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


  • The Anti-Yale

    *A committed Catholic, Buckley held particular views about homosexuality*

    I doubt that the Pope told him to call Gore Vidal “a queer”. It was something more visceral than adherence to *ex cathedra* doctrine.


    PS I am no foe of Buckley. I dedicated [Holy Smoke][1] and its successor The Anti-Yale to him, the former of which he kindly acknowledged . http://holysmoke2011.blogspot.com/2011/04/william-f-buckley-jr.html

    [1]: http://holysmoke2011.blogspot.com/2011/04/william-f-buckley-jr.html

  • mrosenba

    Absolutely spot on, Mr Zelinsky. I think it worth pointing out that every column and article WFB wrote is available for free at the Hillsdale College website. Here is a link to what I think is the best column he ever wrote, about the divorce of Henry Ford and the suicides of Philip Graham (publisher of the Washington Post) and Stephen Ward (Christine Keeler’s ‘friend’ who destroyed the career of British politician John Profumo). [link text][1]Read it (you must type in FordWardandGraham in the search box) and you get the best sense of how breathtakingly brilliant WFB was. I was priviledged to know him personally, and can tell you he fundamentally changed my life for the better. He helped thousands of people, usually without fanfare, and in private could be wickedly funny but never ungenerous or inhumane. Never. RIP WFB Jr.

    [1]: https://cumulus.hillsdale.edu/Buckley/

  • The Anti-Yale

    “wickedly funny but never ungenerous or inhumane. Never.”

    Should we conclude from your “never” that the thousands who saw that Gore Vidal debate and the “queer” comment perceived Buckley’s gay-baiting to be “humane” and “generous”?

    Idol worship is fine, but reality has its place in the world.


  • mrosenba

    PK, a bit of context which may help you understand more about that incident. For starters Gore Vidal is famously cruel. Read up on it and you will discover the longest list of enemies, people who truly despise him, that you have ever seen outside of someone convicted of a crime. Secondly, he called Buckley a crypto-nazi just seconds before. That may not mean much to you, but it is a terrible epithet to sling at someone. Thirdly, Buckley had just had a bad skiing accident and had his leg in a cast and was in pain, so uncharacteristically he was quite grouchy. None of this, of course, justifies or excuses the ‘queer’ slur. The first person to admit that was Bill himself. He wrote a long article about the incident for Esquire magazine which ended in an apology to Vidal. WFB had a huge number of gay friends and acquaintances throughout his life, partly because of his wife but also because he was simply not homophobic in the sense that he would discriminate against someone, or exclude them from his company, because they were gay. Of course, he did not approve of homosexuality, and frankly that is his right as a free thinking human being as long as he did not use it to unfairly harm others, which he did not except for this one incident. He regretted his one public show of temper, and even more that he had lowered himself to Vidal’s level. He also apologized, and that was I can tell you sincere. Have you not ever done something in the course of your life which was extreme and which you regretted? We all have. Buckley acknowledged it and apologized. He was a gentleman. Go to the Hillsdale site, type in “On experiencing Gore Vidal” and read the Esquire article. I’m sure it will offend you, but at least you will have everything in context rather than one 30 second film clip.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I will follow your suggestion for reading. Yes—I have done many things I need to apologize for. (Thankfully, not on television.) And crypto-Nazi would be a CHOICE. Homosexuality is not a choice: See the New York Times obituary for Dr. Judd Marmor.

  • mrosenba

    I am on your side on the choice/no choice question, but WFB wasn’t. He really did believe that all homosexuality is a matter of choice (because I suppose he might say another choice is abstinence). I just thought it refreshing to meet someone who was such a believing Catholic. Interestingly he moderated his position on divorce in later life having seen the misery that incompatibility inflicts on the personal psyche, in this case on a few close friends of his. That he did not moderate his views on homosexuality is actually conjecture on my part because I never heard him raise the topic of sex — not once — although he did flirt with my wife once, which I found amusing because it was Edwardian drawing room playfulness. Just as an aside, I was with him a day or two after he published his ‘tattoo’ column on HIV. We were in his limousine on our way to a Firing Line taping to which he had invited me. There were protestors outside the studio and instantly a huge grin spread across his face. He looked over at me and said, “Boy, I really riled them up, didn’t I?” A controversialist, pure and simple, like a little boy with a slingshot. I liked that even as I told him how horrible his proposal was. Good reading to you, and thank you for the dialogue.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Since you are opne to dialogue: It fascinates me that someone of Buckley’s superior intellect and polish would SUBMIT to another human being as an authority (the Pope). Of course, I am a heathen Protestant and I believe the Pope to be merely another mortal. I guess Buckley seriously thought him the Vicar of a a deity on earth. Such an archaic idea in 2011 when secularism has triumphed.

    Amazes me how rebellious he was against all OTHER authority except that ONE.
    Without his brains, wit , or money, I remain a recalcitrant to ALL authority.

    I’m sure Freud could tell me why.

  • grumpyalum

    “He looked over at me and said, “Boy, I really riled them up, didn’t I?” A controversialist, pure and simple, like a little boy with a slingshot. I liked that even as I told him how horrible his proposal was.”

    The edifice of a cruel and privileged man, who with his little slingshot, aimed at those weaker and more vulnerable than him.

