Magazine December 09, 2019, Issue

William F. Buckley Jr. vs. James Baldwin: Debating Race in America

William F. Buckley Jr. and James Baldwin (Baldwin: Wikimedia Commons)
The Fire Is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America, by Nicholas Buccola (Princeton University Press, 496 pp., $29.95)

Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is upon Us professes to tell the story of how two of the most consequential postwar American intellectuals responded to the civil-rights revolution. Its major limitation is that it remains a snapshot in time. Much of the action precedes the famous debate in which Baldwin and Buckley engaged before the Cambridge Union in 1965 and essentially ends with their summations.

In addition to omitting later events that characterized a revolution and a movement that continue, the book does Baldwin justice but sells Buckley short. At the time of their debate, Baldwin had more or less secured his

This article appears as “Buckley vs. Baldwin” in the December 9, 2019, print edition of National Review.

Alvin S. Felzenberg — Mr. Felzenberg is the author of A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. and The Leaders We Deserved: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.

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Readers write in with fond memories of fatherhood, some long-held admiration, and some prefix pedantry.


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