William F. Buckley Jr., a major force in shaping modern American conservatism and a spirited critic of academic culture, died today at his home, at the age of 82.
Mr. Buckley’s 1951 book, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” famously condemned his alma mater for abandoning free-market and religious orthodoxies. Despite their self-proclaimed intellectual tolerance, he argued, Yale’s professors actually operated within a narrow range of liberal conventions. He called on his fellow Yale alumni to agitate for a return to the university’s core principles, which (in his account) were Christian and individualist. And he defended Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s efforts to purge Communists and other leftists from government jobs and academic positions.
The university did not respond warmly to the book. In the introduction to a 25th-anniversary edition, Mr. Buckley recalled warning Yale’s president at the time, A. Whitney Griswold, about the impending publication:A week or so later, I had a telephone call from an elderly tycoon with a huge opinion of himself…. He advised me that he knew about the manuscript and had splendid tidings for me: namely, that I could safely withdraw the book because he … had got the private assurance of President Griswold that great reforms at Yale were underway and that conservative principles were in the ascendancy, so why bother to publish a book that would merely stir things up? … I was not yet as conversant as I would quickly become with the ease with which rich and vain men are manipulated by skillful educators.
God and Man at Yale brought Mr. Buckley fame at the age of 26 and set a template for many subsequent right-wing critiques of academe, including Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) and Ross Douthat’s Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (2005).
In 1997, The Chronicle looked at Mr. Buckley’s support for Yale University Press’s Annals of Communism series. In a Chronicle essay in 2006, Mark Bauerlein echoed the complaints in God and Man at Yale about the status of conservatism in academe. And last year, we looked at the history of conservative campus activism since Mr. Buckley’s days at Yale. —David Glenn
(Video: Mr. Buckley debating U.S. foreign policy with Noam Chomsky on Firing Line in 1969.)