Conversations with William F. Buckley Jr.
edited by William F. Meehan III
University Press of Mississippi, 208 pages, $22
William F. Buckley Jr. is of course the seminal figure in the development of American conservatism. His prolific and often brilliant journalism instructed and animated an entire generation. Richard Brookhiser’s new memoir, Right Time, Right Place, captures this influence. Buckley was also (as any viewer of Firing Line recalls) a spectacularly agile talker. This well-edited volume collects Buckley’s articulate, penetrating, and witty interviews from 1970 to 2005. The variety of subjects is impressive—Vietnam, the Cold War, Catholicism, and novel writing, among many others—and the observations are absorbing and occasionally lapidary. On the tendency of the civil-rights movement to overreach in its objectives, for example, Buckley said in 1970: “It is one thing to engage in great ventures in amelioration; it is another to engage in great ventures in utopianization.” What these interviews also highlight is the contemporary decline from what Buckley called “a thoughtful conservatism,” which he embodied, to the tiresome and oafish cacophony of right-wing talk radio that afflicts us today.