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Personal: On Writers Dying – Sir Arthur C. Clarke and William F. Buckley, Jr.

I see the news that Sir Arthur C. Clarke has died in his home in Columbo, Sri Lanka. As evidence of our communications technology making the world that much smaller or potentially more intimate, I was interested to discover that he had taped a farewell series of reflections for friends or fans and posted it on YouTube at his 90th birthday, back in December, as he was declining. (Arthur C. Clarke's 90th Birthday YouTube Address/Reflections) It was an interesting thing, I thought, to be able to hear that: to listen to the more-or-less final public thoughts of such an accomplished writer, scientist and futurist, and to think for a few minutes with him about the vision he had nurtured through the bloody 20th century and the hopes he bore for the future of humanity. Those thoughts, along with recent reflections on another noted writer who recently died – this time the conservative political and social commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. – also seemed to be worth noting. One might expect The New York Times to be very hard with Buckley, and they certainly dug in at his weak points, like his early and long-since-spurned support for Southern racist establishment, but I found their article to be interesting reading. Even more so, the article in The Wall Street Journal made for some fascinating reading. (At least, I thought so at the time: the only one I've found, which I link here, is not the one I read in the print edition.)

EDIT: Ah, this was the opinion column I had been thinking of from The Wall Street Journal, by one By William McGurn.
EDIT EDIT: Similarly, here is the original thing in The New York Times that I had read and rather enjoyed, a column by William Kristol that among other things speaks of the circumstances of Buckley's last day. Very human. I include the piece, behind the cut, that he linked to from the website of National Review.

My encounter with these two writers was really quite limited. I've read as well as watched Clarke's famed 2001: A Space Odyssey, and otherwise read only a number of his letters in his long correspondence with C.S. Lewis, as well as his criticism that the Lewis publishing "industry" is not at all taking seriously the substantial evidence of literary tampering with Lewis' estate by the principle executor and publisher of later of Lewis material, Walter Hooper. Buckley I met only once, after hearing him speak at Notre Dame in favour of the legalizing of recreational drugs, apparently invoking the logic of the Prohibition – that the violence of the drug trade, like that of the gangsters of the 1920s – creates a social cost far greater than would be the legalization and government oversight of controlled substances. This was a bit of an eye-opener for me, and not what I expected from a conservative commentator, and so I quietly listened to subsequent conversation, but didn't really take part in it myself. I've always intended to, but still have not yet read his God and Man at Yale. More, I remember getting into the habit of watching his program Firing Line along with Meet The Press on Sunday mornings, but only in the show's last year. I still have a tape copy of his conversation with my Notre Dame ecclesiology professor Richard McBrien as they discussed Vatican II with the unalloyed glee of pundits who saw one another's understandings as hopelessly flawed.

Still, although Buckley certainly played the pundit – and at times simply played in the context of debate – he actually listened to, and weighed, ideas. I can't help but notice the recent passing of serious thinkers of these sorts and assume that, as always, the world is the lesser for their having moved on.

Obituaries from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke, 90, Science Fiction Writer, Dies

The New York Times

Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90.

Rohan de Silva, an aide, confirmed the death and said Mr. Clarke had been experiencing breathing problems, The Associated Press reported. He had suffered from post-polio syndrome for the last two decades.

The author of almost 100 books, Mr. Clarke was an ardent promoter of the idea that humanity’s destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. It was a vision served most vividly by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the classic 1968 science-fiction film he created with the director Stanley Kubrick and the novel of the same title that he wrote as part of the project.

His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight.

Other early advocates of a space program argued that it would pay for itself by jump-starting new technology. Mr. Clarke set his sights higher. Borrowing a phrase from William James, he suggested that exploring the solar system could serve as the “moral equivalent of war,” giving an outlet to energies that might otherwise lead to nuclear holocaust.

Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives.

In his later years, after settling in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Mr. Clarke continued to bask in worldwide acclaim as both a scientific sage and the pre-eminent science fiction writer of the 20th century. In 1998, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr. Clarke played down his success in foretelling a globe-spanning network of communications satellites. “No one can predict the future,” he always maintained. But as a science fiction writer he couldn’t resist drawing up timelines for what he called “possible futures.” Far from displaying uncanny prescience, these conjectures mainly demonstrated his lifelong, and often disappointed, optimism about the peaceful uses of technology — from his calculation in 1945 that atomic-fueled rockets could be no more than 20 years away to his conviction in 1999 that “clean, safe power” from “cold fusion” would be commercially available in the first years of the new millennium.

Popularizer of Science

Mr. Clarke was well aware of the importance of his role as science spokesman to the general population: “Most technological achievements were preceded by people writing and imagining them,” he noted. “I’m sure we would not have had men on the Moon,” he added, if it had not been for H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. “I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.”

Arthur Charles Clarke was born on Dec. 16, 1917, in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, England. His father was a farmer; his mother a post office telegrapher. The eldest of four children, he was educated as a scholarship student at a secondary school in the nearby town of Taunton. He remembered a number of incidents in early childhood that awakened his scientific imagination: exploratory rambles along the Somerset shoreline, with its “wonderland of rock pools”; a card from a pack of cigarettes that his father showed him, with a picture of a dinosaur; the gift of a Meccano set, a British construction toy similar to American Erector Sets.

He also spent time, he said, “mapping the moon” through a telescope he constructed himself out of “a cardboard tube and a couple of lenses.” But the formative event of his childhood was his discovery, at age 13 — the year his father died — of a copy of Astounding Stories of Super-Science, then the leading American science fiction magazine. He found its mix of boyish adventure and far-out (sometimes bogus) science intoxicating.

While still in school, he joined the newly formed British Interplanetary Society, a small band of sci-fi enthusiasts who held the controversial view that space travel was not only possible but could be achieved in the not-so-distant future. In 1937, a year after he moved to London to take a civil service job, he began writing his first science fiction novel, a story of the far, far future that was later published as “Against the Fall of Night” (1953).

