Conservative Thought-Leader, National Service Champion Dies

Posted by Zach Maurin on February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley Jr., credited with leading the rise of conservatism in post-WWII America and founder of the conservative “National Review” magazine, died today.  Lesser known, he was also a champion of National Service, authoring Gratitude:  Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country — a book dedicated to the subject.

I’m about half way through it.  It’s a really fantastic read that follows the experience of a young man (Robert Ely) who enrolled in a national service program.  Consistent with his commentary and writing, Buckley delves into some pretty philosophical/intellectual arguments for expanding national service opportunities (a good thing).  For anyone interested in a) better understanding why national service should be universal; or b) looking for some poignant arguments for their own discussions you should pick up this “slender volume” (as he calls it).  I disagree with parts of his plan for universal service, but all of it is interesting.

One of my favorite passages from the book are the last two sentences of the introduction:

“Materialistic democracy beckons every man to make himself a king; republican citizenship incites every man to be a knight.  National service, like gravity, is something we could accustom ourselves to, and grow to love.”

Buckley obviously knew that his plan for universal voluntary service would go against some fellow conservatives.  He writes on the back of Gratitude: “The points I raise will disturb some “conservative” presumptions as also some commonly thought of as “liberal.”  I have, in any event, the obligation to explore the social meaning of duty.”

When Gratitude was published in 1990, Ted Sorensen — former special counsel to JFK — wrote an interesting review.  Here’s an excerpt:

“John F. Kennedy summoning young Americans to the New Frontier was rarely more eloquent than Mr. Buckley articulating every citizen’s obligation to ask what he can do for his country as requital for liberties inherited and protected. In part, Mr. Buckley supports national service, as President Kennedy did the Peace Corps, out of a conviction that the increased awareness of those who subscribe will be of even greater value to our country than the services they provide.”

Interesting stuff.  Good book (at least the first half).  Cheers to non-partisanship!


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