01 March 2008

William F. Buckley (1925-2008)

The death of William F. Buckley, the last true conservative, is prompting numerous appraisals of the movement he helped found and of his own legacy for that movement and beyond. Among the tributes is this one by Robert McDougall, which is noteworthy for unintentionally illustrating the ambiguity behind the conservative label. According to McDougall, Buckley promoted "individualism and its democratic benefits," was a free spirit, respecting anyone "who strove to live life on his own terms," and "called for the decriminalization of drugs."

In short, Buckley's conservatism was of the libertarian variety and, in this respect, quintessentially American. As it turns out, "the scourge of American liberalism," as the late Arthur Schlesinger dubbed him, was as much indebted to the broader liberal tradition as his "leftist" compatriots. This explains in large measure why a movement with so little substantive content has had such difficulty defeating an opponent with which it has so much in common.

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