“There were giants in the earth in those days.” The death on December 19 of Robert Bork—superb legal scholar, preeminent constitutional thinker, principled public servant—calls to mind the other giants of American conservatism who have left us in the last decade: Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol, Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson, Richard John Neuhaus and Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. They were the greatest conservative generation. They rode into the valley of liberal orthodoxies and emerged sometimes triumphant, always unbowed. When can their glory fade? They left our nation stronger and better for their efforts.
Those who knew them do their best to carry on the fight. Inspired by their example and effort, by their boldness and wisdom, remembering the uphill struggles of the early years, they do their best to keep the banner aloft and moving forward. But what of the next generation?
It’s been almost 60 years since Bill Buckley and his colleagues founded National Review, standing “athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Those of us concerned with the perpetuation and success of American conservatism might consider what Abraham Lincoln said a little more than 60 years after the American Revolution, on January 27, 1838, at the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois.