William F. Buckley, Jr. Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

In an effort to achieve what William F. Buckley, Jr., called ideological egalitarianism, many authors of Cold War espionage thrillers have portrayed both Western and communist spies as equally amoral or equally heroic. In such portrayals, there is little to recommend either side. Buckley, a staunch traditionalist, viewed this moral relativism as an evil that prevents individuals from coming down squarely on the side of what is right and that does injustice to the American ideals of liberty that he spent a lifetime defending. His contribution to the genre of espionage has been to create a world of clearly defined moral alternatives, accepting and even welcoming the likelihood that opposing values will polarize those who adopt them. This perspective on moral and political values makes Buckley’s fiction an extension of his work as a conservative political philosopher.

Buckley’s craftsmanlike thrillers present antagonists who, for the most part, are not simply caricatures of evil but fully realized individuals, intelligent and credible, with traits the reader can respect and admire. Indeed, one can feel compassion for certain of these characters, even though they are always on the wrong side while the Americans are always on the right side.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

William Frank Buckley, Jr., was born into a wealthy, large Roman Catholic family. As a student at Yale, he was an outspokenly conservative debater and editor of the school paper. In 1951, he published God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” an indictment of what he saw as Yale’s anti-Christian, anticapitalistic academic atmosphere. He married Patricia Taylor in 1950; they had one son, Christopher. He worked briefly for the Central Intelligence Agency in Mexico and as associate editor of American Mercury magazine. Buckley and brother-in-law Brent Bozell wrote McCarthy and His Enemies (1954) in defense of the early stages of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attack on communists in the U.S. government. In November, 1955, Buckley and associates founded National Review, a weekly (later biweekly) journal that reflected the tenets of cultural conservatism, libertarianism, and anticommunism. The publication’s purpose was to “stand athwart history, yelling ‘Stop,’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so.” Buckley served as editor in chief until 1990. Circulation rose from 18,000 in 1957 to 54,000 in 1961 and 110,000 in 1969.

The 1960’s

In the early 1960’s, the U.S. conservative movement lacked leadership and organization, and National Review attempted to unify it without alienating mainstream Republicans, whose political support they needed. National Review refused to endorse either Dwight D. Eisenhower or Richard M. Nixon for president because of their political moderation but attacked what the magazine termed far-right “crackpottery” such as that of the John Birch Society and followers of author Ayn Rand’s atheistic self-autonomy. National Review supported southern resistance to federally mandated desegregation on the grounds of states’ rights, but it decried southern racists and uncompromising segregationists.

In September, 1960, Buckley helped found Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student group. In 1962, he began a nationally syndicated newspaper editorial column (published in 250 papers in 1969) and began to emerge as a national celebrity. Playboy magazine published Buckley’s debate with liberal novelist Norman Mailer in...

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bridges, Linda, and John R. Coyne, Jr. Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2007. Longtime employees of The National Review wrote this biography of Buckley that focuses on the magazine and its influence on conservatives.

Buckley, William F., Jr. Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches of William F. Buckley, Jr. Roseville, Calif.: Forum, 2000. Includes the text of a speech delivered October 2, 1984, about the origin of the Blackford Oakes series.

Buckley, William F., Jr. Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2004. Includes reminiscences about the origin of the Blackford Oakes series and individual titles.

Burner, David, and Thomas R. West. “William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review.” In Column Right: Conservative Journalists in the Service of Nationalism. New York: New York University Press, 1988. A serious, though hostile, examination of Buckley’s thought.

Chambers, Whittaker. Odyssey of a Friend: Whittaker Chambers’ Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr., 1954-1961. New York: Putnam, 1969. This poignant and sensitive correspondence of a former communist agent reveals much about the development of Buckley’s personal and political ideals.

Judis, John. William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Briefly describes the background of Saving the Queen and the physical appearance of Blackford Oakes, and comments on Buckley’s evenhandedness in portraying adversaries.

Markmann, Charles L. The Buckleys: A Family Examined. New York: William Morrow, 1973. The remarkably close personal and professional relationships among members of the Buckley family are discussed.

Meehan, William F., III. William F. Buckley, Jr.: A Bibliography. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2002. A 316-page bibliography of works by and about Buckley. Includes an introduction by George Nash.

Rubins, Josh. “Blackford Oakes, One Stand-Up Guy.” Review of A Very Private Plot, by William F. Buckley, Jr. The New York Times, February 6, 1994. Examines Buckley’s playful style and the challenge ofportraying historical events whose outcome is widely known.

Winchell, Mark Riyden. William F. Buckley, Jr. New York; Twayne, 1984. A guide to Buckley’s life, political philosophy, and writing.