Jeffrey Hart’s vivid remembrance of William F. Buckley is circulating around the internet and igniting discussion, not least for its candor about WFB’s opposition to the Iraq War and estimation of the damage lockstep support of the Bush agenda has done to conservatism.
Buckley’s reservations came late, and in his twilight he stood aloof from the movement he had built. That much is true. But even if the great man was too weary by the end to clear the jackals from his palace, rejection of interventionist schemes wouldn’t have been out of character.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Christopher Hitchens recalled:
Some years ago, Peter Robinson invited us both to be guests on his show Uncommon Knowledge, which had been tipped as a sort of successor to Firing Line. The subject was a retrospective of ‘The Sixties,’ and the question to each of us was: What did we most regret about the positions we had held then? I won’t bore you with my answers. Buckley said that he now wished that the United States had never become involved in Vietnam to begin with…
Buckley’s return to a version of rightist isolationism in the matter of Iraq in the last few years can be fairly easily analyzed in the same terms, of profound skepticism if not indeed pessimism about large state-sponsored or state-sponsoring schemes. (I recall teasing him about his famous 1968 debate with Gore Vidal, and pointing out that this angry joust was actually between two former young enthusiasts for Charles Lindbergh and America First. The irony here is also at Vidal’s expense.) Bill’s gift for friendship with some liberals–John Kenneth Galbraith most notably–was the counterpart of his challenge to their monopoly on the word ‘intellectual.’
Speaking of Buckley’s across-the-aisle friendships, Jeff forwarded an amusing postscript that he didn’t include in his TAC piece:
Ted Kennedy was staying with the Buckleys in their chalet, which was some distance from Gstaad.
Kennedy asked if he could borrow one of the cars a drive into town.
‘Hell no,’ said Pat Buckley. ‘There are two bridges between here and Gstaad.’
I don’t know Kennedy’s reaction or whether he got the car.
If only Mr. Buckley had exercised similar discretion with the keys to his magazine.