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Beyond Firing Line March 2, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.

William F. Buckley, one of the founders of the modern conservative movement, died last week at the age of 82.

Buckley was the host of the political talk show, Firing Line, which ran on PBS from 1966-1999. I must confess that, during much of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Firing Line was a show I seldom missed. Although I disagreed with almost everything he said, Buckley’s rapier wit, urbane intelligence, and genuine intellectual curiosity elevated Firing Line above most of the drivel that passes for political discussion on TV.

Since his death, many writers from the right and the left have written encomia praising Buckley for his personal qualities. Yet, he held some genuinely odious views (see here and here), and he helped give birth to a pernicious conservative political philosophy that threatens core American values.

Buckley’s political views revolved around anti-communism, anti-statism, and a belief in the authority of Christianity in public life. But modern conservatism and the course of events have left much of Buckley’s perspective behind. Communism no longer exists except in isolated redoubts such as North Korea. And conservatives gave up opposition to the influence of the state when they turned government into a welfare program for multi-national corporations and the military into an agent for remaking the world in our image.

What survives from Buckley’s conservatism is a belief in the role of Christianity in public life. But whereas Buckley thought Christianity was essential because of the value it places on the human individual, modern conservatism has internalized a different aspect of Christianity–the belief that we are engaged in an eternal battle against evil, threatened from within and without by the agents of Satan.

Today’s neo-conservatives think that no government power is excessive if it is deployed in the name of the battle against evil, whether that be military power against external threats, government surveillance of U.S. citizens or legal sanctions against abortion and gay marriage.

It is no surprise that Buckley, towards the end of his life, had some reservations.



1. Huan - March 3, 2008

So he was the one that brought Christian values to the conservatives? It seems somehow contradictory to place libertarianism and Christian values in the same boat, doesn’t seem like Jesus would like the idea of adversarial competition for superiority. Like the quote in the first link about Buckley’s views, I suppose he forgot to ask what would Jesus do. Which leads me to conclude that this apparent contradiction is what led the conservative movement towards a focus on punishment of evil, all that love stuff simply does not fit.

2. Moriae - March 13, 2008

Well, the piece being cited doesn’t suggest at all that he had budding “reservations” about the items listed above. He wrote the piece cited at the beginning of 06, and there seems to be an attempt here to give the impression that these thoughts are something of a “last reconsideration.” One look at the piece cited instantly demonstrates that the sole focus of his column was the events of Iraq in late 2005 and the first month of January. This was hardly a political ‘last will and testament’ suggesting a incipient reconsideration of ideas that would wet the lips of long suffering opponents.

But he did modify his ideas—he modified the views cited in this Feb. 06 piece in Iraq. After the turn of events due to the so-called “surge” in Iraq in 2007, he modfied these views from early 06.

It’s one of regretable fates of most men that we seldom get the chance to personally know the people we oppose. I had the privilege to meet and talk many times with Mr. Buckley (once also with Joseph Alioto) and his charm and good-will was always a given. He was and always will be one of the exceptional people who always demonstrated the benefits of sober and respectful discussion. Unlike many, he will be missed.

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