thumbnail of Listen Here; William F. Buckley Jr and Rev. W. Sloan Coffin Debate
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To introduce our two guests this evening, I present to you the president of the ?effable? union, John Townsend. Thank you Mr. Speaker. After all the Harvard men we've had here this term it's a real pleasure to be able to welcome not only one but two of the native product. Mr. William Frank Buckley will be speaking tonight for the opposition. He is on the executive committee of the Conservative Party and seems to forcefully and consistently attack socialism, atheism, radicalism, and Mr. Truman for the tenure at Yale. [laughter] Immediately after graduating from from Yale Mr. Buckley wrote that volume which you all read before you came here: "God and Man at Yale." He then went on to become a senior editor of the American Mercury. In 1954 wrote "McCarthy and His En-- Enemies," collaborated with Mr. Bozell. Since 1955 when he founded it, Mr. Buckley has been the editor-in-chief of the National Review. And he's written two more books: "Up From Liberalism" in 1959, and "The Unmaking of a Mayor" this year. He has continued to take an intense interest in Yale. It is a great honor as well as a pleasure to welcome him here tonight.
The Reverend William Sloane Coffin may be-- hap to--may perhaps be familiar to some of you. During the Korean War Mr. Coffin served with the government on Russian affairs as a member of the CIA. He then served successively as chaplain at Phillips Academy, at Williams College, and became chaplain of Yale in 1958. Dr. Coffin is always strong to believe the church leaders should take a strong position on political and social issues. He is very active in the NAACP, and one of the organizers of Crossroads Africa. himself I'm beginning [ unclear] to get the thing moving. He's been advisor to the Peace Corps since its inception. And was the first director of the Puerto Rico training center. In perhaps in his most widely publicized action, Dr. Coffin went to Montgomery in 1961 as a Freedom Rider and was arrested, but the ride succeeded in drawing national attention to the inequality in Alabama. It is a very great pleasure to prevent-- to present 2 such distinguished ?opponents?. [laughter] [applause] I, I, I can't prevent a thing after it starts. But I can present two very distinguished opponents in the debate this evening, on the topic "Resolved:
The government has a duty to promote equality as well as to protect liberty." Mr. Buckley will be taking the opposition side. It is a great honor and pleasure to introduce first, for the government, The Reverend William Sloane Coffin. [applause] [applause] [applause] [Rev. William Sloane Coffin:] Thank you Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to appear on the same platform with William F. Buckley. So the president is just an-- undergraduates together at Yale. At that time he was only a year behind me. [laughter and applause] [laughter and applause] Um. [laughter and applause] Since that time, I, along with many others of his admirers, have of course been appalled at the widening of the gap, the breathtaking capacity that Mr. Buckley has displayed for manning the
barricades relentlessly facing in the wrong direction. [laughter[ With those pre-introductory remarks, let us turn to the Resolution, which reads, "Government has a duty to promote equality as well to protect liberty." Now I think that liberty and equality, while distinct, are not as separate as that resolution implies. After all, freedom really has two aspects: a protective [and] a permissive one. If we're going to talk about freedom we have to talk about protection from political oppression, and also protection from destitution, as a social aspect as well as a political one. And I would say that it was to FDR's great credit that he recovered this insight in emphasizing the second one, and that you might say that famous freedoms broke down, two on both sides of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion; and freedom from want, and freedom from fear. And more recently the civil rights movement, too, has pointed up these two aspects of freedom.
In phase 1 of the Civil Rights Movement, negroes had to be protected from political oppression which was denying them the right to vote, denying them the right to, uh, eat hamburgers, to travel around the country like any American citizen, to hold a job like any American citizen or, once within the job, to be promoted without discrimination. We perhaps are justified in saying that phase one may actually successfully be concluded very soon. But now we enter Phase 2, and what do we see? We see the once barred door to American Opportunity being open only to disclose that all the furniture is occupied, and the only place to sit is on the floor. So that this raises, I should think, a very profound question regarding one's definition of freedom. How free is a man to choose, when in fact his choice is is realistically limited of the choice of a coldwater kind of choice [unclear]. How free is the man to go anyplace, when in fact there's no place for him to go?