Mr. Clarke spent World War II as an officer in the Royal Air Force. In 1943 he was assigned to work with a team of American scientist-engineers who had developed the first radar-controlled system for landing airplanes in bad weather. That experience led to Mr. Clarke’s only non-science fiction novel, “Glide Path” (1963). More important, it led in 1945 to a technical paper, published in the British journal Wireless World, establishing the feasibility of artificial satellites as relay stations for Earth-based communications.

The meat of the paper was a series of diagrams and equations showing that “space stations” parked in a circular orbit roughly 22,240 miles above the equator would exactly match the Earth’s rotation period of 24 hours. In such an orbit, a satellite would remain above the same spot on the ground, providing a “stationary” target for transmitted signals, which could then be retransmitted to wide swaths of territory below. This so-called geostationary orbit has been officially designated the Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union.

Decades later, Mr. Clarke called his Wireless World paper “the most important thing I ever wrote.” In a wry piece entitled, “A Short Pre-History of Comsats, Or: How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time,” he claimed that a lawyer had dissuaded him from applying for a patent. The lawyer, he said, thought the notion of relaying signals from space was too far-fetched to be taken seriously.

But Mr. Clarke also acknowledged that nothing in his paper — from the notion of artificial satellites to the mathematics of the geostationary orbit — was new. His chief contribution was to clarify and publicize an idea whose time had almost come: it was a feat of consciousness-raising of the kind he would continue to excel at throughout his career.

A Fiction Career Is Born

The year 1945 also saw the start of Mr. Clarke’s career as a fiction writer. He sold a short story called “Rescue Party” to the same magazine — now re-titled Astounding Science Fiction — that had captured his imagination 15 years earlier.

For the next two years Mr. Clarke attended King’s College, London, on the British equivalent of a G.I. Bill scholarship, graduating in 1948 with first-class honors in physics and mathematics. But he continued to write and sell stories, and after a stint as assistant editor at the scientific journal Physics Abstracts, he decided he could support himself as a free-lance writer. Success came quickly. His primer on space flight, “The Exploration of Space,” became an American Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

Over the next two decades he wrote a series of nonfiction bestsellers as well as his best-known novels, including “Childhood’s End” (1953) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). For a scientifically trained writer whose optimism about technology seemed boundless, Mr. Clarke delighted in confronting his characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension.

In “Childhood’s End,” a race of aliens who happen to look like devils imposes peace on an Earth torn by Cold War tensions. But the aliens’ real mission is to prepare humanity for the next stage of evolution. In an ending that is both heartbreakingly poignant and literally earth-shattering, Mr. Clarke suggests that mankind can escape its suicidal tendencies only by ceasing to be human.

“There was nothing left of Earth,” he wrote. “It had nourished them, through the fierce moments of their inconceivable metamorphosis, as the food stored in a grain of wheat feeds the infant plant while it climbs towards the Sun.”

The Cold War also forms the backdrop for “2001.” Its genesis was a short story called “The Sentinel,” first published in a science fiction magazine in 1951. It tells of an alien artifact found on the Moon, a little crystalline pyramid that explorers from Earth destroy while trying to open. One explorer realizes that the artifact was a kind of fail-safe beacon; in silencing it, human beings have signaled their existence to its far-off creators.

Enter Stanley Kubrick

In the spring of 1964, Stanley Kubrick, fresh from his triumph with “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” met Mr. Clarke in New York, and the two agreed to make the “proverbial really good science fiction movie” based on “The Sentinel.” This led to a four-year collaboration; Mr. Clarke wrote the novel and Mr. Kubrick produced and directed the film; they are jointly credited with the screenplay.

Many reviewers were puzzled by the film, especially the final scene in which an astronaut who has been transformed by aliens returns to orbit the Earth as a “Star-Child.” In the book he demonstrates his new-found powers by detonating from space the entire arsenal of Soviet and United States nuclear weapons. Like much of the plot, this denouement is not clear in the film, from which Mr. Kubrick cut most of the expository material.

As a fiction writer, Mr. Clarke was often criticized for failing to create fully realized characters. HAL, the mutinous computer in “2001,” is probably his most “human” creation: a self-satisfied know-it-all with a touching but misguided faith in his own infallibility.

If Mr. Clarke’s heroes are less than memorable, it’s also true that there are no out-and-out villains in his work; his characters are generally too busy struggling to make sense of an implacable universe to engage in petty schemes of dominance or revenge.

Mr. Clarke’s own relationship with machines was somewhat ambivalent. Although he held a driver’s license as a young man, he never drove a car. Yet he stayed in touch with the rest of the world from his home in Sri Lanka through an ever-expanding collection of up-to-date computers and communications accessories. And until his health declined, he was an expert scuba diver in the waters around Sri Lanka.

He first became interested in diving in the early 1950s, when he realized that he could find underwater, he said, something very close to the weightlessness of outer space. He settled permanently in Colombo, the capital of what was then Ceylon, in 1956. With a partner, he established a guided diving service for tourists and wrote vividly about his diving experiences in a number of books, beginning with “The Coast of Coral” (1956).

Of his scores of books, some like “Childhood’s End,” have been in print continuously. His works have been translated into some 40 languages, and worldwide sales have been estimated at more than $25 million.

In 1962 he suffered a severe attack of polio. His apparently complete recovery was marked by a return to top form at his favorite sport, table tennis. But in 1984 he developed post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and extreme fatigue. He spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair.

