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. […]

  • […] Noam Chom­sky vs. William F. Buck­ley, 1969 […]

  • 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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