  • RexMottram08

    Buckley is a better than I. I would have socked that queer Gore Vidal in his goddam mouth, and he would have stayed plastered!

  • The Anti-Yale


  • RexMottram08


    WFB Jr was not against all authority. He simply asked “by what authority?” He found the Vicar of Christ to be on solid ground. Communists and the Faculty of Harvard were on less stable foundations.

  • ldffly

    I will take Buckley’s position on homosexuality over any of the so called progressive positions. I believe that it is a vice.

    I did not know the man. I respected him greatly for a number of reasons. My main difference with his writings does relate to his Roman Catholicism because I stand squarely within Protestantism. In the end, I am convinced that he elevated polemic in this country for many decades.

  • The Anti-Yale

    A VICE ? To love someone? What Testament are YOU reading?

  • The Anti-Yale

    *Vicar of Christ to be on solid ground*

    The same solid ground that enabled JP2 to ignore charges of priestly sexual abuse against MINORS (aka children) and delay and obfuscate with benign neglect and intransigent equivocation until the media outed the charges?

    Come now, really.

  • The Anti-Yale

    **Consult Yale’s own:**

    *Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality: gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century* (Google eBook)

    John Boswell

    University of Chicago Press, 1981 – Social Science – 424 pages
    *”Truly groundbreaking work. Boswell reveals unexplored phenomena with an unfailing erudition.”Michel Foucault John Boswell’s National Book Award-winning study of the history of attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Christian West was a groundbreaking work that challenged preconceptions about the Church’s past relationship to its gay membersamong them priests, bishops, and even saintswhen it was first published twenty-five years ago. The historical breadth of Boswell’s research (from the Greeks to Aquinas) and the variety of sources consulted make this one of the most extensive treatments of any single aspect of Western social history. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, still fiercely relevant today, helped form the disciplines of gay and gender studies, and it continues to illuminate the origins and operations of intolerance as a social force. “What makes this work so exciting is not simply its contentfascinating though that isbut its revolutionary challenge to some of Western culture’s most familiar moral assumptions.”Jean Strouse, Newsweek*

  • RexMottram08


    Even if your accusation was true, I would still stand with JP2. I can forgive him for being distracted. Defeating Communism is time-consuming.

  • River_Tam

    > A VICE ? To love someone? What Testament are YOU reading?

    To play devil’s advocate (no pun intended), he’s reading Paul’s writings with a traditionalist interpretation.

    I tend to agree with your position, PK, over his interpretation. But let’s not pretend that it’s an outlandish and bizarre idea to believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I do not take my marching orders from 3000 year old multi-translation texts from the ramblings of sexist patriarchs engaged in tribal obsessions over territory and procreation.


    Paul D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *Even if your accusation was true, I would still stand with JP2. I can forgive him for being distracted. Defeating Communism is time-consuming* (the “reply” option has stopped working, so I must use this posting area.)

    Defeating communism was not so all-consuming for JP2 that he couldn’t squeeze in time to deny women ordination, condemn homosexual expressions of love, and consign millions of god’s children to certain agonizing death in Africa because prophylactics interfere with Divine Intention to inundate the planet with malnourished suffering, infant flesh destined to dwindle and die of starvation if not of immunodeficiency.

    Divine love (as interperted by patriarchal phallocentrism *ex cathedra Peter) *.

  • famousSeamus

    GOD & MAN @ YALE says it all for the most part……..You should have seen the expression on the face of the poor YDN Editior a few years back when I took a small cadre of NHSD HS students for an edifying visit…….Asking the students to kindly ignore a corked bottle of vino & an abondoned bong, she ‘most broke into a cold sweat when I asked her to point out WFB Jr’s old YDN’s Editor picture mounted upon the wall……Never did get invited back, I recall…..
    On another note of interest to those who may espouse some form of ‘moral unity’ theory/philosophy (here quite loosely to be taken) might get a kick out of this recent (@10/18) particular article from the WSJ entitled: The Contradictions of Harold Koh:

  • roflairplane

    *I do not take my marching orders from 3000 year old multi-translation texts from the ramblings of sexist patriarchs engaged in tribal obsessions over territory and procreation.
    Paul D. Keane
    M. Div. ’80
    M.A., M.Ed.*

    Do any actual Christians attend Yale Divinity School?

  • The Anti-Yale

    hat’s an a”actual Christian”?

    (Do you mean an American evangelical follower of one of the fleet of dozens of different Jesuses produced by the Protestant / Mormon / Shaker /Quaker /Amish /Christian Science / Unitarian / Transcendentalist sects of Christianity?

    And what has ***American*** Christianity got to do with Jesus, anyway?

    Jesus was ***JEWISH*** (from the day he was allegedly born to the day he was allegedly crucified).

    His name was **Jeshue ben Joseph.**

    Please don’t offer the reader vague labels like “actual Christian”. They mean nothing and everything simultaneously.


    Although it is decidedly none of your business, for your information I was baptized and confirmed an old fashioned Congregationalist in the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church located at the foot of the Sleeping Giant which obtained its charter from the King of England in 1647. No one has excommunicated me yet, so I suppose technically I am what you allege: a Christian —— although I see myself as much more a follower of Ralph Waldo Emerson than of a Palestinian carpenter into whose mouth first century fanatics (and one misogynist who bears my name) retrospectively put some poetry like *The Sermon on the Mount.*