Noam Chomsky vs. William F. Buckley, 1969

Is there such a thing as the benign use of international force? It’s a question that Noam Chomsky and William F. Buckley, leading thinkers from the left and right, took up in 1969. And, of course, the whole question of Vietnam loomed in the background. As you’ll see below (and in Part 2 here) the debate is remarkably civil. And when Buckley threatens to punch Chomsky in the face, it’s said much more lovingly than when he offered to do the same to Gore Vidal in 1968.

As an interesting aside, when Buckley died earlier this year, Chomsky revisited the 1969 debate and Buckley’s legacy and essentially saw him looking a lot better than his conservative heirs — although I’m not sure that Chomsky was really passing along a deeply felt compliment here.

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Comments (6)
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  • Gwgregg says:

    Having just seen the video (and amazed I hadn’t encountered it before now), I was taken aback.

    Buckley comes across as a quintessential forensics champion who is dealt a bad hand. He continually tries to derail and pick holes in Chomsky’s points, even sadly using a bit of condescension and smarmy ad hominem to do so. Chomsky, on the other hand, comes across as incredibly knowledgeable about a very complex subject, unflappable and able to back up his points with multiple factual reinforcements.

    I have always admired Buckley as an apologist and debater, but he is so clearly outmatched here it’s a little embarrassing to see one of my forensic heroes stumbling like that. Chomsky seems very able to support his arguments and must get the nod here.

  • […] Noam Chomsky joined the faculty of MIT in 1955, and, soon enough established himself as “the father of modern linguistics.” (Watch him debate Michel Foucault in 1971.) During the 60s, he also firmly positioned as a leading public intellectual taking aim at American foreign policy and global capitalism, and we regularly saw him engaging with figures like William F. Buckley. […]

  • Nikos says:

    Apart from his logical inconsistencies, this guy (Buckley), has been caught with his pants down concerning Greek history…He is not even deserving a serious answer. One of the easiest debates for Chomsky, I guess.

  • Jedothek says:

    Yes: My interpretation of Buckley’s bad behavior here is that for the first time he found himself confronting someone smarter than he was, and effectively panicked. Since he could not out-argue Chomsky, Buckley used every trick that came to hand. This is Buckley’s worst moment.

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