Friday, February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley vs. Noam Chomsky on Intervention

From The Firing Line, 1969

Part I

Part II

"No provisos, no quid pro quos..." :-)

Funny to see them both so young.... A million people are blogging these videos today, but I thought I'd post 'em up anyway. It's enjoyable and edifying to listen to two guys who understand elocution and the power of language when used precisely... although it does drive me a little bit crazy when Buckley uses that little wink of his when he thinks he's made an unassailable point.


cowboyangel said...

Strange to see Noam Chomsky on American national television.

I really don't much about Buckley. His obituaries have certainly been glowing. I remember trying to watch Firing Line a few times, and I was always turned off by what I considered obvious arrogance on his part. But then I was also younger, didn't really know who he was, and didn't get into political commentary on TV very much.

A few years ago, I saw a one-act play that was a re-enactment of his program with Allen Ginsberg. That was surreal - the play was quite good, I thought.

Jeff said...

Is that the one where Ginsberg sang on his program?

Buckley's heyday was sort of before my time, and I never cared for him that much when I was younger, probably because I couldn't understand what he was getting on about. He was odd. Chomsky has always seemed like an obvious "red-diaper" idealogue to me. I admired the intelligence and eloquence of both, however.

Have you ever heard about the dustup Buckley had with Gore Vidal on the eve of the 1968 election, when Vidal called him a "crypto-Nazi" and Buckley called him a "queer" and threatened to "sock him in his goddamned face" so that "he'll stay plastered". Now that's real intellectual discourse for you.

crystal said...

Those guys were kind of before my time too but I sort of knew who Buckley was. I read about Gore Vidal recently because I saw that he'd been a scriptwriter and doctor among other things. He and Buckley were intellectually awesome.

cowboyangel said...

Ginsberg was really chanting, I think. Wish YouTube had their program - it only has a 24 second clip of Ginsberg "singing." Ouch.

I did read about Buckley and Vidal's spat. Whoever was writing - a conservative - said it was the only time he'd seen Buckley lose his cool, and that he regretted it always.

Don't care for Gore Vidal. I got about halfway through a massive book of his essays, and it was just too much HIM.

an obvious "red-diaper" idealogue

Not familiar with that phrase. What does it mean?

I can take Chomsky in small doses on certain subjects. But not for too long.

cowboyangel said...

Hmm... re-reading my comment, I wonder which famous American intellectual I do respect. I can't think of any off the top of my head. Martin Luther King. He was obviously more than that, but we forget what an intellectual he was.

Who else? Who are the great American thinkers of the 20th century? The Public Intellectuals?

Jeff said...

Hmmm. Who are the American intellectuals of today and of the recent past? That's a good question. We don't really have many H.L Menkens around anymore do we?

What about those guys who teach at Columbia? Aren't they all intellectuals?

The problem is, we've become such philistines in the past few decades, that we deride intellectuals nowadays, and write them off as dreamers and pointy-headed academics with their heads in the clouds. We revere and respect businessmen now, instead of intellectulas.

Buckley's own National Review had John Derbyshire put together a list a few years back. (Being NRO, I think it has sort of a right-wing bias) Here are some of the names he had, including some who have obviously since passed away:

In Science

Steven Pinker

Edward O. Wilson

Charles Murray

Thomas Szasz

Jared Diamond

Major-league intellectuals:

William F. Buckley, Jr.

Noam Chomsky

Ronald Dworkin

Freeman Dyson

Milton Friedman

Francis Fukuyama

Samuel Huntington

Charles Murray

Thomas Sowell

Gary Wills

Not major-league intellectuals:

Harold Bloom

Pat Buchanan

Alan Dershowitz

Stanley Fish

Al Gore

Paul Krugman

Camille Paglia

John Updike

Gore Vidal

an obvious "red-diaper" idealogue

Not familiar with that phrase. What does it mean?

The term Red-Diaper baby refers to someone who was born into a family of communist or socialist sympathies in the US, usually in association with the 1930's. You know, the whole Abraham Lincoln Brigade sort of milieu. Used carelessly and at it's worst, I suppose it can have anti-semitic undertones to it. Does it strike you as a McCarthyite term?

crystal said...

