William F. Buckley (center) with former Attorney General Ed Meese (left) and Heritage President Ed Feulner (right)

Sixty years ago this November, a recent Yale graduate published a book that outraged the distinguished university’s administration and launched a young conservative’s career. The book was God and Man at Yale. The man was William F. Buckley, Jr.

The book’s success led Buckley to found National Review in 1955, which quickly became the preeminent conservative publication in the United States. As conservative historian George Nash noted, “Without Buckley, the movement might have floundered indefinitely in its search for sophisticated leadership.” Before there was a Tea Party, Ronald Reagan, or even Barry Goldwater, there was William F. Buckley, Jr.

For those young conservatives who don’t know about modern conservatism’s intellectual godfather, here’s the scoop on William F. Buckley, Jr., who he is, and why he matters.

William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925–2008) was the Renaissance man of modern American conservatism. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of National Review, a syndicated columnist, the host of “Firing Line” (TV’s longest-running weekly public affairs program), the author of more than 50 books, and a college lecturer for nearly five decades. His mighty stream of words is almost surely unequalled by any other writer of the last 100 years.

When Bill Buckley came along, American conservatism was composed of “a congeries of ill assorted half-enemies.” Buckley purged the conservative movement of its extremist elements and united the rest by persuading traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists to focus on a common enemy—liberalism.

Buckley’s vision of ordered liberty shaped and guided modern conservatism from its infancy in the 1950s to its present-day maturity as a political force that has transformed American politics. As George Will has written, “Before there was Ronald Reagan, there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater, there was National Review, and before there was National Review, there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 became a conflagration.”

This question was reprinted from the new First Principles page at Heritage.org. For more answers to frequently asked questions check visit http://www.heritage.org/Initiatives/First-Principles/basics.