Polemics & Exchanges

Defense of Bill Buckley

It is hard to know where to begin in responding to Jack Trotter’s profile of a founding father of the modern conservative movement (“Remembering William F. Buckley, Jr.,” April/May 2020).

In discussing Buckley’s background, Trotter relies heavily on John Judis’s biography, Patron Saint of the Conservatives (1998). While Judis seems to provide an objective account, he was no impartial observer. At the time he wrote his biography, Judis was the editor of In These Times, a Trotskyist magazine based in Chicago. I read excerpts of his Buckley biography when it first appeared and concluded that it was nothing more than a hit job. A reviewer noted in Publishers Weekly, “Judis…strives to draw a balanced, objective portrait of arch-conservative Buckley, whose politics he clearly deplores.”

Let me tell you about the Bill Buckley I knew. I arrived at Georgetown University as a freshman in the fall of 1961. Buckley had been banned from speaking the year before I arrived because his views were considered “too radical.” He was finally invited to speak during my sophomore year, despite continued opposition. A leftist priest, Fr. McSorley, had gone around campus tearing down posters announcing Buckley’s upcoming appearance in the hope...

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