BUCKLEY ’50, WHO DEFINED AN ERA OF CONSERVATISM AND DEFIED AN ERA AT YALE, DEAD AT 82

William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, a former chairman of the News and the father of the American conservative movement, died this morning at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82.

The cause was not immediately known, but Buckley had been ill with emphysema, The Associated Press reported.

William F. Buckley '50 — former chairman of the News, author of
William F. Buckley '50 — former chairman of the News, author of "God and Man at Yale" and a, if not the, quintessential Yale Man of a different Eli era — died Wednesday in his Stamford home. He was 82.

From his days as an eloquent orator in debates at the Yale Political Union as an undergraduate to his decades as a prolific columnist, author and television host, Buckley was a force to be reckoned with in weaving conservative ideals into the mid- to late-20th century American fabric — ideals developed, in large part, during his time at Yale.

To liberals, he was, in the famous words of the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. famously put it, “the scourge of American liberalism.” To his fellow conservatives, he was an icon; President Ronald Reagan called him the most important journalist and intellectual of his era.

And in 2000, the University recognized him at commencement with an honorary doctorate. “At Yale, your sharp, youthful observations stirred controversy but also challenged us to self-examination,” his award citation read. “Years later, your precise use of language was appreciated by those Yale students fortunate enough to gain admission to your seminars on writing.”

Buckley graduated Yale in 1950 with a degree in political science, history and economics, but he found he had more to say about the University than all that had filled the editorials in the News that he penned.

Professors, he long thought, were forcing their liberal ideology on students. His 1951 book, “God and Man at Yale,” criticized the Yale faculty for abandoning what he described as principles of individualism and religion and condemned them for abandoning Yale’s Christian heritage.

And while critics assailed the work, it launched him on a path to fame.

After Yale, Buckley spent a short stint in the Central Intelligence Agency, and then worked as a freelance writer. In 1955, only five years removed from New Haven, the 29-year-old Buckley founded the National Review, which today remains a leading conservative magazine.

The magazine, Buckley wrote, would “stand athwart history yelling, ‘Stop!’”

From 1966 to 1999, he also hosted the Emmy-winning interview show “Firing Line,” prodding guests ranging from Jack Kerouac to Margaret Thatcher, not to mention every president since Richard Nixon. And over the years, Buckley would author more than 40 books, as well as a bi-weekly newspaper column, “On the Right,” which was syndicated to more than 300 newspapers.

Buckley’s more than than 5,000 columns — including one he wrote for the News in 2006 after the death of former University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin ’49 DIV ’56 — amounted to an estimated 4.5 million words over the decades. As a writer, dashing off columns in under an hour, he was nothing short of prolific.

And, as he saw it, nothing short of correct, too.

“I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition,” he once wrote in The New York Times. “I asked myself the other day, `Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?’ I couldn’t think of anyone.”

In November 2006, Buckley returned to Yale to address the YPU, and stunned those in attendance by declaring that his remarks would amount to his final public speech on public affairs.

And even in his valedictory, he was no less direct about the principles he believed in. “The Democrats are dominated by greedy, hypocritical thought,” Buckley said in his speech, in which he flippantly chastised the party for its response to the war in Iraq.

Buckley — who received the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1991 from George H.W. Bush ’48 — said in e-mail messages to the News over the last year that he was in ailing health. But his death Wednesday was unexpected; it was in his study where he died, according to a posting on the National Review’s Web site.

Born November 24, 1925, in New York City, William Frank Buckley Jr. — known as Bill — was the sixth of ten children of Aloise Steiner Buckley and William Frank Buckley Sr., a wealthy oil baron. He spent his childhood in France and England and, for high school, attended the Millbrook School, a respected prep school in New York State.

In 1943 to 1944, Buckley attended the University of Mexico, then went on to serve two years in the U.S. Army. He came to Yale in part because of its proximity to the family’s residence in Sharon, Conn., about 50 miles northwest of New Haven.

Buckley married Patricia Alden Austin Taylor, of Vancouver, after graduating Yale in 1950. They had one son, Christopher Buckley ’75, an author known for his 1994 novel, “Thank You For Smoking.” The elder Buckley’s wife, who was a prominent socialite, died in April.

Buckley is survived by his son Chris, brothers Reid and James and sisters Priscilla, Carol and Patricia.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    You left out Buckley's support for Jim Crow and apartheid.

  • Anonymous

    You left out Buckley's support for Jim Crow and apartheid.

