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William F. Buckley Jr.: Conservative Icon

William F. Buckley Jr.

Conservative Icon

In 1950 the literary critic Lionel Trilling famously wrote that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition” in the United States, and that the “conservative impulse” could express itself only in “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

Just a year later the twenty-five-year-old
William F. Buckley Jr. published his first book. That book, God and Man at Yale, launched its author into the national ­spotlight—and more important, it launched a movement. As Austin Bramwell observed in the Intercollegiate Review, “Without it, one could fairly say, the conservative movement would not exist today.”

For the next fifty-seven years Buckley was the preeminent spokesman for conservatism in America. He was the founding president of ISI in 1953; he hosted the long-running television talk show Firing Line, where he shaped political discourse in America while grilling guests ranging from Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, to Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, to Christopher Hitchens and Ron Paul; he wrote a widely syndicated column and dozens of books (fiction and nonfiction); and, most important, he founded National Review, which brought together the disparate strands of conservatism and paved the way for the Reagan Revolution.

Bill Buckley, more than anyone else, made conservatism an intellectual and political force that transformed America. That is why George Nash, the leading historian of the American conservative movement, called him “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century.” 

Buckley’s wisdom is as relevant today as ever, as these examples demonstrate.



I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.

—Up from Liberalism


Laws and Mores

All that is good is not embodied in the law; and all that is evil is not proscribed by the law. A well-disciplined society needs few laws; but it needs strong mores.

—The Jeweler’s Eye


Shattering Utopianism

We must do what we can to bring hammer blows against the bell jar that protects the dreamers from reality. The ideal scenario is that pounding from without we can effect resonances, which will one day crack through to the latent impulses of those who dream within, bringing to life a circuit which will spare the republic.

—Letter to Henry Kissinger


Confronting Statism

The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry.

—Windfall: The End of the Affair


Understanding Buckley: Where to Start

“if you want to understand not only the rise of the modern conservative movement but also how conservatives can regain their footing during these perilous times, you must read William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement.”

Mark Levin


Available at


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