Clarke’s Three Laws

Among his legacies are Clarke’s Three Laws, provocative observations on science, science fiction and society that were published in his “Profiles of the Future” (1962):

¶“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

¶“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

¶“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Along with Verne and Wells, Mr. Clarke said his greatest influences as a writer were Lord Dunsany, a British fantasist noted for his lyrical, if sometimes overblown, prose; Olaf Stapledon, a British philosopher who wrote vast speculative narratives that projected human evolution to the farthest reaches of space and time; and Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”

While sharing his passions for space and the sea with a worldwide readership, Mr. Clarke kept his emotional life private. He was briefly married in 1953 to an American diving enthusiast named Marilyn Mayfield; they separated after a few months and were divorced in 1964, having had no children.

One of his closest relationships was with Leslie Ekanayake, a fellow diver in Sri Lanka, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1977. Mr. Clarke shared his home in Colombo with his friend’s brother, Hector, his partner in the diving business; Hector’s wife, Valerie; and their three daughters.

Mr. Clarke reveled in his fame. One whole room in his house — which he referred to as the Ego Chamber — was filled with photos and other memorabilia of his career, including pictures of him with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

Mr. Clarke’s reputation as a prophet of the space age rests on more than a few accurate predictions. His visions helped bring about the future he longed to see. His contributions to the space program were lauded by Charles Kohlhase, who planned NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn and who said of Mr. Clarke, “When you dream what is possible, and add a knowledge of physics, you make it happen.”

At the time of his death he was working on another novel, “The Last Theorem,” Agence France-Presse reported. “ The Last Theorem’ has taken a lot longer than I expected,” the agency quoted him as saying. “That could well be my last novel, but then I’ve said that before.”

February 27, 2008
William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82.

Mr. Buckley suffered from diabetes and emphysema, his son Christopher said, although the exact cause of death was not immediately known. He was found at his desk in the study of his home, his son said. “He might have been working on a column,” Mr. Buckley said.

William Buckley, with his winningly capricious personality, his use of ten-dollar words and a darting tongue writers loved to compare to an anteater’s, was the popular host of one of television’s longest-running programs, “Firing Line,” and founded and shepherded the influential conservative magazine “National Review.”

He also found time to write more than 50 books, ranging from sailing odysseys to spy novels to dissertations on harpsichord fingering to celebrations of his own dashing daily life. He edited at least five more.

In 2007, he published a history of the magazine called “Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription” and a political novel, “The Rake.” His personal memoir of Senator Barry M. Goldwater is scheduled to be published this spring, and at his death was working on a similar work on President Ronald Reagan.

The more than 4.5 million words of his 5,600 twice-weekly newspaper columns, “On the Right,” would fill 45 more medium-sized books. His collected papers, which were donated to Yale University, weigh seven tons.

Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.

President George W. Bush said Wednesday that Mr. Buckley “brought conservative thought into the political mainstream, and helped lay the intellectual foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War.”

To Mr. Buckley’s enormous delight, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the historian, termed him “the scourge of liberalism.”

In remarks at National Review’s 30th anniversary in 1985, President Reagan joked that he picked up his first issue of the magazine in a plain brown wrapper and still anxiously awaited his copy every two weeks — “without the wrapper.”

“You didn’t just part the Red Sea — you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism,” Mr. Reagan said.

“And then, as if that weren’t enough,” the president continued, “you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”

The liberal primacy he challenged had begun with the New Deal and so accelerated in the next generation that Lionel Trilling, one of America’s leading intellectuals, wrote in 1950: “In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.”

Mr. Buckley declared war on this liberal order, beginning with his blistering assault on Yale, from which he graduated with honors in 1950, as a den of atheistic collectivism.

“All great biblical stories begin with Genesis,” George Will wrote in National Review in 1980. “And before there was Ronald Reagan, there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 has become a conflagration.”

Mr. Buckley wove the tapestry of what became the new American conservatism from libertarian writers like Max Eastman, free-market economists like Milton Friedman, traditionalist scholars like Russell Kirk and anti-Communist writers like Whittaker Chambers. He argued for a conservatism based on the national interest and a higher morality.

His most receptive audience became young conservatives first energized by Barry Goldwater’s emergence at the Republican convention in 1960 as the right-wing alternative to Nixon. Some met in September 1960 at Mr. the Buckley family home in Sharon, Conn., to form Young Americans for Freedom. Their numbers — and influence — grew.

Nicholas Lemann observed in Washington Monthly in 1988 that during the Reagan administration “the 5,000 middle-level officials, journalists and policy intellectuals that it takes to run a government” were “deeply influenced by Buckley’s example.” He suggested that neither moderate Washington insiders nor “Ed Meese-style provincial conservatives” could have pulled off the Reagan tax cut and other policy transformations.

Speaking of the true believers, Mr. Lemann continued, “Some of these people had been personally groomed by Buckley, and most of the rest saw him as a role model.”

Mr. Buckley rose to prominence with a generation of talented writers fascinated by political themes, people with names like Mailer, Capote, Vidal, Styron and Baldwin. Like the others, he was a magnet for controversy. Even people on the right — from members of the John Birch Society to disciples of the author Ayn Rand to George Wallace to moderate Republicans — frequently pounced on him.

People of many political stripes came to see his life as something of an art form — from racing through city streets on a motorcycle to a quixotic campaign for mayor of New York in 1965 to voicing startling opinions like favoring the decriminalization of marijuana. He was often described as liberals’ favorite conservative, particularly after suavely playing host to an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” on public television in 1982.

Norman Mailer may indeed have dismissed Mr. Buckley as a “second-rate intellect incapable of entertaining two serious thoughts in a row,” but he could not help admiring his stage presence.

“No other act can project simultaneous hints that he is in the act of playing Commodore of the Yacht Club, Joseph Goebbels, Robert Mitchum, Maverick, Savonarola, the nice prep school kid next door, and the snows of yesteryear,” Mr. Mailer said in an interview with Harpers in 1967.

