On Buckley’s Civility

I notice that many of the obituaries of Buckley make a positive mention of his manners and civility. That was often accurate. But one way to judge someone’s real civility is to see how he reacts when he’s losing a debate. Yesterday, I rewatched all of the YouTube videos from when he had Noam Chomsky on in the late 1960s and they discussed, among other things, the Vietnam War. Buckley was often good when he knew more than the person he interviewed, which was often. But Chomsky had a calm command of the facts and Buckley got rattled a lot. One way to respond when you get called out is to admit the point. That was not Buckley’s way. Instead he got belligerent, interrupting Chomsky every time Chomsky tried to respond to the latest Buckley thrust. I challenge anyone to watch those videos and come out thinking well of Buckley’s civility.

I write this as someone who liked Buckley somewhat and was even, for 6 months, the economics editor of National Review who wrote 2 unsigned short editorials every issue (in 1986 and early 1987). And I’m not making a total statement of support for everything Noam Chomsky has written or said. But I do think that the scales must be balanced.