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The Home Equity Partnership We All Make Mistakes

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Bill Buckley's Conservative Family

by Christopher Chantrill
March 07, 2008 at 3:07 am


IT’S a pity that great conservatives have to die for us to find out how remarkable they were. We learn, now that he is dead at age 82, that William F. Buckley, Jr. was the best friend in the world.

He was a man of astonishing work habits, productively busy every waking hour. Yet he was a man who would sit down with you and be genuinely interested in what you had to say. He sent notes to people all the time, was extraordinarily generous, and throughout his life constantly encouraged conservative writing talent.

The best story last week belonged to New York Times columnist David Brooks.

When I was in college, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a book called “Overdrive” in which he described his glamorous lifestyle. Since I was young and a smart-aleck, I wrote a parody of it for the school paper.

Buckley, he wrote, “spent most of his infancy working on his memoirs.” And so on.

So when William F. Buckley came to give a speech at Brooks’s college he announced: “David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I’d like to offer you a job.” It turned out to be David Brooks’s big break.

People think of Bill Buckley as the acerbic host of Firing Line, the writer who wielded a pen like a rapier. But if we are to believe his eulogists, the most important talent of this conservative warrior was the feminine virtue of looking after the family. He kept in contact with people. He gave them presents. He encouraged the young. And when he sat down for a conversation he really listened—as only women do.

We live today in a great age of liberalism, when women are encouraged to behave like men, pursue brilliant careers, sleep around, live public lives, and liberate themselves from the dead weight of children and domesticity.

Meanwhile America’s Mr. Conservative lived a life whose great edifice is a far-flung conservative family that he birthed and reared by cultivating the feminine virtues.

It is in families, of course, that social mores are established and refined. Tocqueville holds in Democracy in America that religion “reigns supreme in the souls of the women, and it is women who shape mores.”

There have never been free societies without mores, and... it is woman who shapes these mores.

Mores are the private virtues of the face-to-face society, such as obtain under the direction of women in families, churches, and associations. These mores often constitute, as Lee Harris writes in The Suicide of Reason, a “shaming code,” an instinctive code that children take with their mother’s milk and internalize so completely that when they violate its precepts in adulthood they unconsciously blush with shame.

There is no better example of a shaming code in operation that the pivotal moment in Pride and Prejudice when Miss Elizabeth Bennet refuses, with prejudice, the offer of marriage made by the very rich and proud Mr. Darcy. Months later, when Darcy had reformed his manners and won Lizzie’s heart he could talk to her about how she had shaped his mores.

The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners... has been many months inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: “had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.”

Our liberal friends, of course, have based their political and cultural movement upon the destruction of these bourgeois mores. They talked about organized religions as systems of social control that denied them their freedom, and determined to liberate themselves from the control of religion and mores and to live lives of self-discovery. The feminist revolution was a movement to apply these notions to women’s lives. Here is how British Conservative Danny Kruger describes the liberal way:

Liberalism is the philosophy of the individual. Its ethic is liberty and its characteristic is autonomy — the freedom of the will from external constraint. It says ’I shall…’

The upshot has been a blizzard of laws to control behavior that once was controlled with a much lighter hand by mores. Most pernicious has been the criminalization of anti-social behavior in government schools and universities.

The life of William F. Buckley was a witness against this folly. You may say that he lived his life in the truth of Danny Kruger’s definition of conservatism:

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ’we should…’

As the great generation of conservatives passes onwards to its eternal rest we are constantly reminded that its great men were not just great but good, not just great political and intellectual leaders but good husbands and friends.

We may ask why this should have been so. But that is the great mystery of the universe: Why?

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Socialism equals Animism

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F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values

Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit

Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

Physics, Religion, and Psychology

Paul Dirac: “When I was talking with Lemaître about [the expanding universe] and feeling stimulated by the grandeur of the picture that he has given us, I told him that I thought cosmology was the branch of science that lies closest to religion. However [Georges] Lemaître [Catholic priest, physicist, and inventor of the Big Bang Theory] did not agree with me. After thinking it over he suggested psychology as lying closest to religion.”
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David Martin, On Secularization

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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