"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Scary True Believers

Dan Drezner has a nice round-up of the blogosphere dustup regarding Ann Althouse's attendance at a Liberty Fund conference and her horror at discovering that there are people who really, really believe things. Really.

Now, I have my libertarian (or what our STK would call classical liberal) leanings and I'm instinctively unsympathetic to someone like Althouse who bursts into tears on learning that some young woman doesn't quite appreciate the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But I have to say that, having been to a few Liberty Fund conferences myself, it is true that you can run across people who are so committed to their ideas that they really lose their capacity for judgment. I was at one where a young woman opined that the people of North Korea must not mind having the government they did. Since outcomes reflect "revealed preferences", they must be ok living a collective gulag. After violating the Liberty Fund rules (by talking out of turn) and calling her view "the dumbest thing I've ever heard someone say", I didn't think I'd get invited back to another conference.

I did, though, and I'm happy to say that in general, that young woman has been a minority and the LF conferences I've been a part of have been delightful weekends of serious, thoughtful, and invigorating discussion. Indeed, they are places where people take ideas and texts seriously and truly try to understand what some of our forbears have written - much more so than any university campus I've been on (and I've been on way too many). It's a shame Professor Althouse couldn't seemingly handle such an environment.

(As a side note, the incident is reflective, I think, of how much contemporary liberalism sees its moral capital tied up in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.)

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