The legacy of conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 continued at Yale Friday in an all-day event sponsored by the growing William F. Buckley Jr. Program.
About 200 students, scholars, family members and alumni gathered for a gala at the Omni Hotel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the publication of Buckley’s influential book, “God and Man at Yale.” The event, hosted by the student-run Buckley program, attracted a slate of distinguished speakers including diplomat Henry Kissinger, journalist William Kristol and Buckley’s son, author Christopher Buckley ’75. Speakers all praised Buckley’s contributions as a leading conservative visionary, and those who knew him personally called him a “good friend” and “true patriot.”the Buckley program — which was founded in fall 2010 — is now working to expand its influence on campus by attracting donations to sponsor summer internships and to bring a course about Buckley’s thought to Yale this spring. Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, president of the Buckley Program, said the program has raised about $100,000 from alumni and conservative foundations since it was founded last year, adding that he expects to continue receiving donations.
He said the program has “linked” an anonymous donor with administrators to support the course in the Political Science Department this spring, which would be taught by political science lecturer Danilo Petranovich. The course would be modeled after a Davenport residential college seminar taught last fall called “William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of Modern Conservatism.”
Yale College Dean Mary Miller said a proposal for the course has been submitted to the Course of Study Committee by a faculty member, not an external organization, and would be analyzed based on its merits as an academic course.
Buckley program founder Lauren Noble ’11, who took the college seminar in 2010, said it inspired her to create the program. In her opening remarks at Friday’s event, Noble said she founded the Buckley program last fall “with the mission of promoting intellectual diversity” on campus.
“The problem is not that conservatives are losing the argument but that there isn’t an argument at all,” she said in her remarks.
Throughout the evening, speakers said they were optimistic about how the program could carry on Buckley’s legacy. William Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, said in his keynote address that Buckley would have been encouraged by the members of the Buckley program. Christopher Buckley told the News that he found the program’s efforts “incredibly moving.”
Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation who attended the event, told the News that he helped to advise Noble at the program’s inception and hoped it could educate people in the “civil way.” Buckley used to bring together “a really intelligent liberal and a really intelligent conservative” on his television show Firing Line.
Zelinsky referred to Buckley’s dedication to both conservative leadership and open discourse as “two sides of the same coin,” adding that the program plans to invite speakers for its own “Firing Line Debates.”
Apart from their praise of the Buckley Program and the political will of William Buckley himself, speakers told several stories about his life and friendships.
Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Secretary of State, called his friendship with Buckley a “miraculous aspect of [his] life.” He recalled a note he wrote to Buckley making light of their disagreement about détente, Kissinger’s hallmark diplomatic policy during the Cold War. When Buckley passed away in 2008, his family found the note still in his desk, and they returned it to Kissinger, who now keeps it on his own desk.
Students interviewed said they enjoyed learning about Buckley on a personal level during the panel discussions. Cyprien Sarteau ’12, one of 35 student fellows of the Buckley program, said he was intrigued to learn how Buckley was in fact a “pragmatist.” Juliana Biondo ’13, another fellow, said she enjoyed learning about Buckley “separate from political affiliations,” adding that the program has allowed her to meet people “who think along the same lines as Buckley.”
Buckley, a former chairman of the News, received an honorary doctorate from Yale in 2000, and he made his final public speech at the Yale Political Union in 2006.