I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.–William F. Buckley, Jr., God and Man at Yale, 1951.
Obviously, Bill Buckley had the essentials of the struggle pretty well nailed at a very young age and he pursued the battle identified in this quote with vigor and intensity, not to mention enormous success, for six decades. When he re-founded the conservative movement in the mid-1950s, it was a mess. He gave it order and coherence, a structure of ideas, relevance, sophistication, acceptability, and class. As important, he marginalized and discredited the isolationists, the John Birchers, the anti-Semites, and other radical elements.
In some ways, his recent death was timely, because it comes at a watershed moment for the movement he helped found, a time when it is badly in need of another young Bill Buckley. But it is also in need of a re-examination of what produced the success of the movement. Many say it needs new ideas, that the founding principles of the Goldwater/Reagan revolutions are anachronisms, outdated by new realities. David Brooks, for whom I have very high regard as an articulate observer of the landscape, is one of these. He believes, for example, that supply side economics has run its course, tax cuts can no longer be a centerpiece of conservative Republican economic policy, that the “entrepreneur is no longer king”, that government must take an increasingly active role. I couldn’t disagree more. The so-called “opportunity society” built on lower tax rates, supply side economics, more competitive choices in public education and health care, and less punitive government regulation of business is exactly the core of the Reagan revolution that should be retained and advanced. Not that government has no role, but its role should be as enabler, not as super-nanny. If there is an ideology that is completely out of style, it is the concept of one size fits all government solutions to health care and retirement systems, as well as monopoly management of public education. This is the Buckley legacy and it is worth preserving.