Posts Tagged ‘William F. Buckley Jr.’

Baldwin debates Buckley (1965)

August 4, 2021

James Baldwin begins speaking at the 14-minute mark; William F. Buckley Jr., at the 39-minute mark.

The arts of argument and persuasion

July 6, 2020

This episode of William F. Buckley Jr.’s The Firing Line was broadcast on Sept. 10, 1981

In American political speech nowadays, we need more argument and persuasion and less denunciation.  I am reminded of William F. Buckley Jr., who was a master of both.

I considered Buckley’s political views were not only wrong, but reprehensible.  Yet I was a regular viewer of his PBS program, “The Firing Line.”

Buckley took the trouble to understand his opponents’ arguments.  He read their books.  When he invited them onto his program, although he was not above taking cheap shots, he tried to refute what they actually said.

He played fair.  He gave his opponent a chance to give their views.  That is why he probably changed more minds than Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity ever did.  I think there is much to be learned from his methods, whatever you think of his views.

I remember a program in which his guest was Ralph Schoenman, appearing on the show as the representative of the International War Crimes Tribunal, also known as the Russell Tribunal, and the issue was American atrocities in Vietnam.  Buckley’s claim was that Bertrand Russell, John-Paul Sartre and the other tribunal members were Communist sympathizers and should not be believed.

Schoenman expressed himself in a robotic, staccato manner that fit the stereotype of the dogmatic Communist.  Buckley, aware of this, let him go on at length, knowing his audience would be influenced more by his manner than by his actual argument.

A member of the audience argued that what mattered was the quality of the Tribunal’s evidence, not the views of its members.  Buckley listened respectfully, restated the argument and then asked what the questioner would think of anti-corruption investigators who were all Republicans and whose investigations were all of Democrats.  A bogus argument, but convincing.

I think it is possible to persuade people who strongly disagree with you politically.  Sometimes not, but people can be more open-minded than you might think.

It is important to distinguish winning an argument from successful persuasion.  I have lost many arguments, but I don’t recall ever changing my mind as a result.  My losing an argument only makes me rack my brains for what I should have said, but failed to think of on the spot.


Remembering William F. Buckley Jr.

July 23, 2010

A friend of mine gave me a copy of Christopher Buckley’s Remembering Mum and Pup. “Mum” and “Pup” were his pet names for his parents, Patricia Taylor Buckley and William F. Buckley Jr.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to read the book otherwise, but it was more interesting than I expected.

William F. Buckley Jr. was once the face of the conservative movement in the United States, through his magazine, National Review, his syndicated newspaper column, his TV program “The Firing Line” and his many books.  I thought his opinions, except for anti-Communism, ranged from the misguided to the morally reprehensible.  His first books were an attack on academic freedom and a defense of Senator Joe McCarthy, and he was a champion of white supremacy in the American South and South Africa (a position he retracted after it was too late to make any difference).

At the same time I always watched “The Firing Line” on PBS, and often found food for thought in it.  Buckley did his homework, was courteous to his guests and debated issues of substance and not trivialities.  He made me think through my own positions.

I think the fact that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck occupy Buckley’s niche in the conservative movement says something about how that movement has evolved over the years.  I think the fact that Limbaugh and Beck have the influence formerly held by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite says something about how American society has evolved over the years.