Death of a Teacher:
William F. Buckley, Jr.
[A condensed version of a eulogy delivered at
Chodorov's funeral, 31 December 1966. Reprinted from Fragments,
He was born in New York, poor, the son of Russian immigrants, and he
lived in the lower West Side. He enrolled at Columbia University,
where he made the varsity football squad. He graduated, married, and
went out to make his way in commerce, "having," as he wrote,
"given up as hopeless for a Jew the ambition of becoming a
professor of English." And then, in the Thirties, his two
children grown, he began the career of teaching, quietly, studiously,
passionately, which made him friends among so many people who never
laid eyes on him.
Early in his post-graduate career, he had been drawn to Henry George,
at first because of the literary style. "Here," he once
recalled, "was something of the cameo clarity of Matthew Arnold,
a little of the parallel structure of Macaulay, the periods of Edmund
Burke." Having, for many years thereafter, cultivated what he
grew to believe was the unique social vision of George, he became the
director of the Henry George School. But in due course, there was a
falling out, and he resigned. One cannot truly understand Henry
George, he once remarked, without understanding his antipathy to
socialism. But George's most modern exegetes, he feared, were disposed
to traduce George, to put his social philosophy at the service of the
state. And it was the centralized state that Frank Chodorov was born,
and lived, to oppose.
He had a go at journalism. During those years, he had met Albert Jay
Nock. Once again, in his admiration for Nock, he could unite his
passion for prose and for a philosopher of the individual. The two of
them had a go unsuccessful -- at reviving the ancient Freeman.
He then founded a personal monthly four-page journal, analysis. I met
analysis was, for those who saw it, the testimony of a single
man against the spirit of an age which had become infatuated with the
possibilities of the central solution for the problems of society. In
analysis, the old fires burned, or rather, were kept
The sparks were struck. He accepted a post with Human Events. From
there, he went once again to the resurrected Freeman, which he
served as editor, in association with Leonard Read. He left it to free
lance, joining the staff of National Review.
And then, at the Freedom School in Colorado, he was struck down. His
daughter Grace went to him, and he was barely able, after the stroke,
to talk. But he did, in near-delirium, mention that his faith in Henry
George was whole; that Henry George, above all others, understood. She
brought him back to New York, and he recovered his powers of speech.
But he could not write again; and, as he grew worse, he could not read
- and not to write, not to read, were consignments to an insanity from
which he was saved only by his devotion to Grace and her husband
Herbert, and to his grandchildren Lisa, and Eric, and Francine. After
a while, he needed professional nursing care in the country. I saw him
there, and, puffing his fugitive pipe, he leaned over to me and said
grumpily: "You know what this place is? It's a die-in." His
eyes twinkled; but he was not amused. Forbidden cigarette-lighters
were sneaked in to him: defiance of authority; individualism to the
end! Finally, a crisis -- and a merciful death.
* * * He came to Yale to speak while I was an undergraduate. His
manner was diffident, didactic, firm, gentle. Ed Opitz, in reviewing
one of his books, remarked that he united a polemical passion with an
apparent incapacity to utter any meanness towards any one, dead or
alive. He spoke from a heart full of belief, enlightened by a mind
keen and observant and understanding. He spoke in a style resolutely
undemagogic. He thought it somehow profane, by the force of oratory,
to seduce any listener towards positions with which he wasn't,
somehow, organically oriented, "'The purpose of teaching
individualism, he wrote, "is not to make individualists but to
find them. Rather, to help them find themselves."
And so, at a relatively late age, he started the Intercollegiate
Society of Individualists, whose goal it was to undo the damage done a
half century ago by the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. I was the
ISI's first president, but I was purely a figurehead, as I was soon
reminded. In short order, I had a letter from him: "Am removing
you as president. Making myself pres. Easier to raise money if a Sew
is president. You can be V-P. Love, Frank."
And then, he started to write his wonderful books of essays, Innocent
-- and that was their strength -- of the entangling complexities of
modem life, He dealt in personal and social truisms; he did not ever
entertain the question that the world would conceivably presume to
justify the subordination of the individual.
At first infatuated with atheism, he abandoned his faith in non-faith
upon reading and re-reading Henry George. He came to believe in "transcendence."
"Even the ultra-materialistic socialists," he wrote, "in
their doctrine of historical inevitability, are guilty of
transcendentalism. Admittedly, this is a flight of the finite mind
from its own limitations; it is a search for security in an
invariable; it is mining for bedrock in the infinite." John
Chamberlain called him a mystic, and said: "His mystical
assumption is that men are born as individuals possessing inalienable
"These rights of man," his daughter Grace wrote me, "stem
from a source higher than man, and must not be violated. To him, this
As a Christian, I postulate that to day he is happy and serene in the
company of the angels and the saints and his Celia. We who have time
left to serve on earth, rejoice in the memory of our friend and
teacher, a benefactor to us all, living and unborn. May he rest
eternally in peace.