William F. Buckley, Jr. and American Conservatism

James A. Nuechterlein, Commentary, June 1988.


In 1955, when William F. Buckley, Jr. published the first issue of National Review, the conservatism that he and his journal represented stood, isolated and forlorn, at the very outer margins of intellectual and political respectability. A quarter-century later, with the election of the most conservative President since the 1920’s—and one who claimed National Review as his favorite magazine—Buckley and his conservative movement had moved to the vital center of American political culture. It was an extraordinary progression, and one that, properly understood, can tell us much of what we need to know to make sense of American politics in our time.