It's not often that a person who gets an entire chapter in one's dissertation dies (it's currently in draft, I guess I'll need to edit it now...). Resisting the temptation to say too much, I think I'll say just this:
When Buckley founded his magazine, the National Review, in 1955, it was the journal of a fringe set of ideas. When he died, the same magazine, with very much the same ideas and ideals, was solidly in the mainstream of American political discourse. And Buckley had as much to do with that as any other single individual. (Of course others were vital; but he had as an important a role in changing the political conversation as anyone, I'd argue.)
Buckley devoted his life to spreading his political ideas; and, judged by what he set out to accomplish, Buckley was more successful in his life than almost anyone I can think of. He was a man who did what he set out to do: and how many of us can say that?
For better and for worse, we all live in the world Buckley made.
Rest in peace.
Here's some of what others are saying about him:
• Rick Perlstein has a touching tribute that is the must-read of the day, at least from the left side of the spectrum. One piece of it:
Nice people, friends, can disagree about the most fundamental questions about the organization of society. And there's nothing wrong with that. We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus.Read the rest.
• Patrick Nielsen Hayden, in contrast, recalls to our attention the less humane side of Buckley with one of Buckley's more infamous quotes. A good thing to read alongside Perlstein, to get a rounded view.
• Robert Farley replays an instant-classic quote from a few years back that shows the divide between Buckley and the movement he did so much the create. Along the same lines, Ezra Klein links Buckley with other political writers of his era, and comments:
Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger. Run a search on quotes from Galbraith, Buckley, or [Milton] Friedman, then do the same for O'Reilly and Coulter. We're really losing something here.• Andrew Sullivan offers not only his own remembrances (as a self-identified conservative), but a round-up from that side of the spectrum. (He also links to the classic Buckley - Chomsky debate on youtube.) And, of course, for the right-sided view, you should check out the remembrances from the web site of Buckley's own magazine. (Can't find a permalink yet, but here's the main site.)