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Buckley vs. Chomsky: Ideology and Progressive Change

William F. BuckleyStumbled onto this fascinating video from 1969 – it’s a debate from Firing Line between Noam Chomsky and William F. Buckley. Buckley was the ideological driving force behind the post-war, modern conservative movement and – get this – he was also one of my first political heroes. That’s right. I was a “young republican” in college in the late 80s, believe it or not. If you dig around this site you can tell I’m a nut for political change and I think it’s because I’ve gone through so many of them myself. But I grew up in a Republican house and Buckley was The Man. I used to watch Firing Line with my Dad, back before I had an independent thought in my head.

Ah, memories.

Anyway check this video out – it comes by way of The Shotgun Blog and the one thing that struck me was the contrast between ideologues like Buckley and the fanatics on cable TV today. You never see US foreign policy so baldly tied to imperialism the way it goes down in this video. Certainly not in the modern corporate media.

Noam ChomksyThat’s why I find this video so fascinating. Essentially Buckley argues for the right of the US to intervene in Vietnam – and other countries – on moral grounds. Chomsky skewers him (in my opinion) by pointing out the many examples where the US has intervened purely on imperialistic grounds. Buckley can’t see this because he is blinded by his ideology. And he doesn’t come off looking so good as a result.

I was an ideologue of the Right myself once – I used to exasperate my liberal friends in college with my passion for – and unending defense of – Ronald Reagan, even during Iran Contra and the mess we’d made in Central America. But I wouldn’t hear anything that went against my sainted hero Ronald Reagan. It finally took pictures of mutilated young men apparently at the hands of Reagan’s “Freedom Fighters” before I finally reconsidered my views on this and many other matters. Suddenly things weren’t quite so black and white. Off I went on a wild ride of political discovery. I’m still on it.

That’s the thing about ideology: When you’re an ideologue, you argue against the rain even when everyone around you is soaking wet. But clinging to ideology eliminates the possible of change, or growth; you become trapped by your own paradigm. Even the most brilliant, educated ideologue – and Buckley was certainly all of that – can be made to look like a fool when they’re just plain wrong. I mean, no ideology fits every situation, every time. But ideologues are imprisoned by the “slippery slope”: Give in once, they fear, and it’s all over. Did you ever hear a talking head on cable news actually say something like “you know, I never thought of it that way?” It just isn’t going to happen. That’s why television today is a progressive-change dead end; it’s for entertainment, not enlightenment.

Firing Line was a whole different thing. For that you’ve got to give Buckley his due. I mean, where’s Chomsky on corporate media today? It’s like he no longer exists. My point is that if we’re ever going to move towards the progressive social changes we need we’re going to have to stop thinking like idealogues.

So back to this video: As you can tell I still have a grudging respect for William F. Buckley, and I’m sorry to see him go, maybe because compared to the raging zealots who’ve taken over the mainstream media Buckley looks like a level-headed moderate. But then again, it’s hard to contemplate the disaster we’re dealing with now – a result of the right-wing conservative domination of our culture, economy and state of democracy for the last generation, and not reserve some blame at Buckley for getting it all started.

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March 3, 2008   |  Filed Under Political   |    Permalink


1 Jose { 03.03.08 at 9:58 am }

O’Reilly is a couple of rungs on the ladder down from Buckley. If this devolution continues the conservative movements most prominent commentator might just be a sock puppet with tourret’s syndrome in a few decades.

2 Eric { 03.03.08 at 10:07 am }

Now that’s funny.

Actually, that’s not so funny.

And that’s because you may be completely right. Of course, one way to send a message to the clowns on channels 2 through 495 is to turn the freaking thing off.

Thanks for the comment!


3 Saiful { 08.08.08 at 12:21 pm }

Hai Eric… I was arround, searching an interesting image about Chomsky. I found here … I read your blog, especially “Buckley vs. Chomsky: Ideology and Progressive Change”. OK, I was writing about Chomsky too. See my blog. Nice to meet you. Thanks :-)

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