I wouldn't think Thomas Szasz
or E O Wilson or Gary Willis would be conservative, would they? Interesting list.

Jeff said...

Hi Crys,

Garry Wills, definitely not a conservative. I think E.O. Wison's books and theories on sociobiology have brought him under fire from the left from time to time. I don't know anything about Thomas Szasz. Who is he?

crystal said...

He's a psychiatrist who basically said that mental illness is really a societal construct used to keep people whose behavior we don't like in line. He wrote a book called The Myth of Mental Illness. I read about him in a college psych class and thought he was really interesting. I remember taking a class trip to the Napa state mental institution - very sad and upsetting.

cowboyangel said...

Pat Buchanan as a public intellectual? Alan Dershowitz? Camille Paglia? Bit of a scary list.

I guess one needs to also ask what a public intellectual is supposed to be.

I think you're right - we don't respect intellectuals, so how would many of them gain enough public acceptance to be visible.

There's also, I think, a problem with "intellectuals" playing partisan politics. Once most people start trying to persuade you to believe something or act in a certain way, their arguments often show a bias that undermines their ability to offer rational or objective analysis. That's my problem with Chomsky, Vidal, or folks on the right. And maybe that's why Buckley was so esteemed - even liberals praise him. Maybe he managed to stay clear-headed. I don't know.

I think this is one of the things that has bothered me about Krugman's columns on Obama. He wasn't a writer like Dowd or Frank Rich - he seemed more like a genuine intellectual. But his recent writing has smacked of pure partisanship, with weak and sometimes surprisingly ridiculous arguments. In my eyes, he's suddenly become another political commentator, which is not the same thing as being an intellectual.

The same problem happens with religious arguments as well. It takes a lot - a lot - for someone to stay level-headed when talking about religion.

cowboyangel said...

And despite your obvious intellect and skillful ability to mount a rational argument, I do get a whiff of decidedly subjective bias when you discuss the Patriots. Perhaps if you didn't live in Boston, I might be able to appreciate more your attempts to change my views on the subject.

Oh, man, what am I supposed to make of a team that refuses to pay Pete Kendall $2.7 million, trades him to the Skins, then suffers terrible line play all year, only to turn around and pay Alan Faneca $40 million over 5 years, with $21 million up front? At the end of the season, in his annual All-Pro column, Dr. Z at Sports Illustrated, ranked Kendall over Faneca.

I don't think anyone in Jets management would qualify as a public intellectual.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

I'm sure Szasz is a brilliant guy, but mental illness is real alright... How I wish it wasn't. One thing I've been mulling over for a long time... Might even make a post out of it if I knew more about what I was talking about. Does faith have an answer for mental illness?


I think you make a great case that even the best minds today show that they've lost the moral imperative for intellectual honesty. Everyone seems to sacrifice that for the sake of being an apologist for one cause or another.

Yeah, Buchanan is no intellectual, but I think he has something that Buckley had, and which I find a lot of the guys on the left, like Krugman, seem to lack. A sense of humor about himself. It seems to me that a lot of leftist intellectuls really lack a sense of humor. They're too angry, but to be fair to them, there's been a hell of a lot to be angry about.

Hmm. The Patriots... and sports in general. You know, I'm watching my son and I'm seeing the making of a cynic. He was putting together some "Asante Samuel - Traitor" posters yesterday, after Samuel went with the Eagles just minutes after becoming a free agent the other night. This stuff isn't easy to explain to a twelve-year-old. I mean, they get it, but you hate to see the effect of money, the effect of that kind of calculating hardness to creep in on them so young. It sort of takes the fun out of it for them.

The Jets, my gosh. what a hapless franchise.

crystal said...

Maybe what he meant was that most people's mental state is more like a point somewhere in a continuum between perfect mental health and madness. I think he was reacting to some of the treatments like electric shock, and people being committed against their will.

I wonder about faith and mental illness too.

cowboyangel said...

Perhaps the Samuel trade should be "a teaching moment."

