Contretemps at Cato

by John Quiggin on August 24, 2010

The intertubes and socialnets have been buzzing with news of big changes at the Cato Institute. First up, there was this piece in the New Yorker, about recent moves by the Koch brothers, who pay the bills, to push Cato more firmly into line with the Repubs and Tea Party, and against Obama. This piece marks the mainstreaming of the term “Kochtopus”, used by the Kochs’ opponents in intra-libertarian struggles to describe the network of organizations they fund.

More striking was the simultaneous departure of Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson. Lindsey has been the leading proponent of a rapprochement between libertarians and (US-style) liberals, under the unfortunate portmanteau of “liberaltarianism”, and Wilkinson was similarly seen as being on the left of Cato.

These departures presumably spell the end of any possibility that Cato will leave the Republican tent (or even maintain its tenuous claims to being non-partisan). And Cato was by far the best of the self-described libertarian organizations – the others range from shmibertarian fronts for big business to neo-Confederate loonies.

On the other hand, breaks of this kind often lead to interesting intellectual evolution. There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets. Former libertarians like Jim Henley have had some interesting things to say along these lines, and it would be good to have some similar perspectives

(a bit more to come when i have time)

{ 256 comments }

1

David 08.24.10 at 3:12 am

For a time I believed that emissions trading schemes were a good approach. Until it became apparent that the key word is schemes. Already being gamed. Carbon taxes are a better approach and dead on arrival. My already low opinion of the Cato Institute is more than confirmed.

2

mcd 08.24.10 at 3:23 am

If you make “room” for market-based policy instruments you will wind up with market-generated income distribution. That’s the point of them.

I see no reason to think emissions trading will reduce pollution, although it may well accelerate moving of polluting industries to third-world countries.

3

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 3:46 am

From the New Yorker article: “In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States.”

Good to see something I’ve worked on referenced.

Cato always was a front for Koch, Lindsay and Wilkinson notwithstanding — their role was to give it cover. This kind of funding is one reason why libertarians always came down so firmly on the side of global climate change denial. (Their inability to come up with any solutions was another reason, of course.)

As with a lot of the Tea Party activity, this signals the GOP’s weakness, not it’s strength. Once they had the ability to fund dupes like Lindsay and Wilkinson, now they don’t. Similarly, once they could claim things like “compassionate conservatism”, now they are forced to fall back on raw xenophobia. In the short term, it’s impressive, but it offers them nothing to build on unless they really bring the whole system down.

4

Ex-Lib 08.24.10 at 3:57 am

How is “Koch” pronounced in this case? Like “coach” or “coke” or “cock?”

5

BillCinSD 08.24.10 at 4:13 am

wait, when was CATO not a schmibertarian front for big business? or were they serious enough to only be a glibertarian front for big bsiness?

6

mds 08.24.10 at 4:28 am

Also from the New Yorker article:

Casting his group as a champion of ordinary workers who would be hurt by environmentalists, [Koch stooge] Phillips went to Copenhagen last year and staged a protest outside the United Nations conference on climate change, declaring, “We’re a grassroots organization. . . . I think it’s unfortunate when wealthy children of wealthy families . . . want to send unemployment rates in the United States up to twenty per cent.”

I think the OED has found a new example for their entry on irony.

The article also raises the interesting point about the sense of endless persecution indulged in by these poor, helpless billionaires. Organized labor in the US is a joke, destroying Social Security and Medicare is a much more mainstream notion, effective tax rates for the rich have trended lower, income inequality has increased dramatically … yet there’s still the threat that “big government” might occasionally swat their wrists when they spray toxic chemicals in children’s faces. I hope they don’t manage to finish bringing the system down, because Koch Schmibertopia would make me long for Somalia.

7

Alex K 08.24.10 at 5:01 am

There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets.

I think this would describe all but the far end of the American left.

8

Chris Bertram 08.24.10 at 7:09 am

Presumably that’s the end of the Cato Unbound site, where they tried to promote dialogue with liberals and even leftists. Granted, there was always some “respondent” parroting boilerplate libertarianism, but there was some interesting material also.

