2.28.2008

Roger Kimball on WFB:
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.

I hasten to add that by “conservative” I do not mean any narrow partisan affiliation. Sure, Bill was known above all as the man who, by starting National Review, did as much as anyone to save American conservatism from irrelevance. That’s all very well, but unfortunately the term “conservative” (like its opposite number, “liberal”) has degenerated into an epithet, positive or negative depending on the communion of the person who wields it, but virtually without content.

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. 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.

Part of Bill’s conservatism was his Catholicism. Our secular age is unfriendly to Catholics, to religion generally, but the irony is that secularists are often less jubilantly worldly than their Jewish and Christian compatriots. “God made the world and saw that it was good.” That bulletin from Genesis might have been the motto of Bill’s life. He certainly did everything he could to broadcast it among his many friends. I have never known a more generous person. I do not mean only materially generous, though Bill’s largesse in that department was legendary. I mean spiritually, constitutionally generous as well. A telling anecdote: everyone knows that Bill commanded a formidable vocabulary. It was significant, therefore, that he should have telephoned us once in search of a word. “It means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others,” he said to my wife. “Schadenfreude,” she said. “That’s it!” he said. How perfectly Buckleyesque that he should have forgotten it. It named an emotion that was as foreign to him as joy was native.

1 comment:

Catherine! said...

What a wonderful way to describe someone.