The Incomparable Mr. Buckley

In a world of consumer-packaged ideology, we have come to expect our political thinkers to be stupid. Sometimes, as with so many of the “thinkers” of the new right, they are rabidly stupid: dogs in heat screwing ideas. Often, particularly on the left, they are profoundly stupid: obscuring their Saharan cranial emptiness with a word-salad of progressive cant.

Imagine, if you can, ideologues of a different breed – witty, erudite, thoughtful and historically grounded. Partisans, committed to their cause, but intellectually open and willing to engage in genuine conversation with their enemies. Such creatures are few and far between in any democracy, and there have been none of importance to grace ours since William F. Buckley left the battlefields of democracy.

Even before social media, Buckley was a unicorn. An improbable freak of intellect somehow thrust into and not unmade by political fame. PBS’s American Masters pays (sorta) tribute to his unique genius in a two-hour talking head special. If you are too young to remember Bill Buckley, you will get only a distorted sense of who we was and what he was like. Yet even so you cannot miss, in myriad small glimpses, how utterly beyond today’s partisan talkers Buckley soared. (PBS)

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