Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley: Tribute to a Spiritual Centrist and Vertical Warrior

Speaking of heroes...

Partly because of all the counterfeit heroes, it can be difficult to notice when a genuine hero walks among us. Words like "artist," "superstar," and "legend," are so abused and debased, that they no longer convey any objective meaning. The liberal media tell us that Bill Buckley was a "hero to conservatives" instead of to "mankind." When Noam Chomsky publishes his last and perishes into some post-tenure principality to meet his Marxist maker, he will undoubtedly be lauded as a "hero of the left."

But what exactly is a hero, and how does one gauge his moral worth? As Schuon writes, "virtues sundered from truth do not have the power to raise us above ourselves," and a hero specifically helps to lift or preserve mankind in its most noble sense. Put it this way: intelligence descends from the Truth which it will rediscover, or "recollect," on its virtuous ascent back to the One; or, if you like, to the First Principles of cosmos and man. This ascent -- although it is necessarily marked by many transient descents and other deviations -- is the Hero's Journey, if the the hero and the journey are to have any intrinsic merit.

Hero: "A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability; an illustrious warrior; a man admired for his achievements and qualities; one that shows great courage; the central figure in an event or period" (Webster's).

An intellectual warrior endowed with superhuman strength and ability? Just consider the scoreboard:

"During his nearly 60 years in the public eye, William F. Buckley Jr. published 55 books (both fiction and nonfiction); dozens of book reviews; at least 56 introductions, prefaces, and forewords to other peoples’ books; more than 225 obituary essays; more than 800 editorials, articles, and remarks in National Review; several hundred articles in periodicals other than National Review; and approximately 5,600 newspaper columns. He gave hundreds of lectures around the world, hosted 1,429 separate Firing Line shows, and may well have composed more letters than any American who has ever lived."

But none of it would be worth the paper it was written on had it not been essentially true, for truth can be the only criterion of its intrinsic value. After all, a single line of the scripture is worth all of the books, lectures, diatribes, paranoid rants, angry polemics, and conspiracy theories of a Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, or other modern idolaters who offer their literary blood to the phantoms of their own imagination.

A man of great courage, the central figure in an event or period:

"William F. Buckley Jr. was arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century. For an entire generation he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure. He changed minds, he changed lives, and he helped to change the direction of American politics."

Divine descent? Oh, no question -- by adoption, anyway. The following exchange took place at the end of his 1970 Playboy interview:

PLAYBOY: Don’t most dogmas, theological as well as ideological, crumble sooner or later?

BUCKLEY: Most, but not all.

PLAYBOY: How can you be so sure?

BUCKLEY: I know that my Redeemer liveth.

Buckley's heroism would have been inconceivable outside his intimate familiarity with the Permanent, the True, and the Permanently True. In the founding statement of National Review, he famously wrote that the movement it championed would stand "athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."

This statement is still misunderstood by our liberal elites who conflate progress and history. In fact, progress is unthinkable in the absence of permanent standards that necessarily transcend, but are embodied within, history. Intellectuals (in the debased sense of those who engage in "intellectualism" as opposed to intellection) gradually came to regard these permanent standards as a source of oppression instead of the key to liberation. But Truth cannot oppress, except for those who are so spiritually enfeebled that they collapse under its obligations.

53 years later, the left continues to reject our founding principles "in favor of radical social experimentation. Instead of covetously consolidating its premises, the United States seems tormented by its tradition of fixed postulates having to do with the meaning of existence, with the relationship of the state to the individual, of the individual to his neighbor, so clearly enunciated in the enabling documents of our Republic" (Buckley, emphasis mine). True in 1955, true in 2008, and true, period.

