National Catholic Register: William F. Buckley’s Catholic Legacy
Fr. Raymond J. De Souza writes in the March 9-15 issue of National Catholic Register:
... in the avalanche of commentary that marked Buckley’s death, perhaps the most striking was the judgment of papal biographer George Weigel: “Bill Buckley may have been the most publicly influential U.S. Catholic of the 20th century; he would certainly be on any serious list of the top five.”(emphasis and editorial commentary added)
Indeed, while he was eulogized as the father of the modern conservative movement, the intellectual architect of the rise of Ronald Reagan, and consequently the most influential journalist of his generation, Buckley was the dominant figure of his time in shaping the Catholic contribution to American public life.
That contribution was twofold. First, Buckley’s political philosophy was grounded in the defense and celebration of human liberty: “Without freedom, there is no true humanity.”
While libertarian, he was no libertine, understanding that human freedom was a divine gift granted for a purpose — creativity, enterprise, industry, art and virtue. While he did not argue in the theological mode, his writings were born from his deeply Catholic thinking about human dignity, liberty, justice and the common good.
When the Second Vatican Council embraced fully the human rights agenda, including religious liberty, Buckley was well situated to propose a political philosophy that, while not mandatory for Catholics, was certainly compatible with Catholic teaching. Given the tendency of American Catholic thinking to more progressive causes and associating with the Democratic Party, Buckley blazed a new political and cultural trail: the Catholic conservative. [ED.: Which is why WFB is so hated on the Catholic left, and why, even on the day of his death, left-liberal Catholic detractors went into full "shape the debate on his legacy" mode.]
The political phenomenon of the Reagan Democrats and the migration of Catholic voters to the Republican Party — especially practicing Catholics — is a Buckley effect, and hugely important in recent American politics.
Almost all of what could be considered Catholic conservative thought — First Things, Crisis (now InsideCatholic.com), Human Life Review, Ethics & Public Policy Center, The Acton Institute, Faith & Reason Institute, EWTN and a variety of others — are flourishing in ground first plowed by Buckley.
His second key Catholic contribution was in making mainstream American conservatism pro-life. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, abortion politics were in transition.
The Democratic Party with its heavily Irish Catholic leadership was generally on the side of life — but moving rapidly toward embracing the abortion license. The elite Republican Party of Eisenhower and Rockefeller was generally in favor of abortion liberalization (Reagan himself signed such a law as governor of California).
It is generally conceded that without the steadfastness of the Catholic Church in the 1970s there would be no pro-life movement. It is likely that if Buckley had not been staunchly pro-life himself, the ascendant Republican majority may well have equivocated on the question of abortion.
Some Catholics have accused him of theological dissent on various issues over the years.
He was not unusual, for example, in questioning the Church’s teaching on contraception, noting that the vast majority of Catholics in the United States simply ignored it. Yet, in the end, he took the Catholic view on how to resolve such issues: “The answer, for a Catholic, has got to be: the position taken by the Pope, as spokesman for the magisterium.”
He may not be convinced, but accepts. The Catholic cannot be asked to do more.
[Read the whole thing]
Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
William F. Buckley, Jr., and "Mater Si, Magistra No"
William F. Buckley (1925-2008) - RIP