‘National Review’ magazine remains my constant companion, even when I sometimes disagree with her. Indeed, NR’s mission has been just and worthy, as she has remained adamantly anti-communist, pro-life, and just about right on every social issue, while accommodating the variety of “sects” within the American conservative movement.
Sometime around 1981 or so, Bill Buckley was on one of the prime-time news shows, debating the ambassador from the Soviet Union. I was with my mom, and we were on a mini-vacation in Kansas City, staying at our beloved (now gone) White Haven Motor Lodge. I remember the day well, as I had just purchased Genesis’s 1978 album, And Then There Were Three. And, Kansas City was, for us, the mother city, the great metropolis, and we annually visited its Plaza and other hotspots around Christmas time.
In terms of argumentation, Buckley took no prisoners, and I was astounded by his depth of knowledge and by his logic. The Soviet ambassador was full of pomp and stuffy arrogance, but his answers were trite, contrived, and wearisome. Even though I was only in junior high, I knew that Buckley had handily won the debate. As the final credits were about to roll, Buckley turned to the ambassador and said something to the effect of “it really doesn’t matter what you say, as you say it only because when you return to your room, you’ll get a bullet in the head if you’ve not towed the party line.”
To say I was, at that moment, smitten with Buckley would be a grand understatement. This guy became my hero, and my mom—a Goldwater Republican—and I ended up talking about Buckley’s history and his magazine, National Review. My mom especially stressed what a “character” Buckley was and how he had, through fun and mischief, built up the conservative movement over years, making it respectable as well as vital and important.
Interestingly enough, I had first encountered Buckley while I was in sixth grade, as I had been given—along with one of my classmates, LuAnne—the assignment to explore the then-current discussion about America’s role regarding the Panama Canal, and Buckley had been instrumental in those debates. But, in sixth grade, I had very few opinions about the world (that is, the world beyond science fiction and J.R.R. Tolkien), and Buckley had struck me as just another interesting writer in a world full of writers.
My first real encounter, then, with the man had been his debate with the Soviet ambassador. He had on his side, righteousness and goodness and truth, and he wielded these deftly.
Beginning in the fall of 1982–my freshman year in high school—as I began my own obsessive debate career, I began to consume National Review on a bi-weekly basis. If anything, I was frustrated that NR didn’t come out weekly! Again, Buckley astounded me, not only by the topics that he covered, but, especially by his command of the English language. Generally, I would flip through the magazine upon first receiving it, checking out the photos and the cartoons, then I would turn to the reprint of Buckley’s columns, and, finally, I would read the magazine, article by article. It was almost a religious ritual.
That ritual, which began that autumn of 1982, has remained a habit and a norm of my life to this day. Through college—especially through my friend, Liz, and her rather generous father—and through graduate school, NR informed my own ideas, taught me the English language, and kept me company.
Yes, I knew that NR had had its purges and had made its enemies—from the John Birchers to the Ayn Randers and beyond—and I’ve often disagreed with NR’s take on international trade and America’s position on tariffs, but she has remained adamantly anti-communist (she’s as anti-communist today as she was in 1982), pro-Catholic, pro-life, and just about right on every social issue. She has also remained, for the most part, big tent and accommodating of the vast variety of “sects” within the American conservative movement—no easy feat!
I am especially grateful to how welcoming and generous NR has been to the present journal, The Imaginative Conservative, over the last decade. My favorite writer at NR, publisher Jack Fowler, has praised TIC for years now, and he has stressed again and again how important this journal is in its promotion of the cultural aspects of conservatism. As publisher of the central organ of American conservatism, Jack could have easily ignored us, but he didn’t. In fact, he did quite the opposite, welcoming us into the larger world of serious media. Another ritual I love is getting—right about noon every Saturday—Jack’s weekly email, which is always tied together by some movie or baseball theme, and which usually contains props for an essay (or essays) in The Imaginative Conservative.
I’ll never forget meeting Jack. We were “friends” on social media, though we’d not met personally, and I had recently revealed that our statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been stolen from our front yard. I gave a talk on Russell Kirk at Yale, shortly after this had happened. As I was leaving the platform, Jack (whom, again, it must be remembered, I didn’t know yet personally) grabbed my arm, introduced himself, and assured me that whoever had stolen my Virgin Mary was going to hell! I laughed out loud at this, utterly amused by Jack’s personality and convictions. Jack, I knew immediately, carried on the wonderfully quirky mix of intelligence and mischievousness that Buckley had so well established.
Indeed, as I look at NR today, she remains a constant companion, even when I disagree with her (as friends sometimes do). Writers such as Jack, John Miller, Kyle Smith, Kathryn Lopez, and others keep alive Buckley’s wondrous and gregarious spirit. From its beginnings in 1955, NR has sought to build up conservatism rather than tear it apart. Building, as we all know, is difficult; destruction is easy.
As I continue to get my NR “breaking news” updates, read her editorials on this or that political or cultural atrocity, devour Jack’s Saturday emails, buy the newest books recommended by her, and listen to her many podcasts, I’m honored by her friendship and happily acknowledge her just and worthy mission.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is an undated handout photo of National Review magazine founder William F. Buckley Jr. This image is in the public domain and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.