De mortuis nil nisi bonum, right? Speak nothing but good of the dead? I've heard lots of good words about William F. Buckley, most recently by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation this morning. And then there was David Brooks's adulatory column in the New York Times this past week. And okay, I'll grant you the man was a great wit, a work-meister, and gifted with a certain twinkle-in-the-eye charm. You had to admire him.
I can't quite bring myself to let him get away with all this adulation, however, without a mild word or two of protest. "He led through charisma and merit," Brooks wrote. "He was capable of intellectual pyrotechnics none of us could match. But he also exemplified a delicious way of living." That delicious way of living (on the Upper East Side of New York City, I believe) was further described by Brooks, who tells us admiringly that "he lived in a manner of the haut monde. To enter Buckley’s world was to enter the world of yachts, limousines, finger bowls at dinner, celebrities like David Niven and tales of skiing at Gstaad."
Buckley was, in a word, a patrician. His membership in--and loyalty to--that caste was evident in every word he wrote or spoke. His let-them-eat-cake brand of conservatism, legitimized and institutionalized by Reagan and his Roi-Soleil worshipers, became the political gospel of the late twentieth century, and its dire effects on most who do not share Buckley's good fortune to belong to that class are felt with increasing pain in today's world, under the fantasy-driven, ("reality-based") leadership of little King George.
Sorry to get those historical metaphors a little mixed-up here. I'm sure I'd get my knuckles rapped by the eloquent Bill. But the fact of the matter is that his brand of thinking and the politics that derived from it benefited only a very small segment of American society: the very wealthy and the very powerful. Excuse me. But I find intensely galling the fact that Buckley is accorded worshipful legendary status akin to that of the disastrous Ronald Reagan, who managed to climb with carefully cultivated charm and rhetorical skill into the patrician class, where he was embraced by those who recognized in him an invaluable tool for their agenda.
That said, okay, he was a clever writer. And I'm sure, as Brooks wrote, a wonderful friend. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.