9

Ombrageux 08.24.10 at 7:43 am

CATO was also very consistent and pretty good on foreign policy. (Anti-imperialist, anti-defense spending, anti-war…)

10

Ray 08.24.10 at 7:58 am

Oh, so the Koch brothers don’t own any arms companies?

11

Martin Bento 08.24.10 at 8:02 am

BillCinSD asked:

“when was CATO not a schmibertarian front for big business?”

When Chomsky wrote for them perhaps?

12

Anarcho 08.24.10 at 8:04 am

“a rapprochement between libertarians and (US-style) liberals”

Don’t you mean:

“a rapprochement between (US-style) libertarians and (US-style) liberals”?

The term “libertarian” has been, and still is, used by anti-state socialists (anarchists, some marxists, etc.) a lot longer than its appropriation by right-wing free-marketeers in America. In fact, the term was first coined by a French communist-anarchist in 1858, in New York of all places. T

It was then taken up by anarchists across the globe — and is still used by us as an alternative to anarchist. It is also used by some Marxists, who call themselves libertarian Marxists, as well as other socialists (like Maurice Brinton and the British Solidarity group in the 1960s and 70s). he American right-wing appropriation of the term dates back to the 1950s.

Karl Widerquist’s encyclopedia description of libertarianism covers the ground quite well. A few choice quotes:

“Before that [the 1950s], and in most of the rest of the world today, the term has been associated almost exclusively with leftists groups advocating egalitarian property rights or even the abolition of private property, such as anarchist socialists who began using the term nearly a century early, in 1858″

Stating the obvious:

“The three are not factions of a common movement, but distinct ideologies using the same label.”

And this one is great:

“Right-libertarians seldom call themselves right-libertarians, preferring to call themselves simply ‘libertarians,’ often denying any other groups have claim to the name. It is perhaps poetically appropriate that property rights advocates have appropriated a term that was already being used by people who subscribe to the idea that property is theft, and that these property rights now accuse anarchists of trying to steal it from them.”

So it would be nice if left-wingers would not let the right appropriate a term which was, for over 100 years, a term used exclusively by the left. As well as being annoying to genuine libertarians, it associates liberty with the right and an ideology (better called “propertarianism”) which is far more concerned with property than liberty.

13

Tim Worstall 08.24.10 at 8:05 am

“There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets.”

Classical liberalism would also be a useful description of this.

14

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.24.10 at 8:45 am

CATO was also very consistent and pretty good on foreign policy.

I’ll second that. This, for example.

15

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 9:43 am

The article says that the Mercatus Center at George Mason is also funded by the Kochs.

16

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 10:24 am

Having said that about Mercatus… I get my salary and research funding from several federal institutes, a state university and its medical center, and a private children’s hospital (and thus its billionaire donors). I’m not suggesting that there is a moral difference between my situation and the Mercatus / CATO scholars.

17

Metamorf 08.24.10 at 11:46 am

John Q: There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets.

Alex K: I think this would describe all but the far end of the American left.

Tim: Classical liberalism would also be a useful description of this.

And then there’s Tony Blair and his Third Way.

Whether Third Way, Fourth Way, or Nth Way, though, you may find that you’ll have a bit of a problem in accepting markets, etc. as “social contrivances” while rejecting the resulting income distribution. Unless of course you simply intend to ignore “normative claims” altogether. A vexing problem, no? Markets work well, or seem to, but for reasons that we don’t understand, and their outcomes are always so not fair….

18

Miracle Max 08.24.10 at 11:54 am

Cato head Bill Niskanen was very out-front against the first Gulf War, and it cost Cato some of their funding.

19

Bill Kristol 08.24.10 at 12:01 pm

Cato head Bill Niskanen was very out-front against the first Gulf War, and it cost Cato some of their funding.

It looks like they might have learned the lesson.

20

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 12:56 pm

Bill Gardner: “I’m not suggesting that there is a moral difference between my situation and the Mercatus / CATO scholars.”

