Tag Archives: Damon Linker

New Atheists: The New Coke Of Intellectual Combatants?

David Bentley Hart in First Things:

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.


The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not—honestly, I am not—simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds
of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

If that seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that I have arrived at it honestly. In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any.

What I did take away from the experience was a fairly good sense of the real scope and ambition of the New Atheist project. I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability.

The only points at which the New Atheists seem to invite any serious intellectual engagement are those at which they try to demonstrate that all the traditional metaphysical arguments for the reality of God fail. At least, this should be their most powerful line of critique, and no doubt would be if any of them could demonstrate a respectable understanding of those traditional metaphysical arguments, as well as an ability to refute them. Curiously enough, however, not even the trained philosophers among them seem able to do this. And this is, as far as I can tell, as much a result of indolence as of philosophical ineptitude. The insouciance with which, for instance, Daniel Dennett tends to approach such matters is so torpid as to verge on the reptilian. He scarcely bothers even to get the traditional “theistic” arguments right, and the few ripostes he ventures are often the ones most easily discredited.

As a rule, the New Atheists’ concept of God is simply that of some very immense and powerful being among other beings, who serves as the first cause of all other things only in the sense that he is prior to and larger than all other causes. That is, the New Atheists are concerned with the sort of God believed in by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Deists. Dawkins, for instance, even cites with approval the old village atheist’s cavil that omniscience and omnipotence are incompatible because a God who infallibly foresaw the future would be impotent to change it—as though Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and so forth understood God simply as some temporal being of interminable duration who knows things as we do, as external objects of cognition, mediated to him under the conditions of space and time.

Thus, the New Atheists’ favorite argument turns out to be just a version of the old argument from infinite regress: If you try to explain the existence of the universe by asserting God created it, you have solved nothing because then you are obliged to say where God came from, and so on ad infinitum, one turtle after another, all the way down. This is a line of attack with a long pedigree, admittedly. John Stuart Mill learned it at his father’s knee. Bertrand Russell thought it more than sufficient to put paid to the whole God issue once and for all. Dennett thinks it as unanswerable today as when Hume first advanced it—although, as a professed admirer of Hume, he might have noticed that Hume quite explicitly treats it as a formidable objection only to the God of Deism, not to the God of “traditional metaphysics.” In truth, though, there could hardly be a weaker argument. To use a feeble analogy, it is rather like asserting that it is inadequate to say that light is the cause of illumination because one is then obliged to say what it is that illuminates the light, and so on ad infinitum.

Ross Douthat:

Given the durability and predictability of the arguments involved, and the amount of ink spilled on them over the years (and centuries, and millennia), it’s hard to come up with something interesting to say on the question of Christianity versus the “new” atheists. But the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has now managed the trick twice: Once in his slim book “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies,” which came out last year, and now in a fine essay for the latest First Things. Here’s his concluding reflection — but do read the whole thing:

If I were to choose from among the New Atheists a single figure who to my mind epitomizes the spiritual chasm that separates Nietzsche’s unbelief from theirs, I think it would be the philosopher and essayist A.C. Grayling … Couched at one juncture among [his] various arguments (all of which are pretty poor), there is something resembling a cogent point. Among the defenses of Christianity an apologist might adduce, says Grayling, would be a purely aesthetic cultural argument: But for Christianity, there would be no Renaissance art—no Annunciations or Madonnas—and would we not all be much the poorer if that were so? But, in fact, no, counters Grayling; we might rather profit from a far greater number of canvasses devoted to the lovely mythical themes of classical antiquity, and only a macabre sensibility could fail to see that “an Aphrodite emerging from the Paphian foam is an infinitely more life-enhancing image than a Deposition from the Cross.” Here Grayling almost achieves a Nietzschean moment of moral clarity.

Ignoring that leaden and almost perfectly ductile phrase “life-enhancing,” I, too—red of blood and rude of health—would have to say I generally prefer the sight of nubile beauty to that of a murdered man’s shattered corpse. The question of whether Grayling might be accused of a certain deficiency of tragic sense can be deferred here. But perhaps he would have done well, in choosing this comparison, to have reflected on the sheer strangeness, and the significance, of the historical and cultural changes that made it possible in the first place for the death of a common man at the hands of a duly appointed legal authority to become the captivating center of an entire civilization’s moral and aesthetic contemplations—and for the deaths of all common men and women perhaps to be invested thereby with a gravity that the ancient order would never have accorded them.

Here, displayed with an altogether elegant incomprehensibility in Grayling’s casual juxtaposition of the sea-born goddess and the crucified God (who is a crucified man), one catches a glimpse of the enigma of the Christian event, which Nietzsche understood and Grayling does not: the lightning bolt that broke from the cloudless sky of pagan antiquity, the long revolution that overturned the hierarchies of heaven and earth alike. One does not have to believe any of it, of course—the Christian story, its moral claims, its metaphysical systems, and so forth. But anyone who chooses to lament that event should also be willing, first, to see this image of the God-man, broken at the foot of the cross, for what it is, in the full mystery of its historical contingency, spiritual pathos, and moral novelty: that tender agony of the soul that finds the glory of God in the most abject and defeated of human forms. Only if one has succeeded in doing this can it be of any significance if one still, then, elects to turn away.

Rod Dreher:

You really should read the whole thing, especially Hart’s conclusion. Essentially he respects Nietzsche’s atheism a very great deal, though obviously he opposes it, because Hart sees that Nietzsche understands precisely what repudiating Christianity means.

Kevin Drum:

So: do the New Atheists recycle old arguments? Of course they do. But that’s not because they’re illiterate, it’s because those arguments have never been convincingly answered. All the recondite language in the world doesn’t change that, either, because the paradoxes are inherent in the ideas themselves. In the end, the English language probably just isn’t up to the task of answering them, no matter how hard you try to twist it. To say that God is is best understood as an absolute plenitude of actuality doesn’t really advance the ball so much as it merely tries to hide it.

Later in the essay, perhaps recognizing that he’s exhausted the semantic possibilities here, Hart redirects his focus to the cultural impact of Christianity, suggesting that the New Atheists haven’t truly grappled with what a world without religion would be like. And perhaps they haven’t. But interior passions and social mores work both ways. Did Isaac Newton feel a deeper aesthetic connection with the infinite when he was inventing calculus or when he was absorbed in Christian mysticism? Who can say? Not me, surely, and not Hart either. Likewise, the question of whether Christianity has, on balance, been a force for moral good is only slightly more tractable. Does keeping the servants from stealing the silver really outweigh the depredations of the Crusades and the Inquisition?

But no matter how beguiling those questions are, surely the metaphysical one always comes first. To say merely that Christianity is comforting or practical — assuming you believe that — is hardly enough. You need to show that it’s true. And if you want to assert that something is true, the onus is on you to demonstrate it, not on the New Atheists to demonstrate conclusively that it isn’t. After all, in the end the only difference between Hart and Dawkins is that Hart believes in 1% of the world’s religions and Dawkins believes in 0% of them. It’s Dawkins’ job only to question that remaining 1%. It’s Hart’s job to answer him.

