Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

Miles Gone By by William F. Buckley, Jr.

- Abstract

William F. Buckley, Jr. retired, sort of, on June 29 of this year. He gave up his controlling shares in National Review, the conservative magazine he founded in 1955. This watershed event, disguised as a minor financial transaction, has inexorably led to efforts by others to evaluate the meaning of Buckley’s 55 years onstage in the world of ideas, and especially to assay the nature and extent of his influence on the political landscape. An interesting question—and ideal topic for intercollegiate debate—is whether the conservative movement would look substantially different today if Buckley had chosen to live as a playboy, which he could easily have done.

Buckley’s latest book does not address this question. Rather, it serves up an illuminating report on the events and people who shaped his life. Not exactly an autobiography, Miles Gone By is essentially an anthology—a collection of writings and pronouncements that, one way or another, offer glimpses of Buckley at work and at play from childhood (we come in on him at around age twelve) through yesterday. In order to do this he has stitched together some 60 or so articles, book reviews, columns, reminiscences, excerpts from books, the transcript of a 1978 Firing Line debate with Ronald Reagan over whether to give up the Panama Canal (Buckley argued the affirmative), and even a fragment from one of his novels that is said to “depict pretty exactly” some vignettes from his army years, including a scene in which the Buckley character loses his virginity in Phenix City, Alabama.

About the Author

Dan Seligman is a contributing editor of Forbes.