That’s moral tone-deafness. Those federal institutes, state university, and private children’s hospital presumably don’t use you as part of a propaganda operation.

And saying that Cato was occasionally good on something or other, where that did not conflict with Koch interests, is beside the point. Just as with Tech Central Station, the propaganda needs camouflage, so that people like the ones in this thread can be fooled. See here, for instance, or better yet here. Wilkinson and Lindsay are just as complicit as the people who wrote propertarian boilerplate.

21

alex 08.24.10 at 1:15 pm

@ 15 – No problem I can see accepting the use of market relations to determine prices for goods and services, and simultaneously taxing citizens at a reasonably progressive rate to maintain institutions of necessary social solidarity. It is after all what every country in the world does, with the possible exception of the PRK. Some do it better than others, and there is wide divergence of opinion about what constitutes ‘reasonably progressive’ and ‘necessary’, but they all do it, libertard bitching notwithstanding.

22

chris 08.24.10 at 1:17 pm

There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets.

But that *is* the US left. US liberals already appreciate the virtues of markets, subject to an awareness of their limitations (such as their tendency to generate extremely skewed income distributions). US libertarians seem to want to jettison the awareness of markets’ limitations and just accept them uncritically.

And top-down planning is only resorted to after other approaches have failed — which is not that uncommon an occurrence.

The idea of liberals reaching for the heavy hand of government as a first resort, let alone as an end in itself, is a splinter faction at most, if not an outright strawman, that has historically been used to smear the entire leftish half of the US political spectrum.

Who wants to engage with the people who have been allying with torturers and theocrats in spite of their supposed principles, and deliberately misrepresenting your views for years? Don’t all raise your hands at once.

23

mds 08.24.10 at 1:19 pm

Just as with Tech Central Station, the propaganda needs camouflage, so that people like the ones in this thread can be fooled.

Indeed, it’s misleading to refer to “Cato” being good on something, rather than particular people employed by Cato. For every, e.g., Gene Healy calling out torture and criticizing security state excesses, you have the director of their Center for Constitutional Studies, Roger Pilon, cheerleading for illegal wiretapping and more draconian methods of thwarting those sinister terrorists who set their laps on fire. So there’s no such thing as “Cato’s” stance on the War on a Noun, only the false impression of difficult issues on which reasonable libertarian scholars might differ. The things on which Cato speaks with one voice are the things that are completely irrelevant to Koch interests, or entirely relevant. So unlike some libertarians, they seem pretty consistent on refusing to acknowledge that big corporations that can purchase judges, employ private armies, dump their externalities in someone else’s lap, etc, etc, aren’t intrinsically better for liberty than big governments.

24

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 1:45 pm

Rich Pulasky @ #18: That’s moral tone-deafness. Those federal institutes, state university, and private children’s hospital presumably don’t use you as part of a propaganda operation.

Are you sure? For example, the private children’s hospital is named after a corporation, in return for a large donation. My research is occasionally cited as evidence of the hospital’s good works, and the corporation uses the hospital to project a positive public image. I too view it this way, that is, I think my work is good, and that in a small way it speaks well for the donors. Wouldn’t the Mercatus people say the same?

25

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.24.10 at 1:46 pm

Nah. An American think-tank that employs radical anti-imperialist intellectuals and publishes their analysis definitely, for that reason alone, commands respect, whatever the failings.

26

Henry 08.24.10 at 2:13 pm

There’s a substantial difference between Lindsey/Wilkinson and Glenn Reynolds. Both Lindsey and Wilkinson very clearly, and very explicitly tried to use their positions to change the ideological momentum of the libertarian movement towards one that was more compatible with liberalism and a reasonable acquaintance with empirical facts. It is at least plausible that they have suffered for this by losing their positions because they got the funders unhappy (one person I know who is pretty familiar with this world speculates that this is what happened here). This seems to me to be a very different thing from being a “dupe.” There are different plausible theories of how best to accomplish change. Some people opt from trying to change stuff from within existing organizations and structures, while gritting their teeth and dealing with the bullshit that they have to deal with. Others opt for doing it from outside, while gritting their teeth and dealing with the unhappiness of starting from an institutionally marginalized position. I don’t think that there is any obvious _prima facie_ case that the one or the other is the right way to go. If Lindsey or Wilkinson had shut up and gone with the program it would have been a different thing – but they very clearly and very visibly tried to change the movement from within. It didn’t work out, but they should not be condemned for trying.