Andrew Sullivan:

Look: human nature being what it is, most religious people will be a dreadful example of the best version of faith you can find. Drum permits what Hitch’s book was: a grand guignol of anti-clerical, fish-barrel-shooting. It’s easy; it’s way fun; mockery of inarticulate believers has made my friend, Bill Maher, lotsa money. But it’s largely missing the real intellectual task by fighting a straw man, rather than a real and living and intelligent faith. Part of that is the fault of believers. We’ve done a lousy job of delineating a living faith for modernity.

UPDATE: Damon Linker at TNR

Kevin Drum

UPDATE #2: Sullivan responds to Drum

Drum responds to Sullivan

Sullivan responds to Drum

UPDATE #3: Kevin Drum

Joe Carter at First Things

Rod Dreher

UPDATE #4: Razib Khan at Secular Right on Carter

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Filed under Religion

My, That Is An Exceptional 6 Train

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz at The League:

Lowry and Ponnuru seem to believe that mass transit is a “socialistic program” and an “infringement on our liberty.” Presumably they think this because mass transit is built and administered by the government and supported, quite often, by taxes. But the exact same thing is true of highways. Would Lowry and Ponnuru denounce the Interestate system as socialistic on the same grounds?

Their casual slander also dishonors one of the recently passed heroes of the conservative movement, Paul Weyrich. Weyrich co-founded the Heritage Foundation and founded the Free Congress Foundation. Lowry and Ponnuru, who both probably knew him, also know that he was as American and un-socialistic as they come. Weyrich realized that transit was, in some cases, an eminently reasonable way of transporting people. If  Lowry and Ponnuru are unsettled by the fact that Europeans have more transit than we do, they should look back to the time when America had both more transit and less government than Europe did, or than it does now. If you’d like to read more on the conservative case for transit, see David Schaengold here.

Matthew Yglesias:

But of course they have nothing to say about genuine infringements of liberty like minimum parking requirements, maximum lot occupancy rules, building height limits, prohibitions on accessory dwellings, etc. that are mainstays of America’s centrally planned suburbs. That’s because to them what really matters isn’t socialism or liberty (certainly nobody who cares about liberty could be as enthusiastic about torture as National Review writers are) but Americanness. Even here, though, their critique falls badly flat. The world’s largest subway systems are in Japan and South Korea—not socialistic Europe—followed by New York City right here in the United States. Multiple-unit train control was invented in Chicago, as part of the world’s first electrically driven railway. I believe that all of the world’s 24-hour rapid transit systems (NYC Subway, Chicago L, NY-NJ PATH) are in the United States of America.

Brad DeLong:

Can people please stop bringing forward Ramesh Ponnuru as a “reasonable conservative” now?

Damon Linker at TNR on the rest of the essay:

Lowry and Ponnuru’s thesis—that President Obama is an enemy of “American exceptionalism”—is hardly original. It is so widely held and so frequently asserted on the right, in fact, that it can almost be described as conservative conventional wisdom. Still, NR’s treatment of the subject stands out. Lowry and Ponnuru aim for comprehensiveness, and they maintain a measured, thoughtful tone throughout their essay, marshalling a wide range of historical evidence for their thesis and making well-timed concessions to contrary arguments. It’s hard to imagine this key conservative claim receiving a more cogent and rhetorically effective defense. Which is precisely what makes the essay’s shortcomings so striking. While its authors clearly mean it to stand as a manifesto for a resurgent conservative moment, the essay far more resembles a lullaby—a comforting compilation of consoling pieties set to a soothingly familiar melody. The perfect soundtrack to a peaceful snooze.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with definitions. Lowry and Ponnuru aim to convince their readers that the President of the United States denies the idea that lies at the core of American identity: that the country is exceptional. But what makes America exceptional? This is what the authors tell us: Americans affirm a creed that upholds “liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics.” These principles then combine with “other aspects of the American character—especially our religiousness and our willingness to defend ourselves by force—to form the core of American exceptionalism.”

Some of this is faintly ridiculous. (Is anything less exceptional in human history than a country’s willingness to defend itself by force?) As for the rest, it’s either a string of American banalities and clichés—or an abstract of the Republican Party platform. The next several paragraphs of the essay make it very clear that it’s the latter. That’s right: Lowry and Ponnuru expect their readers to believe that what makes our country exceptional is that large numbers of Americans affirm the ideology of the modern conservative movement. But that’s not quite right. Through long stretches of the essay they go much further—to imply that America is exceptional because the nation’s creed is the ideology of the modern conservative movement.

Follow the bouncing ball: the fact that “a profit-seeking company” founded Jamestown and that Puritan merchants wrote “In the name of God and of profit” at the top of their ledgers; that, in a “telling coincidence,” Adam Smith’s “free-market classic” The Wealth of Nations was published in the same year as the Declaration of Independence; that Benjamin Franklin’s name “comes from the Middle English meaning freeman, someone who owns some property”; that Abraham Lincoln supposedly hated few things more than “economic stasis”—all of these and many other anecdotes are supposed to add up to an endorsement of “the American economic gospel” (read: libertarian economic gospel) about “wealth and its creation.” Meanwhile, other cherry-picked facts in later paragraphs serve to highlight the American fondness for democratic elections, the country’s incorrigible patriotism and religiosity, and its “missionary impulse” to “export our model of liberty” to the world, often at the point of a gun.

More Yglesias:

In this telling, there’s something insidious about asking if they don’t do something better someplace else. But of course another way of looking at it is that you by definition can’t find examples of alternatives to the US status quo by looking at the US. That’s why you regularly see the Cato Institute touting Chile’s pension system or Heritage extolling the virtues of Sweden’s K-12 education or David Frum talking up French nuclear power. After all, we’ve never attempted to shift from a guaranteed pay-as-you-go pension system to a mandatory savings one in the United States. Nor do we have any examples of widespread operation of public elementary schools by for-profit firms. Nor do we have a robust nuclear power sector. So if you want to explore these ideas—ideas that conservatives often do want to explore—you need to look at models from abroad.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! So why isn’t it okay for liberals to talk about French health care or Finnish education or Danish energy policy? As Barack Obama once said, when you look at the right sometimes it’s like they’re proud of being ignorant.

Mark Murray at MSNBC:

And the cover story in the latest National Review, entitled “Defend Her: Obama’s Threat to American Exceptionalism,” contends: “The president has signaled again and again his unease with traditional American patriotism. As a senator he notoriously made a virtue of not wearing a flag pin. As president he has been unusually detached from American history: When a foreign critic brought up the Bay of Pigs, rather than defend the country’s honor he noted that he was a toddler at the time. And while acknowledging that America has been a force for good, he has all but denied the idea that America is an exceptional nation.”

Of course, Obama was asked whether he believes in American exceptionalism while visiting Europe during the NATO summit. His response: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.”

That question Obama was asked defined American exceptionalism as the United States being “uniquely qualified to lead the world.” Historians typically regard American exceptionalism as why the U.S. didn’t have socialist revolutions or strong working-class movements like most of Europe did in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Yet the conservative definition of American exceptionalism — particularly in the National Review article — is aimed at Obama’s efforts to reform the nation’s health-care system, enact cap-and-trade (which, ironically, is based on market principles), etc. Here’s National Review summing up what American liberals want: “Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, the like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society?”

