William F. Buckley in 2004William F. Buckley, author, columnist, TV talk show host, and founding editor of National Review magazine, died today at age 82.

Buckley was one of the people most responsible for making the conservative movement a powerful force in the United States during the past six decades.

Especially through his influential magazine, Buckley set the agenda for the American right and made it appealing to a mass audience. His editorial approach and political philosophy combined to create an ecumenism on the right that allowed the various factions to work together, although the relationships have always been strained to some degree. However, his stolid opposition to statism in all of its forms provided a rallying cry for the American right and continues to do so.

Although his demeanor was anachronistically aristocratic, Buckley made conservatism less stuffy and more open to innovative thinking, often describing himself as a libertarian. In fact, he was probably a classical liberal at heart.

Many on the right see Buckley’s influence as having been ultimately deleterious in making way for neoconservatism, which they see as merely modern liberalism done incrementally—which is a fairly accurate assessment of that faction. The growth of a political and social movement, however, always involves some compromises and dilution, and the fact that the modern right has stumbled in recent years shows how important Buckley’s synthesizing role was in previous decades.

History will show that William F. Buckley was central in reviving conservatism and the American right from its awful post-World War II doldrums. The movement still lacks a standard-bearer of his stature.