Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Add to your blog as infrequently as I do, and the risk is that it become a necrology. My last entry marked Norman Mailer's death; today William F. Buckley died.

What a pair of blogmarks! And what reminders of the virtues -- and rewards -- of the productive life.

Reminders as well of a time in American political discourse now long past, and long since in need of resuscitation if not outright resurrection.

They were giants in those times -- the 1950s and 1960s -- and not just in retrospect. Buckley and Mailer each perceived and understood (not the same thing at all) both the readiness in America for a revolution, and also the need for one. That each pursued his revolutionary goals with wit and bonhomie as well as intellectual audacity and literary zeal gave the era a frisson sadly missing since.

I remember my father and myself watching Mailer on Buckley's Firing Line sometime in the latter Sixties. They went at it, they did -- at one point Mailer (my memory tells me) remarking that Fidel Castro was his idea of a great man, and Buckley falling most uncharacteristically silent.

But he was never silent for long.

What has stayed with me since that night was Dad's remark that, after all the fireworks, it was easy to imagine the two of them going out for dinner together. A distance and then some from the levels of invective hurled witlessly from both sides today.

My first professional publication came around that time, a review for the Raleigh News & Observer of Buckley's essay collection The Governor Listeth. I liked the book and Buckley's writing then, I like his writing now.

Politically, I was in his orbit if not his thrall for awhile, but only for awhile.

The revolution he sought -- and that so largely succeeded, or appeared to -- seemed to me to become derailed around the time Buckley (and a substantial portion of the electorate) became captivated by the Actor (I use the term loosely, to say the least) whose depth of inauthenticity in the wake, a decade later, of Barry Goldwater's genuineness, turned out to be exactly what America, and most but not all American conservatives wanted, or thought they did.

But Reagan was electable -- and how! And with his election -- which, to hear his name invoked during this year's primaries was the Ascension made American -- so much of what intrigued me about intellectual conservatism as propounded by Buckley, most vivaciously, disappeared, subsumed by Reaganism which rested its multifold cruelties and criminalities on an anti-intellectualism so severe and yet so charming (and marketable) that even the truest and most philosophical conservatives chose to follow the tide, Buckley chief among them.

Yet I never stopped reading him -- the essays, the novels, the wonderful sailing books and the exuberant memoirs. His ferocious productivity never fully flagged, and when he was found dead today it was at his desk in his study.

Where he wanted to be.