“In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition,” wrote the literary critic Lionel Trilling in 1950. “For it is the plain fact that there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.”
One year later, William F. Buckley, Jr., stepped onto the American intellectual scene with his debut book God and Man at Yale. He then spent the rest of his life upending Trilling’s thesis.
Born into a large, wealthy Catholic family in New York City on November 24, 1925, Buckley traveled the world with his parents as a boy, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he studied at Yale University, before embarking on a two-year tour of duty with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Buckley was still with the CIA when his critique of Yale’s liberal intellectual environment went to press. Few alumni and even fewer faculty appreciated the book, but their vocal displeasure thrust Buckley into the limelight. It also did wonders for sales.
Four years later, with a growing reputation for his erudite commentary and polysyllabic vocabulary, Buckley launched the magazine National Review. After that, Buckley authored another 55 books (both fiction and non-fiction). He also delivered thousands of lectures, penned more than 4.5 million words for his syndicated column, and hosted the PBS show Firing Line for 33 years. It was an impressive body of work. But none of it had the same game-changing effect on America’s political landscape as National Review.
Buckley’s magazine ultimately turned Trilling’s assessment of Liberalism on its head, bringing conservative political thought into the American mainstream and helping form a generation of thinkers, leaders, and voters. It also helped set the agenda for conservative policies and priorities, giving shape to the modern Conservative Movement.
Beyond politics, Buckley loved sailing, the Catholic Church, the Latin Mass, his son, Christopher, and his wife of 57 years, Pat. She died in 2007. He died one year later. His magazine survives him still.
Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr. "The Dalai Lama Looks Back"
Excerpted from the just published The American Catholic Almanac which is a daily reader of Catholics who have made an impact on the United States.
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Excerpted from The American Catholic Almanac by CatholicVote.org Education Fund Copyright © 2014 by CatholicVote.org Education Fund. Excerpted by permission of Image Books, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
BRIAN BURCH is the president of CatholicVote.org, a nonprofit political advocacy
group based in Chicago.
EMILY STIMPSON is a Catholic writer based in Steubenville, Ohio, and the
author of The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years and These Beautiful
Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body.