William F. Buckley, Jr. in Foreign Eyes

William F. Buckley, Jr. died on Wednesday morning (EST), discovered as deceased by his writing desk in his Stamford, CT home by his cook. There’s no doubt that this marked the passing of a notable man, and there immediately followed the appropriate deluge of eulogies and appreciations from both the American Left and Right.

But what about beyond the borders? What, if anything, did Buckley mean to foreigners? You’d have to think that the sophistication of his speech, especially his vocabulary, made his writings and especially his Firing Line television program rather hard for the non-native-English speaker to digest. And God help any such person who appeared on Firing Line, at least any who had to face Buckley before the TV cameras without accompanying guests present to help carry any argument and take off some of the rhetorical heat. Being there one-and-one with Buckley would be like being in a duel, with your pea-shooter against the other guy’s submachine-gun.

(It’s interesting to scroll through the database of Firing Line shows maintained on-line by the Hoover Institution, but then also somewhat difficult to find any foreigners that might have appeared on the show – the list just gives each of the many programs’ title and you have to click through each link individually to see the list of guests. I did find a very interesting-sounding episode of June 25, 1990, on “A United Germany: Anything to Worry about?” – taped on-location in the Reichstag, no less. That show had the German politician Friedbert Pflüger on, but together with four other American guests, including Henry Kissinger and William Simon. Still, from the Wikipedia biography of Pflüger that I linked to there, it seems he earned an M.A. at Harvard . . .)

Finally, though, after about a day or two foreign reaction to Buckley’s death is starting to trickle in. There is, for example, Le Monde diplomatique’s piece, simply entitled Decease of William F. Buckley. Now, you have to understand that, first of all, these are the French, and secondly, Le Monde diplomatique is itself somewhat reliably on the left of the French political spectrum. So you can’t really speculate that Buckley ever reallly saw eye-to-eye with the attitudes held by Le Monde diplomatique’s editors, or vice-versa. Indeed, the article is considerably more friendly to Buckley in his later career than in his earlier. Terming him right out of the starting-block as “one of the principal thinkers and militants of the American Right,” the article goes on to point out his support as a young man for Joseph McCarthy (“at the moment when the witch-hunt was claiming its first victims”) and Francisco Franco, and his close relationship later on with Ronald Reagan, with whom he shared a belief in the “Evil Empire” of Communism. But relations with George W. Bush were somewhat less cordial, given the grave doubts Buckley came to express on the subject of Iraq. He also seemed uncomfortable with what the editors term “the religious and diplomatic extremism of fellow conservatives Norman Podhoretz or Bernard Lewis.”

All that I (or, really, my RSS reader) can find at this point other than that is a contribution (William F. Buckley Has Left – as in “left the building,” I suppose) from the Czech newspaper Právo. Interestingly, Právo used to be known as Rudé Právo (“Red Justice”) and prior to around 1990 or so it was literally the newspaper organ of the Czechoslovak Communist Party – the Czech Pravda, if you will. But it’s not that anymore, it’s just a somewhat left-of-center daily trying to survive on the Czech newspaper scene, and its brief treatment of Buckley’s death is basically matter-of-fact – no name-calling like “militant of the American Right” – although rather disproportional mention is made of the spy novels he wrote, featuring CIA agent Blackford Oakes.

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