Mr. Buckley’s vocabulary, sparkling with phrases from distant eras and described in newspaper and magazine profiles as sesquipedalian (characterized by the use of long words), became the stuff of legend. Less kind commentators preferred the adjective “pleonastic” (using more words than necessary).

And, inescapably, there was that aurora of pure mischief. In 1985, David Remnick, writing in The Washington Post, said, “He has the eyes of a child who has just displayed a horrid use for the microwave oven and the family cat.”

William Francis Buckley was born in Manhattan on Nov. 24, 1925, the sixth of the 10 children of Aloise Steiner Buckley and William Frank Buckley. His parents had intended to name him after his father, but the priest who christened him insisted on a saint’s name, so Francis was chosen.When the younger William Buckley was 5, he asked to change his middle name to Frank and his parents agreed. At that point, he became William F. Buckley Jr.

The elder Mr. Buckley made a small fortune in the oil fields of Mexico and Venezuela and educated his children with personal tutors at Great Elm, the family estate in Sharon, Conn. They also attended exclusive Roman Catholic schools in England and France. Young William absorbed his family’s conservatism along with its deep Catholicism. At 14, he followed his brothers to the Millbrook School, a preparatory school 15 miles across the New York state line from Sharon.

In his spare time at Millbrook, young Bill typed schoolmates’ papers for them, charging $1 a paper, with a 25-cent surcharge for correcting the grammar.

He did not neglect politics, showing up uninvited at a faculty meeting to complain about a teacher’s having abridged his right to free speech and to oppose the United States’ entry into World War II. His father wrote him to suggest he “learn to be more moderate in the expression of your views.”

He graduated from Millbrook in 1943, then spent a half a year at the University of Mexico studying Spanish, which had been his first language. He served in the Army from 1944 to 1946 and managed to make second lieutenant after first putting colleagues off with his mannerisms.

In his 1988 book, “William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives,” John B. Judis quoted sister Patricia as saying that the army experience changed Mr. Buckley. “He got to understand people more,” she said.

Mr. Buckley then entered Yale, where he studied political science, economics and history; established himself as a fearsome debater; was elected chairman of the Yale Daily News; and joined Skull and Bones, the university’s most prestigious secret society. As a senior, he was given the honor of delivering the speech for Yale’s Alumni Day celebration, but was replaced after the university’s administration objected to his strong attacks on the university. He responded by writing his critique in the book that brought him to national attention, in part because he gave the publisher, Regnery, $10,000 to advertise it.

Published in 1951, “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom,’ ” charged the powers at Yale with having an atheistic and collectivist bent and called for the firing of faculty members who advocated values out of line with what he saw as Yale’s traditional values. Among the avalanche of negative reviews, the one in The Atlantic Monthly by McGeorge Bundy, a Yale graduate, was conspicuous. He found the book “dishonest in its use of facts, false in its theory, and a discredit to its author.” But Peter Viereck, writing in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, viewed the book as “a necessary counterbalance.”

After a year in the Central Intelligence Agency in Mexico City (his case officer was E. Howard Hunt, who went on to participate in the Watergate break-in), Mr. Buckley went to work for the American Mercury magazine, but resigned to write on his own.

Over the next few years, Mr. Buckley worked as a freelance writer and lecturer and wrote a second book with his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell. Published in 1954, “McCarthy and His Enemies” was a sturdy defense of the senator from Wisconsin who was then at the height of his campaign against communists, liberals and the Democratic Party. The book made The New York Times best-seller list.

In 1955, Mr. Buckley started National Review as voice for “the disciples of truth, who defend the organic moral order” with a $100,000 gift from his father and $290,000 from outside donors. The first issue, which came out in November, claimed the publication “stands athwart history yelling Stop.”

It proved it by lining up squarely behind Southern segregationists, saying Southern whites had the right to impose their ideas on blacks who were as yet culturally and politically inferior to them. After some conservatives objected, Mr. Buckley suggested instead that both uneducated whites and blacks should be denied the vote.

Mr. Buckley did not accord automatic support to Republicans. For Eisenhower, whom National Review was founded in part to oppose, the magazine ultimately managed only a memorably tepid endorsement: “We prefer Ike.”

Circulation increased from 16,000 in 1957 to 70,000 at the time of Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, to 115,000 in 1972. It is now 166,000. The magazine has always had to be subsidized by readers’ donations, supplemented by Mr. Buckley’s lecturing fees.

Along with offering a forum to big-gun conservatives like Russell Kirk, James Burnham and Robert Nisbet, National Review cultivated the career of several younger writers, including Garry Wills, Joan Didion and John Leonard, who would shake off the conservative attachment and go their leftward ways.

National Review also helped define the conservative movement by isolating cranks from Mr. Buckley’s chosen mainstream.

“Bill was responsible for rejecting the John Birch Society and the other kooks who passed off anti-Semitism or some such as conservatism,” Hugh Kenner, a biographer of Ezra Pound and a frequent contributor to National Review, told The Washington Post. “Without Bill — if he had decided to become an academic or a businessman or something else — without him, there probably would be no respectable conservative movement in this country.”

Mr. Buckley’s personal visibility was magnified by his “Firing Line” program, which ran from 1966 to 1999. First carried on WOR-TV and then on public television , it became the longest running program with a single host — beating out Johnny Carson by three years. He taped 1,504 programs, including debates on scores of topics like “Resolved: The women’s movement has been disastrous.”

There were exchanges on foreign policy with Norman Thomas; feminism with Germaine Greer; and race relations with James Baldwin. Not a few viewers thought Mr. Buckley’s toothy grin before he scored a point resembled nothing so much as a switchblade.

To the New York City politician Mark Green, he purred: “You’ve been on the show close to 100 times over the years. Tell me, Mark, have you learned anything yet?”

But Harold Macmillan, former prime minister of Britain, flummoxed the master. “Isn’t this show over yet?” Macmillan asked.