27

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 2:44 pm

Lindsay and Wilkinson will, no doubt, no longer be employed by think tanks — will be no longer be able to write on the Web, for that matter — now that they are no longer being employed by Koch, and do not have the advantage of “trying to change stuff from within existing organizations and structures”. Oh, wait.

And I’d guess that Glenn Reynolds may have thought of himself in the exact same way. He was willing to bravely work inside the system of Cato to help change the movement from within, despite the anti-war and pro-civil-liberties stuff that Cato sometimes ran.

What this amounts to is giving Lindsay and Wilkinson a pass because you agree with the direction of change they were attempting. Reynolds doesn’t get a pass because you disagree.

Very well, I can deal with situational ethics. Perhaps the good that Wilkinson and Lindsay did outweighed the bad that they did by participating in this propaganda operation. But they still acted as dupes.

Or, if they weren’t dupes because they knew what they were doing, they haven’t to acknowledge that, as far as I know, to anyone else. So if they knowingly made this choice, they are willing to dupe others.

28

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 2:53 pm

Bill Gardner: “Are you sure? For example, the private children’s hospital is named after a corporation, in return for a large donation. [...]“

If you want to reduce your work for federal institutes, a state university, and a private hospital to only the work for the private hospital, and then say that the unnamed corporation that named the hospital is as bad as Koch, which routinely funds global climate change denialism as well as every other major right-wing corporate cause, then fine. You’re just as bad as they are. I fail to see why your shame makes them any better.

29

Zamfir 08.24.10 at 3:08 pm

I have a question about the numbers here. The article mentions that the Koch brothers spend a 100 million on politics, and also that they changed the game that way, with the implications that they give a lot compared to others.

But a 100 million spread out over a few decades seems to me not enough to fund a university, multiple think tanks, grass-roots organizations, etc.

I guess it buys you at most a thousand think-tank-scholar-years, if you include the DC propeties and support staff etc. That might be enough to keep Cato running forsome time time, but not a lot more.

30

Henry 08.24.10 at 3:21 pm

Rich – you’re getting confused here. As best as I know, Glenn Reynolds never had any involvement with Cato (apart from promoting his book at a Cato event). I brought up his name because of the Tech Central Station piece that you linked. And yes – while I am sympathetic to both Lindsey and Wilkinson because their views are broadly more compatible with mine than others, the more fundamental point is that they were and are interested in engaging honestly on the facts. As best as I can see, you have a theory of politics under which anyone on the other side is necessarily either an active conspirator, a crazy, or a dupe. Under the current constellation of American politics, that can explain quite a lot. But it certainly can’t explain everything.

31

JM 08.24.10 at 3:28 pm

So, can we stop pretending that we take their academic payola seriously? It seems to be no different that Singer et al. on climate change. Any policy with potentially bad consequences for the wealthywill attract paid rhetors, selling the costs of intransigence to those too poor to escape them.

[spits on ground]

32

Bill Benzon 08.24.10 at 3:37 pm

33

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 3:59 pm

Rich @ 28: If you want to reduce your work… to only the work for the private hospital, and then say that the unnamed corporation that named the hospital is as bad as Koch, which routinely funds global climate change denialism… then fine. You’re just as bad as they are.

So, I think that global climate change denialism is in error, and I am even more confident that much of what I read from Cato and Mercatus people about health care is in error. On these issues, I think I’m right and they are wrong on the facts and their implications for human well-being. That’s all there is to say. Adding invective is just distracting.

I assume that Cato and Mercatus people are like me in the above. Maybe some people there deliberately misrepresent things for career or political advantage, but I don’t know how I could know who those people are.

