James Baldwin Baldwin, William F Buckley, James Baldwin William F. Buckley discussed on The Book Review

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Hello Paul McCartney here. My new picture bouquet ground dude is out now and it's raided by me it's about a grandfather granddad. Grand Dude who uses this is margie compass to whisk his grandchildren away on adventures around the world. A lot of fun writing in the raising it on. I hope you enjoy too. You can download it. Start listening today. Hey Grandma how James Baldwin and William F Buckley end up on a stage together in one thousand nine hundred sixty five at Cambridge University to debate one another on Race Nicholas Koby here to talk about his book. The fire is upon us. What's it like growing up black and gay and the south poet and now L. Memoir Ist Sii Jones will be here to talk about his book? How we fight for our lives Concepcion de Leon will give us an update from the literary world last? We'll talk about what we the and the wider world are reading this book view. PODCAST from the New York Times. I'm Pamela Paul. Nicholas Cola is here in the studio to talk about his new book. The fire is upon us. James Baldwin William F. Buckley junior and the debate over race in America. His two previous books were the essential Douglas and Abraham Lincoln and Liberal Democracy Nicholas. Thanks for being here. Thanks thanks for having me. I'm honored to be here all right. This is a change of subject for you why this book. This book emerged through Baldwin. I was invited to write essay about Baldwin and I devoted voted the few months just reading everything could get my hands on. And then I dug into the Youtube Archives of all these video Baldwin and I found the debate with Buckley and I became transfixed was just such a dramatic moment of these two men who embodied movements in a way and they have them on the international stage clashing. I was just sort of became mildly obsessed with it and so I wrote that essay Using the debate as a framing device in is I worked on the ESA I kept thinking. There's there's a book in here and then that book kind of grew and grew and grew to a joint intellectual biography. They're born about a year apart from each other and so I thought I could sort of weave their intellectual biographies against the backdrop of the the rise of the civil rights and conservative movements. I have to say you know word favor of Youtube. All of these things are on there and you can go online and Google Baldwin Buckley debate and it comes right up up. I just want to play a quick clip from that to be. This is a bit. We have a civil rights bill. Now we had an amendment the Fifteenth Amendment nearly one hundred years ago I hate to see them again like an Old Testament prophets whether the amendment was not honor. Then I don't have any reason to believe in the Civil Rights Bill. We'll we'll be on it now and after all one's been there since before you know. A lot of people got their if one has got to proved once title to the land isn't four hundred years enough one hundred years at least three worlds later on will play play another clip from Buckley. But let's start with something you just mentioned Nicholas. which is that? These two men were born. Only fifteen months. Apart in New York City could not have had more different circumstances in terms of their births and upbringing. Let's start with James Baldwin Baldwin born in August nineteen twenty four in Harlem and he's the oldest of nine children and Baldwin describes his childhood as being one the Chili marked by domination His experience is is one in which he has. There's all sorts of individual people in his life police officers landladies landlords that he's seizes is enforcing kind of boundaries Andres on his his growth as a as a human being and he sees his parents victimized by racial oppression by economic anxiety by a lack of economic opportunity and so Baldwin I'm describes growing up in Harlem and is auto biographical writings and a really powerful way of of really a set of circumstances in which he feels so limited as a human being. I mean he has to try to figure out way to find some modicum of power to fight back against the suppression so Baldwin is somebody who eventually finds his lover. He calls it in language words. He's obsessed with books you know from a very young age reading everything and get his hands on trying to find ways in which to make sense of his experience through books and then he begins writing at a very young age and actually actually devote himself to writing often. He can in the ends up becoming a young minister. His father was a lay pentecostal preacher in Haarlem storefront churches and so Baldwin becomes the young minister at the age of fourteen and has really taken by the power of language to connect him to his congregation and although he leaves the church by seventeen he remains a preacher's entire life including the ninety debates. Buckley it really is sermon. Tell us what was his formal education like so Baldwin. was somebody who you know. He says that he was not the best of students students. But that he you know because he had a hard time staying interested in a lot of the things he was learning in school so within a lot of ways he was not died act but he had the opportunity a couple of really really important teachers in his life and those teachers encouraged him to apply for a program at dewitt Clinton high school and he he went to Clinton which of course is this story. Place it's produced to all sorts of important intellectual and political figures and so that experience was important because Baldwin at dewitt Clinton was able to work for the. The High School Literary magazine had some outlets outlet for his creative abilities but he was somebody who did not have an opportunity to go to college so in many ways. You know you sort of you. All people familiar Baldwin's writings assume that he has some sort of you. You know lead education. But but in fact he didn't he was somebody who was largely self educated and was really just a a student you know from a very early age. You know that that he died all right. That's it's a good moment to just pivot quickly to Buckley because we associate him so much with the institutions that he attended of course God and man at Yale but let's start start with his birth in New York City. Buckley is you know as I say at the beginning of the book He May as well been born in on a different planet. You know the same city but my as miserable been a different planet. Buckley really is somebody who was born into immense wealth so Buckley's father is somebody who made in lost and regained fortunes in the real estate and oil businesses. His mother is a comes from old money proud daughter of the confederacy. So I say that you know that his father had new money. His mother had old money. The keyword there's money and they. I used that money to provide their children with a very rich upbringing in a lot of ways and especially educationally ten children yet there were ten. Attendance goes both came from very large families. They did say one thing they have in common. The Buckley's had an estate in Sharon Connecticut known as Great Elm Forty seven Acre estate and they had a a elaborate homeschooling for their children so every subject under the Sun. They had live in tutors. That were there fulltime. They brought in part time tutors to cover. Every other subject to the Buckley's really devoted voted in and they were especially devoted to teaching their children in particular world view and so the Buckley's were taught a kind of they. Call it individualism. But it was really a kind of elitism. They were taught hot to be very suspicious of any form of collectivism socialism communism and the new deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But they're also taught to be very suspicious of democracy. I'm they were taught taught that some people are fit to rule others are fit to be ruled and they were among those who were to rule of course and so Buckley really he'd ever really desires to become his father he he doesn't want to follow him into business but he really wants to devote his life to defending the world view that his father taught him on his mother taught him and so in that hierarchy household whether they're todd these values of hierarchy those values thoroughly racial is is one of the key themes the book and so- Buckley's racial politics in many ways you know emerged at a very young age and he sustains those throughout his life so it's interesting that both Buckley and Baldwin for very different reasons are suspicious of certain aspects of American democracy. That's true that's true. And it's it's these moments you know now in the in the book when I say there is kind of surprising there's some surprising overlaps where you know Baldwin and Buckley Ha of crowd the suspicion of liberalism. They have some suspicion of democracy mcreavy they have some suspicion of the capacity of law needs to bring about social change but those moments were there the the there's overlaps very different reasons why they take those positions and so oh I think but in that overlap we can we can learn something about our politics and also in the the reasoning that they you know both of them used to arrive at those conclusions can really help us make sense of our political moment I mean is it in those moments of auto alignment that the tension is greatest in terms of their differences. I think that's true. I mean I think maybe not. There's definitely a lot of tensions just running through The the story but I think that those moments are you know really fascinated me one example. Is that Baldwin and Buckley are both great critics northern hypocrisy on race. You know they they they will often say you know the one line that's uses the Jim Crow has the north simply more sophisticated Baldwin. Say that sort of thing and Buckley would see that sort of thing. Of course Buckley's point point. Was He would say that to get northerners to lay off of the south and Balden would say that to get all of us delay into the north right and so those moments I think are are especially powerful to think about. Okay why is it the Baldwin is looking at somebody you know particular politician that he really does not trust and Buckley's looking at saint politician. It does not trust that person. They have these radically different different reasons for that distrust and I think that's that's really informative for us all right. Let's come from their childhood circumstances right to nineteen sixty five the year in which this debate the subject have your book. The fire is upon US takes place. Where is James Baldwin at this point in his life and career? Nineteen sixty five Baldwin's really at the height of his fame name so Baldwin had published his first novel in Nineteen fifty three and he he'd published by then three novels go tell in the Mountain Giovanni in another country so you establish himself as a fiction writer but also then published several essay collections and in one thousand nine hundred sixty three the next time is published. And that's that's really a book that I mean Baldwin Star was already ascending but that that book sort of sent Baldwin to the height of literary fame I mean so. He's among the most famous writers in the world at that time in Baldwin's connection connection to the civil rights movement was was always a complicated one. I mean he describes himself as a witness in his first interactions with the Jim crow south or as a journalist he goes down to the south to cover. What's happening the black liberation struggle for particular magazines and publications and so Baldwin says my job is to write it all down but he of course feels in this sense of obligation to be go beyond writing it all down of course journalism always has kind of normative dimension to it but he he says you know? He spends a lot of his life if it's what he calls a transatlantic commuter living in Europe and living in the US but he feels a sense of obligation to to engage in the struggle and so by sixty three he's kind of identified as a kind of spokesman when he didn't like that label at all didn't like most labels but he really wants to eat engaged in this that both through his fiction and nonfiction writing. What he's really trying to do is provide his readers years with the sense of what the world looks like through the eyes of of a variety of people in the south and also elsewhere in the country who are in the midst of this struggle to change the country such really I Baldwin? It's up to them so at that moment. Sixty five Cambridge Baldwin's internationally famous. So those students that are packed into that union debating hall. They're really there to see Baldwin. Because Buckley hadn't quite achieved international fame yet all right. Let's talk about William F.. Buckley where is he. Nineteen sixty five in terms of his career. So Buckley by sixty five is second only only to Barry Goldwater in terms of a sort of face of the American conservative movement and Buckley had played really this outsized role in shaping what we now call the conservative movement. So Buckley in Nineteen fifty-five starts at National Review magazine which the idea the magazine was to try to do what progressive magazines had done in the first half of the twentieth century Maksim like the nation and the republic had done so much to shape. The American left and so- Buckley has idea that there's not really anything that we could call it an conservative movement a coherent conservative conservative movement. Fifty five so he has this idea to use a magazine to bring folks together a coalition Together and so he founds national review and very right at the same aim moment. He's founding national review. The civil rights movement the latest phase in the civil rights struggle is occurring the lynching of Emmett till the reaction to that the rest of Rosa parks the Montgomery Montgomery bus boycott..

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