Overdrive Critical Context - Essay

William F. Buckley Jr.

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Overdrive and the critical reaction to it helped to bring about a quasi canonization of Buckley as the “Patron Saint of the Conservatives” (as John B. Judis aptly, if sarcastically, subtitled his 1988 biography of him). Buckley’s first book, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (1951), indicated both his political and religious concerns. Nevertheless, the political side predominated in Buckley’s subsequent writing, particularly his newspaper column On the Right, and culminated in his unsuccessful run for the mayoralty of New York City in 1965. A closer association between religion and politics reemerged from the 1970’s onward.

An inadvertent support for Buckley’s “canonization” was provided in a review of Overdrive by John Gregory Dunne, who saw the chief flaw of the work as its failure to address life’s stigmata—that is, the “alcoholism, drug addiction, pederasty, pedophilia”—that infected Buckley’s cast of characters, yet “not a hint of which darkens Mr. Buckley’s journal.” The result, for Dunne, is “a truly alarming vision of a life without shadows.” The critic introduced a parodic bit of religious imagery, calling Buckley’s world “a city of God from which Mr. Buckley dispenses his patronage as if it were sanctifying grace.”

By contrast, Buckley’s partisan apologist, Forrest McDonald, raising a lone voice against the anti-Buckley...

(The entire section is 492 words.)