I bring all this up because it is important to get this history right. The reason it’s important is simple: The conservative movement is fracturing. Many conservatives are looking to the past to provide an anchor, for something to hold onto in the midst of the storm. “Today, conservatism is soiled by scowling primitives whose irritable gestures lack mental ingredients,” says Will. “The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” writes Michael Gerson. Buckley is held up as someone to mirror, the ideal to pursue. A slew of recent books examine his life and writing. The founder of American Affairs “noted wryly” to Politico that he is “‘coincidentally'” the same age as Buckley when he founded National Review. “Two eras in conservative journalism in this country: The Buckley era and the Ailes era,” Ross Douthat tweeted. “May the next one be more like the first.”
But nostalgia, including for conservative intellectuals, carries dangers. There is the risk of simplifying the past to condemn the present, the risk of pretending our problems are no different than those of a bygone era. Who wouldn’t prefer a conservatism of wit, erudition, eloquence, and panache? Nevertheless, there won’t be another William F. Buckley Jr. His conservatism, and his America, no longer exists.