Gratitude (Magill Book Reviews)
William Buckley is best known as an advocate of conservatism. The founder and editor of NATIONAL REVIEW, Buckley has, since the 1950’s, achieved widespread recognition through his many books and essays. GRATITUDE differs from his earlier work in that it cannot easily be classified as conservative. Its proposal of national service cuts across the conventional political dichotomy of left and right.
Buckley suggests that citizens of the United States ought to feel a debt of gratitude toward their country. This debt can best be discharged by volunteer service at a young age in work of a charitable sort. The service might include working in old-age homes, assisting the handicapped, repairing worn-out books in libraries, and working as teachers’ aides in impoverished school districts.
Such work, Buckley emphasizes, does more than provide service to the needy and discharge a social debt. In addition, national service leads to an enhanced sense of civic pride. The young men and women who engage in it will find their altruistic impulses aroused: They will also learn about aspects of life that they are unlikely otherwise to encounter. They will come to realize that there is more to life than self-indulgence.
Many conservatives, among others, are deeply suspicious of calls for service to the state, seeing in such appeals the threat of totalitarianism. Libertarians such as the economist Milton Friedman have been especially quick to...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
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Gratitude (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country will surprise readers familiar with the career of William F Buckley, Jr. His arguments in support of national service radically contrast with the views for which he has achieved wide recognition. Buckley began his political life as a classical liberal or libertarian. He thought that the functions of the state ought to be reduced to the minimum compatible with an ordered society. Gratitude, by contrast, portrays Buckley as sharply opposed to libertarianism.
Buckley sprang to public attention in 1951, when his God and Man at Yale was published. In that book, he denounced Yale University for the bias against capitalism he had encountered among its faculty. Buckley ardently favored free enterprise and disapproved of the New and Fair Deals. The outlook he favored encompassed an entire philosophy of political life.
Under the tutelage of Frank Chodorov, a prominent conservative publicist, Buckley embraced libertarianism. This doctrine places supreme emphasis on the individual and his rights. The state is viewed as a necessary evil, which should be rigidly confined to the night watchman tasks of law enforcement, justice, and defense. Libertarians oppose national service: They think that self-sacrificing service to the state is to be shunned rather than pursued.
Buckley soon abandoned the pure libertarian position. To defeat the forces of world Communism, it was...
(The entire section is 2050 words.)