  • Missing WFB

    Not only was Mr. Buckley the premier conservative public intellectual of our age, he was also passionately loyal to Yale and interested in the generations of students who followed him.

    I remember him taking the time out of his busy schedule on no less than three occasions to meet with myself and other small groups of Yale Political Union members during my four years here in the early 1990s.

    Not only were his intellectual contributions enormous, but he had an unfailing personal grace and a great love (albeit a critical love) for this institution.

    He will be greatly missed.

  • Missing WFB

    Not only was Mr. Buckley the premier conservative public intellectual of our age, he was also passionately loyal to Yale and interested in the generations of students who followed him.

    I remember him taking the time out of his busy schedule on no less than three occasions to meet with myself and other small groups of Yale Political Union members during my four years here in the early 1990s.

    Not only were his intellectual contributions enormous, but he had an unfailing personal grace and a great love (albeit a critical love) for this institution.

    He will be greatly missed.

  • Missing WFB

    Not only was Mr. Buckley the premier conservative public intellectual of our age, he was also passionately loyal to Yale and interested in the generations of students who followed him.

    I remember him taking the time out of his busy schedule on no less than three occasions to meet with myself and other small groups of Yale Political Union members during my four years here in the early 1990s.

    Not only were his intellectual contributions enormous, but he had an unfailing personal grace and a great love (albeit a critical love) for this institution.

    He will be greatly missed.

  • Old Blue '73

    I almost never agreed with him politically, but he was an intellectual giant with great wit and grace. He will be missed indeed.

  • Buckley Watch

    The NYT said he decried Yale as being "atheistic". What do you atheists at Yale think about that? Did he really support Jim Crow and Apartheid? May he … if he did.

  • SusanZ

    This piece about Bill is well done. I am sure his family will appreciate how quickly you got it out to your readers.

  • Recent Alum

    To set the record straight so that this can hopefully be put to rest by the likes of #1 and #4, I quote from an interview of William F. Buckley by the Time:

    "OVER THE PAST HALF-CENTURY, YOU HAVE ENGAGED IN VIRTUALLY ALL THE GREAT DEBATES IN AMERICAN POLITICS AND CULTURE. HAVE YOU TAKEN ANY POSITIONS YOU NOW REGRET? Yes. I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary."

  • Recent Alum

    Even liberals have to respect him. He was undeniably smart, witty, and everyone who encountered him seemed to like him. A true Yale guy, I'm proud to share alma matters with him, even though I disagree with 90% of what he stands for. He put on a good show with Big Bird at the Tercentennial…

  • '07

    So when he wrote, "the white community … for the time being, it is the advanced race," that was with the underlying assumption that the African-American community would simply "evolve" or adapt to racist legislation?

  • Alumnus

    Mr. Buckley's view on Jim Crow in the 50s was not that it was a desirable policy from a state perspective, but that the federal government should not get involved. In later years, he came to change his view and believed that federal intervension to end segregation was correct. But importantly, even his initial position in the 50s was entirely defensible, since he did not actively support segregation as a policy matter even back then.

  • Anonymous

    The position described by #9 might or might not be defensible; in any event, it isn't accurate. From 1957 (a time when Buckley was indisputably responsible for the editorial output of National Review):

    "The central question that emerges—and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal—is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. …

    National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way; and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence."

  • Mary O

    Back as we entered the war in Iraq in the spring of 2003, I heard Buckley in an interview voicing his opposition: good for him!

    And, he asked if we can find throughout history any multicultural nation that actually succeeded. Obviously not.

    And, let's be honest: what did school busing accomplish? Buckley had it right the first time. Too bad he sold out to the Zionist interlopers.

    Obviously, having Whites in the classroom doesn't help Blacks; but being targets of Black violence severely harms the innocent Whites who aren't wealthy enough to escape from mixed-race public schools.

    The time has come to ask if the Liberal policies of the past four decades have done anything but drag America to its knees.

    I respect Buckley. He did what he could do. We needed more, and he understood this fact; but unfortunately our nation was still caught up in the rampaging fury of the New Left which made effective leadership impossible.

    Some people disparage Buckley for his eagerness to compromise; yet his writing and his work, as well as his image as a charming intellectual, did protect the right, and blocked the ilk of Norman Lear from smearing us all as "Archie Bunker" and "trailer-park trash."

    Buckley's influence will inspire our future leaders. And I am sure that in his heart he hated Israel as much as I do.