Pondering two American essayists: Vidal & Buckley
"[T]here is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise". -- Gore Vidal
The quote is from Gore Vidal, though intellectuals from Plato onward have shared this attitude, especially when dealing with political subjects. Vidal would have classicists as kings, while Plato would have philosophers. (Naturally, I'd prefer the latter, thank you.)
This Vidal character strikes me as someone whom I would despise when within eight feet of him, but whom I actually appreciate when he's located a few states away. Here's another quote:
"[T]here is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt — until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."[1; Vidal]
I know the French tend to make celebrities out of their cultural commentators. If America were to do so -- and I'm mostly glad we don't -- Vidal would probably be ours.
Every good intellectual has a nemesis, and I was surprised to learn that Vidal's was none other than William F. Buckley, another of my favorite American commentators. On my view, Buckley's two choice quotes are these:
"The purpose of an open mind is to close it, on particular subjects. If you never do — you've simply abdicated the responsibility to think." [And:] "Government can't do anything for you except in proportion as it can do something to you."[1; Buckley]
The latter is reminiscent of the late Gerald Ford's view: " "A government big enough to give you everything you need is also big enough to take it all away."
Once, a long time ago, in an America far, far away, Yoda briefly tangled with a Sith. Wikipedia gives a nice summary of what happened:
"In 1968, ABC News hired Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. as political analysts of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions, predicting that television viewers would enjoy seeing two men of letters — famous for their acerbic wit and sarcasm — engage in on-air battle; as it turned out, verbal and nearly physical combat were joined. After days of mutual bickering that devolved to childish, ad hominem attacks, Vidal called Buckley a 'pro-crypto Nazi', to which the visibly livid Buckley replied: 'Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.'" [1; Vidal]
So much for the measured response of two rational scholars towards one another. Afterwards, they apparently both acquired the hobby of suing each other for libel over the next few years as they wrestled to become king commentator of the American essayist galaxy. They were both born the same year, so perhaps their sole victory conditions lie in seeing who can outlive the other.
Vidal: "Palästina: Zerrissenes ,Heiliges Land’" Zeiten Schrift (Accessed 2/3/07)
Buckley: "William F. Buckley II on today's Republican Party" Zmetro.com: Politics Archives
 All quotes from Wikipedia articles on "Gore Vidal" and "William F. Buckley, Jr." (Accessed 2/3/2007)