I fail to see why your shame makes them any better.

It certainly would not, if I felt ashamed.

34

liberty 08.24.10 at 4:00 pm

From the New Yorker piece, about the Koch brothers, “They are the Standard Oil of our times.” I would be proud of this! Although the Center for Public Integrity who made the comparison accuses them (and by extension, Standard Oil) of ” lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation,” nothing could be further from truth – about Standard Oil at least.

John D. Rockefeller is often accused of having been an exploitative capitalist because he built a railroad “empire.” Many argue that he colluded with Vanderbilt when his railroad gave discounts to Standard Oil for delivery. However, Vanderbilt offered the same discount to anyone else who could provide the railroad with that same amount of business. It was simply a volume discount. Nobody else could offer the same volume of business because no one else was as efficient. Rockefeller was able to capitalize on his success, but his success was a result of his efficiency. Only by continuing to improve his operations was he able to build on this success and maintain his dominant position.

In The Myth of the Robber Barons, Burton Folsom points out that before Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, most oil producers wasted more oil than they sold, and rivers ran with wasted (dangerous and polluting) oil. Rockefeller’s innovation was to refine the oil and create hundreds of products from it, wasting almost none of it. His efficiencies and the discount from Vanderbilt allowed Rockefeller to cut the price of kerosene from 58 to 26 cents per gallon by 1870 and to keep cutting it each year after that. While “before 1870 only the rich could afford whale oil and candles,” “[b]y the 1870s, with the drop in the price of kerosene, middle and working class people all over the nation could afford the one cent an hour that it cost to light their homes at night,” allowing many Americans for the first time to work and read at night.

If this is what Koch industries is doing–offering energy for cheaper than ever before and cutting pollution by 80% in tandem–then they should be proud.

35

Sebastian 08.24.10 at 4:02 pm

Reason.org seems like a pretty good example of what you’re talking about (though of course you won’t agree with them on everything). They have been especially good on law enforcement/citizen interactions over the last few years with articles much like this.

In fact I don’t think anyone covers police corruption issues as well as they do.

36

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 4:14 pm

I had thought that Reynolds wrote for Cato Unbound, but he seems to be listed there as a contributor without me being able to easily find any actual contributions. But in any case I think that Cato and Tech Central Station are more or less equivalent.

I still think that you’re giving them a pass. I’ll quote you from a comment back:

“Some people opt from trying to change stuff from within existing organizations and structures, while gritting their teeth and dealing with the bullshit that they have to deal with. Others opt for doing it from outside, while gritting their teeth and dealing with the unhappiness of starting from an institutionally marginalized position. “

All right, then the first group of people have to deal with the moral responsibility of being dupes — or of duping others. The second group of people have to deal with the moral responsibility of ineffectuality. Neither one gets to escape it by saying that they meant well, or that they were “engaging honestly on the facts.”

Are Lindsay and Wilkinson “engaging honestly on the facts”? Perhaps. We’ll see what they say about their termination of employment from Cato. Will they be willing to say that they made the choice to work within the system, but now that they are out, they are free to say that the shop was the corporate propaganda vehicle that people said it was? Or are they just going to go to their next think tank jobs and maximize their personal future employment chances by not saying anything about it? I’d guess the latter, but we’ll see.

And your characterization of my theory of politics reminds me of the Duncan Black quote, which I paraphrase from memory as “Everyone who was wrong is right, everyone who was right is crazy.”

37

AcademicLurker 08.24.10 at 4:17 pm

“I assume that Cato and Mercatus people are like me in the above. Maybe some people there deliberately misrepresent things for career or political advantage, but I don’t know how I could know who those people are.”

I realize that pointing this out is usually Rich Puchalsky’s beat, but the above statement is really incredibly naive.

38

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 4:27 pm

Well, maybe you should feel ashamed, Bill Gardner. You have various sources of work, but by your own description: “My research is occasionally cited as evidence of the hospital’s good works, and the corporation uses the hospital to project a positive public image. I too view it this way, that is, I think my work is good, and that in a small way it speaks well for the donors.” You willingly allow people to use your work for their corporate image, while saying that it really doesn’t matter to you whether they are actually a good corporation or not, except insofar as they support you and you think your work is good.

