WFB was a frequent visitor to Hillsdale, which does so much to preserve our patrimony.
By Thomas Novelly — February 27, 2016
In 2004, William F. Buckley Jr. sent Hillsdale College thousands of the columns, speeches, and articles he had written over the years. The founder of National Review donated much of his life’s work to the college for an online database. Today, anyone can access his writings free of charge.
An injury prevented him from attending the unveiling ceremony, but he recorded his remarks for the gala dinner. “Thanks to Hillsdale College, it is all here, a lifetime’s work,” Buckley said. “Necessarily, you will find infelicities here, and maybe a deviation or two, but it is all an earnest attempt to contribute to the patrimony, preserved here thanks to Hillsdale.”
Now it’s time to preserve Buckley’s legacy in something more prominent than pixels. Hillsdale College — where am a student — should commission a statue in his honor.
We’re known at Hillsdale for our campus statues, on what the college calls the Liberty Walk. We have statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. We have a statue of a Civil War soldier representing Hillsdale College students who fought in that conflict, and another of Abraham Lincoln. In May, when the class of 2016 graduates, we’ll put up a statue of Frederick Douglass.
We also have a statue of Ronald Reagan, the only statue of Margaret Thatcher in the Western Hemisphere, and a statue of Winston Churchill, holding a cigar in his right hand.
Buckley would be a fitting addition to this group, to commemorate his devotion to America, his dedication to young people, and his love for Hillsdale College.
Buckley understood the importance of higher education. In his first book, God and Man at Yale, he criticized his alma mater for neglecting its mission. “I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world,” he wrote. “I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.”
That book launched his career, but he didn’t have to pick that fight or any of the others he would take on as he founded National Review, fought for the nomination of Barry Goldwater, ran for mayor of New York City, started Firing Line, and promoted Ronald Reagan. “Buckley could have been the playboy of the Western world,” historian Lee Edwards said in the new documentary The Best of Enemies, “but chose instead to be the Saint Paul of the conservative movement.”
President Reagan, the guest of honor at the magazine’s 30th anniversary party in 1985, told Buckley and his NR colleagues, “You gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”
Novelly with the Ronald Reagan statue at Hillsdale College
A statue of Buckley would also salute his impact on young people. In 1960, Buckley invited a group of young activists to his family home in Sharon, Conn., to write down a set of principles. The Sharon Statement, as it was called, begins with words that can still inspire: “We, as young conservatives, believe that foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force.”
The Sharon Statement became the founding document of the Young Americans for Freedom. Today, it’s required reading at Hillsdale College. It’s in American Heritage: A Reader, a special compilation of primary documents assembled by our faculty and published for a core course on American history. This big anthology starts with the Mayflower Compact and ends with Reagan’s first inaugural address in 1981 and his speech to the British Parliament in 1982. In between, students encounter the Sharon Statement.
Buckley visited Hillsdale College many times. “Hillsdale is one of the truly exciting liberal-arts colleges in America,” Buckley said in a speech at the college in 1980. “It’s vibrant with a genuine enthusiasm for learning.” In 1996, the college gave him its Adam Smith Award for his dedication to conservative principles and his embodiment of Hillsdale’s values.
When Hillsdale sought a new president in 1999, Buckley formed a special committee to find the perfect fit. The next year, Buckley’s committee selected the college’s current president, Dr. Larry Arnn, one of the founders of the Claremont Institute. “Buckley was a friend of mine for at least two decades,” Arnn said. “He spoke at my inauguration.”
Hillsdale’s statues pay homage to great individuals and great visions. The addition of a statue of Buckley would honor his service to both modern conservatism and a school whose mission he personally embodied and publicly promoted.
When Buckley died, eight years ago today, President George W. Bush honored him. “Bill Buckley was one of the great founders of the modern conservative movement,” said Bush. “He brought conservative thought into the political mainstream, and helped lay the intellectual foundation for the conservative movement that continues to this day.”
The mission statement of National Review, which Buckley wrote, is well known: National Review, it proclaims, “stands athwart history yelling Stop.” A statue of Buckley on the grounds of a college he loved would send a message to the world — that Buckley’s ideas remain very much alive, forever standing athwart history.
— Thomas Novelly is a junior at Hillsdale College, where he serves as assistant city news editor of The Collegian, the campus newspaper.