Researching some of Noam Chomsky’s history in the political debates of the second half of the 20th C, I came across William F. Buckley’s interview with this most well-known socialist-anarchist. Buckley dominates him so completely that I found myself feeling sorry for Chomsky, even pleased when he would make a decent point. I had a natural human reaction that it was not polite for someone to be picked on publicly in that way.
The tone is very civil, much more so than we see today. The dominace is intellectual. The complete confidence of that wink early on says a lot, doesn’t it? You might slip one past or bully others, but not I.
This was jarring, because the other half of my brain kept reminding me that Chomsky’s ideas were responsible for much misery around the world, and I should hope for his complete evisceration in this intellectual duel. Turning over to the Gore Vidal interview, I experienced something similar.
At the time, I would have accepted Vidal's protestations of peaceful assembly, dismissing Buckley's accusations as fevered and a bit paranoid, thinking that all these nice young people actually meant what they were saying about revolution. Why, it was just rhetoric - just a way of getting attention and making a point. This is near the beginning of the cultural shift, when Cronkite could still point out that raising a Nazi flag in a park during WWII would have been considered an incitement to violence.
Buckley is a bit less civil here, however, following Vidal's command to shut up.
Still, one never gets the impression that he actually will punch him, but is merely woofing.
I wonder if something like this prevented Buckley from convincing more people at the time. We remain social more than intellectual creatures for all our efforts, and may resist the intellectually more compelling idea because its presentation seems to imperil group comity. I rail against liberals doing this, insisting that we all attend first to the rational argument. But I find myself unable to take my own advice.