In its infancy, the conservative movement was a set of philosophically diverse, isolated camps, whose internal divisions enabled the left to deride them as intellectual weak. These conservative camps would remain divided and functionally conquered—unless an overriding event or an individual of unusual resolve and charisma brought them together. The catalyst turned out to be William F. Buckley Jr., a 29-year-old Yale graduate and privileged son of an oil millionaire.
Who was this man who united conservatism, creating converts one National Review issue at a time? How should we understand Buckley’s influence and his political thought?
Buckley could have led the easy life of a mere playboy: sailing his yacht and giving parties and skiing in Switzerland. Instead, Buckley chose to be the Saint Paul of the conservative movement, proselytizing tirelessly across America, fighting the good fight against liberal heresies, exhorting and when necessary warning the conservative faithful to mend their ways.
The Heritage Foundation’s own historian of the conservative movement and long time friend on Buckley, Lee Edwards delivers a much-needed intellectual biography of the man has been called “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century.”
William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement, Edwards reveals how Buckley did more than any other person to build the conservative movement. In the early 1950s, Buckley observed that the Right lacked focus and cohesion. “The few spasmodic victories conservatives are winning,” he wrote, “are aimless, uncoordinated, and inclusive. This is so…because many years have gone by since the philosophy of freedom has been expounded systematically, brilliantly, and resourcefully.” He resolved to change that. Edwards brilliantly captures the free spirit and unbounded energy of the conservative polymath, but reminds us that Buckley did not succeed merely on the strength of a winning personality. Rather, As Edwards reveals in his latest First Principles Essay, Standing Athwart History: The Political Thought of William F. Buckley Jr., Buckley’s achievements were the result of a long series of quite deliberate political acts—many of them overlooked today.
William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement succeeds in showing William F. Buckley Jr.’s vision of ordered liberty shaped and guided American conservatism from its infancy to its maturity, from a cramped suite of offices on Manhattan’s East Side to the Oval Office of the White House, from a set of “irritable mental gestures” to a political force that transformed American politics.