For this is a very old story, foreshadowed in the enabling and ennobling document of western civilization: And the serpent said "you shall not surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. It's pretty simple: you can either have God or be God, and the left chooses the latter. And just as promised, death comes one way or the other (e.g., the "culture of death"). In God and Man at Yale, Buckley wrote of the left's abiding faith that

"All the society’s ills -- the economic, the social, the ethical -- can be ameliorated by Bigger and Bigger Government. No consideration of private property or individual economic freedom is to deter the government from spending 'up to the point where the marginal loss of satisfaction to those providing the revenue is just equal to the marginal gain in satisfaction derived by those benefiting from the expenditures'; and no doubts are expressed as to whether even the wisest governments know where this point is. The government, it seems, is to weigh numerical losses and gains in satisfaction; and just so long as there is a net gain (an intangible which the government is to interpret), any government policy is justified. Individual rights of the sort that for generations were never supposed to be prey to government action, are cheerily disregarded as unjustifiable impedimenta in the way of purposive and enlightened state policies."

But don't worry: for the all- wise and loving government, not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from its will, and the very hairs on your head are all numbered! I thought this was just hyperbole until I was audited by the IRS several years ago. Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes (George Harrison).

At PowerLine the other day, they tossed out a casual aside of great profundity:

"Obama's appeal lies, in part, in his ability to make liberalism seem palatable. Unlike Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, he is generally not shrill or hectoring. He comes across as calm and reasonable. In this, he really does resemble Ronald Reagan."

However, "There are obvious differences between Reagan and Obama." For example, "Reagan was a life-long student of Communism, while Obama is not yet a life-long student of anything. Most important, Reagan was devoted to conservatism, which is essentially true, while Obama is devoted to liberalism, which is essentially false. This means that Obama's policies, no matter how smoothly he may advocate them, will never be as successful as Reagan's."

Exactly. It will always be true that conservatism is essentially true, just as it will always be true that liberalism is essentially false, for the former is rooted in permanent truths about human nature, and if your vision of human nature is faulty, so too will be everything built upon it.

America's memory is short, especially the vertical memory of its founding principles, which tend only to be recalled in crises: "Ronald Reagan came to power at a time when America had been carrying out, for sixteen years, an experiment with liberalism that by 1980 had brought the country to the brink of catastrophe. Americans did not adopt conservative principles because they sounded good on first hearing. They adopted conservative principles because of bitter experience with the alternative" (PowerLine).

It is amazing to think that there was a greater distance in time between the founding of National Review and Reagan's first presidency (25 years) than there has been between then and now (28 years). So today, the benefit of our knowledge of the catastrophic results of liberal governance has not just been "lost" -- which is far too passive a characterization. Rather, it has been crushed, spindled, mutilated, and disappeared. As a result, "A generation of American voters has not experienced the failures of the Great Society, the near-collapse of American cities, double-digit inflation and unemployment, seventy percent tax brackets, or the disaster of Jimmy Carter's foreign policy. In the absence of historical memory, and with a powerful assist from the ever-forgetful press, liberalism is once again emerging as the philosophy that sounds good. The fact that it doesn't work awaits as an unpleasant surprise for a new generation" (PowerLine)

Veracity, charity, and humility, the three fundamental virtues. For the left, truth reduces to power, so veracity is out of the question. Likewise, the true charity (caritas) that can only flow from the awakened human heart is rendered pointless when All Good Things come from the state. And what could be more grandiose than the belief that mankind is perfectible and that the state knows how to achieve it? "Humility" and "left" are mutually exclusive. The proud leftist always confuses empathy with indulgence, rooted in an inability to clearly see both what man is and what he is meant to be.

Buckley was not a man of the right, but a man of the center, which is to say, the vertical in all its infinite ramifications -- a man on intimate terms with the immutable order of cosmic principles, and therefore able to use his intellect to explicate them in an inexhaustible way.

Jacques Maritain famously said that there were never more than three schools of philosophy: The idealists who believe that getting the truth was easy. These are the conventional liberals, whom Bill gently mocked. The nominalists, the Sophists, who deny truth altogether; these are the hard Left, the true enemy he rallied us against. And finally the realists, who accept that the truth is out there but is fiercely difficult to lock down. Bill's most enduring achievement was to identify and shape conservatism as the political expression of philosophical realism in our time. --Richard Vigilante, The Corner

25 Comments:

Anonymous will said...

