LETTER: Defending the Buckley fetish

Sadly, I never knew William F. Buckley ’50. But it is a greater loss that Scott Stern ’15 will never meet him. Stern’s recent column “The Buckley Fetish” (October 18th), though misguided, provides an instructional moment in which to revisit the legacy of a great mind.

When examining someone as prolific as Buckley, reasonable respect for his words and ideas demands a holistic evaluation of his life. John Judas and Lee Edwards have written tomes with which I cannot compete. Readers might enjoy these or other biographies in future research.

But maybe the curious would like the cliff notes version to accompany Stern. In that case, it is sufficient to say that all Yalies — of different faiths and backgrounds, colors and creeds — all should be proud of Buckley.

Bill Buckley would not agree with Scott Stern on everything. A committed Catholic, Buckley held particular views about homosexuality. So did many others prior to the securement of gay rights. If any mistake disqualifies a lifetime of thought, we would chuck out Jefferson or any Greek philosopher for owning slaves. For the Western canon’s sake, I hope we don’t dump the baby with the bathwater.

I encourage Stern to read more than just the writing Buckley published before the age of thirty. The William F. Buckley Jr. Program would be happy to foot the bill for the books.

But why did Buckley represent the best Yale has to offer? Because he rejected racism, publicly purging the conservative movement of opportunistic “states’ rights” advocates, like George Wallace. Because he discredited the anti-Semitic Birchers and made room for Jews within the conservative tent. Because he befriended liberals like John Kenneth Galbrith and showed that a person’s character lives separately from his politics.

Because he was an honest thinker with the courage, civility and class to express himself like no other.

Nathaniel Zelinsky

Oct. 18

The writer is a junior in Davenport College and the President of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale

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