Sunday, March 2, 2008

Nil Nisi Bonum: William F. Buckley

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.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

The New York Times in its obit referred to Mr. Buckley’s vocabulary as sesquipedalian (characterized by the use of long words)and “pleonastic” (using more words than necessary). With parens.

My late ex-husband was of the same school (linguistically,) although not a political conservative. I always said that he would never use a short word if a longer (and more arcane) one would do, but I didn't know there was a word for it, which would have amused him greatly.

While I never shared Buckley's world view, I admired his charm and cleverness with the English language, which was most rare for an American.

MandT said...

Good for you---couldn't agree more. "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." It wasn't that Haute or I wouldn't have been able to pee on his country mailbox in Connecticut. LOL

John Torcello said...

A few years ago, upon hearing of the demise of the 'Firing Line' television series, I called the 'National Review' offices and asked for an appointment to meet with 'Bill' (as later he requested I call him)...

DVD was a new technology at the time and I was hopeful I could interest him in having the 'Firing Line' series of interviews transfered (by our company) to the DVD format.

After establishing/canceling several appointment places/times; I was impressed that finally he called me personally, apologized for the cancellations, said he wanted and was interested in meeting with me and we setup a day/time for a meeting in New York at his National Review office.

I spent a good four to five hours with 'Bill'; one on one; as one can imagine, our conversation moving in and out of the DVD topic...It remains a great memory and experience for me personally.

I admit I initially felt a little nervous about meeting and talking with him...but, he was not anything like the persona imagined in my mind as a result of a media-hype description. He was a intelligent and interested man...kind, calm, patient and friendly...

The following years anytime I sent an email message to 'Bill' he would respond within an hour or two...We never did process the shows for DVD...he told me he decided to donate them to the Hoover Institute at Stanford.

I learned and appreciated the fact that a man of superior linguistics and possibly even thought compared to me...of a very different political ilk from mine...would have made for a very uncomfortable meeting together...I couldn't have been more wrong...In an odd sort of way, I considered him a friend.

Will miss you 'Bill'...and Thanks!...

John Torcello