At the age of 50, Mr. Buckley crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his sailboat and became a novelist. Eleven of his novels are spy tales starring Blackford Oakes, who fights for the American way and beds the Queen of England in the first book.

Others of his books included a historical novel with Elvis Presley as a significant character, another about the Nuremberg trials, a reasoned critique of anti-Semitism and journals that more than succeeded dramatizing a life of taste and wealth — his own. For example, in “Cruising Speed: A Documentary,” published in 1971, he discussed the kind of meals he liked to eat.

“Rawle could give us anything, beginning with lobster Newburgh and ending with Baked Alaska,” he wrote. “We settle on a fish chowder, of which he is surely the supreme practitioner, and cheese and bacon sandwiches, grilled, with a most prickly Riesling picked up at St. Barts for peanuts.” Mr. Buckley’s spirit of fun was apparent in his 1965 campaign for mayor of New York on the ticket of the Conservative Party. When asked what he would do if he won, he answered, “Demand a recount.” He got 13.4 percent of the vote.

In retrospect, the mayoral campaign came to be seen as the beginning of the Republican Party’s successful courtship of working-class whites who later became “Reagan Democrats.”

For Murray Kempton, one of his many friends on the left, the Buckley news conference style called up “an Edwardian resident commissioner reading aloud the 39 articles of the Anglican establishment to a conscript of assembled Zulus.”

Unlike his brother James, who served as a United States senator from New York, Mr. Buckley generally avoided official government posts. He did serve from 1969 to 1972 as a presidential appointee to the National Advisory Commission on Information and as a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations in 1973.

The merits of the argument aside, Mr. Buckley irrevocably proved that his brand of candor did not lend itself to public life when an Op-Ed article he wrote for The New York Times offered a partial cure for the AIDS epidemic: “Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to prevent common needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of homosexuals,” he wrote.

In his last years, as honors like the Presidential Medal of Freedom came his way, Mr. Buckley gradually loosened his grip on his intellectual empire. In 1998, he ended his frenetic schedule of public speeches, about 70 a year over 40 years, he once estimated. In 1999, he stopped “Firing Line,” and in 2004, he relinquished his voting stock in National Review. He wrote his last spy novel (the 11th in his series), sold his sailboat and stopped playing the harpsichord publicly.

But he began a new historical novel and kept up his columns, including one on the “bewitching power” of “The Sopranos” television series. He commanded wide attention by criticizing the Iraq war as a failure.

On April 15, 2007, his wife, the former Patricia Aldyen Austin Taylor, who had carved out a formidable reputation as a socialite and philanthropist but considered her role as a homemaker, mother and wife most important, died. Mr. and Mrs. Buckley called each other “Ducky.”

He is survived by his son, Christopher, of Washington; his sisters Priscilla L. Buckley of Sharon, Conn., Patricia Buckley Bozell of Washington, and Carol Buckley of Columbia, S.C.; his brothers James L., of Sharon, and F. Reid, of Camden, S.C.; a granddaughter; and a grandson

In the end it was Mr. Buckley’s graceful, often self-deprecating wit that endeared him to others. In his spy novel “Who’s on First,” he described the possible impact of his National Review through his character Boris Bolgin.

“ ‘Do you ever read the National Review, Jozsef?’ asks Boris Bolgin, the chief of KGB counter intelligence for Western Europe. ‘It is edited by this young bourgeois fanatic.’ .”

An earlier version of this article included an outdated reference to books Mr. Buckley published in 2007 and to the total number of books he wrote, and referred incorrectly to his father, who was not a junior.

Up From Liberalism
February 28, 2008; Page A16

Conservatively speaking, the life of William F. Buckley Jr. seems wildly improbable. One man is rarely granted his range of gifts: He was at once an essayist, editor, impresario, controversialist, critic, novelist, sportsman and bon vivant. He was the captain of a publication that, as he once famously put it, stood "athwart History, yelling Stop," yet he personally lived in relentless forward motion. When liberalism was dominant but hidebound in the second half of the last century, he pioneered a new direction that transformed American politics.

William Francis Buckley Jr. died Wednesday morning in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 82. Appropriately enough, he was working on a column. His death is the severing of the last remaining link between contemporary American conservatism and its founding generation.

In 1950, the literary critic Lionel Trilling could assert "the plain fact" that there were no conservative ideas "in general circulation." That confidence would be ground away. In 1951, Bill Buckley made his name with "God and Man at Yale," which critiqued his alma mater for its hostilities to capitalism and religion. Four years later, Buckley founded National Review. He was 29.

In its fecund early period in the 1950s and '60s, National Review helped introduce a modern conservatism into American political life. Buckley and his talented stable of editors and contributors gave coherence and shape to what he called "a fusion" of traditionalism, anti-Communist internationalism and free-market economics. Equally important, the magazine worked to discredit fringe elements like the John Birchers, the Jew-haters and the Lindbergh isolationists.

This coalition served as the intellectual foundation for the rising architecture of the conservative movement. In 1964, Barry Goldwater defeated the Eastern establishment's Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican Presidential nomination. Though Goldwater badly lost, the ideas that animated his candidacy continued to gain support, and the 1980s saw the Presidency of Ronald Reagan and its fruits, a revolution in domestic economic policy and the undoing of the Soviet empire.

These achievements might not have happened without Buckley, who was uniquely suited to preside over the often-feuding factions of the early political right. He liked arguments over principle, but he also had an uncommon talent for adjudicating disputes and building coalitions. And though Buckley had bedrock beliefs, he had a conservative's distrust for systems and grand theories; his politics were pragmatic. His thinking and prose were governed by a critical-deliberative style that emphasized contingency and complexity. More than anything else, Buckley wanted to promulgate what he often referred to as "a thoughtful conservatism."

