Happy Days Were Here Again

Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist


By William F. Buckley

Edited by Patricia Bozell

Formats and Prices




$16.99 CAD




ebook $12.99 $16.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 28, 2008. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

In Happy Days Were Here Again, William F. Buckley Jr. offers a collection of his finest essays from the latter part of his long career. Sometimes celebrating, sometimes assailing, Buckley takes on opponents ranging from Mikhail Gorbachev to Carl Sagan to Leonard Bernstein; reflects on the academic scene, the Gulf War, and the idea of sin; and offers appreciations of friends, both right and left. For everyone who appreciates the wit and style of America’s pre-eminent conservative, this is a must-have collection.


Praise for Happy Days Were Here Again
“Most of the pleasure comes from Mr. Buckley’s exuberance, his enthusiasm for whatever task he has in hand, especially the chase. Anyone who gets so much fun out of life, and who can convey some of it through his writing, cannot help being likeable.”
—John Grimond, in The New York Times Book Review
“The collection ... is pure pleasure. I dare you to dip into it anywhere without becoming captivated by the bracing prose, the hard-edged political analysis, the gleeful puncturing of modern cultural idiocy. Most compelling, as always, is the logic, the point-by-point, flawless construction of each case. The notorious vocabulary sparkles everywhere, but the words hang on the strongest chain of unassailable argument.”
—Rush Limbaugh, in National Review
“I confess to an ailment common among Americans of liberal disposition: I have a large fondness for William F. Buckley Jr.... It should be said that while Buckley has issued many collections of columns and articles, this one is particularly good.”
—E. J. Dionne Jr., in Newsday
“The verve with which [Buckley] writes ... makes the reader feel the joy of intellectual combat.... This book is the work of a truly happy warrior.”
American Way
“Slashing, energetic, acerbically witty.”
Publishers Weekly
“Happy Days Were Here Again is a compelling reminder that good thoughts written well are never tiresome.... One reads this book with that ease that conjoins good writing, only looking back in reflection to see the verbal mastery. Here are inscribed those arguments we wish we had made ourselves. Buckley is, to use one of his favored expressions, the columnist à outrance.”
The Dartmouth Review
“William F. Buckley is no Puritan. He has too much fun, and the verve and enthusiasm he radiates are part of the fun of reading him. Also the big words and foreign phrases that journalists say he shouldn’t use. I mean, the man might be lapidary, but he’s not eristic. Nicht wahr?”
The Milwaukee Journal
“Perhaps what [William] Shawn said of the author’s sailing journal Windfall readily applies to this present work: ‘The Buckley style, thank goodness, is intact, and the humor is undiminished.”’
The Columbia [S.C.] State
“Irreverent wit, erudition, and a joie de vivre which borders on barely repressed glee.”
Daily Press, Newport News

God and Man at Yale (1951)
McCarthy and His Enemies,
co-authored with L. Brent Bozell Jr.
Up from Liberalism (1959)
The Committee and Its Critics
(ed.) (1962)
Rumbles Left and Right (1963)
The Unmaking of a Mayor (1966)
The Jeweler’s Eye (1968)
Odyssey of a Friend, by Whittaker
Chambers, introduction and notes
by WFB (1969)
The Governor Listeth (1970)
Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?
(ed.) (1970)
Cruising Speed (1971)
Inveighing We Will Go (1972)
Four Reforms (1973)
United Nations Journal (1974)
Execution Eve (1975)
* Saving the Queen (1976)
Airborne (1976)
* Stained Glass (1978)
A Hymnal (1978)
* Who’s on First (1980)
* Marco Polo, If You Can (1982)
Atlantic High (1982)
Overdrive (1983)
* The Story of Henri Tod (1984)
* See You Later Alligator (1985)
* The Temptation of Wilfred Malachey
Right Reason, edited by
Richard Brookhiser (1985)
* High Jinx (1986)
Racing through Paradise (1987)
* Mongoose, R.I.P. (1988)
Keeping the Tablets, co-edited with
Charles R. Kesler (1988)
On the Firing Line (1989)
Gratitude (1990)
* Tucker’s Last Stand (1990)
Windfall (1992)
In Search of Anti-Semitism (1992)
* A Very Private Plot (1994)
* The Blackford Oakes Reader (1995)
* Brothers No More (1995)
Buckley: The Right Word, edited by
Samuel S. Vaughan (1996)
The Lexicon (1996)
Nearer, My God (1997)
* The Redhunter (1999)
Let Us Talk of Many Things (2000)
* Spytime (2000)
* Elvis in the Morning (2001)
* Nuremberg (2002)
* Getting It Right (2003)
The Fall of the Berlin Wall (2004)
Miles Gone By (2004)
* Last Call for Blackford Oakes
* The Rake (2007)
Cancel Your Own Goddam
Subscription (2007)
Flying High: Remembering Barry
Goldwater (2008)
The Reagan I Knew (2008)

For Patricia Buckley Bozell
my editor and my beloved sister

In Lazarus, André Malraux told his doctor: “Modern man has been fashioned on the basis of exemplary stereotypes: saint, chevalier, caballero, gentleman, bolshevik, and so on.” From this catalogue, the French swashbuckler omitted ... Buckley.
A Buckley—part Magus, prestidigitating supply-side whoopee, and part matador, goring liberal bulls—is in perpetual motion. He edits magazines, proliferates newspaper columns, anchors television programs, skis, sails, and speechifies. In and around these activities, on the keyboard of his Toshiba laptop, from the backseat command module of his customized-in-Texarkana Cadillac limousine, or from the Gstaad chalet, where he oil-paints with Nivens and slide-slips with Galbraiths, or at the helm of his ketch, Sealestial, somewhere between the Galapagos and Byzantium, like G. K. Chesterton and Moses Herzog, a Buckley writes letters to the world.
The word zest comes to mind, and so does savor. Yet all these Buckley motions are accomplished with an oddly sleepy sort of Robert Mitchum look. He was once asked, on Laugh-In, “Mr. Buckley I notice that on your own program you’re always sitting down. Is this because you can’t think on your feet?” He hesitated for a masterly moment; then replied: “It is hard ... to stand up ... under the weight ... of all that I know.” But sitting down, he also lists ... leaning away from a Noam Chomsky or an Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., somehow parenthetical, as if in a hurry to write another column. A section of this Malleus Maleficarum is devoted to his body English. I am reminded of Richard Weaver’s definition of conservatism: “a paradigm of essences toward which the phenomenology of the world is in continuing approximation.”
Buckley! Think of another revolutionary pamphleteer, Tom Paine, except that Tom Paine didn’t eat Red Wing peanut butter, make jokes, or play the harpsichord. It seems to me that if the culture insists on celebrity ideologues, we are better off with a Buckley performing a Bach concerto for the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra than we are with a Lillian Hellman in Blackgama mink or an Andrew Sullivan in a Gap ad. But I am often wrong, as Buckley has patiently pointed out, for the last thirty-five years, in many letters, to none of which I’ve ever replied, being shy.
Buckley in 1958: “I don’t suppose you are at all conservative?” Me, hedging: “Not very.” Buckley: “One hundred dollars a week.” Me: “I’ll have to consult my fiancée.” Buckley: Where is she?” Me: “Radcliffe.” Buckley: “Tell her it’s The New Republic.”
And so, long before he was an exemplary stereotype, I went to work for Buckley as an editorial assistant at National Review. I ferried copy to the printer in Connecticut. I monitored the left-wing press. I wrote letters to the NR editor criticizing everything in the magazine, to prime a very dry correspondence pump. I was sent to Cuba shortly after Castro’s revolution. I went to lunch with Whittaker Chambers, which was like going to lunch with the Brothers Karamazov. I was taught, by Publisher Bill Rusher, how to eat with a fork. I was taught, by Editor Bill Buckley, how to assemble and fly a kite. I was taught, by Managing Editor Priscilla Buckley, how to assemble and fly a paragraph. To this day, the only two important matters I’m certain we agree on are that Bill’s sister, Priscilla, and his composer, Bach, are unexcelled in God’s creation.
But after a season, I went away: to California, novel-writing, and eventually The New York Times. Like so many other young writers he took off the street and published in his pages in the early NR days—Carry Wills, Joan Didion, Renata Adler, Arlene Croce—I ended up a liberal. “For a while,” Buckley wrote in Overdrive, “I thought we were running a finishing school for apostates....” As if to compensate, he finally hired George Will, and I hope he’s happy. But what about the rest of us? Why, staring at him on the other side of the barricades, don’t we bare our fangs? Where’s the Oedipal revolt, so surpassingly expressed in the Cultural Revolution of the Red Guards in China’s Guangzi province, when they cannibalized their high school principals?
To be sure, I wrote an article about National Review for a satirical magazine in 1963, a parody of Whittaker Chambers’s letter to his children in Witness. Buckley’s response? Four years later, when the Times was deciding whether to hire me, he sent them a copy of this article just to prove, as he said, that I wasn’t “right-bitten.” In Life magazine in 1971, in a critique of Firing Line, I made fun of his promiscuous analogies, invidious juxtapositions and preemptive obfuscations, in deploying words like “nugatory,” “usufruct,” “enthymematic,” “asymptotic,” “propaedeutic,” and “endogamous.” So he invited me on Firing Line. Much later on, reviewing one of his Blackford Oakes novels, I quoted a passage in which the hero ransacks a refrigerator: “There was chicken, ham, cheese, white wine. He put together a plate with slabs of each....” I said this sounded to me like a wet plate. So I was invited, not only to a Christmas party, but to Moscow and Leningrad, with the NR staff, where Keith Mano shook his fist at the Winter Palace, reminding me of what Herzen said to Bakunin: “One must open men’s eyes, not tear them out.”
In Cruising Speed, he told us: “I can understand the occasional necessity to execute people, but never to hurt their feelings....” This explains, in part, why he puts up with so many of us—Murray Kempton, Wilfrid Sheed, Allard Lowenstein—who had disappointed him with our disorderly politics and chaotic lives; and why, in turn, we cherish him no matter what he says, and he says plenty here, about John Lennon, Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Breslin, Martin Scorcese, democracy, the Koran, and ... women, whose “primary responsibility,” he says, is “the care of the child,” while men are primarily responsible “for the care of the woman.”
To speak, however, of the friend is to neglect the exemplar. You may have noticed that even his “apostates” tend to be political, noisy, and trouble-making, as if the world were a wound about which, on our bandages, in our blood, it is necessary constantly to scribble. What is the lesson? To be a serious character in your own life, in your own century. But also to send up ideas like kites, to eat some peanut butter, and to hear some music.
I have paused to quarrel, or to smile, at every other paragraph in these wind-blown pages. There are again the suspect analogies and juxtapositions, and the fancy words—“lucubrations,” “eldritch,” “fissiparous,” “dysgenically,” “eristic,” “objurgatory,” “querencia”—but a lovely essay also defending the writer’s working vocabulary, the very jazz of composition. If there are predictable enthusiasms (capital punishment, Evelyn Waugh, Chartres cathedral, Star Wars, and the Titanic) and predictable bêtes noires (abortion, Lowell Weicker, the Democratic Party, drug dealers, Dartmouth College), there are also surprises: That he went to see Mapplethorpe’s dirty pictures, although not Scorcese’s Last Temptation. That he opposes a government bailout of the failed S&Ls, would internationalize Jerusalem, has never gone to a baseball game, nor watched Oprah. That he approves of Head Start, and disapproves of the Inquisition.
Most astonishing is what he says about the continuing soap of the Windsors: “There is, to begin with, the absolutely chimerical quality of Princess Diana. If a more beautiful woman ever existed, she was never photographed.” Lauren Bacall? Lena Horne? Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? This, perhaps, explains what possessed Blackie in Saving the Queen. For remedial reading, may I suggest the Texas newspaper columnist Molly Ivins: “Dan Quayle looks exactly like Princess Di, while Mrs. Quayle looks exactly like Prince Charles. What more could any woman want?”
But this is churlish. What we have here is vintage Buckley on Nathaniel Hawthorne and Malcolm Forbes, Edmund Burke and Dan Rather, free trade and Tiananmen Square, Jack Kemp, Clarence Thomas, Meir Kahane and original sin, not to neglect his favorite composer, on whom he quotes biologist Lewis Thomas, who was asked what we should send up in a rocket to speak on our behalf to whatever alien civilizations there might be in outer space. “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach,” said Thomas. Pause: “But that would be boasting.”
We could do worse than send some Citizen Buckley, too.


