William F. Buckley Jr. passed away earlier today. Almost a year ago, Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, wrote a long and thoughtful piece about the great conservative in his twilight years, with a particular focus on the Iraq war.
The war that has unhinged so many has curiously revitalized Buckley, not as the administration's most eloquent defender but as perhaps its most forceful in-house critic. Untethered to the Bush team--the only insider he knew was Donald Rumsfeld, whom Buckley suggested should consider resigning following the Abu Ghraib scandal--he is also detached from its outer ring of ideologues and flacks. He is, instead, a party of one, who thinks and writes with newfound freedom. While others, left and right, have staked out positions and then fortified them, week after week, Buckley has been thinking his way through events as they have unfolded, looking for new angles of approach, new ways of understanding, drawing on his matchless knowledge of modern conservatism and on his 50-year immersion in the American political scene. It is one of those late-period efflorescences that major figures sometimes enjoy--and, in Buckley's case, it is marked by an unexpected austerity. Like Wallace Stevens's snow man, he has developed a "mind of winter"and, as he scans the bleak vista of the Iraq disaster, "beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." And it has been instructive to observe.
Read it all here.
Also online, Johann Hari recounts his meeting with Buckley on last year's National Review cruise.