But if you read Obama’s speeches — from the president campaign and now as president — you see a president with a different idea of American exceptionalism: America’s unique ability to evolve and become a more perfect union. “This union may never be perfect,” he said in his famous ’08 speech on race, “but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given,” he said in his inaugural address. “It must be earned.”

Here’s what he said in his Berlin speech during the presidential campaign: “We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived — at great cost and great sacrifice — to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world.”

So it’s not that Obama doesn’t think America is an exceptional nation; his own words debunk that critique.

Rather, it’s that conservatives and liberals have two very different ideas of what “exceptional” means.

UPDATE: Matthew Lee Anderson

Samuel Goldman at PomoCon

James Poulos at PomoCon

UPDATE #2: Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner

Friedersdorf on Hanson

DiA at The Economist

Greg Scoblete

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #3: Lowry and Ponnuru responds to critics

John Holbo on the reponse

Matthew Yglesias on the response

UPDATE #4: Friedersdorf responds to the response

Goldman responds to the response

Schmitz responds to the response

UPDATE #5: More Larison

UPDATE #6: Peter Lawler

UPDATE #7: James Poulos and Robert Farley on Bloggingheads

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Filed under Go Meta, Infrastructure

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

Damon Linker at TNR:

Conservatives would have us believe that they hold a monopoly on common sense. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and many other right-wing rabble-rousers regularly portray themselves as defenders of the good, old-fashioned common sense of average Americans against an out-of-touch liberal elite. A growing cadre of ambitious politicians likewise aims to lead a crusade in the name of “commonsense conservatism.” Glenn Beck has even gone so far as to publish a runaway bestseller that explicitly piggybacks on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to argue against the danger of “out-of-control government” and the forces of organized foolishness that would foist it on the American people.

The unanimity is impressive. But it is also ridiculous. The fact is that the right’s appeal to common sense is nonsense. Unfortunately, though, it is a form of nonsense with deep roots in the American past and a very long history of political potency. Whether it continues to prove effective in the future will depend in no small measure on how cogently the rest of America responds.

The United States is a nation founded on an egalitarian creed—on the supposedly self-evident (commonsensical?) truths that all men are created equal and that all legitimate government is based on the consent of the governed. In such a nation, public appeals to authority would be much less persuasive than they had been throughout most of human history. Tradition, the divine right of kings, the will of God as interpreted by his designated clerical representatives—in America none of these authorities would benefit from the deference they have typically enjoyed in other times and places. Add in the ever-increasing social pluralism of modern life, and it becomes perfectly understandable why political actors and commentators in the United States would seek to win public disputes by appeal to the only authority still available—the authority of the people and their common sense. Whether such appeals are coherent is another matter.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine famously inaugurated the American tradition of attempting to win contentious public arguments by praising the good judgment of average citizens. When Paine’s incendiary pamphlet first appeared, in January 1776, the colonies were divided about whether to declare their independence, with many colonists still loyal to the crown. Those on both sides of the issue recognized that taking up arms against the King of England demanded justification. Those who favored revolution did so for complicated reasons flowing from the ineptness of George III’s rule, which was increasingly viewed as arbitrary, dictatorial, and contrary to the economic interests of the colonies. A few, including Thomas Jefferson and Paine himself, went further, to supplement their case with abstract philosophical arguments about natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. But regardless of the rationale, it was almost universally acknowledged that proposing insurrection against British rule was a profoundly radical act—one involving a dramatic break from precedent and tradition. And yet Paine chose to portray the case for rebellion as transparently obvious—based, in fact, on nothing more than “simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” Today Paine’s tract is thought to have done more than any other piece of writing to foment the American Revolution.


Today, with the GOP tearing itself apart over public policy, the right appears to agree about little besides the political necessity of continuing to praise the good, old-fashioned common sense of average Americans and contrasting it to supposedly out-of-touch, over-educated outlook of liberal elites. Indeed, some (like Sarah Palin) have doubled down on the appeal to common sense, placing it at the core of their political ambitions. Whereas Republicans once used populist flattery to get themselves elected so that they could accomplish specific public-policy goals, they’ve now began to treat such flattery as an end in itself, as a form of ideologically vacuous identity politics.

Such appeals are unlikely to succeed, at least at the national level—and not only because there simply are no longer enough culturally alienated white people in the United States to catapult a presidential candidate to victory. The deeper reason why the appeal to common sense is liable to become a dead end in the coming years is that research in numerous fields—including artificial intelligence (The Open Mind Common Sense ProjectThe Cyc Project), linguistics and cognitive science (Ray Jackendoff, Steven Pinker), and psychology (Jonathan Haidt)—has the potential to transform the way we think about common sense, and not in a way that is likely to vindicate the right-wing approach to the topic.

Take Haidt’s work in psychology, which identifies several moral ideals—harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity—that appear to be broadly universal across cultures and history. If (as seems likely) scientific research one day demonstrates that this list, or one like it, contains the sum total of human common sense, it will be intellectually interesting but politically irrelevant. Such a finding would imply, after all, that the only individuals who lack common sense are those who show no care for another person, no attachment to fairness, no loyalty to or respect for anything or anyone, and no admiration for purity of any kind. The only people who could be said to lack common sense, in other words, would be certifiable sociopaths.

Accordingly, Haidt claims to have found that American liberals and conservatives merely differ on which aspects of common sense they prize most highly—with liberals tending to esteem fairness and care and conservatives leaning toward loyalty, respect, and purity. If this finding ends up being confirmed by further studies, it would show not that one ideological outlook or another is more commonsensical than other, but rather that the content of common sense is somewhat fluid or changeable within certain broad parameters—and that to a considerable extent it mirrors our political opinions and ideological commitments (or vice versa).

That Americans disagree with one another on political and cultural matters is not an indication that those on one side or the other are out of touch with common sense. On the contrary, it is a consequence of our freedom—our freedom to disagree, to think for ourselves and to stake out political and ideological positions consonant with our divergent histories and experiences of the world, as well as with the differing natural tendencies and capacities of our minds. As an attempt to gain electoral advantage by demagogically short-circuiting open-ended public debate among equal citizens, the appeal to common sense deserves to be repudiated by all intellectually honest participants in American politics.

The Sisyphus Journals:

Damon Linker, writing in The New Republic today in his article “Against Common Sense”, traces these more perfect, more Good Americans’ unswerving confidence in the righteousness of the Truth of their vision, a vision of America and what it ought to be that is based on their conviction of the infallibility of their Common Sense. Sarah Palin belongs to them, proves them right, come as she has as a prophet of the credo of the Truth of Common Sense.


It happened in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s, and it can always happen here. To believe otherwise might feel noble — and it certainly sounds it to those who share Jericho’s and my ideals –, but it dismisses dangerously a swathe of those who also call themselves Americans and will continue to make themselves heard and seek to influence the political structure that will determine the laws of the nation in which we all live or with which we are all associated emotionally.

They are Americans, and while they might not be as numerous as those of us who elected Brck Obama president, they do not want what we want, and they do not see America in the same terms as we do, and even if they actually do, they will not admit it. They will work to oppose us by whatever means they have. The Republican party is their party, and it is supported still by enough to keep it relevant for the time being without having to change its face, the face it has adopted since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” sought to appeal to what some now call “the unwashed hordes” of southern Dixicrats and other social conservatives. They had enough influence to change a major political party in their own image. Ought we discount them thus? Just how much do you want to insult and alienate them? How far do you want to push them, and how powerful do you want to make their leaders and spokespersons?

