Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. - May He Rest in Peace

(1925 – 2008)

With the passing of a cultural icon such as William F. Buckley, Jr., there will be the appropriate tributes and acknowledgment of his contribution, not just to the American political scene, but also to the American culture at large. But it is especially appropriate to address is very strong pro-life stand, not just because he was a practicing Catholic (as we see many Catholics in politics today who publicly dissent from the Church’s teaching on the subject), but because he addressed the issue as a universal moral concern for human rights. As he wrote almost four years ago to the day on February 25, 2004 in National Review Online in his criticism of John Kerry’s position on abortion,

“It is true that the Catholic Church as an institution is the most visible opponent of routinized abortion. But its opposition to the practice is not based on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is based on the proposition that human beings are human beings even if they have not yet been born. Those who are helpless are, it is all but universally held in America, to be protected. The one-day-old child is protected with the full force of the law. The proposition that he is without rights when he is minus one day old is nothing more than a social convention conflating various concerns. One is for the mental health of the mother, one for the perceived satisfaction of the mother, another for the national birthrate, and still another for the unspoken hope that we'll have fewer black and Hispanic births.” (emphasis added)

Buckley was staunchly pro-life and castigated against the politicians and judges who believed that they could deny the right to life to the unborn. His brother can for the U.S. Senate and introduced the Buckley Human Life Amendment. He encouraged people to make a difference, but asked that they do so with logic and common sense.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting WFB when I was a college student at the University of San Diego in 1974. As a part of the Speakers Bureau, we had arranged for a debate that was held in the Camino Hall theatre between Buckley and the major of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto. Needless to say, Mr. Buckley embarrassed the major and entertained the packed house of college students. He was witty and at the same time could use words to slice and dice and opponent. It was not my first meeting of an important political figure, but having watched him on his show Firing Line, I must recall be very impressed over all with his normalcy.

As I was learning how to discuss the issues of abortion, I remember his approach was always to address the reason of the argument and to avoid the emotional rants that often inflict themselves in a debate. I would use for example the notion that there really was not a debate about the humanity of the child because the science had conclusively proved the point. The only thing up for debate was whether one should be able to kill innocent children because they lived in the womb and had not been born. This approach did not sit well with my law professors or fellow law students who did not share my enthusiasm for using science to prove my point. But WFB gave young pro-life lawyers bent on making a difference encouragement by his columns and his life. For that I am appreciative. I also think that his interviews with Malcolm Muggeridge provided us with a salient example of defending Christianity and specifically Catholicism during a time (and it has not ceased) when the Church and her defenders were under attack. For a young man discerning that which was true and not in a college and later legal environment, such conversations were very helpful.

So it is that every life can add to the betterment of the world and her people. We need only realize the gifts which God has given us and then decide to share them with those around us.


At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My impression has always been that Mr. Buckley's brother you mentioned, former pro-life New York Senator (imagine that today!) James, was actually the one who led his better-known sibling to a stronger pro-life position, as evidenced by the 2004 essay you quote. Certainly, throughout the 1970's (including James' nightmarishly protentious re-election defeat in 1976 by pro-abortion "Catholic" Daniel P. Moynihan) and into the 1980's, William's columns that I remember reading were ambiguous on the subject of legal abortion-on-demand, such as once declaring that since abortion does not "typically" carry the sort of malice aforethought required of "crimes" that this undeniably lethal act should therefore not be considered on any sort of par with homicide, or stating that Nelson Rockefeller "Might Have Made A Great President" when the pro-abortion pioneer / former NY Governor died.

I have long wished that James Buckely (to my knowledge, still a sitting federal judge) would receive the level of pro-life recognition that the late Henry Hyde always has, and Christopher Smith now deservedly enjoys....

(Your mention of the ultra-great Malcolm Muggeridge, as well as the closing statement about our responsibilities as believers and citizens to apply ourselves to bettering our society and protecting our fellow citizens were also very welcome.)

