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Idol Chatter

williamfbucklyidolchat.jpgThe name of his first book, “God and Man at Yale,” sounds so hidebound and culturally clueless, even for the early ’50s, that it’s hard to imagine that William F. Buckley, who died this morning, made his reputation on it. But what made Buckley’s long career as a conservative author, speaker, and talk-show host lascivious fun for conservatives and liberals alike was that he was anything but clueless. He was completely aware of the stir his criticisms of liberal politics would cause and he never shied from engaging the opposition where he found them, whether they were PC legalists or wild-haired poets.
God and Man” pointed out that Yale, like most elite American universities, were where young people’s faith went to die. Buckley argued that this was because the officially nondenominational university was not as faith-neutral as it claimed. Liberals’ tolerance for dissenting points of view like Marxism, feminism, and other academic “identities,” Buckley concluded, didn’t apply to old-school establishment values.


In the late 20th century, Buckley’s line of attack was taken up by evangelicals trying to find a way back into the cultural infrastructure. As Christians felt more and more alienated from mainstream America, thinkers like George Marsden argued that evangelicals had become every bit as “other” as groups who had their own academic departments at places like Yale. A place at the table was not a restoration of Christian values, but it was a wedge, and it was Buckley they had to thank for it.
Buckley’s magazine, National Review, came to adopt a little of the tone of the bullying, nattering radio conservatives, but Buckley himself remained always gentlemanly, reasonable, and fascinating, and wherever we lie on the political scale, many of us will miss watching liberals try to escape Buckley’s rhetorical half-nelsons.

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