If Dad was offered $57 million to go work for Apple, wouldn't that be a good thing?

Also see that Stallworth went to the Browns. Colvin got cut, Kyle Brady cut. And you guys haven't done a deal with Moss. Think that will happen?

Ever get a sense of what happened to him in the playoffs? He just seemed to disappear, no?

The Jets, my gosh. what a hapless franchise.

See, there's your Boston bias affecting your otherwise excellent intellectual judgment. :-)

Despite complaining about the Faneca trade, I don't think the Jets are that hapless. Not in the last decade, at least. In the last 10 seasons, they've gone 82-78, with 5 trips to the playoffs, winning 3 games (losing 5).

I know that's nothing compared to the Patriots, but then who CAN compare with the Patriots in that time period?

The famed New York Giants, Super Bowl champions, in the last 10 years? 83-77, also going to the playoffs 5 times.

The Cowboys: 76-84, 5 playoffs.
The Chargers: 77-83 3 playoffs.
The Bears: 75-85 3 playoffs.
The Redskins: 74-86 3 playoffs.
The Dolphins: 80-80 4 playoffs.
The 49ers: 69-91 3 playoffs.

In fact, the Jets are in the upper half of teams over the last decade. Not great, not bad - slightly above the middle. But they've been competitive most years, with the exception of these two 4-12 seasons recently.

You wanna talk hapless:
Bengals 61-99 1 playoff.
Browns 55-105 1 playoff.
Cardinals 58-102 1 playoff.
Lions 53-107 1 playoff.

Obviously, I'm not taking into account the entire (sad) Jets history, but I don't think they're as bad or hapless as some make them out to be. I can't even imagine living in Detroit and trying to be a football fan.

At least going after Faneca shows they're willing to spend some money this year. That's often not the case. I appreciate them getting a major offensive lineman - that's good. Faneca's been a great player - it just seems like way too much money to pay a 31-year old guard.

I did like them getting Kris Jenkins for the D-Line.

Of course, none of this resolves the bad-smelling QB situation for next season . . .

cowboyangel said...

Notice how I took your noble, dignified post about two American intellectuals and turned it into a football conversation?! :-) Sorry.

Explaining the money part of sports has to be hard. It's a tough balance even for adults. Sometimes I get so sickened by the whole money end of things, I wonder why I still love it so much. Because I guess the last Super Bowl, despite all the hype and billions of dollars, was still a great football game. (Apart, of course, from your team losing.)

Jeff said...


Wow, you sure are sounding a lot more optimistic about the Jets' prospects and more complimentary in regards to their history than you were here:

If Namath hadn't pulled off that upset in Super Bowl 3, the Jets would easily rank as the biggest laughingstocks of all-time. And they still are in many ways. Not as bad as poor Detroit, but they've been bunglers for a long time and still haven't really turned it around, though things seem to be a little better. Even Parcells couldn't get this boat floating right.

I guess all it took was for that Patriots Dynasty to be definitively broken for you to start seeing some daylight again. :-D

I didn't think the Super Bowl was very good, apart from the last few minutes, which were terrific (I think New England-Carolina might have been the best one ever played). I'm not just saying that because NE lost. I think the Giants play very awkward, ugly, penalty and mistake-filled football games.

Mark my words. I'll state them publicly here. The New York Giants will not make the playoffs next year.

Don't know what to say about Moss. He pretty much disappeared in the second half of the season, and it made all the difference. Welker turned out to be a much more significant acquistition.

Jeff said...

Acquisition, excuse me...


Maybe what he meant was that most people's mental state is more like a point somewhere in a continuum between perfect mental health and madness.

Ha. Well I guess that's true. Who among us is really "normal" anyway? What's normal? You don't have to look very far to find someone deeply, er..., "eccentric", in just about every family.

cowboyangel said...

Oh, man, using my own words against me!

I guess that's part of being a Jets fan - veering between total disgust and trying to remain positive. I'd be curious to know when I said that - if it was in the midst of a losing season.

Hey, it's off-season, the most hopeful time of all for football fans!