Buckley Legacy Project On Campus

About the Buckley Legacy Project
The Buckley Legacy Project is designed to make Buckley’s work on crucial, relevant topics accessible to our supporters, friends, and allies within the conservative movement, and, importantly, to a new generation of conservatives. Our on-campus programming is designed with a view to 2025, the centennial of William F. Buckley Jr. and a perfect opportunity to remember all of what Buckley accomplished and how it is he did so. Our goal is educate students and young Americans about this modern American Renaissance Man and why his legacy is not past, but present—how we can learn from it and use it today to meet the challenges of the moment.


Additional Resources


Firing Line Videos

1. Buckley and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra (1989)
Bill Buckley had two great loves in his life outside of his family and faith–music and sailing. Bach was his musical lotus star, music he was convinced was evidence of God’s presence. At 64, Buckley agreed to publicly perform a Bach harpsichord concerto for the first time, airing it on his PBS television show, Firing Line. Buckley would go on to do several more public harpsichord performances, including at his alma matter Yale. One critic remarked that Buckley’s willingness to train and perform difficult pieces decades into his public life was courageous.

2. Buckley and Reagan
Perhaps Bill Buckley’s most famous friendship was the one he had with President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy. The last writing project Buckley finished was his reminiscences of the friendship, called “The Reagan I Knew.” Reagan and Buckley first met in 1961 and Reagan was a early subscriber of National Reviewremarking at the 30th anniversary dinner of the magazine in December 1985 that, “You didn’t just part the Red Sea, you rolled it back, dried it up and left it exposed for all the world to see the naked desert that is statism.”

3. Firing Line 1966-1986: World Leaders
Included in this clipshow from the Hoover Institute of Firing Line are interviews by Bill Buckley of President Richard Nixon, President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Filipino President Ferdinand E. (Ferdinand Edralin) Marcos, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, President Gerald R. Ford, Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, Senator and Vice President Hubert H. (Hubert Horatio) Humphrey, and Australian Prime Minister Robert J. L. (Robert James Lee) Hawke.

4. Firing Line Debate of Buckley v. Reagan on Panama Canal Treaty (1978)
Buckley would later joke that the Panama Canal issue was great for the country, both because he supported the treaty and because Ronald Reagan’s opposition to it launched him into the presidency in 1980. Reagan first reached national prominence with his opposition to a treaty which would relinquish American control over the Panama Canal in 1976, in a speech during his nearly successful run against incumbent President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. Buckley disagreed, changing his mind after visiting the canal in 1976 and believing that the Panamanians deserve respect for their sovereignty. In 1978, Buckley held a special debate on Firing Line regarding the treaty being negotiated by the Carter administration. On Buckley’s team was longtime National Review editor James Burnham, whom Buckley called the “foremost anti-Communist strategist in the free world,” and George Will, the one-time NR Washington editor, and Admiral Elmo Zumwalt served as his military expert. On Reagan’s team was Patrick Buchanan, former assistant to Richard Nixon and future Reagan White House staffer, and Professor Roger Fontaine, an expert on Latin America, with Admiral John McCain Jr. as his military expert.

5. Buckley and Norman Mailer
Just a few years into Firing Line‘s run, Buckley proved his ability to take on the greatest thinkers on the left, inviting the novelist and liberal activist Norman Mailer onto the show. Buckley and Mailer would remain friendly over their lives, a testimony both to Buckley’s charm and capacity for friendship as well as the respect he drew from those he disagreed so vigorously with.

6. Firing Line A Potpourri of Persuaders: 1966-1986
Another clipshow courtesy of the Hoover Institution, this one includes clips from Buckley interviews of political and cultural figures including Democratic political consultant Robert Shrum, FDR clerk and Democratic Party figure Edward F. Prichard, the neoconservative writer and scholar Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Democratic Senator George S. (George Stanley) McGovern, diplomat and Republican representative Margaret Heckler, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, Democratic New York representative Allard K. Lowenstein, the diplomat and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the great novelist Tom Wolfe, journalist Jeff Greenfield, former Democratic mayoral candidate Mark J. Green, former speakers of the House of Lords Helene Middleweek Hayman, British journalist Peter Riddell, and the peerless Bach harpsichordist Rosalyn Tureck. Many were friends of Buckley, including Lowenstein, McGovern, Kissinger, Kirkpatrick, Wolfe, and Tureck, who performed many times at the Buckley residence.

