A new book on conservative leader William F. Buckley Jr., radical black writer James Baldwin, and their clashing views on civil rights is the topic of AHI Resident Fellow David Frisk’s latest review.

Published by Liberty Fund’s “Law & Liberty” website on October 9, it discusses an interesting work by political scientist Nicholas Buccola, The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America. The “Powerline” political commentary website also linked to the review.

Buckley is best known as founder of the opinion journal National Review and later the host of “Firing Line,” the discussion show on public television. Novelist and essayist Baldwin (who has been called “the poet of the civil rights revolution”) and Buckley “were men who not only spoke but thought carefully for themselves,” Dr. Frisk writes, “both recognizing that sloganeering was inadequate to the vast theme which had become such a commanding presence in our country. A careful study of each therefore strengthens our grasp of that theme.”

The title of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s short book Why We Can’t Wait “perfectly expressed his movement’s moral urgency. In stark contrast, Buckley can be said with little exaggeration to have held that African-Americans—although ultimate justice was, he conceded, on their side—must wait. … But [he also] … urged that the white South act in the interest of its large black minority, not merely its own. It must, he said, begin working toward fair treatment and full citizenship for African-Americans and must conscientiously persist in this. … Buckley’s total position was still a world apart from King’s ‘why we can’t wait’ … Yet it also had something in common with the militant Baldwin’s perspective: This is such a deep human problem, both said, and it’s ultimately about the heart and soul.”

Buckley “couldn’t possibly have used emotions as well as Baldwin did” at their famous Cambridge Union debate in 1965, Frisk concludes. “That isn’t a knock on Baldwin, for emotions were indispensable to a real grasp of the issue—especially, although not only, as stated in the debate’s title [whether ‘The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro’]. But so was the cooler Buckley’s level-headed contextualizing, with its insistence on the fundamental soundness of the American dream.”

Dr. Frisk, a Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization since 2013, is the author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement and the instructor for the AHI’s popular continuing education classes in political science and history. He recently began work on a biography of the conservative political theorist Willmoore Kendall, to be published by Encounter Books.