Friday, February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley: Up From Liberalism, Downed by His Premises

Posted by Carl

As readers of this blog probably know William F. Buckley passed away this week. Naturally many of the commentators on the Right paid their respects. Robert Bidinotto is his February 28 blog explains why he chose not to follow suit.

Giving the devil his due, Buckley challenged New Deal liberalism at the time of its ascendancy and then provided a home for many of liberalism's opponents in the pages of his National Review -- up to a point. That point was philosophical: The Catholic Buckley simply would not abide any secular-based intellectual defense of individual liberty. His "fusionism" (borrowed from his colleague Frank Meyer) would admit a lot of intellectual factions to the modern conservative camp that he helped to define; but it notably, explicitly excluded Rand and the premises of rational individualism.

I concur with Robert's assessment of WFB. He was a brilliant polemicist, the best I have ever seen, and he did provide a robust attack on the liberalism and its values. In the end, however, his loyalty was to his Catholicism, not the truth. His shameless, dishonest treatment of Ayn Rand, regurgitating at every opportunity Whittaker Chamber's review of Atlas Shrugged as refutation of Rand and her rational individualism was one obvious manifestation of the intellectual dishonesty and philosophical confusion that rested just below the surface of his erudite edifice.

Of course it did not end with his shabby treatment of Ayn Rand. As he grew older, his philosophical rootlessness became more apparent: his positions on various issues became more adulterated and unpredictable, his writing more turgid and the acerbic wit that was his trademark no longer in evidence. We are in the end the sum of our premises and sense of life. Buckley started off as the enfant terrible of the Right and ended up more like Robert Stadler.

A disappointing end to such wonderful promise.

No comments: