Charles Murray is something of a public intellectual. After reading libertarian Bradley Manning and leaving the New Atheist fringe, he went on to be a standout advocate for nationalism among intellectuals and academics, spurring debates with Bruce Bartlett and others who eschewed traditional ties between nationhood and “good” and “evil.”

Mr. Murray soon became a lightning rod for the rising alt-right movement, its toxic echoes forever seared into the internet. (His history with people like David Duke and Jim Jones have prompted him to speak at universities and political events across the U.S. and Europe.) Most recently, Mr. Murray authored the New York Times’ most-read op-ed of 2016: “The Violent, Forgotten Right.”

Yet it was only last year that a particularly vicious attack on Mr. Murray and his family was published in the alt-right’s most-watched forum, 4chan. In it, Mr. Murray was accused of doingodling and writing in his shirt pocket of the Nazi flag, and other instances of apparent Nazi sympathies were attached. The article also dubbed Mr. Murray a “racist scourge.”

But now, Mr. Murray is back, sitting down for what he called an “open discussion” with his most provocative critic, Brian McLaren, both men returning from the virtual world. The two, among others, will take questions about both politics and art in a second debate for a new installment of the Mother Jones podcast that debuted last week. This time, it will not be on Reddit, though. They plan to meet on a stage in Nashville, Tennessee, and the details are yet to be finalized.

What they have in common, Mr. Murray told Ms. Williams, is a sense of the occasional discomfort of long-term friendship, “which I wouldn’t have with anybody else.”

McLaren, while considered sympathetic to libertarian ideas, has argued that the “constitutionalist” approach of Mr. Murray is too rigid, and defended himself in an essay in the Santa Cruz New Times last year from accusations of racism and intellectual condescension.

“I would worry if I thought that [I might see] racist items in the respondent’s shirt pockets in a physical meeting,” McLaren wrote.

Yet the duo, who have known each other for more than two decades, remain comfortable enough in their friendship to debate a series of topics (including Mr. Murray’s own political ideas) in a series of in-person debates that many are calling unlikely since the writer is so notorious for being too intense.

“There have never been two people in this country more polarizing, but we could still really challenge and disagree,” Ms. Williams told the Observer.

Ms. Williams also criticized what she described as Mr. Murray’s influence on today’s American dialogue. He wrote a book in 2011, “Coming Apart,” that argued for historic social divisions and lay the blame for them at the feet of liberal media and left-wing academics. The book shaped the debate from the right and it’s been revisited frequently since its publication in 2010.

Murray responded to Ms. Williams last week by writing that one of the main reasons why Ms. Williams was interested in hosting the debate was to elevate one’s own identity at the expense of others.

“If you aren’t especially worried about people treating you differently as a result of your virtue, well, you can just shrug it off,” Murray wrote, talking about Ms. Williams. “If you’re worried that other people will start judging you because you reject the very idea of judging people, to a great extent, as wrong, and that you are a better person, you have far more to gain by making sure that none of them do.”

McLaren—a former reporter for Metro USA—has been a leading critic of the white nationalist right in the U.S. McLaren himself once sported a swastika tattoo and was one of 4chan’s top commenters on race-related topics. Though neither Mr. Murray or McLaren has backed down from their positions, they at least seem open to a discussion. McLaren explained his thinking in a piece on The Atlantic earlier this month, arguing that conversation may be the first step toward change.

“I want to grapple and wrestle with Murray’s ideas, so I’m going to do exactly that. I’m not going to surrender to our loss of significance,” McLaren wrote. “Murray’s opinions are valid; he’s a serious person. He has indeed chosen to fight for them by making a place for himself