Temperament or Ideology: Clinton Rossiter & William F. Buckley

Sixty years ago, a Professor of American Government at Cornell University published a book called Conservatism in America; The Thankless Persuasion. Later editions of the book dropped the subtitle but Clinton Rossiter, a distinguished scholar who wrote many good books on political ideas and constitutional government; was himself to suffer a sad and thankless life.

In 1969, when armed black student radicals seized the Student Union building, Cornell faced one of the most notorious crises of the 1960s. Rossiter tried to act as a moderating intermediary between his faculty colleagues and the young black radicals. He gained lasting enmity from some of his colleagues. Allan Bloom declared he would never speak to him again. His three young sons, all ardent activist radicals opposing the Vietnam War, had already become alienated from him. 

He committed suicide a year later, only 52, although one of his sons much later learned and revealed that his father, still recalled by him with love, had suffered for years from severe depression, uncontrollable rages, and alcoholism, long before hit by the 1960’s combination of campus politics and private family storms.

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