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Friday, September 25, 2015

You cannot reason a person out of radicalism, which is not reasoned into

CNN made history by giving Hugh Hewitt, an avowedly conservative -- not even Fox "fair and balanced," but an out conservative -- opinion journalist, a seat at the table to ask conservative questions -- not just questions conservatives want to ask, but stipulating conservative premises and goals -- of the GOP presidential candidates. This is the future: the long, stupid era of feigned neutrality is finally nearing an end.  Everyone knows the NYT, the LA Times, the national broadcast news shows, are all left. Just like everyone knows the universities are left. And not just the universities but K-12. That's why my wife and I made the decision to homeschool our kids. There's no way we're turning them over to the left California education system. 

“You cannot reason a person out of something he has not been reasoned into.” Jonathan Swift said that. Joseph Epstein, that great American essayist and former leftist, quoted him in his 1988 essay A Virtuecrat Remembers, blasting the left's radical, and dangerous, self-righteousness:  "the Russian Revolution was nothing if not a revolution choreographed, orchestrated, and staged by intellectuals....[I]ntellectuals tend to become highly stimulated by revolution— by the actuality, the prospect, even the idea of it." In America, though, the tools of the revolutionaries were their own undoing: the radical blacks told the radical whites to bug off. So the more pathetic radical whites allowed themselves to be mau-maued as in the Tom Wolfe essay, or to actively disassemble ("deconstruct") western civilization by filling the place in students' minds where it used to go with a series of studiously unstudious "studies" courses.

The left doesn't try to reason people into leftism. It might not be religion in an accurate sense -- certainly, at most, a very poor one -- but it employs many of the tools used to instill religion: a captive audience and a controlled environment with a lack of meaningful choice; identity; and a language of morality: good and evil, praise and shame. Epstein's denunciation of the left sounds in apostasy of one's abandoned religion: 
As someone who wanted to continue to think himself a man of the left, much that was now going on in left-wing circles felt to me very wrong. It was clearly wrong, I felt, for professors beyond the draft age to encourage their students to burn their draft cards as a protest against the Vietnam War. It was wrong for a rather twerpy journalist named Andrew Kopkind, in the New York Review of Books, to instruct Martin Luther King, Jr., that “morality starts at the barrel of a gun.” It was wrong for Lewis Mumford, in the pages of the New Yorker, to link Richard Nixon’s name alongside those of Hitler and Stalin as among the moral monsters of the twentieth century— wrong for a writer who claimed a historical imagination to be so historically ignorant and wrong for a magazine as reputable as the New Yorker to let him get away with such ignorance. It was wrong, and comic into the bargain, that Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Bernstein would throw a fund-raising party for the Black Panthers, though fortunate that they were obtuse enough to invite Tom Wolfe to it. It was wrong, and not at all comic, that the radical left would at the first opportunity declare itself anti-Israel (wrong but scarcely surprising, given the guru Marx’s opinion that the Jews were a kind of recurrent international disease produced from the intestines of bourgeois society).
Why does the left fail to see the terrible things it has done, and the false facts they still cling to, unless they are teaching what they think to be knowledge -- which does not expurgate tenets moral and religious, or quasi-religious -- as opposed to bare facts, which do? The left is not interested in arguing so much as converting; not teaching but proselytizing. And so there is no reasoning out of leftism as it was not reasoned into.  On his daily radio show, Hugh Hewitt asks every lefty guest if they believe Alger Hiss was guilty. Those who admit to knowing who he was are split between either declining to state or conceding he probably was. This is a rather large number of people, in other words, among our elite who still carry water in one form or another for a communist spy simply because he was one of their own -- an elite radical.

I say: no need. Carry water in the full light of day for Hiss, Che, X, Carmichael, Newton and the Black Panthers, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, etc. They'll do it anyway. Just let the right do the same in their own elections, in their own schools. Unilateral intellectual disarmament is a bad play. It's bad pedagogy and bad tactics. Gear up.

Epstein deserves the last word: 
But it is liberalism which has lost its moorings, and which stands chiefly for tolerance for activities well to its own left and is finally convinced only of its own virtue. When a liberal myself, I used to wonder why people so despised liberals. I used to think it was owing to the liberal’s avoidance of extremes, of his desire always to occupy the middle ground. No longer a liberal, I no longer think liberalism is, in its contemporary incarnation, informed by balance and fairness; I think it is instead motivated by fear and self-righteousness.