He seemed to embody it. WFB was a public intellectual in the best sense of the term: His wit, learning, civility, his sophistication—all these hugely contributed to the respectability of the conservative cause. Buckley was also a tireless popularizer and political combatant. By the time his television program "Firing Line" closed down in 1999, he had filmed 1,429 episodes. He edited NR for 35 years, gave 70 speeches a year over four decades, and filed a syndicated column until the end of his life. He wrote more than 50 books. He said he had "a cognate aversion to boredom."

Throughout, Buckley was rarely angry or grim. A famous debate in 1978 with the Gipper on the Panama Canal included the following exchange: Reagan: "Well, Bill, my first question is why haven't you already rushed across the room here to tell me that you've seen the light?" Buckley: "I'm afraid that if I came any closer to you the force of my illumination would blind you."

WFB found joy in everything, even in politics. "I have always held in high esteem the genial tradition," he wrote. This approach is now faded, and more in need in public life than ever. Several generations of conservatives grew up (in more than one sense) with Bill Buckley. Now they have—well, there is no one like him.

In his last years, Buckley grew discouraged about what he considered the drifts of the American right. In an interview with this page in 2005, he noted that "I think conservatism has become a little bit slothful." In private, his contempt was more acute. Part of it, he believed, was that what used to be living ideas had become mummified doctrines to many in the conservative political class. At the Yale Political Union in November 2006—Buckley's last public audience—he called for a "sacred release from the old rigidities" and "a repristinated vision." It was a bracing reminder that American conservatives must adapt eternal principles to new realities.

Buckley himself never lost his faith—in God, his country, the obligation to engage in the controversies of the age, and the wonders of the mind. His half-century at the center of the American scene was a model of thoughtfulness and political creativity that remains as relevant today, perhaps more so. Ave atque vale.

God and Man and Bill
February 29, 2008; Page A17

The last time I saw Bill Buckley he was closing in on his 80th birthday and his beloved National Review was marking 50 years of publication. He'd come to the White House to commemorate both milestones with a fellow Yalie: President George W. Bush.

It was a happy crowd. The president began by wondering if people thought his lunch with Bill Buckley represented a meeting of the Yale Scholars Association. He went on to cite Bill's declaration of "stand[ing] athwart History and crying Stop!" -- saying that this was precisely the approach he had taken to his classes at Yale. And he tried to give Bill credit where credit was due. "Everything I learned about the English language," he began -- before the room erupted in laughter.
[God and Man and Bill]
Ken Fallin

Possibly I am the only man in America whose writing has been edited by both George W. Bush and William F. Buckley, Jr. But I'm just one of dozens who began with Bill Buckley and ended up serving a president, and one of hundreds more who left National Review grateful and wiser for the privilege of having worked there. And I'm one of thousands who Bill Buckley touched personally -- with his grace, his wisdom, and most of all, his friendship.

Over an astonishing career, Bill wore many hats: columnist, novelist, television host, CIA agent, mayoral candidate, delegate to the United Nations, harpsichord player, conductor, painter, sailor. And in all of them lurked the mischievous soul of a joyous counterrevolutionary.

That's not so surprising, given that Bill was born to a father who fled Mexico because he was a counterrevolutionary. From a young age, Bill could never accommodate those who would accommodate themselves to the loss of freedom. As a young boy being packed off to boarding school in England, Master Buckley chanced to be at the airport when Neville Chamberlain arrived clutching the pathetic agreement with Hitler which he heralded as "peace in our time." As an adult he would become our Scarlet Pimpernel -- dazzling the salons with repartee and erudition, all the while nurturing an intellectual movement built on the love of freedom and a willingness to challenge the current wisdom.

Bill accomplished this through two vehicles of his own creation: National Review and Firing Line. Today editors sit in fear that some little icon on the Internet is going to put them out of business. For Bill, more media always meant more opportunity. Starting in print, and branching out into television, he would use that media in new ways -- and help transform the politics of his nation in the process.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Bill called National Review his "greatest achievement." At this remove, it is hard to recall just how improbable National Review was -- or the hostility it engendered in polite society.

Certainly it was an improbable enterprise. He had a staff consisting largely of relatives, academics and ex-communists. He had little in the way of finance -- captains of industry then as now were not much interested in supporting the free enterprise system that allows their prosperity.

And he had no illusions about its place in society. In that publishers note in the first issue, Bill cheerfully conceded that National Review would be "out of place" in America -- at least "in the sense that the United Nations and the League of Women Voters and the New York Times and Henry Steele Commager are in place."

As with the publication of his book, "God and Man at Yale," a few years earlier, polite society recoiled with horror. Yet the magazine grew, attracting and nourishing a new generation of conservative writers. Within a decade, it would help launch the Draft Goldwater movement -- and forever change the direction of the Republican Party. Fifteen years after Goldwater's defeat, National Review watched its dream candidate, Ronald Reagan, capture the White House and begin the work that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Through National Review, Bill changed opinion journalism, changed politics, and helped change the world.

Along the way, he discovered a new medium: TV. In 1965, he ran for mayor of New York on the Conservative Party ticket, with the aim of providing a counter to the liberal Republicanism of John Lindsey. That September, a strike shut down the city's newspapers, shifting public attention to the candidates' televised debates. In living rooms across the city, New Yorkers saw Bill in all his polysyllabic glory: handsome, urbane and possessed of a devastating charm. His performances paved the way for the instrument that would really make him a household name: Firing Line.

In print, Bill Buckley preached and edified. On Firing Line, he debated and entertained. His arching eyebrows and trademark slouch brought delight to his fans -- and struck fear in the hearts of those on the other side of the clipboard. Asked in 1967 why Bobby Kennedy had declined repeated invitations to appear on the show, Bill answered: "Why does baloney reject the grinder?" Firing Line would earn Bill an Emmy, and stay on the air for a record 33 years. In an age where some cable networks seem to have more talk-show hosts than viewers, it's easy to forget that Bill Buckley got there first, did it better than most, and lasted longer than anyone.

