Thursday, February 28, 2008

WFB: Noscitur a Sociis
Maimon Schwarzschild

Just a few of the thoughts that Bill Buckley's life and death are conjuring up:

Myron Magnet in the indispensable City Journal (Magnet was its long-time editor):

When I saw a headline a few months ago, A WORLD WITHOUT BILL BUCKLEY, my blood ran cold. A smaller, drabber world indeed, I thought. The appropriately adulatory text (a book review, as I recall) calmed me down, but anyone who had seen Bill recently knew that the smaller, drabber world was at hand.

From first hearing him speak at my high school when he was a young man, through watching him in sparkling, imperious, and rather intimidating action as his guest on Firing Line, I saw his character become ever more clearly the unmistakable, irreplaceable Buckley: witty, cultivated, playful, urbane, gracious, brave, zestful, life-affirming, tireless, and gallant—the incarnation of grace. He taught many not only how to think but also how to be.

And from Rick Perlstein on the left - today's younger and so often rebarbative left - "Why William F. Buckley Was My Role Model":

Why did I love WFB?  The game of politics is to win over American institutions to our way of seeing things using whatever coalition, necessarily temporary, that we can muster to win our majority, however contingent—and if we lose, and we are again in the minority, live to fight another day, even ruthlessly, while respecting our adversaries' legitimacy to govern in the meantime, while never pulling back in offering our strong opinions about their failures, in the meantime. This was Buckleyism—even more so than any particular doctrines about "conservatism."

Nice people, friends, can disagree about the most fundamental questions about the organization of society. And there's nothing wrong with that. We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honor that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus.

And some, simply are mensches...  Buckleyism to the end: friendship, and adversarialism, coinciding. All of us who write about politics, may that be our role model.

And finally, almost at random, something I posted in December 2003 when Buckley had written about JFK - that his "sheer beauty" had been "singular and enduring":

Bill Buckley has it right on all counts about JFK, I think.  Buckley's parenthetical - that Kennedy came to the cause of civil rights "sooner than I did" - is honourable and endearing.

Buckley's final, personal words about Kennedy - that JFK's legacy is wrapped up in his "sheer beauty" - apply, oddly but inescapably, to Buckley himself. Unlike Kennedy, whose lasting influence on public policy was surprisingly slight, Buckley's own influence on public life has been both "singular and enduring". WFB helped lay the intellectual and moral groundwork for Ronald Reagan's election and for the conservative revival generally in this country. But the personal parallel with Kennedy is striking. There is an enormously beguiling human quality about Buckley. WFB has that mischievous joy; a laugh you can read by; and a transparent personal kindness. He gives intense pleasure - by no means only to conservatives - just by being here.

Oh, noscitur a sociis: know him by his friends.  Actually a lawyer's "canon of interpretation": when in doubt, interpret an ambiguous word or phrase by its context, its "neighbour" words.  WFB would have known the phrase immediately of course - I hope he would smile, or flash his eyes, at hearing it.

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Maimon Schwarzschild


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