“I was very much introduced to the Catholic world through Buckley,” David Brooks says about William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review and one of the leading intellectuals of the conservative movement in the United States beginning in the mid-1950s. He recalls being in National Review’s conference room for drinks after closing the first issue he had worked on, when 15 priests—friends of Buckley—walked in and joined them. Brooks thought to himself, “I’m in the Vatican here.”
“When I grew up in New York, I grew up with a lot of Catholics,” he says. “But that usually meant rooting for Notre Dame.” Being around Buckley, who was “just a straight-up believer” who integrated faith into his life, was a new experience for Brooks.
Brooks describes William F. Buckley Jr. as a pugilist at a time when religious leaders and issues of faith were more prevalent in the public square.
Brooks describes his former boss as a pugilist at a time when religious leaders and issues of faith were more prevalent in the public square. “He was not civil for most of his career,” he says. “If you go back to his early debates, they’re savage. And even with some of the communist stuff, he wasn’t great on Joe McCarthy a lot of the time. He wasn’t great on civil rights.”
Brooks clearly respects and is grateful to Buckley for the opportunity he gave him early on, but he struggles to reconcile the pugilist with a belief system that preaches gentleness and grace. “I really hadn’t thought about how you mix the pugilism that he could do with the belief and gentleness and grace and the Lamb of God,” he says. “I don’t have words to describe that combination. It was a time, of course, when there was just so much religious thinking in the public square—Fulton Sheen, [Abraham] Heschel and [Martin] Buber. People were more comfortable with you bringing faith into the public square than they would be today.”
It certainly was not the only contradiction he experienced. He recalls that one of Buckley’s biographers unearthed a story that Brooks was being considered for the editorship of National Review until Buckley nixed the idea because he was Jewish.
Brooks says he is “not sure it’s true, but it wouldn’t offend me if it was true.” When pressed on why it would not offend him, he says: “It should intellectually. But my affection for Buckley is so high, and he was so good to me, I can’t really hold it against him. And I wouldn’t want to do the job anyway.”