I also think that sacrifice in pursuit and expression of truth is a mark of the genuine hero.

For all his prodigious literary/journalistic output over the years, WFB did not like to write, found it a bit of an agony - not surprising in a guy as fun-loving as he. WFB really was something of a sportsman, loved sailing, skiing.

And yet, he made the time, forced himself to write, sacrificed for the truth because he understood it to be far greater than himself.

Even in photos of WFB as a young man, I think you see, along with his humor, breeziness, and intelligence, something of a monastic light around him. And that light stayed with him, no doubt through years of temptations and trials. That's a hero.

2/28/2008 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous cousin Dupree said...

Anonymous:

Scouring the vast archive for statements for which Buckley long since apologized tells us nothing about him but all we need to know about you and your kind. Go back under your rock to dailykos.

2/28/2008 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Veracity, charity, and humility, the three fundamental virtues. For the left, truth reduces to power, so veracity is out of the question. Likewise, the true charity (caritas) that can only flow from the awakened human heart is rendered pointless when All Good Things come from the state. And what could be more grandiose than the belief that mankind is perfectible and that the state knows how to achieve it? "Humility" and "left" are mutually exclusive. The proud leftist always confuses empathy with indulgence, rooted in an inability to clearly see both what man is and what he is meant to be. "

4 paws (and a tail) straight up!

2/28/2008 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Which of course, leads directly to this,

"All the society’s ills -- the economic, the social, the ethical -- can be ameliorated by Bigger and Bigger Government. No consideration of private property or individual economic freedom is to deter the government from spending 'up to the point where the marginal loss of satisfaction to those providing the revenue is just equal to the marginal gain in satisfaction derived by those benefiting from the expenditures'; and no doubts are expressed as to whether even the wisest governments know where this point is. The government, it seems, is to weigh numerical losses and gains in satisfaction; and just so long as there is a net gain (an intangible which the government is to interpret), any government policy is justified. Individual rights of the sort that for generations were never supposed to be prey to government action, are cheerily disregarded as unjustifiable impedimenta in the way of purposive and enlightened state policies."

Thank God for the Stop Signs.

2/28/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Here is a wonderful complement to today's post - just in case you haven’t seen / heard this lately (or ever), be prepared to mourn the loss of truth plain spoken. Profound and prescient.

44 years ago…

Sigh.

2/28/2008 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Bob F. said...

WFB: a great man, larger than life, he and his wife natural aristocrats, grace and wit, an inspiration and role model for so many of us growing up outside of the zeitgeist during the Sixties.

2/28/2008 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>>Obama's appeal lies, in part, in his ability to make liberalism seem palatable. Unlike Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, he is generally not shrill or hectoring. He comes across as calm and reasonable. In this, he really does resemble Ronald Reagan . . . while Obama is devoted to liberalism, which is essentially false. This means that Obama's policies, no matter how smoothly he may advocate them, will never be as successful as Reagan's."<<

Very true, and yet . . . I've got to ask why o why doesn't O bear the mark of lefty, ie, the airless, stuffed-in-the-attic mustiness and/or slick elitist sheen to which we've grown accustomed re the lefty persona? That kind of personal signature is *natural* to the lefty - it's the result of what they believe. As within, so without. So from where cometh this "calm and reasonable" dynamism?

When I think about it, I'd have to put this in the same category as bizzare climate changes and other weird contemporary goings-on.

2/28/2008 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Will, I think the answer can be found at least partly in the Spengler article Maineman linked the other day. His approach is like that of an anthropologist with an agenda: cool, detached, reasonable; he knows what to say to make the crowds dance to his tune. In many ways, he's an outsider, and sometimes it's easier for an outsider to see the big patterns and how to manipulate them.

Or perhaps I'm wrong about that. I don't know. What I do know is there is something decidedly wrong and creepy in the way people seem to adore him.

2/28/2008 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Among the many anecdotes about WFB that I heard today, was one where he was asked why he always was sitting on his Firing Line program, and never stood up?

