Before the 1951 publication of God & Man at Yale, conservative politics was relegated to the fringes of American life. Then William F. Buckley brought a bazooka to the knife fight, and we haven’t been the same since. Buckley was mobilized into reaction as a college senior after he was pulled from the speakers’ list at Yale Alumni Day. With his signature bravado, he chose to double down on the flamethrowing that made him liberal New Haven’s undergraduate public enemy No. 1. In collecting his views in book form, the 26-year-old Buckley displays a precocious dexterity with highbrow jousting. “If the recent Yale graduate, who exposed himself to Yale economics during his undergraduate years, exhibits enterprise, self-reliance, and independence, it is only because he has turned his back upon his teachers and texts,” he writes. After initially failing to gain popular traction, the campus screed would ultimately achieve national reach and lay the seeds for the Reagan revolution, whose standard bearer was a self-professed WFB disciple. Reading God & Man in 2011 can, however, be a rather stale exercise. But that’s only because no one in modern American political life has had his ideas repeated quite the way Buckley has. When Buckley sees “evidence of deft, left-wing manipulation” in the “machinations” of an on-campus student group, we know we are seeing the genesis of the contemporary GOP playbook.
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