“I thought it beautiful and inspiring that he was open to, eager for, friendships from all sides, that even though he cared passionately about political questions, politics was not all, cannot be all, that people can be liked for their essence, for their humor and good nature and intelligence, for their attitude toward life itself. He and his wife, Pat, were friends with lefties and righties, from National Review to the Paris Review. It was moving too that his interests were so broad, that he could go from an appreciation of the metaphors of Norman Mailer to essays on classical music to an extended debate with his beloved friend the actor David Niven on the best brands of peanut butters. When I saw him last he was in a conversation with the historian Paul Johnson on the relative merits of the work of the artist Raeburn.
“His broad-gaugedness, his refusal to be limited, seemed to me a reflection in part of a central conservative tenet, as famously expressed by Samuel Johnson. ‘How small of all that human hearts endure / That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.’ When you have it right about laws and kings, and what life is, then your politics become grounded in the facts of life. And once they are grounded, you don't have to hold to them so desperately. You can relax and have fun. Just because you're serious doesn't mean you're grim.”
There are numerous other tributes, and they aren't hard to find. And one comes to the conclusion that William F. Buckley was a good man, in a very full sense. Of course, he was wrong about various things at various times, and sometimes dreadfully so — one tactless writer at Slate dug up an old column that Buckley wrote in support of segregationists — but, of course, nobody really begins as a good person. We have to grow into it, subjecting our impulses and opinions to something outside of ourselves. For Buckley, it seems that his Catholicism turned his mind towards higher things.
Not that religion is the only thing that can do this; ordinary compassion can point you in the right direction. But once one's transcendental (non-selfish) orientation gives that direction, what guarantees the ability to move in a new direction? The grace of a savior, as Mr. Buckley might have reminded us.
I'll leave off with one more passage, from Joe Sobran via Rod Dreher:
“Over the years I came to know another side of Bill. When I had serious troubles, he was a generous friend who did everything he could to help me without being asked. And I wasn’t the only one. I gradually learned of many others he’d quietly rescued from adversity. He’d supported a once-noted libertarian in his destitute old age, when others had forgotten him… I once spent a long evening with one of Bill’s old friends from Yale, whose name I won’t mention. He told me movingly how Bill stayed with him to comfort him when his little girl died of brain cancer. If Bill was your friend, he’d share your suffering when others just couldn’t bear to. What a great heart — eager to spread joy, and ready to share grief!
“Compared with all this, the political differences that finally drove us apart seem trivial now. I saw the same graciousness in his relations with everyone from presidents to menials. I learned a lot of things from Bill Buckley, but the best thing he taught me was how to be a Christian. May Jesus comfort him now.”