I recently received an email from conservative writer and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, asking me if I would be willing to be interviewed for his upcoming film The United States of Socialism. Below is his email to me, followed by my reply:
Hi Nathan Robinson: This is Dinesh D’Souza. I’m writing to see if you might be open to me interviewing you about your book for my upcoming documentary film UNITED STATES OF SOCIALISM.
As you probably know, we’re on opposite sides of the aisle. But I read that you want your book to reach non-socialists! Not just preach to the converted.
Well, here’s your opportunity. Our film will be seen by people across the spectrum, but most of its audience will be center-right.
I’ve interviewed people on the left in my films before (Bill Ayers, Michael Eric Dyson, Ward Churchill and others). I always have good relations with them, and I always let them present their viewpoint fairly.
Never once has anyone said that I treated them badly or misrepresented them in any way.
So: If you’re up for an opportunity for a lively but respectful exchange, this is it.
I’d like to interview you in New York on or around March 5. Not sure where you’re based (Cambridge?) but we can fly you down for the day if you’re willing.
I’ll also be happy to share some topics in advance. I’ve just completed my book of the same title UNITED STATES OF SOCIALISM. The book typically provides the intellectual backbone of the movie.
So I’m well versed in the subject, as you are. This should be fun. Let me know if you’re up for it. I’m also happy to do a call to introduce myself and tell you more about the project.
Dear Mr. D’Souza,
While I would be happy to publicly discuss the topic of socialism with you, I cannot agree to do so in the form of an interview for your film The United States of Socialism. I do indeed welcome opportunities to present my case to people who are skeptical of my politics, but I am sure you understand that what you are proposing would not, in fact, allow me to do that. I cannot possibly hope for a fair hearing if my position is reduced to a few 30-second clips, to be chosen and curated by you. The proper way to have the discussion you desire is through a full debate with equal time and a neutral moderator.
You assure me that you have interviewed people on the left before, and that they have not complained. I do not doubt it, though I suspect that it was because their expectations for your presentation were low to begin with. I wish I could trust that your film will be a model of integrity and fairness. Unfortunately, I do not trust you at all, because I have read your books. In your work, you display no desire whatsoever to understand the left perspective on politics. You advance easily-refuted arguments about the supposed similarity of Hitler’s politics and my own. You seem entirely ignorant of the anarchist socialist tradition, associating socialism solely with central planning by totalitarian states. You do not even seem to read the sources you cite, which sometimes flatly contradict your claims. You rely on transparent sophistry and have never shown any sign of giving a serious empathetic hearing to the left position or considering the possibility that we might have a point. I am all but certain that when The United States of Socialism comes out, it will be riddled with bad arguments and unfounded conspiratorial narratives designed to convince people that we are authoritarian idiots trying to destroy the world.
Because I am open-minded, I certainly hope that I will be proven wrong, and it will turn out that you have given us a serious read and realized that we are not mindless “America haters” or little Robespierres-in-waiting. Perhaps The United States of Socialism will be about how you discovered socialists were sensible, and there should be a United States of Socialism. Given your decades of previous work, I am not holding my breath. But I do not believe people are irredeemable, and perhaps someday even you will realize that we socialists actually say a lot that makes sense.
I would welcome the opportunity to show you why I believe your previous statements about socialism are wrong, unfair, and harmful, and help you understand why people on my side find so much of your work repellent. However, your previous body of output does not allow me to be confident that appearing in your film would give me a reasonable chance to make my side of the argument. I hope you do not take this as an indication that I shun discussion or fear challenges to my position, and I am open to having a public exchange of ideas in writing or in the form of a live debate. I am flexible on dates, and there is no need for you to pay for the plane ticket, though I appreciate the offer.
Nathan J. Robinson
P.S. I am also willing to consider an alternate arrangement whereby I appear in the film but get to speak for exactly half of the full length of its running time, so that your case against socialism and my case for it are given an equal opportunity to be heard. If we pursued this option, I would not only need editorial control over my portion, but would also need a budget to do dramatic reenactments, as I understand these are a staple of your documentaries and it would only be fair to allow me to perform some of my own.