In other words, I don't think you really can talk about significant liberty without a certain measure of equality. You cannot have a viable, vibrant form of political democracy without a certain measure of economic abundance. I want to come back to how this works out in the United States, but first of all I want to talk very briefly about how our failure to realize this has constantly, again and again, distorted our view for again and again we've tried to inspire a belief in democracy without encouraging the conditions conducive to it. We've We've tended to attribute democracy to sheer moral and ideological virtue and by so doing, it blinded ourselves to the degree to which economic abundance is to political democracy. Now, of course I think we're beginning to realize this and most Americans would not quibble with the right, nay, the duty of the federal government to engage in foreign aid.
in what kind of aid? For instance, I think it is dreadful that the United States hasn't used its billions of dollars in foreign aid to bring about economic land reform which could have been brought about without confiscation, and perhaps through - in- the national agencies, rather than just improving animal husbandry and [unclear]. One could quarrel about what kind of aid, to whom and how much, but not about the necessity. And I would like to, uh, say that this is a duty perhaps to promote equality, which has not been sufficiently recognized by most Americans. I don't think most Americans in all frankness realize the kind of brutal contrast between our own prosperity and the destitution in the rest of the world. [unclear] picture of the three billion people in this world, uh, compressed into a, town of, uh, 1,000 people. Which would mean that 60 people in the town would be Americans, and 940 would make up the bulk of the rest of the population. The 60 Americans would control
half the total income of the town; the 940 would share as best they could the other half. The 60 Americans would enjoy 15 times as much of all material goods as the rest of the townspeople on the average, and the 60 Americans would have an average life expectancy of 71, [unclear] would die, on the average, on the average, before they were 40. Now I think that type of contrast between prosperity slammed up against destitution is pretty brutal, pretty brutal, and that if it's not our government's, mm, duty to do something about this, then perhaps we are [unclear]. But now let's come back to the United States and to this understanding of liberty-equality as something distinct but not separate. I'm very fond of uh, David Potter, his book, particularly "The, uh, People of Plenty," in which he points out that -uh- historically in the consciousness of most Americans, equality through the 19th century and through a good part of the first part of the 20th century, equality really meant
parity, uh, of competition. Parity in competition, which means that equality was not of value in itself but only of value when used. Therefore equality, like access to opportunity, would have the connotations of upward mobility from rags to riches. See, I don't think, uh, Americans believe in the underdog because they believe in losing causes. Americans don't believe in losing causes. But we like to believe in the underdog because that validates our belief that people who are less than equal have a pretty good chance in upward mobility if they just get started. Now for a while this worked very well, uh, with the glorious exception, of course, uh, of -uh- Indians and -uh- Negroes. But for reasons which de Tocqueville saw very clearly. "The chief circumstance which has favored the establishment and maintenance of a democratic system in the United States," he wrote, is the nature of the territory that the Americans inhabit. that the Americans inhabit. Their ancestors gave them a love of equality and freedom; but God Himself gave them the means of remaining free and equal by placing them upon a
boundless continent." As As de Tocqueville understood, it was not only a horizontal mobility but also an upward mobility made possible by the economic development of American resources, which are fa[unclear]. Now upward mobility -uh- is produced when Opportunity operating from the top operates as a drawing of people up through, uh, the economic, uh, funnel, and immigration, operating from the bottom, acts as an upward thrust pushing people up through. And I think it has to be said that by and large this system worked pretty well for a long time. There was a parity of competition, there was access to opportunity, and largely without benefit of government. But now things have changed because access to opportunity - access to opportunity is not automatically there. Perhaps his most eloquent address, uh, at Howard University in June 1965, the President said negroes are trapped, as many whites are trapped, in
inherited, gateless poverty. And he's saying very much the same thing as Whitney Young has been saying for some time in a different metaphor. You cannot take a man who for years has been hobbled, and then liberate, bring him up to the starting line, and say to him, "Now you're free to compete with all the others." In other words, we need to take another look at the concept of parity of competition, and I think President Johnson took the situation very seriously when he went on in that speech to say, "Equal opportunity is essential but not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities, but ability is not just a product of birth. Ability is stretched and stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in, by the school you go to, and the poverty or richness of your surroundings. It is the product of 100 unseen forces playing upon the little infant child. So who is going to deal with the environment that
denies access - significant access - to opportunity, that cripples a man's opportunity to become his best self? Now let me say right away I don't believe the federal government alone, no, No, certainly the state and municipal governments have a role to play, so too the foundations, so too individuals acting in an individual capacity, or as members of individual private agencies. But the federal government must play some role. And as an example of this let's take, uh, our own city here of New Haven. I think while many criticisms of Mayor Lee are properly leveled by the Hill Neighborhood Association, still cannot take away from Mayor Lee the credit in rescuing New Haven, not from corruption, but from stagnation. And in New Haven, the CPI, our federal urban agency - renewal agency - gets 60 percent of its funds from 8 different federal agencies. I ask you: How are you going to fund education in a city with a shrinking tax base, in which the rich and the influential have fled