How, instead, to present our political philosophy and agenda in terms that come closer to meeting an opposing world view and find the common points that might exist in them, despite the huge differences in how we chose to live and what we chose to accept socially?

Before we come apart at the seams.

Bleakonomy on Linker’s use of Pinker:

This is kind of baffling, in that he has spent the entire article demonstrating how the rhetorical trope of appealing to common sense is used as a counter to egg-headed things like linguistics and cognitive science. While Linker (and I) may find Steven Pinker’s research fascinating, I think it will have precisely zero impact on the way “we” think about common sense. The very people who are most likely to be swayed by appeals to their common-man, Joe Six-pack plain thinkin’ are the least likely to find their pride in same transformed by research into artificial intelligence. If anything, being told by ivory-tower academic elite types that their “common sense” is merely another way of describing their biases will make them more inclined to cling to it as a rejoinder.

I still think the article is worth reading. But I think Linker is wrong when he predicts that academic research of any kind will have any change in the way populist rhetoric is styled. Anyone could have told him that. After all, it’s just common sense.

Matthew Yglesias:

As long as we’re on the subject, however, it’s worth just making the basic point that common sense tends to be an extremely poor guide to technical issues. It’s common sense that heavy objects fall faster than light ones, and there’s absolutely nothing commonsensical about the correct answer to the Monty Hall Problem. It’s common sense that something called a “strong” dollar must be good, but in fact whether or not it’s good depends on the situation. It’s common sense that when families across the nation tighten their belts, the government should too, but it’s wrong. In fact, the reverse is true and the government ought to get more parsimonious when the private sector is flush, and vice versa. It’s common sense that if you can’t smell or taste or see atmospheric carbon dioxide it must not be a big problem, but it is!

And sensible people recognize that common sense is not, at the end of the day, a particularly reliable guide. It’s common sense that the way to make a heavier-than-air object fly is to imitate birds and have wings that flap. But nobody thinks that anymore, just as nobody today would deny that it’s possible that invisible rays emanating from uranium can give you cancer.

Will at The League:

The divide between voters and policy-makers has been explored elsewhere and is probably an inevitable consequence of politics in any egalitarian democracy. But as society becomes more complex, so does policy-making, and the gulf between the electorate’s intuition and sophisticated expert analysis continues to grow. Perhaps the most significant example of this divide is the now-infamous bank bailout, which remains incredibly unpopular despite its near-unanimous support among political and financial elites.

Linker seems largely unconcerned by all this, and indeed is more worried by the prospect of “common sense” infecting a political platform than any disconnect between appeals to populism and actual policy. That voters should be reasonably well-equipped to make informed judgments, however, strikes me as pretty integral to the health of our democracy. In some cases, we may be able to avoid the problem of deliberation altogether (occupying Afghanistan, for example, although that also depends on your point of view). Other circumstances make a clash between common sense and expert opinion almost inevitable. In the midst of a systemic economic crisis, we didn’t have the luxury of plugging our ears and ignoring the debate over the bank bailout. And with other, equally complex challenges looming on the horizon (health care, entitlement reform, climate change), the problem of democratic deliberation seems more pressing, not less.

If I had a solution to this dilemma, I probably wouldn’t be writing overlong blog posts. But I will offer one modest suggestion: In the wake of “Climategate” and a bank bailout dominated by financial insiders, the integrity and transparency of expert deliberation should be more important than ever. On many issues, I am more than willing to defer to informed opinion. The pettiness of revealed in the leaked climate emails and the borderline dishonesty of Bernanke and Paulsen in the midst of the economic crisis, however, makes it more difficult than ever to trust our governing institutions. I don’t want to rely solely on “common sense,” but given the choice, I’d take my own intuitions over self-interested insiderism any day.

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Filed under Go Meta

The Daily Dish Goes Rogue In Search Of Going Rogue

Andrew Sullivan:

This is only the second time in its nearly ten-year history that the Dish has gone silent. The reason now is the same as the reason then. When dealing with a delusional fantasist like Sarah Palin, it takes time to absorb and make sense of the various competing narratives that she tells about her life. There are so many fabrications and delusions in the book, mixed in with facts, that just making sense of it – and comparing it with objective reality as we know it, and the subjective reality she has previously provided – is a bewildering task. She is a deeply disturbed person which makes this work of fiction and fact all the more challenging to read. And the fact that she is now the leader of the Republican party and a potential presidential candidate, makes this process of deconstruction an important civil responsibility. We take this seriously as we always have. We want to be fair to her, and to her family, and to the innocent people she has brought into the spotlight. And we are not reporters. We are merely analysts trying to make sense of evidence already in the public domain, evidence that points in all sorts of directions, only one of which can be true.

Since the Dish has tried to be rigorous and careful in analyzing Palin’s unhinged grip on reality from the very beginning – specifically her fantastic story of her fifth pregnancy –  we feel it’s vital that we grapple with this new data as fairly and as rigorously as possible. That takes time to get right. And it is so complicated we simply cannot focus on anything else.

There are only three of us.

And we have had the book for less than a day. We feel we owe it to you to get it right – or as right as we can – until we post or publish anything. As readers know, we also differ on some key issues and intend to air them and thrash this out until we are confident that whatever we publish is as fair as possible.

At some point, we will also go back and make sure we have not missed all the evidence of the other lies that Palin is now peddling. We won’t miss anything. But we ask for your patience.

There is a possibility here of such a huge scandal that we would be crazy not to take our time either to debunk it or move it forward for further examination.

We have only one commitment: to get this right. Please bear with us as we do the best we can.

Dan Savage:

There’s been nothing new posted to Andrew Sullivan’s blog this morning. Usually there’s a dozen or more posts up by 10 AM. But this just went up

David Harsanyi in Reson:

There’s nothing wrong, for instance, with The Associated Press’ assigning a crack team of investigative journalists to sift through every word of Palin’s book, Going Rogue, for inaccuracies. You only wish similarly methodical muckraking were applied to President Barack Obama’s two self-aggrandizing tomes—or even the health care or cap-and-trade bills, for that matter.

The widely read blogger and purveyor of all truth, Andrew Sullivan, was impelled to blog 17 times on the subject of Palin on the same day Americans learned that the Obama administration had awarded $6.7 billion in stimulus money to nonexistent congressional districts—which did not merit a single mention. To see what is in front of one’s nose demands a constant struggle, I guess.


ATTN: Andrew Sullivan has postponed the Internet today.

It is absolutely crucial that Sullivan and Patrick and Other Patrick read Going Rogue carefully today. It is their actual civil duty to America, to prove that thing they are always trying to prove about Trig, which we forget the hypothesis of. It was something like “Sarah Palin was never pregnant because Trig’s from Kenya.” Point is: TIME OUT.

“Since the Dish has tried to be rigorous and careful in analyzing Palin’s unhinged grip on reality from the very beginning – specifically her fantastic story of her fifth pregnancy –  we feel it’s vital that we grapple with this new data as fairly and as rigorously as possible. That takes time to get right. And it is so complicated we simply cannot focus on anything else.

There are only three of us.”

