Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The National Review has noted the passing of its founder, the distinguished conservative columnist William F Buckley. He died while working in his study in Stamford, Connecticut. While the cause of death had not been determined, he had been known to be suffering from both diabetes and emphysema.

Following World War II, Buckley served briefly in the CIA. In a November 2005 editorial in the Review and with his usual erudite witticism, Buckley reflects upon that part of his life:

When in 1951 I was inducted into the CIA as a deep cover agent, the procedures for disguising my affiliation and my work were unsmilingly comprehensive. It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live. If, a year later, I had been apprehended, dosed with sodium pentothal, and forced to give out the names of everyone I knew in the CIA, I could have come up with exactly one name, that of my immediate boss (E Howard Hunt, as it happened). In the passage of time one can indulge in idle talk on spook life. In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico? "I tried to undermine your regime, Mr President." He thought this amusing, and that is all that it was, under the aspect of the heavens.

In a 2002 editorial, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver reflects: "When Pope John XXIII’s encyclical [Mater et Magistra] first came out, the conservative author William Buckley, who didn’t like the Pope’s economics, wrote a famous column called, 'Mater si, Magistra no!' – mother yes, teacher no. That led Louise and Mark Zwick to characterize him in the Houston Catholic Worker as 'the inventor of cafeteria Catholicism and the pro-choice stance (at least in economics), who accepted encyclicals he agreed with and rejected others.' I think they’re right." [NOTE: It has since been brought to our attention, that there is more to this account than is generally disseminated, as can be found by clicking here.] Be that as it may, Buckley later lamented the changes to the liturgy, and the loss of the sacred, in the years following the Second Vatican Council.

This writer's favorite aspect of Buckley's legacy was the PBS news-talk program Firing Line, in which scholars and statesmen alike were counted among his guests. A notable feature of his program would be that of the "Designated Challenger," in which a journalist or pundit, often of distinctly liberal persuasion, would interview Buckley from amidst the audience. It was a mark of intellectual courage and honesty, so rare in the mainstream media today, for a man to permit being grilled with such vigor on his own show.

He proved his mettle in other fora as well, as can be seen in a 1968 ABC-TV appearance with Gore Vidal. [NEXT-DAY UPDATE: The original clip showing Buckley vs Vidal was removed, due to concerns over certain expletives spoken in the heat of the moment, for which our subject might not wish to be remembered, as he meets his Maker. Featured in its stead is this one-hour retrospective produced by Charlie Rose just last year. It shows highlights of several Buckley interviews, some with additional guests, all in the spirit of witty reparteé.]

In addition, we are pleased to feature Agent Intellect, who reflects on WFB, in a piece entitled "William F Buckley Jr on Jesus’ Resurrection." It is well worth reading.

Buckley was 82 upon his death. He was preceded last year by his wife, the former Patricia Taylor. He is survived by a son, Christopher, and two grandchildren.


Stephen Braunlich said...

The Chaput link is down.

David L Alexander said...

Thanks, Steve. The link is now fixed.

Oscar said...

Who was the "former Mexican president" whose regime WFB tried to undermine? It will suffice to know what years was WFB in Mexico City as a CIA operative.