He would be the first to admit that he was not always right: National Review was on the wrong side of the civil-rights debate in the 1960s, and Bill was horrified when a convicted murderer whose cause he had championed -- Edgar Smith -- would use his freedom to abduct and stab another woman. (Smith fled, and when he called for help Bill turned him in to the FBI.)

Nor was Bill afraid to depart from the accepted conservative script when he believed circumstances warranted: endorsing the liberal Congressman Allard Lowenstein, coming out for legalization of drugs, siding with Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan on the return of the Panama Canal. The father of American conservatism was never doctrinaire.

His private life was shocking only in the modern sense that it was absent of the hypocrisies we have been taught to expect in a public figure. Here was a man who kept his vow to remain with the great love of his life until death finally did part them. Here was a man who raised an accomplished son whom he adored.

I know only a fraction of his many kindnesses. But even I know of people who were able to buy a home because Bill put up the down payment or to put a child through school because Bill helped with the tuition; people who remember terrible times in their lives when William F. Buckley seemed to be the only friend who hadn't abandoned them. All in all, not a bad ticket to carry into eternity.

An hour or so after I learned he had died, I was startled to find in my mail a letter from Bill. "How wonderful to know that you are back in town," he wrote, promising that "we will be in touch."

And if the faith he believed in has any truth, I have a good chance of holding him to it.

Mr. McGurn, a vice president of News Corporation, was a chief speechwriter for President Bush during his second term.

Op-Ed Columnist
The Indispensable Man

Published: March 3, 2008

In my high school yearbook (Collegiate School, class of 1970), there’s a photo of me wearing a political button. (Everyone did in those days. I wasn’t that much dorkier than everyone else.) The button said, “Don’t let THEM immanentize the Eschaton.”

There you see an example of the influence of Bill Buckley, who died last week at age 82. For it was Buckley who had promulgated this slogan, as an amusing distillation of the thinking of the very difficult historian of political philosophy Eric Voegelin. I’d of course not read Voegelin then (there’s a lot of him I still haven’t read, to tell the truth). But the basic thought was: Don’t let ideologues try to create heaven on earth, because they’ll deprive us of freedom and make things a lot worse.

To read Buckley growing up in the 1960s was bracing. Buckley and his colleagues — some merrily, some mordantly — mercilessly eviscerated the idiocies of the New Left. They also exposed the flaccidity of the older liberalism. If, like me, you already had a sense from listening to most of your peers and some of your elders that a lot of what they believed was silly (or worse), you couldn’t help but be attracted to Buckley.

It was the beginning of an education. Everyone knows of American conservatism as a political movement. But conservatism’s recrudescence (a term I’m borrowing, needless to say, from Buckley) was an intellectual odyssey as well. Buckley’s efforts helped introduce his readers to thinkers like Voegelin and Leo Strauss and Friedrich Hayek, writers neglected by a complacent and uninterested liberal orthodoxy. Many of the writers one encountered thanks to Buckley and National Review weren’t themselves conventional conservatives. But in opening doors to the work of men like these, Buckley helped many of us realize there were far richer intellectual traditions available than 20th-century liberalism even dreamed of.

It’s hard today to appreciate that before Buckley, there was no American conservative movement. There were interesting (if mostly little-known) conservative thinkers. Plenty of Americans had conservative inclinations and sentiments. But Buckley created conservatism as a political and intellectual movement.

Founder of National Review magazine and its editor for over three decades, author and editor of more than 50 books, collaborator in the formation of countless conservative organizations and enterprises, host of the television show “Firing Line,” tireless speaker and brilliant debater, generous promoter of the careers of so many others — Buckley was, simply, the indispensable man of modern American conservatism.

And he was, as well, an indispensable figure in the last half-century of American history. After all, to oversimplify just a bit: First there was conservatism. Then there was the first explicitly conservative American president of modern times, Ronald Reagan. Then there was victory in the cold war, a revitalized economy and a renewed nation. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc? Perhaps. In any case, it’s hard to imagine this happening without Bill Buckley.

Bill was a complicated man. In him, admirable but disparate qualities coexisted easily. Bill was at once remarkably ecumenical — and knowledgeably discriminating. He had a taste for profound reflection about man and God — and for fierce polemicizing against socialists and appeasers. He had a real joie de vivre — but also, perhaps like any thoughtful person, a streak of melancholy. He appreciated the intellectual arguments for pessimism, but he never yielded to the mortal sin of despair.

Bill died in his study early Wednesday morning. He had had dinner Tuesday night with Larry Perelman, who in a lovely piece on National Review’s Web site described the evening.

Perelman knew Bill because in 1994, at age 18, as an aspiring classical pianist living in Minnesota, he had written to thank him for fighting for freedom for Soviet Jews (Perelman’s parents had fled the Soviet Union, that locus classicus of immanentizers of the eschaton, in the 1970s). Perelman also had been moved by Buckley’s columns on classical music. Perelman wanted to repay Bill by playing the piano for him. Bill invited Perelman to do so, and recitals at the Buckley home became a regular attraction for Bill and selected guests.

Perelman was scheduled to play Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations Wednesday night, so he joined Bill for dinner the evening before to discuss the performance. They resolved the issue of how Perelman would handle the repeats in the Diabelli to their mutual satisfaction. They talked about music and politics and friends, to the accompaniment of a recording of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, Bill’s favorite.

It’s fitting that Bill’s last evening was filled with music and graced by friendship, both of which gave him so much joy. It’s fitting that he spent it with someone who had sought Bill out because of his uncompromising defense of freedom, the lodestar for his political and intellectual efforts. It was a fitting end to an admirable life.

