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.