to the suburbs? How are you going to fund education? Which means not only building up the old schools, but building the new schools, and building them in the proper places? It means recruiting teachers by raising salaries so that they have at least a competitive wage with other professions. It means not only building standard schools, but also preschools community schools, so that the old and young are also included. How are you going to do that without some funds from the federal government? Practically speaking, can it be done? And if we don't vote the money for education, we're going to vote it-- we're going to spend it anyway, only now on, uh, increased welfare, and on police and fire protection. Or, for instance, how are you going to build low income housing? Show me one private agency that's willing to undertake low income housing. Which means a nonprofit. We can't even get the state government in Connecticut to pass a law which would allow tax rebate for ?Florence Virtue? houses here can really truly be low income housing. How are you going to build low income housing, whether in large projects such as the one out there, or better yet in selective sites,
or how are you going to get money for a rental supplement for the rent certificate bill and all the rest if you don't do it in part from, uh, the federal government? Again, I'm sure the private agencies should be doing their role - should be playing their role - a much greater role, and so should the state governments, but I don't see how you can do it without some federal subsidy. And finally, And finally, what about training programs? In New Haven we have 6500 unemployed and at the same time we have 3500 jobs begging. And what's the problem? The former are unskilled, and the latter are for draftsmen, electronic experts, and engineers. Certainly business and labor have been delinquent in not setting up their own kind of training programs for the unskilled. But I still don't see how, whether through private agencies or through state or city funds you can do something that takes the place of the Manpower Retraining Act of the federal government. And just to throw one more thing in there, medical schools in this company would simply fold if it weren't for federal subsidization. And Lord knows we have too few doctors already, the numbers uh, uh, proportionally diminishing as our population
grows. And Medicare for the poor would not adequately be quite possible without the Medicare, uh, legislation. So we want to talk about these basic things of health, housing, employment, and education. Surely there is a need, I would suggest, for the government to play its role. And the role is not to drag all men down to the lowest possible common denominator, but to realize that all men have a right to be lifted up to a certain level of common dignity. I suspect that -uh- ?in New York he? would not have hesitated a little bit from Washington for the really drastic problems facing this city. [applause] Certainly there are problems. Let's not diminish these at all. There are problems, there are difficulties, there are abuses, there's needless red tape. But these sins of comission are as nothing compared with the sin of omission were the federal government to abdicate
completely its responsibility for promoting the general welfare. [applause] [applause] So once again, all this simply is to argue that you cannot separate significant liberty from some measure of equality, that if liberty is to be a viable, vibrant thing for any people, some measure of general welfare, some measure of equality of economic abundance, uh, must be assured. As Americans we have every right to be proud of every effort that's made by this country to put a man upon the moon. But still the greatness of a nation is measured not only by how far it has advanced, but by how many it has left behind. We Americans have left behind the right skills but lost them when the economy advanced. Men, women, and now their children for whom the affluent society is neither reality nor even whole. And I would contend that it is less important to put a man on the moon than
to put these people on their feet. And that -uh- any sensitive, thinking American would feel that in this particular effort, the government certainly, at home and abroad, should perform its duty. Thank you very much. [applause] [gavel] [applause] [gavel] [Chair:] The Chair now recognizes, for the opposition, Mr. William F. Buckley. [applause] [applause, cheers] [applause] Uh, uh
[William F. Buckley:] Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, Dr. Coffin. When, when when Doctor Coffin. asked to comment on this [clears throat] on the forthcoming debate, He made a statement to the [indistinct] news. That I perfectly demonstrate the perils of being the champion high school debater. high school debater. He has now demonstrated the perils of being runner-up. [laughter] [Applause] In the towers. I agree with Dr. Coffin that the subject is a, is a serious one and that, uh, some effort ought to, to be made to, uh, shed light on the proposition to which I shall attempt to contribute by asking, I hope,
a couple of generic questions. It seems to me that that when you ask yourselves, uh, "Why equality?" You need to ask yourself 'what, in fact, are the justifications for equality?' There are in fact several. for equality, and there are several. Certainly one of them, and foremost of them - foremost among them, perhaps, is, uh, is theological. And yet it seems also plain, that any effort by us us to, uh, to certify what is divine - divinely postulated, is an act of, uh, irrelevance. It is profound profanity. If we are indeed equal by act of God We hardly need to ratify His judgement His judgment on the matter by any activity of the federal government.
Another justification for equality is, in a sense, spiritual. a concept which, uh, even if viewed in secular is or, at least ought to be, in fact I think necessarily is informed by essentially metaphysical presumptions. It has, uh, really to do with - with an attitude which so far as I can judge, uh, necessarily discourages any easy materialistic generalities, in that it does recognize that the spiritual condition of equality is among men and, uh, women, so intimately varied as to make it very difficult to, obtrude, uh, any generality that attempt a correlation between man's material well-being and his spiritual well-being.
