Reid Buckley’s memoir of his kin, An American Family: The Buckleys, is a delightful read. One thing that comes through powerfully in its pages is the spirit of Reid (and Bill’s) father, William F. Buckley Sr. While Will’s sons had had their politics, and especially their foreign-policy outlook, shaped by World War II and the Cold War, their father was very much a man of the Old Right. Reid enumerates Will Buckley’s precepts, among them: “12. Americans should stay clear of foreign entanglements,” upon which Reid elaborates:
Our sire would have been inclined to this attitude from Washington’s Farewell Address, too, but it was in Mexico that he was confirmed in his isolationism.
Americans tend to be well-meaning ideologues who wish to impose their principles of self-government on nations whose societies are not ready for self-government or are outright hostile to it. To make matters worse, Americans are often ignorant and intolerant of the customs and history of other lands, and display themselves in foreign affairs most often as hopelessly provinical. [A footnote says, “The shadow of George Bush II inescapably hovers over these words.”] Further, lurking in the American character is an unfortunate universalist reformism deriving from a deep-seated Calvinist intolerance that is perilous to the country. I call it the hortatory temptation. It’s a handsome paradox: the more secular we become as a nation, the more Americans desire to establish the city of God on earth.
Reid Buckley observes in another footnote: “Father most likely would have opposed both the Afghanistan and the Iraq adventures unless he was convinced they were necessary for the national defense. Bill has been skeptical of Iraq since its inception and has called it a ‘failed enterprise’ in one of his columns (2006),” though, writes Reid, “I disagree with him.”