A good deal of ink has been spilled in printing encomia to the recently departed William F. Buckley. In his later years, he came to positions that were somewhat in conflict with his earlier ones, but he started out as an unapologetic elitist. He was of the opinion, for instance, that insufficiently educated Southerners, both black and white, should be denied the [voting] franchise.
In the early ‘60s, I attended one of many lectures that he delivered at Syracuse University. He spoke with absolute conviction and with the elaborate diction that so delighted his many admirers on campuses around the country. His central theme was the clear need for the imposition of limitations upon the expression of beliefs that he found to be in conflict with the traditional verities he held in reverence. When he finished, he opened the floor to questions, at which point I asked him why he disagreed with Thomas Jefferson, who insisted that all opinions should be allowed to compete freely in the marketplace of ideas. Buckley’s answer was, “Look at Cuba. That’s what can happen when you allow that kind of freedom.” (It was over 40 years ago, but his answer was so astounding that it remains graven in my memory.)
If I had been allowed a response—which I was not—I would have suggested to him that Cuba under Castro’s predecessors was hardly a free marketplace for ideas.
Buckley was a brilliant advocate for a 13th-century version of social organization. The power of his advocacy is affirmed by the fact that two of our presidents publicly professed their debt to him in shaping their programs. By lending credence to notions that had long ago lost their relevancy, along with Ptolemaic astronomy, he helped to delay our coming to grips with the many ills that now assail us.
— Hal Hogstrom