And insight, of course, sharply italicized, by the parable of the rich man and the needle's eye. So that the spiritual justification, uh, for equality leaves us or ought to leave us, I think, a little be- benumbed by the impossibility of achieving a state of spiritual equality uh, which transcends the normal corporal problems which perhaps we must end up almost exclusively discussing. What is the - a fair justification for equality? Uh, it seems to me that it is humane. That is to say we must, uh, be devoted, uh, to the notion that all men have physical needs, and that those physical needs must be tended to:
food, certainly shelter, and certainly, medicine, certainly. But isn't it an idiot's injunction to suppose that that is a "federal responsibility." It - it is a human responsibility, and the point then is to consult -uh- experience -uh- in order to determine whether the federal government is most usefully invoked in order to insure that kind of equality. What is unique about the federal government, it seems to me, is that it is an agency of - of force, an agency which precisely shouldn't in a free society be invoked, unless the demonstration is clear that humanity has failed. Surely most people would agree that it is a most satisfying venture in humanity, both
as regards the man who gives and the man who receives, to know that a beneficence is freely given out of a human sense of obligation. Uh, that it is given as a result of the efficient working of the majority's will over the minority is the government's way into the problem. Surely, in a democratic society one must assume a rational co-ordination between the governors and the governed. We must assume that the governors are redistributing the surplus majority [no audio] with the majorities consent. Leaving the question open: If the majority have implicitly expressed their willingness to give, why then the instrumentality of the federal government, unless it is to coerce the morally recalcitrant minority. Therefore, in a - a society devoted to freedom, including
the freedom of minorities to fail to do their, uh, moral duty mustn't be made that absolutely establishes the mechanical necessity of the minority's acquiescence and participation in a particular federal program in order to justify requiring that minority by force to contribute to the human polity. It is presumably a recognition of - of that order of reasoning that has caused Catholic theologians over a period of 50 or 60 years to reaffirm what the Pope's have called the doctrine of subsidiarity. That doctrine being that no activity which can be undertaken by private agencies ought to be undertaken by public agencies, and that no activities that can be undertaken by lower public agencies should be undertaken by
higher public agencies. But if they - if the federal government needs to be invoked in order to contribute to equality, then one needs, I think, to accept the proposition that humanity has failed itself, Or if in fact it is official material apology can be forthcoming from the well-Tempered majority. But then isn't the federal approach nothing less than a - a punitive expedition against the callous minority. uh, minority? And It isn't the federal government then engage in an exercise in the kind of sumptuary egalitarianism which would easily justified in insisting that the unwilling minority suffer for holding opinions different from the majority? Justifications for equality, uh, have, among other things, got to relate to the potential sources to
the disposable resources of - of any society. India, for instance, is explicitly -uh- egalitarian. It is completely committed to the kind of ecology that Dr. Coffin has so eloquently stressed the need for. But, as a plain matter of fact, it hasn't the resources with which to relieve its own material want. Nor in fact does America have sufficient resources to relieve India's material want. Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, speaking as ambassador to India, He said on one occasion that in purely economic terms, nevermind the purely philosophical problems, in purely economic terms, [clear throat] India, in fact, could not afford uh, socialized welfare programs of the kind that the United States can afford. Isn't the passion for equality then de-facto? Or Can't it be an instrument that ends up afflicting all
but the ingenious few. Who always succeed in maneuvering no matter how ?high are? in the circumstances? The ideology of equality in Poland, for instance, we saw working in the years after 1956 when after- and after experimenting with free agriculture ideology closed in again. And as a result of the insufficient ideological servility of the people, a program of ideological inculcation was set up which on one occasion was parodied by the Polish Student Journal "Po Prostu," which cited a colloquy between a commissar of ideology and a student. The student asked the commissar, "What is it when there is want in the
city and plenty in the country?" and he answered instantly, "A right deviation in the party line." 'What is it when there is plenty in the city and want in the country?' and he answered a "A left deviation in the party line." Or "What is it," he said, "when there is want in the city and want in the country?" and the commissar answered, "A balanced application of the party line." [laughter] What is it when there is plenty in the city and plenty in the country in the hands of the horrors of capitalism? [laughter, applause] The Professor Galraith's point. is that any society that, uh, seeks opportunity has got to reckon with the availability of resources and then has to think intelligently as to how best those resources can be utilized. And his conclusion, even speaking from
the left liberal spectrum of American politics, is that it is impossible out of a lust for equality to create those conditions which was to substantially relieve the misery of the Polish people. It also seems to me that equality, even in the most rudimentary sense, Food, shelter, education, equality before the law, is in fact a situation which is, uh, inconceivable. Even to the paradigmatic social philosophers, to ?Ed Rousseau?, to ?Leon?, Because even assuming you can make society at midnight tonight, ex hypothesi, it will be unequal at 10 minutes past midnight. The conferral of equality is itself an invitation to inequality. Because if everyone is equally free to cultivate his opportunities, inequalities will instantly emerge.