The So-Whatness of Nuclear Winter
APRIL 18, 1985
I wish Home Box Office or one of those cable birdies would undertake to show the viewing public a tape of the testimony, on March 14, of Carl Sagan, who tends increasingly to view himself as The World’s Foremost Authority, and Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense. Carl Sagan was the first witness, Richard Perle the second. Carl Sagan is henceforward qualified to testify on what cruel and unusual punishment feels like.
The forum was a joint meeting between two congressional subcommittees with names so cumbersome one begrudges them the space they take up. But, for the record, they were: the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, chaired by Representative Morris Udall, D-Ariz.; and the Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Agricultural Research and Environment of the House Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by Representative James Scheuer, D-N.Y.
The question being probed is the policy implications of nuclear winter. Nuclear winter—the thesis that the detonation of XYZ plus one nuclear bomb will freeze all growth for six months, bringing on the probable extermination of all human and vegetable life—is the favorite adopted son of Carl Sagan, among other reasons because it permits him to engage in the kind of eschatological melodrama that brings orgasmic delight to those who want to tell us how awful a nuclear war would be (as if we didn’t know). In any event, the congressional committees wanted to know what should we do, now that we know about nuclear winter.
Carl Sagan gave a half hour’s performance so arrogant he might have been confused with, well, me. He graded such reports as he had seen on the subject of how should our policies adapt to nuclear winter as warranting “a grade of D” if submitted to him as a functioning professor. He said that we were going to get nowhere in Geneva because we are sending people over there who don’t believe in disarmament. He suggested that Ronald Reagan and his team at the Department of Defense were concealing two reports that were politically embarrassing (the so-called Cadre Report and the Palomar Report). He suggested that Soviet officials and U.S. officials should meet in a single barn and hand over the atomic fission devices that set off hydrogen bombs to an agent who would then send them for detoxification to nuclear energy plants. He brushed off his single critic on the panel, Representative John McCain, R-Ariz., by saying that McCain couldn’t point to one disarmament treaty Reagan had favored.
Along came Richard Perle, who delivered about six haymakers, one after the other. He said that for all Sagan’s talk about the United States wanting more and more weapons, we had reduced our stockpile during the past fifteen years by 8,000 warheads, while the Soviet Union had increased its stockpile by more than 8,000 warheads. Our megatonnage today, compared to then, is 25 percent less. We have outstanding two proposals for sharp reductions of arms, to which the Soviet Union has not responded. We have suggested the elimination of all intermediate-range missiles. The idea that a Soviet official will turn over triggering devices on a one-for-one basis is one of those academic fantasies that should stay in the academy or go to Disneyland.
But—most important—Richard Perle said that in fact nuclear winter doesn’t have any policy implications not already dominant in our strategic policy, because it is the objective of that policy to avoid nuclear war. And if nuclear war is avoided, then the danger of detonating XYZ plus one missiles reduces. Moreover, since it is known that nuclear winter would come more quickly if explosions took place over cities, then isn’t it wise to continue research into Star Wars? Our strategic policy, said Perle, is to concentrate on military targets, not cities—and this is so not because of nuclear winter, but because of people. We have no appetite, in our deterrent strategy, to hit people rather than military targets, for reasons unrelated to nuclear winter.
And then, finally, a dazzling challenge: Was Carl Sagan saying that in the event Star Wars proved feasible, we should not deploy it?
The logic of Carl Sagan’s position is that we should engage in unilateral nuclear disarmament. He doesn’t come out and say this —indeed, he dodges questions on the matter—but that is the subtle hierarchy being insinuated by the unilateralists: namely, that nuclear winter is more to be feared than Soviet hegemony, and therefore we must give up our arsenal. Richard Perle—and Ronald Reagan—tell us we can do better. We can avoid both Soviet hegemony and nuclear winter, as we have done for forty years now.

