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AW, it's just amazing how Posner misses the larger point. Bringing up McCarthy again? After all these years, and after Buckley confessed, many times, to having misjudged the man.

Above all, Buckley was trying to make three central points: 1) That in general free enterprise offers both liberty and prosperity, and is therefore a much better system than the alternatives; 2) That Soviet Communism ought to be vigorously opposed, not placated or appeased and 3) That the cutural and moral relativism that had taken hold of the left in the 1960's was corrosive, and that the liberal social policies that flowed from that relativism (like leniency toward criminals) were socially destructive. And he has been proven right on all three.

Buckley was not origninal in the way that Friedman, for example, was. But he offered a crucial intellectual synthesis of ideas that were already in the air that was pretty coherent and persuasive. I don't agree, then, that it's hyperbole to say that Buckley provided the intellectual synthesis that made people take conservatism seriously again as an intellectual movement.

Buckley and Friedman paved the way for Ronald Reagan to come to power. What had seemed to most people so extreme in 1964 gradually seemed more reasonable, as conservative(and libertarian)intellectuals exposed the intellectual weaknesses of modern liberalism, and its empirical failings became increasingly obvious.

In all thsi Buckley played a major role. I'm looking right now at a book on the rise of American conservatism by some folks at the Economists. Gary Becker is in it, and Buckley is ubiquitous. I don't see Judge Posner mantioned at all.


Just a quick note. William F. Buckley was extremely important to me. I can't speak for the grand scheme of things.

At one time, the only path to conservative thought for a youngster growing up in the mid-west went through William F. Buckley and started with his TV show, Firing Line. This led to National Review. From that point on, perhaps he was not so important. For me, there was no other possible portal of entrance to the rhetoric and philosophy of the right.


Jack, I like that analogy to a leaking ship. The only difference is, all the ships I've been on, have built in and automatic bilge systems to pump out and dump the leakage overboard. Unlike the Economy. And the Trade Deficit is now what?

Bernard Yomtov

Excellent post. Buckley was a skilled polemicist, and an entertaining and no doubt intelligent individual, but he was no great thinker. He made lots of blunders - civil rights, McCarthy - and is generally overrated.

Bill Weissman

What a tasteless, inane post. The gratuitous history of economic enlightenment may serve in some sense to frame the bloggers place in their autobiographical account of history. Buckley's conservativism, by contrast, converted many to the belief that limited government best serves the interests of personal freedom and economic progress. And people actually understood the message in measurable numbers - which is a notable accomplishment when compared to the solipsimal musings of economists. As for the "media mentions", being unfamiliar with the context, I can only say that such a measure of relevance would of late put Mr. Spitzer in high regard. The metric, while valued perhaps by the neglected, should hold little positive value to intelligent readers.


When all is said and done, Buckley will have been far a more influential person than Posner--though I'm sure this overinflated, pompous judge will never understand that.


A few more things.

Posner says the outpouring of praise for Buckley was "surprising." How could that be surprising to anyone who knew anything of Buckley's influence, who knew anything about the esteem in which Buckley was held? This is just like when Posner said that the strong and widespread opposition to his position on immigration was "surprising." Posner gets surprised about things that are very obvious to so many of the rest of us. The man is simply out of touch. Hopefully a few more "surprises" will deflate that massive ego of his, by showing him that maybe he doesn't know as much as he thinks.

As for containment being a better policy than rollback--gee, now which approach was it that actually worked? Could someone remind me? You know, hindsight is supposed to be 20/20. How do you get hindsight wrong?

But of all the nauseating, jaw-droppingly ignorant things Posner says here, by far the worst is his statement that he doubts Buckley was a formidable intellectual. If you're not even going to concede that much (or, rather, that little), then there's no reason anyone should take you seriously.

Bernard Yomtov

But of all the nauseating, jaw-droppingly ignorant things Posner says here, by far the worst is his statement that he doubts Buckley was a formidable intellectual.

Buckley was not a great intellectual. He was a great advocate for his political cause, and a quick-witted and articulate speaker and writer. But he was more a promoter of ideas than a creator of them. Whatever his contributions, they did not include any notable intellectual advances.

Grady Shilling

According to the dictionary, an intellectual (or man of letters) is "a man who is devoted to literary or scholarly pursuits." Sounds like Buckley to me.


As a twenty-seven year old, Buckley was before my time. But since I have been hearing about him now that he is dead, I looked at some of his matierial. Although I do not agree with alot of what he said and he seemed rather pompous at times, I have alot of respect for him because he was an outspoken individual who was not afraid to flex his cerebral muscles. In fact, watching Buckley is a breath of fresh air in our modern, dumbed down environment.

(For some comic relief, here is a link to a clip wherein he threatens to smack Gore Vidal:



Yes, AW, you're quite right. One should never, ever, speak ill of the dead. In that spirit, I have composed the following poem:

Here lies the bones of old Will

Wise, Pious, Humble, and more still

Who of Life told us all how we should think and live it

Let that be said - and God forgive it

---freely adapted (read stolen) from Ambrose Bierce---

Bernard Yomtov

"a man who is devoted to literary or scholarly pursuits."

Buckley was devoted primarily to political activity - to the advancement of a set of political ideas. He was not a scholar. His literary activities consisted of writing some spy novels, which may be entertaining - I don't know - but he was hardly devoted to literary pursuits.


So Richard, you really don't think that the policy movements after the failure of the "War on Poverty" had anything to do with the ideological foundation Buckley almost single-handedly laid? That is preposterous. If conservatism wasn't a growing and well-articulated set of political and economic philosophies they would have never developed the political power to reverse failed liberal approaches. Buckley is more responsible for this coherence than anyone else.


Evan, In the end, the issue is not dependent on whether the position is "coherent" or "incoherent". The only issue is its success or failure in its policy initiatives. What difference does it make when we are now stuck with a failed conservative approach as opposed to a failed liberal approach? Just remember, "truth" lies in its practical consequences and results.

St. Darwin Assissi's cat

Wow, STRONG reactions to this post. Thanks Judge Posner. I have never thought of you as being pompous or inflated, maybe a snob about higher education ... anyway for Buckley to rank 20 in your book "Public Intellectuals" pretty much sums it up ... Buckley was up there with Kissinger and others. I always liked to watch him raise and lower his eyebrows, cross and uncross his legs, take off his glasses and toss them around...


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