The only way in which to preserve equality is to suppress, paradoxically, equality of opportunity. To punish those who are taking seriously the advantages of equality, so use them as to create inequality. So it strikes me as -uh- salient in a discussion of this kind to recognize what in fact are the operative presumptions. The operative presumptions are that the kind of equality that we can all join in desiring. Is a kind of equality that can be brought about by various means. Mr. Coffin is quick to dismiss the suggestion that those means can circumvent the instrument of the national government, but in suing - in doing so he speaks not fact but
ideology. He speaks rather that kind of impatience with the local workings of humanity which in fact have done more in this country even eschewing the uses of a coercive federal government than anything ever accomplished in the history of the world. That has conduced towards the kind of the equality that we we're thinking of. He eschews it as a result of an intellectual's impatience with local processes. He fails to mention that great dilemma of the collectivist. That dilemma I mentioned a moment ago, that in a democratic government one must automatically assume that any federal welfare measure is backed by the majority and that therefore actually does nothing more than enact an auto taxation and then therefore under the circumstances one must justify coercive legislative measures only in terms of the necessity to subjugate the
minority. Now is the necessity to subjugate the minority simply because we need their money in order to make it work. Or can we actually, if we burrow through the rhetoric of the past 20 or 30 years, find that it is a punitive expedition against the minority one that seeks less their dollars than their cooperation irrespective of the workings of their own will. There is a kind of equality that I do believe is descending on us which we need, I think, most to fear. It is one probably that transcends even the effronteries of the federal government. It is in an equality of cultural circumstance. We know that the rich the victim of foul air and bad water, radioactivity. But he..he is also uh the..he is also
he is also the, he is also the victim of an approaching conformity of thought and attitude. The symbol of which is the constant centripetal- -ization of cultural and intellectual and political attitudes. It is not only that year after year after year the government is asked, the federal government is asked to do more that of the kind of thing that clearly can be done by the local community or even by the individual uh state. uh it is a kind of a predisposition to accept sin- -gle tuning forks of our own attitudes. How can we protect ourselves against, to use a synecdoche, the tyranny against, to use a synecdoche, the tyranny of the New York Times. But surely the problem of equality is a problem that was probed by Orwell,
it into advantage. The modern manifestations of that kind of equality of ?Vine McLuhan? when speaks of those totalities of the cir- circumstances circumstances by which we are all uh bombarded at at every moment of our conscious life time by the single uh necessities the imperatives of the fashionable age. It is that fashionable age. It is that kind of equality which I think we ought what is nothing less than a superstition; namely that only the federal government can step in. If the federal government steps it, it is precisely because humanity has failed. If humanity in justifying uh d..democratic government and we have no confidence at all in the ultimate beneficence to equality.
Good to talk to you but also to promote equality then set a cross examination Mr. Buckley has the privilege of cross-examining Reverend Coffin. Five minutes. of cross-examining Reverend Coffin. Five minutes. Mr. Coffin, economists have demonstrated and 61, [breathes in] uh the total redistribution by federal welfare measures amounted to between 15 and 16 16 percent of all of the dollars processed, that is to say a net total of 15 percent of the money raised for for federal welfare actually ended up in states different from those from those from which that money a..arose. H..H..How do you justify justify in a democratic society uh tak- taking from Connecticut only to return it to Connecticut? I'll get to the second part later. Alright it to Connecticut, I'll get to the second part later. [Audience laughs] Mr. Coffin replies.
I think that, uh, there's always a kind of dynamic which operates in this fashion. Every elected representative, if you want to talk about what a democracy, every elected representative has a two-fold function- one he has To represent his electorate but he also has to represent his own best judgment. And he can represent his own best judgment sometimes at one removed from the electorate in a fashion which he can't do when he's directly responsible. The federal government, in other words, is able to do things do things in which the state of Connecticut is not able to do. In the same way, for instance, the National Council In the same way, for instance, the National Council of Churches, if I can get back into my own, uh, domain a little bit, one I know a little bit in such a way that those directly represented the more conservative churches couldn't do. Now I'm not sure I'm not sure that you really can, in the city of New Haven, raise raise money out of the taxpayer to put into that kind of- the necessary money into education. And, uh, you can say it's not, uh, democratic If you can say if, uh, education is important than it can be done at a higher level
and if its done at kind of one removed, then it may be that this is, no democracy is that pure and maybe this is a justifiable thing. I do think that the federal government can put money into certain programs that the state government won't put, uh, money into and Connecticut is a beautiful demonstration of that. So, uh, I think that when you say that the money goes and then comes back, it goes but it comes back doesn't it. In a slightly different form which might not be possible any other way. [Applause] Mr. Buckley continues his questioning of the Reverend Coffin. Well it- it- is- isn't this to to reveal some sort of a vested, uh, interest, in, uh, in-in a continuing hallucination. [Audience laughter] Because point of fact, we do know that the representatives of Connecticut when they're down in Washington, vote these exactions reelected by the people of Connecticut. Aren't you in effect saying saying, I-I welcome that- that state of affairs in which the electorate of Connecticut doesn't actually know what it is up to because if it did