Four. Do not forget God, who will shepherding the Dishmen on their journey. Today will be a dark RSS feed of the soul.


And of course, The Daily Dish is back

UPDATE #2: Damon Linker at TNR

Conor Friedersdorf responds to Linker

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Filed under Books, New Media, Political Figures

The Godfather Of Neoconservatism (And Father Of Bill) 1920-2009


Irving Kristol died today.

John McCormack at TWS:

Irving Kristol, writer, editor, and social philosopher, has died in Washington at the age of 89. His wisdom, wit, good humor, and generosity of spirit made him a friend and mentor to several generations of thinkers and public servants.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

He made a difference for the better. His death represents a terrible loss to American life and letters. Our sincere condolences to his entire family including his wife, the great Gertrude Himmelfarb, and his children, Bill Kristol and Elizabeth Nelson.

Christian Brose at Foreign Policy:

Others will have far better, and more personal, recollections of Irving Kristol. I knew him mainly through his writings and my brief time working in the institutions he built. For a young person fresh out of college, there was nothing quite like coming to work at the “Kristol palace,” as the editors used to call both magazines. It was a four-day work week with lunches on the house — from which came the joke, pretty antiquated by the time I got there, that we were dedicated to fighting socialism in the world while practicing it in the office. A professor of mine even tells the story of a student of his looking for a job that he sent to see Irving, who promptly met with him and talked with him for awhile, liked him, but didn’t have anything to offer him. So he told the kid to put down on his resume that he’d worked for Irving for six months, and if anyone brought it up, he would happily serve as a reference.

As someone who actually got to work at Irving’s magazines, I’d say it was about as close to a “workers’ paradise” as we’re ever likely to get. As a 22-year-old assistant editor, I was expected to handle magazine business from Monday to Thursday (which mainly consisted of reading and talking with my colleagues about policy, history, philosophy, culture, and everything in between), but I was then expected to use those remaining three days to do my own work, write my own articles, publish under my own name, and however the magazine could help me do that, it would. That had been Irving’s policy for decades, and it remained as much a mission of each magazine as what was published quarterly in its pages. The roster of significant (and diverse) thinkers who got their start because of Irving’s investment in his young staff — from Bob Kagan, to Michael Lind, to Mark Lilla, to many others — is as worthy a legacy as what he achieved through the countless articles he wrote himself and published from others.

Michelle Malkin

Doug J.

Nothing negative to say here of the recently departed. I always find it interesting that he began as a Trotskyite. In my opinion, the Trotskyite notion of permanent revolution informs neoconservatism very strongly to this day. The J-curve, for example, seems to me to be nothing but a quasi-quantitative argument in favor of revolution.

Rich Lowry at NRO

UPDATE: David Frum at The Enterprise Blog

John Podhoretz in Commentary

Damon Linker at TNR

Tevi Troy at NRO

Bruce Bartlett

UPDATE #2: Mark Schmitt and James Poulos on Bloggingheads

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Filed under Conservative Movement

Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Chicken-Wing, Paul McCartney and Wings

Was the Holocaust Museum shooter right or left? Or how about just crazy?

Ben Smith in Politico:

The suggestion that the Standard may have been a target complicates any view of the racist shooter in contemporary left-right terms. Von Brunn’s white supremacist roots put him under the rubric of a “right-wing extremist,” but the substance of his views — which included everything from believing that President Bush may have been in on the September 11 attacks to denying that President Obama is an American citizen — are too far on the fringe to fit into conventional political classification.

The focus on the Standard, though, appears to be of a piece with his central motivation: Anti-Semitism. In one essay, Von Brunn attacked “JEWS-NEOCONS-BILL O’REILLY,” and the suggestion that neoconservatism is a specifically Jewish conspiracy is common on the racist fringe.

Jonathan Chait:

I’m not sure what he’s talking about here. First, the “conventional political classification” is a rubric that accounts for extremists on the far right or left who abhor Democrats or Republicans. Ralph Nader has a lot of bad things to say about the Democratic Party, but that doesn’t make him hard to classify on the left-right spectrum.

Second, a certain strand of conservative thought is comfortable with most of the tenets of Republican doctrine with the exception of free trade and, especially, Jews, Israel, and neoconservative influence. Pat Buchanan is the emblem of this brand of conservatism. Buchanan is generally a Republican partisan except for Jewish/Israeli/Middle Eastern issues where he takes strong exception. Von Brunn is pretty clearly a violent and more extreme adherent of Buchanan’s basic worldview. That he would detest a neoconservative institution like the Standard isn’t “complicating” or surprising at all.

James Kirchick:

Jon correctly identifies Brunn as essentially being “pretty clearly a violent and more extreme adherent of [Pat] Buchanan’s basic worldview,” that is, a racist, nativist, isolationist paranoid about the power of global elites (Jews). But where Jon is wrong, at least in my estimation, is his implication that these views are uniquely characteristic of the far right. They might have once been, but certainly are not anymore.

Jonathan Chait responds

Damon Linker:

The American political spectrum is extremely narrow. For all the seriousness of the differences that separate Democrats and Republicans, both parties are thoroughly persuaded of the legitimacy of liberal democratic government. That’s a wonderful thing, since it’s produced long-lasting civil peace and stability.

But that very peace and stability, and the ideological narrowness that makes it possible, can also lead us to forget the persistent character of the anti-liberal left and anti-liberal right, with which we (unlike citizens in less fortunate regions of the world) have very little acquaintance. The anti-liberal left has historically been defined by the radical universalism of its principles, the anti-liberal right by its exclusionary (racial, ethnic, national) particularism. That is the primary difference between them. And that’s why Von Brunn is unmistakably a man of the anti-liberal right: he believes in a particularistic vision of the world in which Jews, blacks, neocons, people with low IQs, and sundry other classes and groups of people have been eliminated; on Wednesday, he made a small contribution to realizing this distinctively right-wing ideal.

Ben Smith again:

I could have been more precise: It’s not that Von Brunn doesn’t fit into an established tradition; it’s that he doesn’t fit easily into the current, mainstream left-right political spectrum, a point Jamie Kirchick also tries to make a bit more clearly than I did.

Indeed, he’s so far out to the right that he seems to despise most of what we consider the right: The Washington, D.C., Fox News Affiliate reports that his notebooks included “a Fox News location” among potential targets. That could also be coherent with an extreme Buchananite, but it’s far enough out that it seems silly to suggest he’s really an “extreme” version of, say, a Fox News Republican, rather than the product of an ideology with different roots.

Jonah Goldberg‘s column in National Review

Jonathan Chait on Goldberg’s column

Allah Pundit on the targeting of TWS and Fox News

John Cole on Allah Pundit

Alex Koppelman:

While the left is blaming the right for the shootings, and the right is blaming the left, a colleague pointed out to me that at notorious white supremacist Web site Stormfront, they know exactly who was responsible for the attack: The Jews! (No link — this story has forced us to link to enough neo-Nazis already, thank you.)

EARLIER: Holocaust Museum Shooting: The Blogosphere Reacts

UPDATE: Via James Joyner, Jon Henke

Rick Moran:

I will freely grant this this guy is a man of the extreme right. To posit the notion, as many on the left have been doing the last few days, that this guy has any connection whatsoever either in his philosophy or ideology with mainstream conservatism is ludicrous. It is equally fanciful to blame “right wing hate speech” emanating supposedly from mainstream conservative media outlets for this guy’s actions. The idea that von Brunn needed any motivation at all beyond his sick, twisted, personal extremist ideology and whatever demons possessed him ignores reality – about what we’ve come to expect from the “reality based community.”

