Bill Buckley had that essential (but rare) element of leadership that involves energizing others. Like few other men I have known, his very presence charged up the atmosphere, got brain cells working that you hadn’t known you’d had before, and inspired you to projects you hadn’t imagined possible. The languid manner masked the reality of a man: This was a high-energy character whose almost ridiculously high level of juice didn’t exhaust others but rather energized them.
His leadership also involved another infrequently encountered but essential skill, especially when leading a community of ideas and argument: He could ask just the right question that would get you to the nub of an issue, make you think about something differently, or cause you to imagine that you just might be, er, wrong. Given this talent, he would have been a fabulous classroom teacher; but he chose another way of being an educator, and America was changed for the better because of that decision.
I’m in Rome at the moment, in a culture where lethargy is more often encountered than high-octane energy; but perhaps because I’m writing this a few blocks from the bones of St. Peter, it now occurs to me that Bill’s energy was in an important sense nurtured by his Catholic faith. The time he consciously made for recharging his spiritual batteries — for being with the Lord — had effects, I suspect, throughout his life. Anyone who imagines that Catholic doctrine and ritual dull the senses and retard one’s imaginative faculties never conjured with Bill Buckley’s convictions and their effects on his life. He was no theologian, but he knew the faith of the Church and it shaped his life, his thought, and his often-remarked-upon quiet generosity.
May his energetic commitment to the permanent things continue to inspire his beloved country, and may his intercession at the Throne of Grace aid his Church in perilous times.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.