proceed as I, Bill Coffin, think it should. [audience chuckles] Now- this[audience applause] [applause continues] I think that your impatience with the democratic processes under circumstances is perfectly consistent but let me ask you this now, why would you object if, uh, at the end of, say, every 10 year period, Congress were to identify the net beneficiaries beneficiaries of federal welfare programs. Uh say the 18 or 20 or 22 average, uh and ask the more affluent states to contribute to the plan minority states. Now, do you object to that? Uh, because you fear or suspect that if it were put that way there would all of a sudden be a sunburst among among the electorate. That they would recognize what they were doing, that they would recognize your confirm your se- sneaking suspicion that that you actually live among misanthropes? [Audience laughter and applause]
I come back to the point that, uh, one has to represent not only ones constituency but one has to represent ones best judgment. And the federal government, when it represents its best judgement, it has all kinds of agencies to try and do this, it has all kinds of state departments, and housing, education and welfare and so forth. government, what is necessary for the general welfare of the country? An elected president wants to undertake these kind of programs and put his own political future on the line, saying "you can throw me out at the end of 4 years, but I think this is in the best uh interests of the country and I have a kind of perspective uh as the President of the entire United States which allows me to say this" perhaps from a certain different point of view than you sitting down there in the 12th ward can see. If he wants to do that, it seems to me, that this is the kind of recognition that a person in that position may see things that other people can't see. And if he's accountable that the sovereign people remain sovereign, and they can throw him out at the end of 4 years then he would be delinquent in his duty to see things from the vantage point where he sees them if he weren't to undertake take this kind of uh this kind of action. Now that's my understanding about why its written in the Federal Constitution
that the federal government will promote the general welfare. That's very far from a factual statement isn't it?- [audience laughs] it's over but, what, uh, what would you have done had you been elected the Mayor of New York, would you not have asked the federal government for any money? [audience laughter] Mr. Buckley replies to Mr. Coffin's question. What I would have done is-uh very carefully written out in a very long book, which you obviously haven't read. Uh if..if you say; what..what is the plight of the chess player, who moves into a game the first 17 moves already having been consummated The answer is, of course, that he faces the dilemma of making an 18th move not a 1st. And it is quite true that ?? for New York City trying to reclaim those of its dollars that are out pursuing Richard ?Lees? on out of the country.
It is, uh, it is to mix the categories, to ask how practically you can maneuver in a philosophical discussion. It's almost as unfair as if I were to say to Mr. Coffin 'What would you do in Vietnam?" [Audience laughs] Th..The point of course is that to the extent that one seeks to be uh uh philosophical, one seeks always to reach out for the most desired desired situation. Uh in New York City, uh a Mayor is obviously had to try to fetch back that which has been ?marked from? the community that he is trying to reform. But he has uh another function, surely, and that is the function of..of the leader. Heaven knows, Mr. Lindsey made plain his own charismatic willingness to exercise that function in the course of last campaign. [audience laughs] and that ought to have been constantly to New York that the reasons for their impoverishment have
uh to uh deploy their surplus according to their own many of the reforms that they seek to make are impossible for them to make because because of a very cute and intricate set of political leverages operating in Washington D.C. uh tend to disperse money not with reference to need or even original resources but rather with reference to the political leverage exercised by a particular particular community...[Audience applause]...I'll try again. Now this one is not, uh, uh, this isn't, uh, an a..a..attempt to score points at all, I'm seriously very interested in this possibility, whether right and left might have some kind of, uh, connection these day. Would you like to see the federal government, for instance rebate a state uh some type of uh large sums of money as a means of power in Washington. The money would go back to the state and then be used by the state in some way to do the same kind of
program. But it would be done through the state, it would be determined to some degree by the federal government, operated through the state, is that at all a possibility in your framework? is a possibility but a very desirable possibility by President President Kennedy's chief economic adviser, Mr. Heller, uh as we all know. [Audience laughs] He even [clears throat] Even. Even the most rabid centralizers occasionally crumble paradoxes that result from this mania for centralization. One day last summer; Stanford, Connecticut was identified by the statisticians as the single wealthiest per capita city in the entire world. On the following day, the council of Stanford Stanford, Connecticut rejoiced over its..uh having succeeded in persuading persuading the federal government to make a grant of $12,000 to study the problem of juvenile juvenile delinquency in Stanford [audience laughter]. Now, uh uh Mr. Heller
what uh caused him to recommend to the President President of the United States remitting to the states, uh money which which otherwise was going to the federal government in order to permit those states to uh uh try to solve their own problems in their own way. uh me as a breath of sanity uh in the uh general ideological frenzy of that administration. So what you propose administration. So what you propose so archly thinking to ambush me into embarrassment who served in a high capacity for a Democratic president. for a Democratic president. [Audience laughter and applause] [clapping] Reverend Coffin will now have 5 minutes to comment on the remarks made during the question period. I'm afraid I can't uh resist uh to allow my Christian slip to be showing when when Mr. Buckley talks about theological uh definitions of equality.
