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William F. Buckley, Jr.: Quotes, Books & Biography

Instructor: Erica Cummings

Erica teaches college Humanities, Literature, and Writing classes and has a Master's degree in Humanities.

The modern conservative movement in America may very well owe its existence to one man: William F. Buckley, Jr. Read this lesson to discover how Buckley's efforts helped reshape American politics.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Father of Modern Conservatism

He fought in World War II, worked for the CIA, was a delegate to the United Nations, started a magazine, wrote over 50 books, and had his own TV show. He studied many subjects, played the harpsichord, and mastered three languages. He sparked controversies but also almost single-handedly reinvigorated a stagnant political movement.

Who is this fascinating and accomplished individual? William F. Buckley, Jr. Born in 1925, Buckley would become a political commentator and a popular media figure as he ignited what would become the modern conservative movement in America.

William F. Buckley Jr.
William F. Buckley Jr.

The Philosophy of William F. Buckley, Jr.

During and after World War II, American politics was dominated by liberal ideology (closely associated with Democrats). Buckley believed liberalism had led to the indiscriminate growth of government and the loss of personal liberties, sending America in the wrong direction. Buckley also noticed that the Republican party, which was supposed to provide an alternative to liberalism, had become weak.

To offer an alternative to liberalism, Buckley looked to conservatism. Conservatism, as Buckley saw it, opposed liberalism by advocating for small government, the free market, personal responsibility, and a moral code based on absolute truth. Buckley summarized his conservatism this way: 'It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens' lives, liberty, and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government (the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly.'

Conservative ideals had been around since the founding of the nation, but Buckley believed the Republican party lost touch with its conservative roots. Buckley gave conservatism an articulate, bold voice, and he almost single-handedly made conservatism mainstream again. Many scholars credit Buckley as being the catalyst for the conservative intellectual and social movement that culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Photo of Buckley and President Reagan
Photo of Buckley and President Reagan

Buckley never shied away from controversy. He opposed monopolies, wanted to decriminalize marijuana, saw communism as evil, and wanted to protect the religious culture of America. He at first supported segregation in the South but later changed his views and opposed racism. These views brought him into the national spotlight and sparked fascinating national debates.

The Life of William F. Buckley, Jr.

How did Buckley get to be the voice of the modern conservative movement? In 1925, Buckley was born to a wealthy family in New York. His parents cultivated in him a diligent work ethic. From an early age, Buckley developed a conservative ideology, which he summarized this way: 'An active faith in God and a rigid adherence to Christian principles are the most powerful influences toward the good life. I also believed… that free enterprise and limited government had served this country well and would probably continue to do so in the future.'

Buckley served in the Army near the end of World War II. He enrolled in Yale soon after and studied political science, economics, and history. At Yale, he made a name for himself as an astute scholar and debater. Yale was also where he met his wife, Patricia Taylor, whom he was married to from 1950 until her death in 2007. They had one son.

After Buckley graduated with honors from Yale in 1950, he began writing and even briefly worked for the CIA in Mexico. In 1952, he left the CIA, moved back to the States, and spent the rest of his life writing and speaking about political and social issues.

In the midst of writing countless articles and books, he found time to run for mayor of New York City in 1965 (he lost). Then, he represented the United States as a delegate to the United Nations in 1973. In the 1990s, he backed off from his hectic schedule, but he would continue writing until his death on February 27, 2008.

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