Recommended Articles

1. Jay Nordlinger On Bill Buckley Attending a Baseball Game with Ira Glazer
NRI Fellow and friend of Bill Buckley Jay Nordlinger reflects on the story of Buckley, rather famously not a sports fan, and the time that Ira Glazer, the longtime head of the ACLU and sparing partner on numerous Firing Line debates, insisted that Buckley not only go to a baseball game with him, but take the New York subway–something Buckley never did but this one time.

2. Jay Nordlinger On “Bill and Bach”
Here, Jay Nordlinger covers Buckley and not only his love of music–particularly classical music and the harpsichord–but specifically, the composer he thought was above all others–Johann Sebastian Bach. On the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth, Buckley wrote that the famed science writer Carl Sagan thought that the message we should send to other civilizations in space was the “complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach….but that would be boasting.” Buckley commented that, “There are those who believe it is not merely to boast, but to be vainglorious to suggest that the movements of Bach’s pen could have been animated by less than divine impulse.”

3. Seth Lipsky on the Joy of Buckley’s Mayoral Run
In this article, long-time conservative journalist Seth Lipsky recalls Bill Buckley’s only run for political office–when he ran for mayor of New York City on the conservative party ticket, a party he helped found. Buckley’s mayoral run, as Lipsky notes, produced one of Buckley’s greatest books, The Unmaking of a Mayor, which he published the following year as a memoir of his run for mayor, his positions, and his purpose for doing so. Buckley, running especially against liberal Republican John Lindsay, managed to get 13% of the vote with a coalition of working class voters, police officers, and others harmed by the liberal policies of the city on education, crime, and taxation. Only a few years later, Bill’s older brother, James Buckley, was elected New York Senator in 1970 on the conservative ticket, a legacy of the mayoral run.

4. The Enduring Legacy of William F. Buckley Jr.
Neal B. Freeman, who was the de facto campaign manager for Bill Buckley’s run for New York City mayor in 1965 and whom later was Washington editor for National Review, writes here about the character of Buckley and the kind of friend he was to Freeman. He also writes about why people like himself and Bill Rusher, the longtime NR publisher, left prominent and promising careers to join the magazine: “Because Bill Buckley intended to change the world. We thought he just might do it. And we wanted to help.”

5. Lee Edwards: William F. Buckley Jr.: Conservative Icon | The Heritage Foundation
Lee Edwards, a biographer of Buckley, historian of the conservative movement, and a witness to some of the most important moments in the modern movement’s history–the Goldwater campaign, the Reagan presidency, the Sharon Statement–gives a article-length summary here of the significance of Buckley’s life and principles to the movement he was so key to building. As Dr. Edwards puts it here, Buckley, in his opinion, was the “St. Paul of the Conservative Movement.”

6. Daniel Oliver, former chairman of National Review: A Born Teacher | Claremont Review of Books
In this essay, Daniel Oliver, former executive editor of National Review and chairman of the NR board and FTC chairman under President Reagan, describes another key facet of the Buckley legacy–his mentorship. Over the years, Buckley mentored not just journalists at National Review, from Gary Wills to George Will to David Brooks, but made upwards of 70 to 80 visits to college campuses a year. Buckley felt that spending time around young people and the next generation was crucial and a part of one of the most important conservative principles, gratitude.

7. Bryan Gardner, “William F Buckley Jr.’s Sesquipedality,” National Review 2020
American lexicographer, legal scholar, and National Review contributor Bryan Gardner here writes on one of Buckley’s most enduring qualities and legacies–his famous diction. Buckley wrote several collections on the use of language, including “Buckley: The Right Word (The Complete Book of the Uses and Abuses of the English Language by the Contemporary Master of Vocabulary).” In it, Buckley recalled being scolded by TV host David Susskind when Buckley used the word “irenic” in a debate with Gore Vidal, asking Buckley, “Why didn’t you say serene or peaceful?” Buckley responded, “Because the other word is a better fit.”

8. Laurence Jurdem, “Reagan and His Favorite Magazine,” National Review, 2015
Jurdem, a historian of the American conservative movement, discusses the lengthy history of Reagan as reader of National Review, including while he was President, in which he would cut out his favorite pieces in the magazine and give them to aides. As he remarked in 1983, “I can assure you: NATIONAL REVIEW is to the offices of the West Wing of the White House what People magazine is to your dentist’s waiting room.” Reagan also hired numerous National Review contributors to work in the White House, from speechwriters to administrative positions.

Discussions of the Buckley Legacy

CSPAN, “Remembering William F. Buckley Jr. Ten years Later, Part I”
CSPAN, “Remembering William F. Buckley Jr. Ten years Later, Part II”

Contact Us:

Nicholas Mosvick, Buckley Legacy Project Manager (nicholas@nrinstitute.org)