I'd like to give two, which seem to me to me a very clear theological definitions of equality, one is that, uh, is a value, is a gift and not an achievement. It's something bestowed in this sense all men are radically the same in terms of their value. And that to blaspheme- to uh discriminate against another person in terms of his value value then is not only an offense against the human spirit, but is really blasphemy in the uh face face of the Creator. Now what goes into uh enhancing a man's value, this is very mysterious but seeing that man is, uh, not a disembodied spirit but a soul incarnate certainly the material things are very important, certainly what kind of a job he holds, whether he's doing human work, whether he's doing inhuman work terribly important. The second definition of equality from a theological point of view, if you go back to the Greek, equality didn't mean same-ness, but one-ness. So all men are equal means all men are one. We all belong, one to another, that's the way God made it. From a Christian point of view, Christ died to keep us that way. So our sin is that we are constantly trying to put asunder what God himself has joined together.
And to find some kind of unity, to make manifest this kind of unity, uh between human beings is, of course, another than imperative which people have to see worked out uh, in some uh fashion or another. Now I was kind of surprised to be, uh. consider ?they're? offering an ideological framework I thought I was trying to be a little bit factual, and I found uh Mr. Buckley constantly getting back in into an ideological framework. Let me try and just spell out for instance, uh, in a very practical practical sense, how do you deal with a good Samaritan instinct if you're trying to make manifest the dignity trying to make manifest this oneness with other people? If for instance you know story of the good Samaritan, the jew who fell among thieves. And suppose a jew fell among thieves, on uh, lets say 110th Street in New York City. and say Mr. Buckley were to come along, he'd be enjoined by city law not to touch the man. And its a good law, you might do him more harm than good unless you were an expert in first aid. So what is he to do? He's to go to the nearest phone booth, call the City Hospital to send the city ambulance ambulance and this I've seen happen. It took the ambulance 4- 45
another 45 minute to get back so the man is dead by the by the time he gets to the Hospital. What is Mr. Buckley going to do in a situation like that? He's dealing with a city ambulance coming from a city hospital and that means city politics. He's dealing with a man who fell among thieves he's dealing then with a police force, again a matter of city politics, he's dealing then with a man who fell among thieves, So why do we have so many thieves in an affluent society? Once again, these are social problems that have to be dealt with on a rather large scale in a city like New York. I don't see how you can escape the uh..the question question of city politics. I'm not trying to be ideological at all I'm trying to be eminently practical. Here's the people in in need. Now, how in God's name are you going to get the people in need? And it doesn't do any good any good to talk about all the danger of the coercive power, you know, the majority doing this, [audience applause] and that, and the other. [Audience applauds] It seems we've got some very hard-nosed facts that have to be faced here. The facts of incredibly bad schools in our inner city, then tax basis which have shrunk in the city. And how are we going to deal with these? We didn't hear one word about what we are going to do about the plight of the kids who are dying, spiritually speaking which is the only significant
way of speaking, in the cities of-[audience laughs] in the cities of New York. Again and again this has been documented what about the housing Just to maintain the city at its present level which ?Lowe? thinks would take immediately 1.5 billion dollars, I think that is his figure. Now these are very hard nosed, uh, situations that people have to deal with in a very, with a combination of a warm heart and a cool head. And I'd like to see, uh, some kind of combination of this side come up from Mr. Buckley and answer these very pressing needs. I'm not sure that there's only one way to do it, but I'd like to hear some other ways. And I'd still would like to hear from him just what he wants to do about the school situation in New York City. Where uh he knows more about the uh than any other city, presumably, also the question of low income housing because he knows darn well there are more rats in New York City actually than are inhabitants, and if you can- that uh..that is uh..a well [audience laughs] that is a well-documented, uh, statistic. No problem on that one whatsoever. [Audience laughs] So I would like to know exactly what he means. Now when he says America doesn't have unlimited resources
that, uh, is we're going to allocate our resources. If we weren't spending 50 billion dollars in the Pentagon and 20 billion dollars for the space and another, up to about 32 billion dollars in Vietnam now, we would have a lot of money that would that would be available. The question is what our national priorities are, and if anybody- [audience applause] [applause continues] [applause continues] If we reverse our national priorities in this country, there's no question about about the amount of money that would be would be available. Now uh, for instance the Randolph- Philip Randolph budget which will probably be taken up by LBJ, I think he'd do it if he didn't have this crummy little war on his hands, and I think it is one of the path- pathetic pathetic things about it is that Johnson would like to see some of these measures really carried through. But I think it can be, uh- it can be easily worked out, that technologically now there's no excuse for poverty in this country. And if technologically there's no excuse, then there's no moral excuse. It's just that simple. It's only a It's only a question of where you want to put your priorities and what you want to do it. Its not a question of asking for the moon.
