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InsiderOnline Blog: May 2010

Four Questions: Lee Edwards on William F. Buckley Jr.

Lee Edwards’ new book, William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement, has just been published by ISI Books. We asked Edwards a few questions:

InisderOnline: You describe this 210-page volume as an intellectual rather than a definitive biography. What do you want readers learn about Buckley from this book?

Lee Edwards: As brilliant as Bill Buckley was—and he was one of the most brilliant men of his generation—he listened to and learned from those around him. The four intellectuals who most influenced his political thinking were Albert Jay Nock, a radical libertarian; Willmoore Kendall, a conservative scholar and expert on John Locke and the Founding; Whittaker Chambers, the former communist and Soviet spy who became an eloquent man of the Right; and James Burnham, an apostle of realpolitik in both foreign and domestic policy.

IO: One thing you chronicle very well is Buckley’s role in creating a more cohesive conservative opposition out of diverse and sometimes fractious voices. Was acting as a kind of arbiter of ideas Buckley’s most important contribution to conservatism?

LE: From the founding of National Review until the end of his life, Bill Buckley sought to bring together the different strains of conservatism so as to create and then sustain a national intellectual as well as political movement—he was a master fusionist.

IO: What are the prospects for Buckleyite fusionism without William F. Buckley?

LE: Bill Buckley was better at fusing than almost any one else, but since successful politics is addition rather than subtraction, other fusionists will come to the fore and are already here. The challenge is not to compromise your principles while seeking to balance the ideal and the pragmatic.

IO: You note some of Buckley’s best lines in sparring with liberals. Do you have a favorite funny Buckley quote?

LE: There are so many but I have suggested that Bill Buckley could be called the “patron saint” of the Tea Party Movement because of this comment, delivered during a debate at Harvard University: “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than the Harvard faculty.”

Posted on 05/04/10 05:34 PM by Alex Adrianson

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