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William F. Buckley, Jr. - A Brief Appreciation
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Seventeen
by Brian S. Wise
20 June 2003

A long overdue personal "thank you" to a great conservative influence.

There are liberals, and some of them grow to change their minds. (We will call it evolution, if it helps to ease the pain when it comes to defectors.) Why someone makes that change cannot be answered according to mere precedent; everyone has their own reasons, a common denominator being that those things appealing in liberalism are found to be, well, illogical as the world is experienced firsthand. In my case, liberalism set up camp by default – when one is young, he likes to believe that there should be a moral and social order to the world, and that anything standing opposite that order is traitorous. What I believed, from conception until age 20, was that those things we commonly refer to today as liberal values were all correct, and there was just no such thing as an alternative.

At one point, a relationship with a fine young woman came to an unfortunate, ugly end … I had followed her to Indianapolis, where she was attending Butler, and in the process destroyed her trust in me by flirting with her roommate, languishing about instead of working, and stealing from her. Upon returning to my hometown, she left for good, at which point it finally dawned that some significant lifestyle changes were in order. I had been a fairly notable proponent of the liberal position, but while sitting in a room full of them one night, it occurred to me that Republicans cannot always be wrong about everything, and that maybe their position was generally worth researching, if only to know more completely what I was talking about.

Sometime in early April 1993, I happened upon an old acquaintance who had collected several columns by Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. and decided to take a look, only because someone had once told me the man was a Republican of some stature. I flipped through the pages and settled on a column entitled “Are You ‘Responsible’?” (10 April 1990), where these were the first words I read: “The point, then, is that women who go to an abortionist, or who procreate illegitimate births, are not the best judges of right and wrong, even if society agreed that they should in their own situation be the executors of the critical decision, whether to give birth or to abort.”

Well! Here was an immediate challenge to the very heart of the liberal position, abortion as a right. Ten minutes must have passed while I hashed out the argument; how many girls had I known who had engaged in reckless sexual behavior without protecting themselves, and how many of them ended up at the abortion clinic suffering those slings and arrows (both physical and financial) when, for about one-tenth of the cost, they could have purchased birth control pills, or condoms? There was the legal option of abortion, but what was to be said about the other options, those that come before abortions become desirable (if, I concede now, they are ever desirable)? What I decided was that Mr. Buckley was absolutely right, and that his idea of Republicanism was something worth considering seriously.

Later in the year I purchased Happy Days Were Here Again, a book of 473 pages, but one that took five weeks to read. Every point of contention with the liberal philosophy was thought through to what I thought was its logical conclusion. I ultimately disagreed with him on several points (I would only disagree with him on a very small handful of points today), but chalked it all up to a learning process.

Months passed, therein were extended periods of research and thought regarding Republican positions, and further examination of Mr. Buckley himself, through his books, his columns and through National Review, his magazine. (Naturally, many other conservative thinkers were brought into the mental fray, George Will being the most notable.) In mid-fall 1993 I awoke from a dead sleep as a Republican, and felt compelled to unburden myself of my new understanding for the world (or anyone who would pay attention) to see. And I have written ever since.

Someone wrote my editor recently and asked, If you guys like Buckley so much, why not say so? Good thinking, and so I must: Whatever I am today as a writer and thinker, and whatever I will become in the future, has meaningful roots in Buckleyism and its purveyor, and he is owed a tremendous debt of gratitude, which I can think of no better way to express than through words.

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