By the same token, desperately seeking a way to disown von Brunn because the left has seen fit to smear all conservatives with his racist, anti-Semitic stench is equally ludicrous. We don’t have to disown him. It is self evident to any rational, semi-fair minded person that this guy had as much to do with mainstream politics as a member of the Black Panther party or some other far out, whacko leftist group. To think otherwise is to believe nonsense. To think that anything said by a mainstream conservative set this guy off and contributed to his rampage is equally bogus. The only people who believe that are those who are pre-disposed to believe the worst about conservatives. And nothing anyone says will change their idiotic, exaggerated, hysterical notions about the mainstream right.

Jesse Walker

David Weigel in Washington Independent:

Other conservatives spent Wednesday explaining that von Brunn was not actually right-wing, and that his anti-Semitism and his conspiracy theories about the attacks of 9/11 pegged him as a left-winger. Leon Wolf of the conservative RedState.com wrote that the media’s treatment of the story — “because von Brunn is a racist, he must be a right-winger” was wildly off-base. “Von Brunn would have been banned within his first three comments of posting at RedState, but would likely have enjoyed a long career as a recommended diarist at DailyKos.” Michelle Malkin, a conservative columnist who spent several days asking why President Obama did not immediately respond to the murder of Pvt. William Long, pointed to von Brunn’s hatred of neoconservatives and cited an FBI visit to the offices of the Weekly Standard as proof that he was an “equal opportunity hater.”

“From what I can tell,” explained Jonah Goldberg, the author of the 2008 bestseller “Liberal Fascism” and a writer for National Review, “his hatreds echoed the kind of stuff we hear from the Kos crowd, Chris Matthews, Andrew Sullivan et al.” Goldberg called Von Brunn “objectively crazy,” but argued that “his hatreds would be easier to find at an ANSWER rally than at CPAC.”

The responses to von Brunn from some of the far-flung groups who attacked or appropriated the “rightwing extremist” report was not quite so definitive. The Thomas More Law Center, which filed a suit against the DHS on behalf of a veteran offended by the report, did not comment and warned that chief counsel Richard Thompson “would not be comfortable commenting at this point.” A spokeswoman for the Liberty Counsel, a legal group that offered its members “Right Wing Extremist” business cards, simply said that the cards were “not going to change” after the events at the Holocaust Museum.

John Cole on Moran’s post

Steve Benen on Goldberg’s piece

Adam Sewer in Tapped on Goldberg’s piece

UPDATE #2: Goldberg responds to Sewer and Dave Neiwart

UPDATE #3: Kenneth Silber at New Majority

Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Jack Hunter at TAC responds to Goldberg

Jon Stewart


Filed under Crime, Go Meta, Politics, Race

George Tiller: The Blogosphere Reacts

The (mostly as of this writing) left blogosphere reacts to the death of George Tiller, who performed late term abortions, and was shot as he attended church today.

Few reacts from the right:

Gateway Pundit

Charles Johnson at LGF

Mr. Ed at Redstate

Two posts at Free Republic, here, here, here and here.

Concerning the comments on the posts at Free Republic, Doug J. and JMA at Daily Kos.

From the non-conventional right or left:

Ann Althouse

Andrew Sullivan with the O’Reilly connection.

Ann Friedman at Feministing

Amanda Marcotte

Matt Y.

And from the MSM, Karen Tumulty at Swampland at Time

More later.

UPDATE: From National Review’s the Corner, K-Lo has two press releases and commentary, here and here.

Robert P. George

From the left:

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Joan Walsh at Salon

UPDATE #2: Via Sullivan, Robert Stacy McCain Via McCain, Becky Brindle

James Joyner

Rod Dreher

UPDATE #3: Thanks to commenter Tim, Max Twain at Race42012.

Kathy Kattenburg at Moderate Voice

UPDATE #4: Andrew Sullivan gets some dissents from his O’Reilly post.

Via Sullivan, Al Giordano

UPDATE #5: Allah Pundit and Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #6: Several posts from Andrew Sullivan, here, here, here and here.

Sullivan links to Gabriel Winant in Salon

Two posts from Rod Dreher, here and here.

Dreher links to Damon Linker.

Michelle Malkin

David Frum

UPDATE #7: Kathryn Jean Lopez and John Cole

And two sides: Erin Manning and two posts by Hilzoy, here and here.

UPDATE #8: E.D. Kain

UPDATE #9: Megan McArdle

UPDATE #10: Conor Friedersdorf, linking to Linker, Dreher, Ezra Klein and McArdle. I haven’t quoted any bloggers on this post, but I will this. I associate myself with these remarks and hope that anyone who clicks on any link from this post observes these words.:

Anyway, I mostly posted all this to see what those in comments think about the debate aired above. Please keep in mind, as you post, that Rod, Ezra, Megan and Damon are owed civility — all are intellectually honest writers doing their best to grapple with the morality of an exceedingly thorny issue (and I’ve been forced to strip their posts of nuance by the need to excerpt, so due read their comments in full, especially if you plan to criticize them). An objectively correct conclusion is beyond mere logic, and it is only through conversations like the one they’re having that humanity can grapple toward the best conclusions we have the capacity to reach.

UPDATE #11: New Majority

Chris Good

James Joyner

Jacob Sullum at Reason.

UPDATE #12: McArdle again.

William Saletan in Slate

In The American Conservative,

Daniel McCarthy

Freddy Gray, responding to Sullum and others.

UPDATE #13: John Cole, responding to Sully’s posts

Rod Dreher, here and here.

Hilzoy responds  to McArdle

McArdle responds to Hilzoy

One more McArdle post.

UPDATE #14: Mark Thompson on McArdle and Hilzoy

Ramesh Ponnuru on Saletan

UPDATE #15: Scott Roeder found guilty Justin Elliott at TPM


Filed under Abortion, Crime

Load Up On Guns, Bring Your Friends…

Above is a sample of radio talk show host Mark Levin. He told a woman that he doesn’t know why her husband doesn’t put a gun to his head. Conor Friedersdorf heard this and commented:

That isn’t merely beneath a gentleman. It is the kind of thing that a decent man doesn’t say to a woman, under any circumstances. Awful as it is on the page, it came across even worse on the air, hearing the hateful, angry inflections. Forget the fact that this isn’t the way forward for the conservative movement — this just isn’t the way any person should behave.

David Frum

Rod Dreher

A cretin who would say something like this on his radio show is a big deal among a lot of conservatives. Good grief. Having spent about 15 unpleasant minutes listening to this creep, I cannot imagine why anybody pays attention to him. Seriously, where is the pleasure in listening to this kind of trashmouth? If I were on the left, I would make sure that people thought that Mark Levin was the face of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

Dan Riehl disagrees with Dreher, to put it mildly:

I’ll admit that some rather small bits of Mark’s humor haven’t always been my cup of tea over the years; though I find the comment above hilarious and know Mark, who I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, would apply it equally were a married liberal male caller serving as his foil on a particular call.