He replied, "It's difficult to stand up beneath the weight of what I know."

2/28/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Julia - >>In many ways, he's an outsider, and sometimes it's easier for an outsider to see the big patterns and how to manipulate them<<

I know what you mean, and I think there's some truth to that, but . . . as far as leftist politics are concerned, he's the consumate insider. Learned at the knee of Saul Alinsky, etc. And still he's not been branded (visibly) with the usual wan aura of your trad lefty. To me, this is mystery. I can offer exotic conjectures, of course . . .

2/28/2008 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

According to Schuon, at the end of the yuga, we will see peculiar tendency to realize and exhaust possibilities which had heretofore been prevented by traditional forms. In other words, as the world falls further and further from its center, everything that can exist in potential will tend to manifest in actuality. Thus the appearance of the "possibility of the impossible," e.g., a leftist who has the *appearance* of not being a barking lunatic.

2/28/2008 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

Yes indeed, Petey, that was one of my exotic-yet-possibly-very-real conjectures.

2/28/2008 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous njcommuter said...

It may also be that BHO has come so far so fast that he doesn't yet show the wear, the sunburn, and the scars. He may not even know how deep his own mental compromise is.

In short, the consumate con artist may be a naif.

2/28/2008 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Cuz Dupree has been channeling WFB for some time now:

In a famous exchange with Gore Vidal in 1968, Vidal said to Buckley: "As far as I am concerned, the only crypto Nazi I can think of is yourself."

Buckley replied: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

Years later, in 1985, Buckley said of the incident: "We both acted irresponsibly. I'm not a Nazi, but he is, I suppose, a fag."

Ann Coulter on WFB:
R.I.P., Enfant Terrible

http://www.humanevents.com/article.
php?id=2524

2/28/2008 04:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

Yes, perhaps Obama is a twisted version of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, the Divine Salesman whose pitch is so effective that even he believes it, i.e., the cosmic power to "pull the wool over your own eyes."

2/28/2008 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conservatism's first great weakness is its paucity of innovation. It takes the wacky left to get anything done, it would seem. Otherwise, same ol, same ol.

Conservatives would cover our nation with chicken farms and subdivisions and then call that success.

Greed. That's always been the second thorn in the flower of conservatism, and also why the Left is eternally needed.

The Left is greedy also but less successful at amassing wealth; rather it appropriates it. It is less efficient at greed. Therein lie, paradoxically, its usefulness.

Checks and balances. That's what it it's all about.

2/28/2008 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

It strikes me that he's the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing; an outsider, but he embodies (at least outwardly) everything that leftists wish they were themselves: he's black, but also white; he's American, but also a "citizen of the world;" he pushes for everything the leftiest of lefties desire, but somehow he also has social skills and charisma, so he makes it all look cool and appealing (as opposed to Cindy Sheehan, or Code Pinkos, or Hillary, or any of the puppet-wielding nutjobs who tend to flock to protests). He doesn't screech, whine or nag (he leaves that to the wife, I guess); instead, he cajoles and (anti)inspires. He absolves them of the sin of being white. He's like a great big mirror, showing them exactly what they want to see; they see their dream selves in him.

Which would be all well and good, if what they fervently desire were not the most deadly, self-destructive governmental policies man has ever conceived - socialism, multi-culturalism, pacifism, etc.

It's monstrous, really, and I wonder if he supports these policies because he really thinks they're best or because he knows that America under his presidency would be seriously crippled, or worse transmuted into one more iteration of a failed socialist utopia.

There is still time yet, though, and even now I don't know that he could actually get enough votes to be elected. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle are bothered by him.

2/28/2008 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger QP said...

I didn't see Barry and Hillary debate Tuesday night, but Althouse did, and she dissects Barry's fancy footwork while dancing around Russest's questions re: Farrakan's public support of Obama. Quite an exotic snake charmer!