February 29, 2008 4:00 AM
The Last Supper with WFB
Cheers to you, buddy.

By Larry Perelman
National Review

I have recently returned from Stamford, where I had been scheduled to play Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations for WFB and his friends on Wednesday night. Instead, I found myself sitting down to write this tribute to my dear friend and mentor. He knew well that he was the most important person in my life after the two people who had actually given me life. I will cherish hundreds of memories of his boundless acts of generosity, which changed my life forever.

Bill and I had dinner on Tuesday, the night before he passed away. I have chosen to write about this because I’d like for his family, friends, colleagues, and readers to know that it was just like any other Buckley dinner — i.e., it started with cocktails and ended with cognac.

I arrived at Bill’s at about six in the evening in order to run through the performance I was to give the following night. Bill and I had a tradition where he would choose the next work for me to learn and perform for National Review editors and friends. Over the years, I have played at least a dozen recitals, featuring Bach’s majestic C-minor partita, the heart-wrenching E-minor partita, Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, as well as the last three Beethoven Sonatas, among other pieces.

I left my bags in the appointed room and approached the music room’s doors with trepidation, as I had heard that Bill wasn’t feeling well — but knew he might have ventured for a meal to this room he so adored. I heard his oxygen machine roaring over the sounds of the evening news on the projection television. Opening the door, I saw Bill tinkering with the remote control, a soda and a mixed drink with orange juice on the table nearby. The music room has a glorious harpsichord and a large sofa, and its walls are lined with bookcases all around, save for the large windows offering breathtaking views of Long Island Sound.

I gently placed my hand on Bill’s shoulder and he looked up. In his trademark style, he uttered “Hey buddy,” a salutation his friends know well. I replied, “Hi Bill, it’s great to be back.” He immediately asked what I’d like to drink and I chose red wine. He rang the kitchen staff to bring the wine. Dinner had officially begun. I made myself comfortable on the couch next to Bill and we chatted about some odds and ends.

My mother, Celia, and I had ventured out to Bill’s last week so that I could “premiere” the Diabelli Variations for Bill and members of his family. He loved this piece and convinced me to learn it after an initial hesitancy on my part. I mentioned to Bill what an honor it was for me to perform it for him, and he conveyed his delight and noted the impression that my “sweet” mother had made on the gathering.

The first course arrived and it was simply red caviar and crème fraîche on toasted baguette. Bill inquired, “Would you like some vodka?” I replied in the affirmative. Bill then raised his shot glass and I mine, which followed with a clink and swift consumption of the perfectly chilled vodka. I found it incredible that here we were toasting with chilled vodka while watching news footage of the New York Philharmonic’s visit to one of the last vestiges of communism.

My parents and family fled the Soviet Union in the 1970s and I was the first American-born child in my family. I wrote to Bill at the age of 18 expressing my gratitude to him for having emboldened Soviet Jews to come to this great nation, and asking for the opportunity to express my gratitude to him by playing the piano. Now, here we were, 14 years later, toasting to all good things with vodka and red caviar. It was very special and soon our glasses were refilled.

The second course arrived as the sounds of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto filled the room. This course consisted of wonderful fish, green beans, and some of the best mashed potatoes I've ever had. Bill reminisced about concerts he had heard in the 1930s. Specifically, he mentioned hearing this, his “favorite” concerto, performed in London in 1938. He then turned to me and asked, “Do you think the harpsichord is today facing its greatest challenge as a concert instrument?” This was classic Bill and although far from being an authority on the harpsichord — he was one — I agreed with his observation. In front of us stood one of Bill’s harpsichords, indeed one of his prized possessions.

Our conversation ranged from politics (e.g. North Korea and the primaries) to culture to mutual friends — James Panero, for one. James and I met on Bill’s boat Patito in 2001. We were 25 and are best friends to this day. I mentioned to Bill that, if not for him, James and I wouldn’t be friends — and noted that many friendships were created as a result of his largesse. He remembered our sail to Oyster Bay. I then told him that James and I had tried to live the “Buckley life” for a period time. We defined the “Buckley life” as waking at 5:00 AM and heading to sleep at 10:00 PM — Bill’s incredible regimen. I explained to Bill that, in order to make it work, James and I would call one another at 5:00 AM to make sure the other was awake. It lasted for barely two weeks. Bill roared with laughter.

Bill soon said, “We must talk about your performance. The issue of repeats in the Diabelli. What do you think?” The Diabelli Variations is an hour-long epic work and almost all of the 33 variations are repeated. Bill’s question brought a smile to my face and I said, “Bill, I’ll repeat only the best variations and it should clock in at about 40 minutes.” He then told me about the guests who would attend, asked of my preference to play before or after dinner (I always played before) and, finally, asked if I would like some cognac.

We finished up dessert, which for me consisted of a lemon tart and for Bill a plate of fresh watermelon. The lighting in the music room and throughout the house always created an effect that I can only describe as that found in Victorian-era paintings. Bill gave his two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels the chocolate chip cookie they obviously had been expecting. One played with the cookie on the floor between the two of us. Bill adored his dogs, and the newest addition — “Isn’t he a champ?” — was just five months old.

Just after eight o’clock, Bill bid us goodnight and I helped him to make his way to his room.

The Diabelli Variations were not performed on Wednesday night. But I was honored to have ever played for “Mr. Buckley,” who, on his insistence, became my friend “Bill.” His love of music was second to none — he was the most dedicated member of any musical audience, whose empathy was almost tangible as you worked your way through a performance. He was and is in the pantheon of great men, intellectual giants, and artistic geniuses.

It was all a great honor — to have had my life changed and enriched by William F. Buckley Jr., a second father, encouraging mentor, and honest friend.

Cheers to you, buddy. Rest in peace.
Tags: literary, obituary, personal, philosophical, political, scientific, writing

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