Requiescat In Pace

Peter Wood

William F. Buckley, Jr. has passed away. I add my tribute to the remembrances of many who admired Mr. Buckley and the many who were schooled in urbane wit and eloquence by Firing Line. In debate he would trace a flawless line from the trunk of an argument smoothly out to a twig, which he would then snap off and hand to his opponent. Buckley's patrician ease with English impressed me long before I reached the substance of his ideas. I suppose I still see him less as political thinker than as an exuberant virtuoso of ideas and man of exemplary good taste. He did not worship at the idol of abstraction or take the keenest pleasure from theorizing the world. He was rather a yachtsman -- a man of steady nerve, adroitness, and a honed capacity to make the most of complex winds and currents -- a yachtsman of ideas, not just of the Wononscopomuc Yacht Club. "It is hard to think of anything I have ever coveted so much as to see the name of my boat engraved on the Wononscopomuc Yacht Club Trophy (achieved in 1940)."

Mr. Buckley steered American conservatism out into the big waters and will be generously received into history for creating a political movement that helped to define his era. Though he began his career with an important book on higher education, God and Man at Yale (1951), he is less a figure in the reform of higher education than a benchmark for gauging how much further the university could decline in one lifetime. He will remain, among his many accomplishments, the exemplification of the liberally educated man of ideas.

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