Buckley Founds Magazine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Conservative journalist William F. Buckley, Jr., gave voice to American conservative views in his anti-Communist, antiliberal periodical National Review and helped shape both the national political discussion and the policies of several presidential administrations.

Summary of Event

William F. Buckley, Jr., made his reputation for conservative controversy at the age of twenty-five when he published God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (1951) God and Man at Yale (Buckley) , a scorching indictment of his alma mater written as soon as he had graduated. In it, he argued that Yale University had become a center of anti-Christian education and that its professors’ economic outlook was dominated by collectivist, rather than capitalist, ideas. He horrified Yale’s professors and administrators with his advocacy of a revolt by the university’s trustees, many of them Christians and businessmen, to regain control over faculty appointments and the curriculum. National Review (periodical) Magazines [kw]Buckley Founds National Review Magazine (Nov., 1955) [kw]National Review Magazine, Buckley Founds (Nov., 1955) [kw]Magazine, Buckley Founds National Review (Nov., 1955) National Review (periodical) Magazines [g]North America;Nov., 1955: Buckley Founds National Review Magazine[05000] [g]United States;Nov., 1955: Buckley Founds National Review Magazine[05000] [c]Publishing and journalism;Nov., 1955: Buckley Founds National Review Magazine[05000] [c]Government and politics;Nov., 1955: Buckley Founds National Review Magazine[05000] Buckley, William F., Jr. Schlamm, William S. Burnham, James Kendall, Willmoore Chambers, Whittaker

Buckley always enjoyed controversy and publicity. His father, William F. Buckley, Sr., had made a fortune in oil and had brought up his large Catholic family on a luxurious Connecticut estate. William Junior, after a precocious childhood, became an infantry officer at the end of World War II but was not shipped abroad. After demobilization, he went to college at Yale, where he edited the Yale Daily News and led the debating team.

Following graduation and the scandal surrounding God and Man at Yale, Buckley volunteered for a stint in Mexico working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but his thirst for public controversy soon brought him back to the United States. He collaborated on a second book with his brother-in-law Brent Bozell Bozell, Brent , a book titled McCarthy and His Enemies McCarthy and His Enemies (Buckley and Bozell)[Maccarthy and His Enemies] (1954), which argued that Senator Joseph McCarthy McCarthy, Joseph was, by and large, justified in his search for communist subversives and that McCarthy’s opponents were either cynical, unscrupulous, or naïve in their outlook. Buckley and Bozell made the strongest intellectual case McCarthy ever enjoyed, but the book was no great success.

Buckley believed that America had no good conservative journals and that liberals and radicals had dominated journalistic circles for the preceding twenty-five years or more. He contributed articles to the American Mercury and the Freeman but was dissatisfied by both, considering them airless and dry. Taking advantage of the reputation he had already made by his writing and of his father’s many business contacts, he now began to travel the country seeking financial backing for a new journal; moreover, he was willing to sink much of his personal fortune into the enterprise. For help, he recruited many of the leading conservative intellectuals of his era. Several were former Communists who had recanted and become passionately anti-Communist; among them were writers who had made reputations in radical circles before their switch, including Max Eastman, John Dos Passos, James Burnham, and Whittaker Chambers.

William S. Schlamm, a former communist and a Jewish exile from Austria, was particularly helpful in the preparatory stages and offered to write a regular column on the arts for Buckley’s new magazine. Others among the regular contributors once the magazine had gotten under way included traditionalist conservatives such as Ross Hoffman and Russell Kirk Kirk, Russell (the author of the acclaimed 1953 study The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana) and libertarians such as Frank Chodorov and Henry Hazlitt, who believed in dismantling the apparatus of government and giving free rein to laissez-faire economics. Several of Buckley’s brothers and sisters helped out too, and Roman Catholics were always well represented on the magazine, often imparting to it the special concerns of their faith.