It's asking for social justice and in the nation which of all nations on this world can most easily afford it. So let's not talk about, we don't have unlimited resources. We have resources, and if we didn't spend 'em on our highways, we didn't spend them on our speed boats, on our office buildings, but if we spent them on our kids and on our schools, if we spend it on basic housing where it is necessary to create the type of environment to make this country a little more human, Then we'd be in a position to say that we've really- that we can talk about this country as some rather humane place. It's got some sense of decency still left, but I haven't heard one word of these immediate human problems not from- not from Mr. Buckley at all, not one single word. How's he going to talk talk about this being a human place when he's not willing to talk about human beings. Now I really invite him these last 5 minutes to deal very specifically with the problems of New York City Schools, and its low-cost housing and also what he's going to do about the dreadful unemployment. Which is now being internalized, and if anybody's ever lived in the slums, they know exactly what I'm talking about, it gets internalized in the situations of despair and resentment so that people aren't only unemployed they are unemployable. And the longer that goes on of course, the more and more difficulties we're going to have not to get people out of the slums, but getting the slums out of people and try to restore humanity...[fades out audience applause] [Voiceover] That last 5 minute speech by Mr. Coffin getting standing ovation from approximately 30 percent of the audience, now they're quieting down. John Mungstrom. Mr. Buckley now has 5 minutes.
Uh it's interesting that in a discussion uh about equality, we should suddenly..I said that it was interesting that in a discussion [laughter, noise] that in a discussion uh about equality, especially one that began with a heartfelt para-ration about plight of the 1940's as opposed to the '60 uh we should disdain the use of 18 billion dollars to try to give some equality and hope to the people of South Vietnam. [audience cheer applause] [Applause continues] [Applause continues] [Applause, knock] I am not surprised at Dr. Coffin's resort to demagogy. It's It is [audience laughs] [applause continues] It is absolutely necessary
in order to make his case uh intelligible, and it is a tribute to his ingenuity, but not much to your own that he should attempted to succeed [audience applause] The point of the fact is, he says to succeed. He says Mr. Buckley has been extremely evasive, he has not answered the problems of how we are actually going to cope with the problems of the people- of the people of the United United States," let alone the people of the world we have an annual gross income of 675 billion dollars. Who created that gross national income, Dr. Coffin? Coffin? No. The federal government? No. It was precisely the workings of stressed certain presumptions..certain presumptions presumptions which, in fact, many of them were embodied in the Constitution of the United States. That presumption is in favor of the private sector as opposed to the public sector. Uh it is It is in favor of the local political entity rather than the massive political entity. Now the question is 'Has it, in fact, worked?' If, in fact, we do have the kind kind of surplus to which he paid such eloquent attention in the early part of his discussion
aren't we entitled to ask how come we have that surplus? What other nation has ?addictedly? ?addictedly? generated a surplus of the kind that even permits us to consider ?? acts throughout the world, uh, Russia, India, the other socialist countries that have attempted primarily through the force of rhetoric to do something about it? thing about it. Let me tell Mr..Mr. Coffin- [Audience applause] [Applause continues] [Applause continues] Let-let me tell him something before he starts lecturing me about, uh, my lack of concern for the poor. [Audience laughs] [Audience continues] [Applause continues] And that is that precisely precisely that surplus which has generated, which has made it possible for us efficaciously efficaciously to concern ourselves over the question of equality. Uh is a surplus that generated as a result of letting people alone, letting them be free, uh permitting them them to produce the kind of surplus that created this institution among others, this institution of which, I sometimes get the feeling that Dr. Coffin scarcely endorses. [Audience laughs]
Listen Here
William F. Buckley Jr and Rev. W. Sloan Coffin Debate
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William F. Buckley and Rev. W. Sloan Coffin debate the topic resolved "That the Government Has a Duty to Promote Equality as well as To Protect Liberty," for a live audience at Yale University. Sloan speaks in favor of the resolution, and Buckley speaks for the opposition. Sloan talks about freedom, especially protection from political oppression and protection from destitution. Buckley argues that if people are equal as determined by God, then the federal government does not need to be involved. He also argues that the spirit of equality is so varied between people that it is difficult to regulate, and that the responsibility of providing people's material needs should be a human responsibility rather than a governmental responsibility. After their initial arguments, the debaters ask each other direct questions.
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Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: 67-0066-02-05-001 (WGBH Item ID)
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Duration: 00:59:30
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Chicago: “Listen Here; William F. Buckley Jr and Rev. W. Sloan Coffin Debate,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 8, 2020,
MLA: “Listen Here; William F. Buckley Jr and Rev. W. Sloan Coffin Debate.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 8, 2020. <>.
APA: Listen Here; William F. Buckley Jr and Rev. W. Sloan Coffin Debate. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from