I never met Bill Buckley face to face, although our paths crossed here and there and we had several direct and indirect exchanges.

I first became aware of Buckley when I heeled the Yale Daily News of which Buckley had been chair, as I eventually became in 1955.  Buckley was a legend there — particularly with several permanent staff members who adored him.  His senior society, Skull and Bones, was just down the street from the News building.

What was apparent of Buckley then was that he was a full fledged racist and bigot.  His attack on Sid Lovett, our beloved Protestant Chaplain at Yale, in his notorious God and Man at Yale was as much a Catholic screed as an attack on Sid who had been imprisoned during WW1 as a conscientious objector.

We soon became aware of Buckley’s bigotries from the tales told by our adoring staff members.  Buckley was particularly anti-Semitic (as well as anti minority, I gather, which I did not learn until he fought desegregation some years later).  Our principal staff member told us how Buckley had personally smashed the News presses to halt the publication of his board’s final issue.  The tradition then was that the managing editor would write the last editorial and that managing editor had been Jewish and far worse had struck up a warm relationship with Buckley’s sister.

I only saw Buckley (from a distance) in 1954, shortly before I was elected chair of the paper when my then fiancee and I as college editors attended the last gasp rally for Senator Joe McCarthy at Madison Square Garden (One Million Americans for McCarthy) which had assembled an unholy body of haters (Lisa Larson, noted life photographer was dragged out down the main aisle with the crowd chanting “Kill the Communist”  — which Ms. Larsen scarcely was).  Buckley was seated uncomfortably on the platform with an assemblage of ex-generals, elderly ladies in white tennis shoes and such and not looking particularly happy.  My wife now of 50 years, then editor of her student paper at Sarah Lawrence, and I wrote up the event, warts and all, which elicited for me an enraged letter from Buckley to the editor filled with large words for unmentionable things.  Later after I had been elected to the chair Buckley invited me to visit him at his home which I declined — he was always cruising for acolytes and picked up many a young Yalie with his charm as a person.

My indirect contact with Buckley came a bit later when I studied with his intellectual mentor, Willmore Kendall, in a political theory course that was something else. He wrote for a time for the National Review and then broke with Buckley and moved to Texas.  Kendall was brilliant and engaging.  He had been doing psychological warfare in Korea, had been a  mid Westerner who had gone to Oxford as a Rhodes in his teens, then had fallen in love with an older Communist lady, but had flipped to the far right after experiencing Franco’s Spain (may have made contact with the Buckley family there where they spent much of their vacation time and where Buckley presumably refined his near fascist personal political philosophy.  He was apparently involved with Opus Dei, the lay Catholic organization founded by an admirer of Hitler, who is now being considered for sainthood by our Hitler youth pope — so history goes.  I mention these latter elements because the Catholic world of those days was radically divided between social democrats and rabid anti-Communists.  See the latter day conclusions of the First Vatican Council which shaped this deep divide within the Church which endures to the present day:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Vatican_Council

The reactionary tendencies have driven many of my good friends out of the Church. I was trained in theology and particularly here in NYC we all shared — Protestant, Catholic, Jewish — many of the same concerns upon which we worked together.  The anomaly was the growing right wing movement that was either non religious or making its appeal to the long standing anti-intellectual elements among the evangelicals who were more determined to make war and make out big time than what we liberal religious workers saw as the humane heart and purposes of our religions.

In fairness, having launched the right wing movement, Buckley apparently moderated his early racism and bigotry mentioned above. Having initially supported the war on Iraq, I gather that he was towards the end opposed to it as a massive error and failure.

May the gods take mercy on his soul.  It must be terribly difficult to overcome an upbringing by a greedy south Texas oil man on the make and most likely nurturing mainly by hired servants.

I hope I have not done Buckley an injustice — some of the early observation are based on adoring hearsay.  I see him as having been the principal author of terrible trends which have now placed our nation in deep jeopardy — straight out of Franco’s fascist Spain.  May we beat them back into their cages and get back to being Americans once again.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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