Blogs > Cliopatria > Carnival, William Buckley, & Public Intellectuals

Mar 1, 2008 9:18 am

Carnival, William Buckley, & Public Intellectuals

History Carnival LXII is up at Spinning Clio. Marc Comtois is your host.

I only met William F. Buckley thirty years ago. Already, I knew that I disagreed with him. But my respect for Buckley increased when I did research in the early decades of National Review for an article on Garry Wills. The range of talented young writers that he nurtured was just astonishing. Some of those who claim his legacy are just as astonishingly awful. Buckley and National Review could be terribly wrong, as they were in their youth on civil rights, but Buckley was big enough subsequently to admit and regret it. National Review has, long since, lost its cutting edge. I suspect that the loss is related to Buckley's declining influence in it. David Brooks,"Remembering the Mentor," NYT, 29 February; Rick Perlstein,"Why William F. Buckley Was My Role Model," CAF, 27 February; Sam Tanenhaus,"Athwart History," TNR, 19 March 2007; and George Will,"A Life Athwart History," Washington Post, 29 February, are among the best tributes to his memory.

Like Tanenhaus, when he noted the death of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Ezra Klein says that Buckley's death marks the passing of a generation of public intellectuals who have no worthy heirs. I don't doubt that their generation is passing, but like Daniel Drezner I think that they have worthy heirs. Foremost among the historians, who Drezner doesn't even mention, I'd point to Garry Wills, who I heard speak earlier this week near Atlanta. But there are dozens of younger men and women -- several of them my colleagues here at Cliopatria – who are committed to doing history in a public arena and doing it very well.

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