Jesse on My Mind
MAY 25, 1985
For thoughtful people it is a cliché that true equality is exhibited only when you permit yourself to get as mad at a minority member as you would at a fellow fraternity member. On reflection, the clearest sign of the enduring discrimination of white people in America against black people in America is our toleration of Jesse Jackson. If he were a blue-blooded WASP, he would be treated with the contempt appropriately shown for the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, a contempt made possible not because of any lack of recognition of his many talents as an orator and organizer, but the special contempt by which democracies effectively stigmatize those who dwell in cuckooland. They simply disappear from public sight, going off to live more or less permanently in the fever swamps, where they mix with one another as the junkies used to do in Goa. There David Dellinger dwells ... and Daniel Berrigan ... and Timothy Leary, Jane Fonda ...
Oh, but Jesse Jackson is a black leader. It is pointed out that he was the first member of his race to run for President of the United States, which proves what? So did Lyndon LaRouche run for president, and if that man is not nuts, I am Napoleon. Ah, they will say, but Jesse Jackson got 465 votes from the delegates in San Francisco. To which the appropriate response is that all he proved was that a black man will win a lot of black votes, and that he is one hell of an orator, which was true of Gerald L. K. Smith, who was probably an even finer orator, and was a racist mess. Jesse Jackson so intimidated the San Francisco Democrats that they couldn’t even muster the resolution to vote a denunciation of anti-Semitism, for fear of offending Jackson, the anti-Zionist assembly and, one supposes, Jesse’s noisy fan Louis Farrakhan.
During the last couple of weeks, Jesse Jackson has appeared before the European Parliament and other audiences there. He denounced Star Wars, which is OK, though he probably knows as much about Star Wars as the European Parliament knows about hominy grits. But he also denounced the Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe, and these are the spinal column of our NATO alliance. He spoke in those hyperboles for which he is renowned. Thus, “the germ of genocide was not buried at Bitburg; it was transferred to Johannesburg.” Catch that, now. The entire Jewish-American world was convulsed when President Reagan said that the young SS buried in Bitburg were “as much the victims” of Hitler as the victims of the Holocaust. That trivialized the Holocaust, they wailed; and they had a point. Along comes someone who says that Buchenwald was no different from life in South Africa—where are the protests? You are getting the point. They don’t protest because he’s merely a black preacher saying dumb things.
He returns to this country and addresses a rally in New York commemorating the Vietnam War. “Our only joy is that the military occupation of that land is over,” he says about a country (Vietnam) more heavily militarized than any other country on earth, from which 650,000 boat people have fled, a figure exceeded only by the number of blacks that have immigrated to South Africa. He goes on to Chicago, where he tells an interviewer that “the same forces that are anti-Semitic in the morning, by three o’clock of that same day manifest their anti-blackness”—one of those runny slurs freighted with meaninglessness.
But why go on? Jesse Jackson is the man who toasted Fidel Castro and the memory of Che Guevara, two totalitarians, one of them a sadist to boot. Jesse Jackson has become what we used to call a fellow traveler. Whatever foreign line Moscow takes, Jesse Jackson is now taking. His toleration of rank anti-Semitism in his entourage is a matter of record. His endorsement of totalitarian trends here and abroad is documented. Why is he always at center stage?
Because he is black. And because, being black, he has a large following, which following backs him as slavishly as white racists once backed Senator Bilbo and “Cotton Ed” Smith. But as long as he moves about with the immunity that now protects him from the kind of ostracism he has so diligently earned, then one can say with meaning: There is true condescension in America for the black, and that condescension is strongest among the elite. Jesse Jackson couldn’t be elected squad leader by American hardhats. But the media elite, they patronize him. They figure he’s just being a little uppity, and what do you expect?

JANUARY 23, 1986
Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York, seems to be saying that there is so much anti-Italian prejudice in America he has no choice but to contend with it by running for president and getting elected. Oh, yes, and if he runs for president and isn’t elected, why, that means he was right the whole time, there’s a huge anti-Italian prejudice out there.
It’s an odd thing to talk about anti-Italian prejudice in the most influential state of the Union in which the governor is of Italian descent and a Democrat, and one of the two senators is of Italian descent and a Republican. The second senator is of Irish descent.
Ah, Mario would say, but New York is different. To which observation the balance of the country would no doubt say, Thank God. But in fact New York State is two demographic realities: New York City and upstate. And Mr. Cuomo did well in both regions. If he were nominated for president by the Democratic Party, the following is a pretty safe bet, namely that more voters would vote for him merely because he is of Italian descent than would vote against him because he is of Italian descent.


On Sale
Oct 28, 2008
Page Count
496 pages
Basic Books

William F. Buckley

About the Author

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008) was one of the intellectual leaders of the right for more than fifty years. The founder and editor-in-chief of the National Review, he was also the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Learn more about this author