William F. Buckley Jr., the iconic host of “Firing Line,” the longest running public-affairs program in television history, has been dubbed “the patron saint of the conservative movement.” To mark the 10th anniversary of his passing, Buckley’s colleagues at the National Review are hosting a national seminar tour to breathe new life into his enduring legacy.
The series of commemorations will feature the brightest intellectual stars in the magazine’s bountiful firmament, including: Dr. Edwin J. Feulner, the founder and former president of The Heritage Foundation; Jack Fowler, the vice president of National Review; magazine editor Rich Lowry; senior editor Jonah Goldberg; L. Brent Bozell III, the founder of the Media Research Center and CNSNews; and other luminaries including John Yoo, Andrew C. McCarthy, David French, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Ramesh Ponnuru, Richard Brookhiser, and Charles Kessler.
The half-day conferences being held in cities nationwide are part of the National Review Institute’s Buckley Legacy Project. Seminar highlights include discussions of Buckley's iconic legacy and book signings. The goal is to introduce a new generation of citizen leaders to Buckley's writings.
The National Review Institute is also producing several books focusing on topics Buckley relished. The new works are being promoted on social media, and NRI hopes they will expose more people to the ideas that revolutionized the conservative movement in America.
Buckley founded the National Review magazine in 1955, and was "arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century," according to American historian George H. Nash.
"For an entire generation,” says Nash, “he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure. He changed minds, he changed lives, and he helped to change the direction of American politics."
Buckley was so prolific that in his nearly 60 years of public life that he published 55 fiction and non-fiction books (both fiction and nonfiction), wrote over 225 obituaries, over 800 editorials, dozens of book reviews and introductions and prefaces to other authors’ books, hundreds of articles, and approximately 5,600 newspaper columns. Buckley hosted 1,429 separate “Firing Line,” with guests ranging from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to Rush Limbaugh, Billy Graham, and Henry Kissinger.
For decades, Buckley was famous for his witty, stiletto-sharp repartee and his sesquipedalian splendor. A champion of free-market economics andconservative philosophy, he was also a former CIA officer and a staunch anti-Communism.
Buckley's twice-weekly column On the Right began in 1962 and was syndicated in over 320 newspapers across the country.
During the particularly bitter Republican primary in 1964 between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, Buckley famously said that he would support "the rightward-most viable candidate," a notion that became known as "the Buckley Rule."
After Goldwater lost, Buckley ran as the Conservative Party candidate for mayor of New York in 1965, only receiving 13 percent of the vote. In his memoir "The Unmasking of a Mayor," he asked himself why he didn't run for mayor in the Republican primary. He answered his own question with the rhetorical, "Why didn't Martin Luther King run for governor of Alabama?"
Buckley knew that his mayoral campaign was a quixotic one, but he ran anyway to energize conservatives. Asked what he would have done if he had won, he famously replied: “demand a recount."
Buckley began hosting the weekly PBS show Firing Line in 1996. It introduced millions of Americans to an intellectual brand of conservatism that challenged liberal opponents and questioned the ideological underpinnings of American politics and policy.
The combative show, promoted as "The Fight of the Week,” it ran for 33 years -- the longest-running TV show with a single host in history.
Buckley had honed his masterful rhetorical debate skills at Yale as a distinguished member of the debate team. His book God and Man at Yale continues to enjoy a place in the conservative literary pantheon.
Buckley alternately described himself as a libertarian or conservative. He rejected the values of Ayn Rand because of "the incongruity of tone.” He described her tenor as “hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding, dogmatism that is in itself intrinsically objectionable," which he contrasted with what he deemed to be true conservatism promoted in the pages of the National Review.
The magazine was Ronald Reagan's favorite, and Buckley's ideas helped shape the Reagan administration. Reagan loved the magazine so much that he frequently clipped articles and gave them to White House advisers. His speechwriters absorbed not only the ideas, but the tone of the publication. Buckley’s final book was "The Reagan I Knew."
The remaining NRI discussions of Buckley's legacy and place in history will take place on Feb. 27 in New York, March 1st in Washington, D.C., March 6th in Dallas, March 7th in Houston, March 27th in San Francisco, Calif., March 28th in Newport Beach, Calif., and on April 12th in Chicago, Ill.
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