Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Today would have been William F. Buckley, Jr.'s 85th birthday

His work had a big impact on my life. Here is an excerpt from my book, Return to Rome, in which I discuss Bill Buckley's influence:
Probably my most memorable encounter at UNLV occurred in 1996 and involved another Roman Catholic intellectual. The conservative writer and thinker, William F. Buckley Jr., was at UNLV for a debate with John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist with whom he debated numerous times. Mr. Buckley was the founder of the magazine National Review, to which I had subscribed during my years at Fordham. Three of my books have received positive reviews in National Review, and I have contributed articles to National Review Online over the years.

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Frankie and I snuck into the room where Mr. Buckley was resting before the UNLV debate. We were amazed to find him alone. We introduced ourselves to him. He immediately began asking me questions about my academic work. I told him that I had published a book.. that had been one of the two featured volumes by the Conservative Book Club during a month in 1994. I proudly told him that the other selected book for that month was one of his. He then said, in his distinct style, “That’s similar to when my son Chris and I both had books on the New York Times bestsellers list at the same time.” I thought to myself, “No, it isn’t.” He, of course, was just trying to be kind. And I very much appreciated that. He then turned his attention to my wife and asked her a variety of questions about living in Las Vegas with a philosopher.

Frankie then asked Mr. Buckley if he would allow one of my students to take a picture of the three of us. He agreed. Right before the photo was taken, I was standing next to Mr. Buckley and my wife was to his left. He then gently grasped her shoulders from behind, escorted her between us, turned to me and said, “A rose between two thorns.”

A university official then arrived to take Mr. Buckley to the theater at which the debate was to take place. I didn’t get a chance to tell him that his work—especially the 1959 book Up From Liberalism—strongly influenced my developing political views while I was in college and graduate school. While reading the book as an undergraduate I found myself agreeing with its arguments before I knew that the author was a “conservative.” In fact, when I told one of my professors that I was reading Up From Liberalism and thought it was terrific and compelling, my professor said, “But Buckley is a conservative. You can’t possibly agree with him.” I then said, “I guess I am a conservative.”

Eternal rest grant unto William, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May William rest in peace. May William's soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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