The Fire is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America
By Nicholas Buccola
JMC faculty partner Nicholas Buccola has recently written a book on the monumental 1965 Cambridge Union debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr.:
On February 18, 1965, an overflowing crowd packed the Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England, to witness a historic televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., a fierce critic of the movement and America’s most influential conservative intellectual. The topic was “the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro,” and no one who has seen the debate can soon forget it. Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is upon Us is the first book to tell the full story of the event, the radically different paths that led Baldwin and Buckley to it, the controversies that followed, and how the debate and the decades-long clash between the men continues to illuminate racial division today.
Born in New York City only fifteen months apart, the Harlem-raised Baldwin and the privileged Buckley could not have been more different, but they both rose to the height of American intellectual life during the civil rights movement. By the time they met in Cambridge, Buckley was determined to sound the alarm about a man he considered an “eloquent menace.” For his part, Baldwin viewed Buckley as a deluded reactionary whose popularity revealed the sickness of the American soul. The stage was set for an epic confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.
A remarkable story of race and the American dream, The Fire Is upon Us reveals the deep roots and lasting legacy of a conflict that continues to haunt our politics.
Nicholas Buccola is the Elizabeth & Morris Glicksman Chair in Political Science at Linfield College. His teaching and research interests are in political theory and public law. Professor Buccola is the founding director of the Frederick Douglass Forum on Law, Rights, and Justice, a partner program in JMC’s Pacific Northwest Initiative, and has written extensively on the political thought of Frederick Douglass. He has published essays on a wide variety of topics including the debate over same-sex marriage, Friedrich Nietzsche’s critique of socialism, and the political philosophies of Judith Shklar and Leo Strauss. He is a recipient of the Allen and Pat Kelley Faculty Scholar Award, and a two-time recipient of the Samuel Graf Faculty Achievement Award. Professor Buccola is also the book review editor for the JMC supported journal, American Political Thought.
Professor Buccola is a Jack Miller Center faculty partner.
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