Monday, March 9, 2009

Buckley's Descendants and the Task Ahead

Someone recently asked me, "In light of the many tributes offered at the first anniversary of William F. Buckley's passing, it seems to be a commonly held view that the conservative voice died with him. As the GOP is always searching for the 'next Reagan,' should conservatives be searching for the next Buckley?"

I responded:

William Buckley was a seminal figure in the conservative movement with a fruitful life of service. After just two generations, his philosophical descendants are legion. And if their voices are not heard as widely as they need to be, at least their presence is felt on every hill and in every valley of the cultural landscape, whether directly or indirectly.

I don’t think that we need another Buckley any more than we need another Madison. Our great need is for those who consider themselves his philosophical namesakes to appreciate the battles he fought and won on their behalf and the intellectual inheritance he has bequeathed to them, and then to take up the task he necessarily left unfinished, and make full and faithful use the opportunities his great accomplishments provided for them.

Buckley set out in the 1950s to change the political and intellectual battlefield conditions so fundamentally that we would not need another Buckley. He has done that, perhaps more successfully than he initially imagined he could. The point now is not to re-lay the foundations, but to employ our intellectual capital and cultural opportunity to understand, teach, and defend the principles of liberty that are rightfully ours as God’s human creatures, and also, with that liberty, to cultivate the fullness of human life to which God has called us.

Conservatives often forget that final concern regarding what to do with liberty, but we need to give it a much greater emphasis. Otherwise, you're just a libertarian at best, and perhaps even a nihilist.

For Harvey Mansfield's take on the philosophy of conservatism and the movement’s future, watch his lecture on this subject, "What's Your Political Ideology?"

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