Authors: William F. Buckley, Jr.

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American journalist, memoirist, and novelist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

God and Man at Yale, 1951

McCarthy and His Enemies, 1954 (with L. Brent Bozell)

Up from Liberalism, 1959

Rumbles Left and Right, 1963

The Unmaking of a Mayor, 1966

The Jeweler’s Eye, 1968

Cruising Speed: A Documentary, 1971 (autobiography)

The Governor Listeth, 1971

Inveighing We Will Go, 1972

Four Reforms: A Guide for the Seventies, 1973

United Nations Journal: A Delegate’s Odyssey; 1974

Execution Eve and Other Contemporary Ballads, 1975

Airborne: A Sentimental Journey, 1976 (autobiography)

A Hymnal: The Controversial Arts, 1978

Atlantic High, 1982 (autobiography)

Overdrive: A Personal Documentary, 1983 (autobiography)

Right Reason, 1985

Racing Through Paradise, 1987 (autobiography)

Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country, 1990

In Search of Anti-Semitism, 1992

Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist, 1993

Windfall: The End of the Affair, 1993

Brothers No More, 1996

Buckley: The Right Word, 1996

Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, 1998

Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches, 2000

Long Fiction:

Saving the Queen, 1976

Stained Glass, 1978

Who’s on First, 1981

Marco Polo, If You Can, 1982

The Story of Henri Tod, 1984

See You Later, Alligator, 1985

High Jinx, 1986

Mongoose, R.I.P., 1987

Tucker’s Last Stand, 1990

A Very Private Plot, 1994

The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy, 1999

Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton, 2000

Elvis in the Morning, 2001

Nuremberg: The Reckoning, 2002

Getting It Right, 2002

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Temptation of Wilfred Malachey, 1985

Edited Texts:

Did You Ever See a Dream Walking? Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century, 1987

Keeping the Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought, 1988 (with Charles R. Kesler)

Biography

William Frank Buckley, Jr., was the founder, leader, and most famous exponent of modern American conservatism. He was born in New York City on November 24, 1925, the sixth child of wealthy oilman and entrepreneur Will Buckley and his wife, Aloise. The father of ten children, Will Buckley was a man of strong political opinions and intense religious faith, and his son grew up in an atmosphere of unwavering commitment to laissez-faire capitalism and the Roman Catholic Church–and hostility toward communism. These beliefs formed the core of William F. Buckley’s personal and public philosophy.{$I[AN]9810001383}{$I[A]Buckley, William F., Jr.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Buckley, William F., Jr.}{$I[tim]1925;Buckley, William F., Jr.}

Buckley received his early education at home from private tutors; at St. John’s Beaumont, a Catholic boarding school in England; and at a small private academy near Sharon, Connecticut. In September, 1946, after two years in the United States Army (where he became a second lieutenant), Buckley entered Yale University. Though he soon established a reputation as a champion debater, his greatest ambition was to become editor of the Yale Daily News, the elite and highly influential campus newspaper. Upon attaining this position in his junior year, Buckley sparked controversy by using the paper’s editorial pages to attack the prevailing liberal ideology of the faculty and administration. Yet he remained personally popular and shortly before graduation, in 1950, was named undergraduate of the year.

Buckley had been so disturbed by what he viewed as the antireligious climate at Yale that, almost immediately after graduating, he began to write his first book, God and Man at Yale, published in 1951. In it, he continued the debate that he had begun in the college paper by charging that Yale had abandoned the philosophy of its founders, based on the acceptance of Christianity and free enterprise, and had developed in its place a relativistic orthodoxy which encouraged atheism and socialism. To Buckley’s great surprise, the book was an instant best-seller and raised storms of angry debate. He was soon deluged with offers for speaking engagements. Having to articulate his views in public helped him to forge them into a coherent new approach to politics and philosophy, one that rejected traditional definitions of “conservatism” as simply defending the status quo. Buckley’s new conservatism was aggressively individualistic, rebellious, and antisecularist.

After a short stint working for the American Mercury, a moribund conservative magazine, Buckley became involved in the public debate about Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had become notorious by publicly accusing the State Department of employing large numbers of communists and Communist Party sympathizers. When McCarthy could not substantiate his charges, he was discredited, and “McCarthyism” came to mean unfounded character assassination. Buckley, who generally agreed with McCarthy, collaborated with L. Brent Bozell, his former Yale debating partner, to write McCarthy and His Enemies. Though critical of some of McCarthy’s methods, the book strongly defended the need to root out of the U.S. government those who supported, either intentionally or inadvertently, communist efforts to subvert American interests.

At the urging of friends and colleagues, Buckley decided in 1955 to create a new magazine, the National Review, which has been the main journal of conservative opinion since its first issue appeared in April, 1956. As its editor, Buckley used the National Review to lead and shape the American conservative movement by defining a consensus, intended to include conservatives, libertarians, and anticommunists, while leaving out racial and religious hate groups. The magazine offered a platform to major conservative theorists such as James Burnham and Russell T. Kirk and introduced such newer talents as John Leonard and Garry Wills.

