Obituaries already abound for William F. Buckley, dead today at 82, and he’s well-known and well-remembered enough that there’s not a lot more that can be said about his life and his achievements than is already being said about him by the mainstream press, by his associates, and by his friends.

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I was 10 when I first learned of William F. Buckley, sitting with my father in front of a television watching Firing Line, his PBS talk show. My first reaction to him was, “Holy Crap!”


I’ve always been fascinated by argumentation. From a young age, I was in awe of Plato’s astonishingly clear Apology of Socrates and of Berkeley’s dialogues arguing (quite convincingly) that matter doesn’t exist. In my mind, real-live people didn’t engage in arguments anywhere near as lively or as interesting or as clever as the ones I could find in books. William F. Buckley showed me that I was wrong, and he instilled in me a foundational conviction that — in spite of all the gamesmanship of politics — political ideas and arguments can be and should be momentous and important and serious. And it helped, of course, that I agreed with him.

I have just one direct acquaintance with William F. Buckley. When I was at Wabash College, he came to speak. I gave him a copy of the conservative publication that I helped to found there. Shortly after that, he wrote me a kind letter, complimenting me on the journal, noting my own article in that publication as “spritely, relevant, and readable.” Maybe that’s not the highest praise, but it is good enough for me.