The magazine’s first issue appeared in November, 1955, with a white cover edged in blue and with highlights of the contents listed in italics. Inside, it blended serious political articles with shorter news items and general cultural criticism from a conservative standpoint. Full of jokes, ironies, and scornful remarks about famous contemporary liberals including Eleanor Roosevelt (the New Deal president’s widow) and Dag Hammarskjöld (secretary-general of the United Nations), the early issues of National Review also argued that the current Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;criticism in National Review , was not good enough for genuine conservatives. Far from dismantling the welfare state, which had grown to sizable proportions during the long presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932-1945) and Harry S. Truman (1945-1952), Eisenhower had come to terms with it and seemed happy to supervise countless large federal projects. Conservatives, said Buckley, had to oppose him.

National Review’s foreign-policy coverage was based on James Burnham’s weekly column, “The Third World War.” "Third World War, The" (Burnham)[Third World War, The] Burnham, with Buckley’s full support, argued that Eisenhower was not doing enough to attack communism. During the election campaign of 1952, Eisenhower and his prospective secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, had promised a policy of “rollback” in Eastern Europe, freeing the nations that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet armies had seized from Nazi Germany in 1944 and 1945. In the event, however, the Eisenhower White House seemed content to coexist with the Soviet Union, to acquiesce to internal repression there, and to put up with continued Soviet puppet regimes in Eastern Europe.

As the magazine approached its first anniversary in the fall of 1956, a Hungarian uprising seemed to conservatives to offer the ideal opportunity for American military intervention on behalf of anti-Soviet rebels, but Eisenhower did not move. Furious, National Review editorialized that conservatives should not vote for Eisenhower in the upcoming 1956 presidential election, even though the Democratic candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson, was precisely the type of idealistic liberal National Review despised.


William Buckley and National Review stood at the center of the American conservative revival in the following decades. Buckley gradually gained national renown as a syndicated columnist, as a television personality on his long-running show Firing Line, and as the author of more than twenty books on topics as varied as politics and sailing; he even wrote spy fiction. Having become a friend of Ronald Reagan in the early 1960’s, Buckley advised him first when Reagan was governor of California and later during Reagan’s two successful presidential campaigns.

In 1965, Buckley ran unsuccessfully for the office of mayor of New York City on the Conservative Party ticket; he made his defeat the basis of a seriously meant but entertaining book, The Unmaking of a Mayor Unmaking of a Mayor, The (Buckley) (1966). He served President Richard M. Nixon Nixon, Richard M. [p]Nixon, Richard M.;and William F. Buckley, Jr.[Buckley] as American delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the early 1970’s (an experience he used as the basis of another book, 1974’s United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey) United Nations Journal (Buckley) , but he turned against Nixon at the time of Watergate and was among the many voices seeking his resignation by 1974. Having seen himself in early life as a political outsider, Buckley had become by the 1980’s an insider par excellence, one of the most influential political voices in New York and Washington.

Youth was a conservative constituency that Buckley cultivated with particular care. In the early days of National Review, both he and Russell Kirk wrote columns on academic and university affairs, believing that the forces of liberalism were strongest on America’s campuses. They were especially concerned to keep alive the issues Buckley had raised in God and Man at Yale, and the magazine often featured stories in which college chaplains, standing up for their rights, had been rebuked, or in which professors had taught ideological liberalism and collectivism under the umbrella of academic freedom in ways Buckley and Kirk found dishonest. At the beginning of the 1960’s, Buckley, at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, hosted the convention that gave birth to the Young Americans for Freedom Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The YAF was to the Right what Students for a Democratic Society Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was to the Left, and throughout the 1960’s, SDS demonstrations against the Vietnam War would often be greeted by YAF counterdemonstrations. Buckley was the favorite speaker at YAF gatherings, and National Review was its members’ preferred reading.

The founding of National Review coincided with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement Civil Rights movement . The editors, in a short, unsigned piece, defended the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 that made Martin Luther King, Jr., famous. It was up to the bus company, they said, to provide a better service, or else the consumers were free to withhold their patronage. In general, however, National Review was not a friend to African American self-assertion in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Defenders of segregation such as Georgia senator Richard Russell won a sympathetic hearing, and sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and civil disobedience were treated as dangerous tactics that threatened the rule of law. King was criticized for sloppy theological reasoning in his speeches and writings.

James J. Kilpatrick Kilpatrick, James J. , the editor of the Richmond News-Leader and a leading segregationist, was a friend of Buckley, and his views won more space in National Review than the views of desegregationists. After the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, National Review accepted the nondiscrimination principle, but the journal deplored the rise of affirmative action on the grounds that it undermined the individualist basis of American law in favor of group rights.

National Review itself has been and remains an influential journal, gathering together disparate voices from the political right, including libertarians, traditionalists, religious conservatives, and an array of anti-Communists. From the beginning, it paid high fees for articles and “discovered” many talented writers, including the columnist George Will, the historian and journalist Garry Wills, and the novelist Joan Didion. Appearing fortnightly, it tried to blend seriousness on politics with the sense that it was one of the defenders of Western civilization itself.

In a section of the magazine entitled “Books, Arts, Manners,” edited for many years by another ex-communist, Frank Meyer Meyer, Frank , book reviews ran beside articles on theater, religion, and philosophy. During the 1960’s, a decade that most recall as an age of social upheaval in which the political left played a major role, National Review, on the right, enjoyed its heyday. It saw itself as a voice of sanity in a collapsing world and held out to isolated conservatives, especially young ones, the sense that they were not alone.

From the beginning, to be sure, National Review had its critics. Right from the start, it suffered withering attacks from liberal journals such as The New Republic and The Nation. Dwight Macdonald, Paul Goodman, Arthur Schlesinger Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. , Jr., Irving Howe, and other intellectual eminences of the 1950’s argued that National Review was no more than an apology for big-business interests of the most reactionary kind and that its mix of libertarians and traditionalists was intellectually incoherent. Buckley took particular pleasure in rebutting these attacks and in debating prominent rivals. He and Schlesinger, an adviser to President John F. Kennedy, often met on the lecture circuit to exchange verbal blows. When Buckley and Gore Vidal Vidal, Gore met on television during the 1968 election, they exchanged physical blows after Vidal all but accused Buckley of fascism.

A particular antagonist of Buckley in the early years of National Review was the American Jesuits’ magazine America. America (periodical) America criticized Buckley for playing fast and loose with papal decrees, especially in 1961, when a papal encyclical Papacy, Roman Catholic;encyclicals Roman Catholic Church;papal encyclicals letter critical of capitalist economics, Mater et Magistra, Mater et Magistra (papal encyclical) drew from National Review the flippant response “Mater Si, Magistra No!” (a parody of Fidel Castro’s slogan “Cuba, Si, Yanqui No!”). Stung by the Jesuits’ criticism, Buckley countered that his was not a Catholic magazine but one for all varieties of conservatives and did not need to defer to Rome. Nevertheless, he seems to have been sufficiently worried about the controversy to find Catholic scholars who backed up his more reasoned rebuttal to aspects of the encyclical. He remained a Catholic and continued to see his faith as of equal importance with his political beliefs. National Review (periodical) Magazines

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Buckley, William F., Jr. Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2004. Compendium of various essays written by Buckley over five decades, assembled into an autobiographical sampling of his life and thought. Includes an audio compact disc, as well as an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Diggins, John. Up from Communism: Conservative Odysseys in American Intellectual History. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. A superbly readable and fascinating book on the many ex-Communists in the conservative movement and on the life experiences that brought them to Buckley’s journal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Judis, John. William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. A full-sized, illustrated biography written by a conscientious investigator who is politically well to the left of Buckley. Critical of Buckley’s convictions, Judis nevertheless explains Buckley’s strengths and shows how he molded post-World War II conservatism in America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Markmann, Charles L. The Buckleys: A Family Considered. New York: William Morrow, 1973. Remorselessly critical and hostile to its subjects, this book should have been subtitled “a family traduced,” yet it does show what Buckley’s numerous brothers and sisters did as children and in later life and how family pressures shaped William Buckley himself.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miles, Michael. The Odyssey of the American Right. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Sober but accurate account of right-wing politics in the later twentieth century, placing Buckley’s work in context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nash, George. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, Since 1945. New York: Basic Books, 1976. A comprehensive scholarly account that explains the intricate relationship between the various strands of conservatism and includes much detail on Buckley’s work as a reconciler of factions and as a publicist. The author is himself a thoughtful conservative.

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