Roger Kimball took the occasion of William F. Buckley Jr.’s posthumous 87th birthday to remember a friend he describes, in conscious emulation of that particular friend’s fondness for sesquipedelian expression, as “an affirmative, not an apophatic, character.”
Emerson, who wasn’t wrong about everything, devoted a book to Representative Men, men who epitomized some essential quality: Shakespeare; or, the Poet; Napoleon; or, the Man of the World; Goethe; or, the Writer. Bill was, in Emerson’s sense, a Representative Man. One cannot quite imagine Emerson getting his mind around a character like William F. Buckley Jr. But if one can conjure up a less gaseous redaction of Emerson, one may suppose him writing an essay called Buckley; or, the Conservative. …
Being conservative may commit one to certain political positions or moral dogmas. But it also, and perhaps more importantly, disposes one to a certain attitude toward life. The 19th-century English writer Walter Bagehot touched upon one essential aspect of the conservative disposition when, in an essay on Scott, he observed that “the essence of Toryism is enjoyment.” Whatever else it was, Bill’s life was an affidavit of enjoyment: a record of, an homage to, a life greatly, and gratefully, enjoyed. What delight he took in–well, in everything. Playing the piano or harpsichord, savoring a glass of vinho verde, dissecting the latest news from Washington, inspecting with wonder the capabilities of email and internet service on a Blackberry handheld.
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Though it’s sad that Buckley is gone, we can console ourselves with the thought that he, at least, was spared seeing Barack Obama re-elected.