The defence of liberty and the pursuit of justice: Hugh MacDiarmid at the Oxford Union with Malcolm X

On December 3 1964 Hugh MacDiarmid took part in a debate at the Oxford Union. MacDiarmid supported the motion that “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice, moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue”. The motion was taken from a speech given by then Senator Barry Goldwater when he accepted the Republican party’s presidential nomination (beating, among others, Richard Nixon) in July of the same year. The conservative Goldwater had gone on to lose the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson the following November.

The Oxford Union debate is most famous for the appearance of Malcolm X, a little over two months before his assassination in New York City on 21 February 1965. A forthcoming book by Saladin M. Ambar of Lehigh University’s Political Science department, “Malcolm X at Oxford Union: Racial Politics in a Global Era” (OUP USA, March 2014), examines Malcolm X’s contribution in the context of his travels across Africa and the Muslim world and the subsequent broadening of his thought to engage with decolonisation and the revolutions across the newly postcolonial world:

Unfortunately there appears to be no video footage of MacDiarmid speaking at the Oxford Union. However, thanks to a full audio recording of the debate is available: