Intriguing review in The New York Review of Books. The review – entitled Morning in America covers three recent works by William F. Buckley and uses them to ponder the person and personality of WFB. Here is the last graph:
Reading Buckley in large doses? especially if one’s never met him or even seen him in the flesh?one comes away thinking more of the man than expected, perhaps, and a little less of the writer. Certainly he seems more pedagogue than ideologue, concerned not so much with imparting theories, let alone a vision, as with passing on the benefits of his privileged position near the front row of recent history, and his enviable sense of enjoyment. It’s always sunny and breezy in his world?you can use any sailing metaphor you like?and the boat is guaranteed always to return to harbor. His political opponents, I think, could usefully offer him the kind of tribute he’s lavished so often and so graciously on them. It’s his political allies who may have a question or two.
I am a big fan of WFB. I own every one of his books and have even corresponded with him on occasion. Yet, I think there is something to this review. It is as if Buckley could not force him self to stare into the obyss but rather insisted on taking what pleasure he could from life. He did not shrink from battle by any means but he was not made for the contemplative life. In contrast, think of someone like Walter Lippmann who, at least early on in his career, would take a break from his journalism and write a work of a serious nature. Buckley could never quite accomplish that goal. This unwilligness to pay the price of the serious scholar or deep thinker kept him in a more journalistic role. It may have kept him from being taken seriously by those outside conservatism.
John Judis’s biography of WFB was in many ways unsatisfying. I am looking forward to Sam Tanenhaus’s upcoming work in hopes that it will shed more light on this fascinating figure.