I’ve known many brilliant men. Mark is one. Amazingly, he is also gifted with the ability to entertain a large and growing audience, as witnessed by his ratings. And his and other radio talk shows are, after all, infotainment, in a very real sense. Post-Howard Stern, should society determine that anything Mark Levin has ever said on the air should be out of bounds? Really?

But given Mark’s long list of significant accomplishments Dreher seems to want to ignore, only some of which are listed above, and Mark’s well-known contributions to the conservative movement … I’m simply left asking myself, who is this fellow Rod Dreher? What is it, really, that he has done, accomplished, or contributed, which gives him license to take some few comments he, or others might not like, and dismiss Levin as just some virulent gasbag the Right should shun?

Robert Stacy McCain:

Joe, neither Dreher nor Frum is a professional talk-radio host, and I’m guessing neither one of them would last six months in the medium if they tried it.

People who’ve never done talk radio, or who’ve never been in a studio and seen how it’s done, have no idea how extraordinarily difficult it is to fill so much as a single hour, much less three hours a day five days a week. Now, consider how difficult it is to do it well, so as to attract a commercially viable nationwide audience. For Dreher (and his source) to disdain Levin is for them to sneer at someone who has succeeded exceptionally in a venue they’ve never even tried.

And what does the left think?

Dana Goldstein:

And this isn’t Levin’s first foray into crude sexism. When the military provided Nancy Pelosi with a jet for secure travel between California and Washington, D.C., Levin falsely claimed Pelosi demanded the plane because “she’s the first woman speaker. She wants a really, really big one. … And if she doesn’t get it, well then that’s sexual discrimination.” In fact, Pelosi is second in the line of succession to the presidency. A military escort is routine for any Speaker of the House.


I’m kind of hoping that he will wrestle  control of the Republican party away from Rush Limbaugh because that would be awesome.

UPDATE: Clark Stooksbury in TAC

UPDATE #2: Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice.

UPDATE #3: Dickday at TPM has a post up that has gone all Dylan on the situation.

UPDATE #4: Conor and Rod respond to McCain.

UPDATE #5: McCain responds to Rod. Clark Stooksbury responds to McCain responding to Rod.

UPDATE #6: Freddie at The League responds to McCain and makes it personal funny. [Edited, as my use of “personal” was vague and misunderstood]:

[McCain, as quoted by Freddie and Conor] The upper echelons of American journalism have become the exclusive monopoly of former teacher’s pets, who as children were never sent to the principal’s office, who as teenagers were never suspended for showing up drunk for chemistry class, who as college students never woke up at 6:30 a.m. on the porch of the ATO house, who never played in a rock band or sold a pound of weed or dove from a 50-foot cliff into an abandoned rock quarry.

But not McCain! No! McCain chews diamonds and shoots pure lightening out of his urethra! McCain plays hockey against gorillas and once arm wrestled the Pope. I once saw McCain chug a keg of Milwaukee’s Best and then fill out a 1040 form. (Not even the EZ version!) McCain slings more dope in a morning than B.I.G. did his whole goddamn life, and somehow, for McCain, that’s, like, the most conservative shit ever. McCain’s American flag has a smaller American flag that flies from it, and he has a harem of Klingon women to give him sexual favors. McCain snorts Clorox and when he gets pulled over, he karate slaps the cop and gives him the ticket.

UPDATE #7: Conor Friedersdorf writes an e-mail to Dan Riehl. Dan Riehl responds.

Dan Riehl has a post up by Mark Levin himself, responding to Dreher, Frum and Friedersdorf.

Every now and then I have to lower myself to deal with the undeveloped minds of kooks like Rod Dreher.  I don’t know Dreher and as best I can tell, most nobody does.  He has a column for a Dallas newspaper and created his own blog site, from where he writes love letters to himself and wonders why his brilliance is lost on the multitudes (while, of course, claiming to represent them and speak for them).

Rod learned of me, he says, from his friend Conor Friedersdorf.  Honestly, who is Conor Friedersdorf?  Well, after about 90 seconds of googling, I found out that Conor is (or was) a journalist and is (or was) a student and he blogs too.  So, it appears that Rod and Connor are cyberspace pen pals of a sort.

And on Frum:

Now, if I might, on to David Frum.  What does Frum have to do with any of this, you ask?  David has never recovered from my drubbing him on my radio show, or should I say the drubbing he gave himself.  He immediately went crying to Newsweek, MSNBC, various broadcast networks, etc., to complain about the low state of conservatism.  If only the rest of us would embrace the “true reformers” (you know, in addition to Frum, David Brooks and Ross Douthat, among others), we would be so much the better.  Dare I say if they were intellectually coherent and consistent, not to mention principled, it might be easier to understand them.  But they are, with a few exceptions, ineffective lightweights who shoot spitballs at conservatives from the backbenches.  This is precisely why the media promote them during their little hissy fits.

Update #8: Conor promises to respond to Levin. Rod Dreher does respond:

What makes Levin’s case a minor tragedy is he’s apparently an intelligent guy, but he’s made himself rich, famous and influential playing a clown for the masses. Maybe that’s what it takes these days. Damon Linker is certainly correct to observe that conservatives like me and the gang I hang out with are fringe figures compared to the Levins, who really do set the direction of organized conservatism, such as it is. As a conservative, it is depressing to me that there exists no meaningful, effective alternative to Levin, a miserable state of affairs that has come about because organized conservatism cares more about driving out heretics than actually winning converts. But that’s where we are today, and being on the wrong side of Mark Levin is a pretty good place to be, if you ask me.

The Damon Linker post, about the conservative movement as it stands today, is here.

UPDATE #9: Liberal snarksters Sadly, No

UPDATE #10: Friedersdorf’s response to Levin here.

UPDATE #11: Larison on the whole fracas.

UPDATE #12: Christoper Orr again does our job for us.

UPDATE #13: Andrew Sullivan

Dreher on Freddie on McCain

UPDATE #14: McCain on Dreher, again.

UPDATE #15: Frum notes Levin’s response

There’s something poignant in all this chest-thumping. You are left to wonder: Is it really Conor Friedersdorf with whom Mark Levin is arguing? Is there some part of him that maybe feels a little pang of embarrassment about his persona on the airwaves? Is that why he feels the need to reassure himself with self-flattery when called on an ugly remark: I have a big radio audience! Almost as big as Michael Savage’s! I must be a big man.

But the man in that interchange quoted by Conor is not a big man. He’s a loud man. It’s not the same thing.

And both Reihl and Levin responds to Frum. Levin

David Frum was never much of a thinker.  Try as he might, he just can’t seem to attract interest, let alone a following, even when stabbing his old boss, President George W. Bush, in the back with a rambling screed.  Profiting from a confidential relationship with a president is about as low as it gets.  But Frum, the ex-speech-writer turned self-hating blogger, isn’t done descending.  Now he spends his lonely days and nights at his keyboard trying to settle personal scores and demonizing those who dare to dismiss his ramblings as the work of an emotional wreck.

UPDATE #15: James Poulos

Dreher again

Matthew Schmitz wonders if these fights aren’t doing Rush and Levin a favor.

E.D. Kain responds to Schmitz.

UPDATE #16: Erick Erickson at Redstate

UPDATE #17: Richard Spencer and two Larison posts responding to Spencer, here and here.