John K. Walker

At 4:05 PM, Blogger John J. Jakubczyk said...

It is true that WFB's rather lengthy way of discussing the abortion issue could give one the impression that he was not a strong opponent of the procedure, but the way he would take apart his adversary Harriet Pippel, a pro-abortion lawyer who represented NARAL and the abortion lobby on his show Firing Line would disabuse you of the notion.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm sure that was true (although there are other problems I could cite, and from a pro-life perspective I personally will always admire his brother far more than I will him), and provision certainly must also be made both for the "intellectual" nature of the debates on "Firing Line" and of the extremely hostile milieu in which he was (successfully) operating, but the problem then (the 1970's) was one of horrific timing. In short, the rule of thumb on the abortion issue has always been, and should have been recognized by such brilliant thinkers as Mr. Buckley, that "as long as there is confusion, they win." In this regard, the indispensable book ARTICLES OF FAITH -- a copy of which I donated a couple of years ago to your library -- quotes Dr. Gerster relating back to her tenure as NRLC President as to the horror she felt in the years after ROE that people "were getting used to 'this'" (absolutely legal abortion-on-demand as an ersatz "constitutional" right). Giving the impression as WFB did (as has also his best known National Review conservative protege, George Will) that, although regrettable, abortion is such a supposedly "complex" matter just played into the strategy that the pro-abortion pioneers (such as Pippel, Laurence Lader, and of course his partner Dr. Nathanson, who, as you know perfectly well, revealed all of this after his conversion) successfully used to obfuscate the issue into the public's eventual submission.

Inadvertently, but nonetheless tragically, this intellectual and moral confusion also fell into the conservative movement's cry then to "get government off our backs" --another point of exploitation for the infanticide side (e.g. NARAL's "Who Decides?" campaign). I hope, but am not optimistic, that Buckley's to-be posthumously published biography of his hero Barry Goldwater is not an apology for the late AZ Senator's militant pro-abortionism (especially pushing O'Connor for the SCOTUS) on "libertarian" grounds, as the otherwise staunchly pro-life Cal Thomas hypocritically did when Mr. Goldwater died in 1998. (I greatly admired your courageously truthful expose last year of Senator Goldwater's slimy double-cross of the pro-life movement in this state in order to save his seat in 1980.)

I also want to clearly differentiate this inevitably ineffective pseudo-intellectual approach (not that it was ever designed to actually change anything) with the truly noble, intuitively sensible, but ultimately doomed attempt back then by the early pro-life leadership (especially Dr. Willke) to appeal (especially before ROE) to people's innate decency by simply and accurately showing them the bloody and lethal nature of birth-control abortion, in the expectation and reasonable hope that Americans would respond as "civilized" people would. It may not occur until the end of humanity's time on Earth, but the tens of millions (undoubtedly to continue to precipitously increase) of victims of this miscalculation will someday stand as terrible testament as to our nature as fundamentally selfish beings.

(Very sorry for getting so pathetically "philosophical"....)

John K. Walker

At 2:37 PM, Blogger John J. Jakubczyk said...

John, This remains a major concern of mine even today, that so many people do not treat the issue as "urgent" or crucial. WE oppose abortion. We act to stop it but we do not give it the high level attention that it requires. Even I am guilty of it. Yet the other side is relentless. It can be frustrating. Yet we cannot despair.
I recall how Dr. Gerster gave it her all during those early days and how her advice was unheeded. Now thirty five years later too many of our side have "gotten use to it" and do not have the fire in the belly to oppose abortion. Still we have kept it from becoming acceptable and most of the medical community still avoids it like the plague. The next generation does not approach the subject like their feminist mothers and actually respond to the new technologies that reveal the humanity of the child. Unfortunately the moral perimeters have been compromised thus enforcing the current nihilistic milieu.
Still we must act with the knowledge that God will ultimately use our efforts for the greater good. We must also rely on Him because without Him, we can do nothing. So ora et labora.


Post a Comment

<< Home