2/28/2008 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama creeped me out from the get-go. Too slick. Too smooth. His movements and voice were very lulling and it took me a while to realize that I could not remember the actual content of his speeches. It took a conscious act of will on my part to actually listen to the content and realize what vacuous drivel it was. Maybe it's just me, but I distrust people who appear that polished. I always suspect that there is nothing really there or what is inside is the opposite of what they present to the world and when the nerve is struck...watch out! -Peter

2/28/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger QP said...

While you were in Ms. Althouse's blog, I hope you saw her post on McCain's latest endorsement from a deranged, barking, lunatic
snake handler
. Not smooth, not slick.

2/28/2008 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Anon (4:22) said,

“Conservatism's first great weakness is its paucity of innovation. It takes the wacky left to get anything done, it would seem. Otherwise, same ol, same ol.”

You need to look up the definition of conservative. If by “done” you mean ruined or regressed, then I agree with you. Otherwise, you need to be more specific. Take your time. While we’re waiting for that first great innovation of the left, we’ll be cleaning up the ol messes as we always do. Same ol, same ol. We’d make a lot more progress if there weren’t so many Big Liberal Messes. By “progress” I mean “being left alone.”

“Conservatives would cover our nation with chicken farms and subdivisions and then call that success.”

Wrong. A conservative would think it is a success when the property owners decided whether they wanted chicken farms or not on their property. If we all had chicken farms no one would want to trade for each others chickens…and most would not show up for work. This human fact is never factored into the socialist’s experiment equations. They always think they are dealing with chickens, I suppose. Certainly not humans.

“Greed. That's always been the second thorn in the flower of conservatism, and also why the Left is eternally needed.”

Wrong. A leftist wants to take the property owners chickens and redistribute them to everyone else without compensation, lease them their own property, sell the chickens back to them so they have a little to eat, and force them to keep raising chickens. If there is any money left they will take that as a “contribution”. They are the greediest people I can think of.

“The Left is greedy also but less successful at amassing wealth; rather it appropriates it.”

I take issue with the word “also.” But yes, it is easy for a lazy leftist with no conscience. I’m sorry that may be triple-redundant.

“It is less efficient at greed. Therein lie, paradoxically, its usefulness.”

It is telling how you refer to the left as “it”.

“Checks and balances. That's what it it's all about.”

If I understand your premise, that the conservative should be thankful for the leftist, then that is backwards. It is a leftist who must be checked as he will always be a threat to true progress and any conservative. A conservative must be checked, but only by himself, to see if he is failing to uphold his conservative principles. If you are an adult, you don’t ask a child to check if you are right. An adult should know so himself, or he is not an adult yet.

2/28/2008 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Elephant said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/28/2008 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Elephant - They do. But misery loves company... and so does darkness.

2/28/2008 10:14:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>>In other words, as the world falls further and further from its center, everything that can exist in potential will tend to manifest in actuality<<

Attention Chicago Cub fans.

2/28/2008 11:19:00 PM  
Anonymous walmart shopper said...

Conservatism's first great weakness is its paucity of innovation. It takes the wacky left to get anything done, it would seem. Otherwise, same ol, same ol.

Conservatism's strength is that it seeks to conserve America's founding ideology, which is liberalism. Liberalism is the matrix that fosters innovation. Maybe you haven't noticed, but America has always been about the most innovative country on the planet. It's also about the most liberal. Isn't this an interesting correlation?

Meanwhile the left's Big Idea went bust in 1989 because it couldn't innovate. They're driving fifties era Chevrolets in Cuba, a country run by a wacky lefty for the last half century. Is that innovative? Why is it that when the Left runs things, time seems to freeze in place?

The status of black Americans was improving into the 1960s. All the trend lines were going the right way. Then the left had one of its patented brilliant ideas, the Great Society. Suddenly black progress was blunted. A sparkling example of the left's knack for "gettin the job done", right? And this is huge.

By the way, does Donald Trump build chicken farms or skyscrapers? And Bill Gates -- is he a chicken farmer?

For the left to assail liberalism on the point of innovation is... odd.

2/29/2008 09:27:00 AM  

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