Scott H. Payne

UPDATE #18: Stooksbury and Poulos on Spencer.

UPDATE #19: Levin posts on his site. Conor responds.

UPDATE #20: David Frum on Levin’s book

UPDATE #21: Conor in the Atlantic on Levin’s show

UPDATE #22: This will never end. Levin’s got a list up. John Schwenkler comments on his place on it here and here.

UPDATE: #23: We’re going full on with the Prefab thing. Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic:

The prefab conservative, or prefab-con, brings the same attitude to political discourse: rather than using reason and critical thinking to craft arguments that fit the real world, he trots out prefabricated memes, arguments and conclusions that are passably functional at best. All too often, they are even worse: the typical prefabcon lives in an intellectual house of ugly, wobbly walls that collapse on themselves in slight gusts. Undaunted, he throws up another structure on the same spot, though that wolf named reality is standing right there, ready to huff and puff again.

The best example of prefab conservatism occurred during the 2008 presidential race, when prefabcon Kevin James went on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss whether Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to engage hostile countries in diplomacy amounted to appeasement.

Chris Orr



Filed under Conservative Movement, Mainstream, Media

Speech And Consequences

Reacts from the right sphere on Preisdent Obama’s speech and the entire controversy.

Michelle Malkin, from before the speech.

Paul Mirengoff:

Today, President Obama spoiled graduation ceremonies for a more than de minimis number of University of Notre Dame students and/or their close family members by delivering the commencement speech and accepting an honorary degree. He did so to advance his political and ideological interests.

In fairness to Obama, these interests are considerable. Obama hopes to drive a wedge between the leaders of the Catholic Church and rank-and-file Catholics in order to substantially reduce Church leaders and their teachings as a moral force in the United States. Such a reduction, in turn, will remove a barrier to Obama’s left-wing agenda, especially his left-wing social agenda, just as the steep decline in the authority of Catholic Church paved the way the leftist agenda in certain European countries.

Allah Pundit

Greg Hengler at Townhall with video of the speech.

Mark Impomeni at Redstate:

But President Obama’s decision to accept the invitation, and to keep it in the face of the growing controversy, is worthy of examination as well.    President Obama may not have thought that his acceptance of the invitation to speak at Notre Dame would be controversial when he confirmed it.  However, as the controversy surrounding the speech grew from an online petition drive to angry comments from the Vatican, President Obama should have realized that his presence at the school on graduation day had become a distraction for the graduates and their families, and placed his host in an awkward situation.  As a guest has an obligation to avoid placing his host in embarrassing circumstances, President Obama should have found a way to gracefully extricate himself from the speech.  That he did not is evidence of a fundamental lack of decency in the President of the United States.

Several reactions from National Review. Ramesh Ponnuru has an article up.

David Freddoso

Jay Nordlinger

Rod Dreher has the whole speech and some thoughts

EARLIER: Notre Dame and Catholics in America

Fight Over The Fighting Irish

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin

More from Rod Dreher

UPDATE #2: Patrick Deenen:

The President’s speech – as could be expected – was quite masterful. He is a wordsmith of first order, but more, has a remarkable rhetorical ability to call for forms of higher reconciliation and transcendence of division that has otherwise been fomented by so many other politicians and opinion leaders of our age. While most on the Right either suspect him of bad faith, or impute such bad faith to him for political advantage, I believe he honestly desires to heal some of the worst divisions of the nation. His call yesterday both to include a “conscience clause” to protect professionals who object to the practice of abortion (and gay marriage?), and his call to reduce the number of abortions – including the commendation of adoption as an option – appeared to have been enthusiastically greeted by nearly everyone at the ceremony.

UPDATE #3: Alan Jacobs at The Scene

UPDATE: #4: Daniel Larison

More Paul Mirengoff


Ramesh Ponnuru in WaPo

And from the left, Kevin Drum on Ponnuru’s WaPo take.

UPDATE #4: Robert Cheeks at PoMoCon

At The League, Chris Dierkes and, responding to Larison, E.D. Kain

UPDATE #5: Jacob Sullum in Reason

UPDATE #6: James Poulos

UPDATE #7: Damon Linker responds to Larison, as does HC Johns and John Schwenkler

UPDATE #8: More from JL Wall on Larison, faith and doubt.


Filed under Abortion, Religion

Notre Dame and Catholics in America

Joseph Bottum in the Weekly Standard on the Obama/Notre Dame controversy:

Politics has very little to do with the mess. This isn’t a fight about who won the last presidential election and how he’s going to deal with abortion. It’s a fight about culture–the culture of American Catholicism, and how Notre Dame, still living in a 1970s Catholic world, has suddenly awakened to find itself out of date.

The role of culture is what Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame and many other presidents of Catholic colleges don’t quite get, and their lack of culture is what makes them sometimes seem so un-Catholic–though the charge befuddles them whenever it is made. As perhaps it ought. They know very well that they are Catholics: They go to Mass, and they pray, and their faith is real, and their theology is sophisticated, and what right has a bunch of other Catholics to run around accusing them of failing to be Catholic?

But, in fact, they live in a different world from most American Catholics. Opposition to abortion doesn’t stand at the center of Catholic theology. It doesn’t even stand at the center of Catholic faith. It does stand, however, at the center of Catholic culture in this country. Opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life. And those who–by inclination or politics–fail to grasp this fact will all eventually find themselves in the situation that Fr. Jenkins has now created for himself. Culturally out of touch, they rail that the antagonism must derive from politics. But it doesn’t. It derives from the sense of the faithful that abortion is important. It derives from the feeling of many ordinary Catholics that the Church ought to stand for something in public life–and that something is opposition to abortion.

More from Bottum in First Things.

Patrick Deenen:

I admire and agree with much of what Jody writes, but I fear I have to disagree with him over this analysis. In my view, the singular focus upon abortion as THE issue over which conservative Catholics will brook no divergence and around which we are called to rally reveals, to my mind, not evidence of robust Catholic culture as much as its absence. It seems to me that – along with the opposition to gay marriage – this issue represents the last stand, the inner-most wall barely keeping the hordes from overrunning the sanctum. The ferocity over this issue – and this issue almost to the exclusion of nearly every other issue that might be part of a rich fabric of Catholic culture – suggests to me that Catholic culture, where it existed, has been largely routed. And, in fact, it suggests further that it is precisely for this reason that this issue has become largely defined politically – and not culturally – with an emphasis on the way that the battle over abortion must be won or lost at the ballot box (and, by extension, Supreme Court appointments).

John Schwenkler, now at TAC, concurs with Deneen.

Rod Dreher

Damon Linker in TNR:

Despite what they would like to believe, it is Bottum and his theoconservative allies who stand on the margins of American Catholic life, rallying an embattled, belligerent faction of the Church–a faction so obsessed with abortion that it has become indifferent to other moral issues and incapable of making the elementary distinctions that most of their fellow Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, treat as the commonsense starting-point and touchstone of moral reasoning. Like, for example, the distinctions separating those who perform abortions, those who procure abortions for themselves or others, those who encourage women to have abortions, and those (like the president and many millions of American Catholics) who merely believe abortion should not be prosecuted as a crime.

More when I find it.

UPDATE: Ed Kilgore


Filed under Religion