Anonymous said...

This was a very good essay, Tim. It might have been more powerful, however, had you been willing to look at it from the opposite point of view as well as our own. Everyone can look over the fence and see the flaws that stand there; it takes a better class of writer to look on his own side and see those same flaws.

You are a terrific writer, and as much as I enjoyed this post I would have enjoyed a one that looked in the mirror as well as over the fence considerably more.

Food for thought, I hope.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hard to be balanced in a polemic; it's sort of self-defeating. But structurally, liberalism-leftism-radicalism is polemical. Wherever there is man, there is imperfection. But it takes no real insight or moral courage to point out imperfection in the current age.

Mr. Kowal's is a polemic against polemicism, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Ach, well there is that and that's for sure. Where you and I might disagree, I suppose, would be whether the world is currently in need of more polemicists or fewer.

I made a comment in one of Mark's essays a few weeks ago, saying that if we are going to advance the conservative cause we would do well to focus more on figuring out how to convince the unconverted messages than how to circle the wagons. We already do the latter just fine; it isn't helping the long game so much.

As for the esteemed Mr. Kowal, he strikes me as too gifted a writer and intellectual to waste his talents preaching to choirs. The choirs need precious little preaching these days, I find.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I spend a lot of time on the front lines and have the scars to show for it. I'm coming to the conclusion the right is losing arguments because it doesn't understand its enemy.

In other words, it might be better for writers as gifted as Tim to give other conservatives better swords and shields to battle with. The problem is that the only ones with guts, like Kim Davis, have idiot arguments, and the ones with good arguments lack the guts.

queen bee said...

"I'm coming to the conclusion the right is losing arguments because it doesn't understand its enemy."

if you truly believe your neighbor to be your 'enemy,' then your observation is most surely and perhaps ironically true.

"In other words, it might be better for writers as gifted as Tim to give other conservatives better swords and shields to battle with"

do you believe these arguments will sway the unconverted? perhaps they might. you are, i believe, older and more experienced than i am, so you likely know better. myself, i have never found that the "those who disagree with us are monsters, yet still we remain without flaws" approach draws the flies to the honey the way people who use such arguments believe they do.

ps = also, mr. van dyke, i am jettisoning the 'anonymous' tag, as requested!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good for you, Ms. Bee. Welcome.

Actually I believe that radicals [not necessarily "liberals"] are by definition self-declared enemies of the status quo. Conservatism properly understood is merely a rejection of radicalism.

Society isn't perfect and will never be. But the radical tears down fences without any knowledge or concern about why those fences were built in the first place. This is where I believe Tim is going with this, hence his "polemic against polemicism."

queen bee said...

oh, is this a blog dedicated to fighting radicalism? apologies. i had misread it as a blog dedicated to fighting liberals. i anxiously await the many forthcoming essays that discuss the dangers of right-wing radicalism!


more seriously, though, at what point do the things i wish we as a society would do more/less of stop being "protecting the status quo" and become an active effort to overturn the apple cart (or tearing down the fences, as you so ably put it)? i might not like the new deal, mr. van dyke, but i readily admit it has been the 'status quo' since before my or my parents birth. for me to say otherwise seems disingenuous.

this is an example of what i mean when i say that we need better arguments to win converts. those who sit in the center will turn a deaf ear to you the moment that you say you "fight for the status quo" when you want to turn back the clock a century or more. they will recognize it for what it is: a push for a tremendous (one might even say radical) change, filled with high risk/high reward. if you want them to listen, you need to convince them that the risk is worth it, not use pretty words to pretend it isn't there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

This is a more a blog on political philosophy/theology than a drag-out on every issue of the day. Neither do I have much hope that the left is very interested in such things, with their unstinting approval of brute political force as practiced by Barack Obama and the Supreme Court in Obergefell.

We're more an oasis for those who do care about principles and believe that truth exists objectively. Unfortunately, the ones with guts [say, Kim Davis] have bad arguments, and those with good arguments have no guts. We're here to pump each other up in both departments.