Most of the National Review’s loyal readers, however, are attracted by the sparkling wit and incisive analytical writing of Buckley himself. Many of his editorials, lectures, and newspaper columns (which were carried by more than one hundred dailies across the country) have been collected in several books: Rumbles Left and Right, The Governor Listeth, A Hymnal: The Controversial Arts, and others. All these works are characterized by Buckley’s sharp debating style, strong command of logic, witty and often-ironic humor, and eloquence in defense of his conservative ideals.

Buckley also made lasting contributions to political philosophy in such works as Up from Liberalism, which exposes weaknesses in liberal ideology; Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?, a compendium of conservative theory edited and introduced by Buckley; and Four Reforms, which addresses the specific areas of welfare, taxation, education, and crime.

Much of Buckley’s power to influence others, however, derived from his status as a celebrity. In 1965 he ran a semiserious campaign as a candidate for mayor in New York City on a platform of tough crime prevention and welfare reform. Though he never really expected to win, Buckley was surprised at his popularity among average voters, and he received 13.4 percent of the vote in a three-way race. His account of the campaign, The Unmaking of a Mayor, is one of his most entertaining books.

In 1966 Buckley began broadcasting a syndicated weekly television talk show, Firing Line, which featured a wide variety of famous guests in conversations and debates. Buckley’s unusual conversational style, peppered with sesquipedalian terms and Latinisms, strange rhythms and odd pauses, all wrapped in an immense smile, made the show popular with audiences of all political opinions. It is perhaps this public display of erudition that led to him being awarded over thirty honorary degrees.

In 1973 Buckley took his one major stab at public office, serving as a public member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. He later said that he had hoped to use his post to sway world opinion by rhetoric, but he was soon disabused of the notion that anyone was paying attention. In any event, he wrote a book about the experience, 1974’s United Nations Journal.

Buckley also wrote several popular autobiographical works employing a day-by-day, diary-like style to create an intimate, dramatically personal record of events. In Cruising Speed, he documents one week in his life as editor of the National Review. His expertise as a transoceanic sailor is reflected in Airborne: A Sentimental Journey. In 1983 he published a book of reflections, Overdrive. Overdrive drew even sharper criticism than usual for Buckley, with some reviewers charging Buckley with flaunting a shallow and privileged lifestyle.

Buckley’s wide-ranging interests were also reflected in his fictional works, several of which became best-sellers. His Blackford Oakes espionage novels, inspired by a nine-month tour of duty with the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950 and 1951, are entertaining, and they provided a vehicle for the expression of Buckley’s view of the history of Soviet-American relations in the Cold War era. Among these works, his first, Saving the Queen, is generally considered to be the best. Buckley even wrote a supernatural juvenile story, The Temptation of Wilfred Malachey. Buckley died at his home in Stamford, Connecticut on February 27, 2008.

BibliographyBridges, Linda, and John R. Coyne, Jr. Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2007. Longtime employees of The National Review wrote this biography of Buckley that focuses on the magazine and its influence on conservatives.Buckley, William F., Jr. Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches of William F. Buckley, Jr. Roseville, Calif.: Forum, 2000. Includes the text of a speech delivered October 2, 1984, about the origin of the Blackford Oakes series.Buckley, William F., Jr. Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2004. Includes reminiscences about the origin of the Blackford Oakes series and individual titles.Burner, David, and Thomas R. West. “William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review.” In Column Right: Conservative Journalists in the Service of Nationalism. New York: New York University Press, 1988. A serious, though hostile, examination of Buckley’s thought.Chambers, Whittaker. Odyssey of a Friend: Whittaker Chambers’ Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr., 1954-1961. New York: Putnam, 1969. This poignant and sensitive correspondence of a former communist agent reveals much about the development of Buckley’s personal and political ideals.Judis, John. William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Briefly describes the background of Saving the Queen and the physical appearance of Blackford Oakes, and comments on Buckley’s evenhandedness in portraying adversaries.Markmann, Charles L. The Buckleys: A Family Examined. New York: William Morrow, 1973. The remarkably close personal and professional relationships among members of the Buckley family are discussed.Meehan, William F., III. William F. Buckley, Jr.: A Bibliography. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2002. A 316-page bibliography of works by and about Buckley. Includes an introduction by George Nash.Rubins, Josh. “Blackford Oakes, One Stand-Up Guy.” Review of A Very Private Plot, by William F. Buckley, Jr. The New York Times, February 6, 1994. Examines Buckley’s playful style and the challenge ofportraying historical events whose outcome is widely known.Winchell, Mark Riyden. William F. Buckley, Jr. New York; Twayne, 1984. A guide to Buckley’s life, political philosophy, and writing.
Categories: Authors