfly, Buckley’s success as an editor, novelist, syndicated newspaper columnist, television host, and sometime politician mark him as more than that. Buckley’s sometimes lonely and sometimes strident advocacy of conservative policies was instrumental in laying the foundation for the conservative revival of the 1960s and its triumph in the 1980s.
Stirring Up Controversy
Buckley first received national attention with God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom”, in which Buckley challenged the “antireligious” stance of some of his professors at Yale University and opposed the use of certain economics textbooks, which, he claimed, favored “collectivism.” In a review of this book, Frank D. Ashburn stated that Buckley ”distorts some facts, is inaccurate often, sometimes twists conclusions, and does this while assuring the reader that he is being true to a position he repeatedly renounces.” On the other hand, Max Eastman applauded God and Man at Yale for ”its arrant intellectual courage” and called it ”brilliant, sincere, well-informed, keenly reasoned, and exciting to read.” The furor provoked by this book is typical of the controversy generated by Buckley’s later works.
The National Review While often controversial, the National Review was recognized by both fans and detractors as a major influence over conservative political thought in the United States and a force for advancing conservatism’s appeal, particularly since the 1970s and 1980s. President Ronald Reagan publicly declared that the National Review was his favorite magazine and acknowledged its influence in advancing conservative political fortunes. As Morton Kondracke wrote in the New York Times Book Review, Buckley and his magazine nurtured the [conservative] movement … and gave it a rallying point and sounding board as it gradually gained the strength and respect ability to win the Presidency. Conservatism is not far from the dominant intellectual force in the country today, but neither is liberalism. There is now a balance between the movements, a permanent con test, and Mr. Buckley deserves credit for helping make it so.
- Burner, David, and Thomas R. West, eds. Column Right:Conservative Journalists in the Service of Nationalism. New York: New York University Press, 1988.
- Cain, Edward R. They’d Rather Be Right: Youth and the Conservative Movement. New York:Macmillan,1963.
- Forster, Arnold, and B. R. Epstein. Danger on the Right. New York: Random House, 1964.
- Judis, John. William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
- Lipset, Seymour Martin, and Earl Raab. The Politics of Unreason. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
- Lukacs, John. Outgrowing Democracy: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984.
- Markmann, Charles L. The Buckleys: A Family Examined. New York: Morrow, 1973.
- Moore, Gene M. ”William F. Buckley, Jr.” DISCovering Authors, Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003.
- Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. New York: Basic Books, 1976.
- Bundy, McGeorge. ”The Attack on Yale.” Atlantic Monthly (November 1951): 51.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.