OK, so you’re fine with acting as a corporate whore. I guess that people shouldn’t necessarily be ashamed of being whores. But sex workers, at least, don’t generally have lots of adverse externalities for everyone else. Your work could, for all I know, be the deciding factor that gives that corporation a better enough public image so that it is able to effectively support the same libertarian health care that you say you disagree with, with negative consequences to everyone that far outweigh your work. Are they actually doing that? Well, you apparently don’t know and as a matter of principle don’t care.

39

mds 08.24.10 at 4:39 pm

This seems to me to be a very different thing from being a “dupe.”

Except that we’re talking about smart, highly-educated folks who could readily determine what their backers are like. Did they really think they were going to change stuff from within the existing organization, on Charles Koch’s dime? This is not like trying to reform existing governmental organizations and structures from within, even though the system is dysfunctional. The things that Wilkinson and Lindsey would presumably view as “broken” are part of the Koch system by design.

This is the distinction between the Mercatus Center and a private children’s hospital. The latter really does help children, while providing good PR for the donor purely as a side effect. The former works to stop “big government” from helping poor children as a founding goal, because socialism. Now, the New Yorker article notes that donor cachet translated into a position of influence at the National Cancer Institute for someone who thinks the government shouldn’t regulate the carcinogens his company uses. But hat does not invalidate the actual good work by the institutions that accepted his donations, or automatically turn their employees into sex workers; it merely indicates the dangers of allowing someone to buy a position that influences public policy in this fashion.

40

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 4:40 pm

Academic Lurker @36: the above statement is really incredibly naive.

Because?

Rich @37: [You are] saying that it really doesn’t matter to you whether they are actually a good corporation or not, except insofar as they support you and you think your work is good.

Sorry, where did I say that?

41

hhoran 08.24.10 at 4:40 pm

While I understand the point, I think Henry’s “reasonable acquaintance with empirical facts” isn’t the most useful standard in judging different people/arguments along the various liberal/libertarian/conservative fault-lines.
I think it is more instructive to start with “a commentators comfort/discomfort with highly concentrated economic power”. Libertarian coalitions with “conservatives” were traditionally justified on ‘common desire for small, limited government” but the Cato situation illustrates how these coalitions directly serve narrow, powerful interests that appear to directly threaten the personal/economic freedom libertarians are seeking. Recent blogosphere discussions based on Lindsey’s “liberaltarian” Reason claims (see Somin at MR, Tim Lee and others) all highlight the central problem–these coalitions are totally funded by conservative/corporate interests, so only the libertarian claims about reducing government taxation powers get publicised, and the libertarian claims about reducing government military spending, police powers etc remain on the cutting room floor. Follow the Money.
Then, I’d focus on “transparency”, an easier and less normative metric than “respect for empirical facts”.

42

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 4:46 pm

“Sorry, where did I say that?”

If you’re not saying that, then your case and that of Lindsay and Wilkinson are not comparable. So you offered a false equivalence between your work at a private children’s hospital and their work at a Koch-funded think tank. Which is what I originally wrote about “moral tone-deafness”.

43

Sebastian 08.24.10 at 4:56 pm

No, Rich, under your super precise definitions Lindsay and Wilkinson’s cases are not comparable. Bill thinks they are somewhat comparable and has explained why. You can always win arguments if you get to be in charge of changing the definitions to fit the argument. And the slurs you seem to like slinging (e.g. ‘corporate whore’) are even more malleable in your hands than normal terms. Which is fantastic for your style of confrontation, I suppose.

44

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 5:05 pm

Sebastian, you personally have lied, in this venue, as part of your support for global warming denialism, and have claimed that the East Anglia Emailers must still be guilty or something while showing no concern about the people who stole their Emails. People here still seem to think that that makes you a nice, respectable person. I don’t.

And if that’s “my style of confrontation” rather than the general style of reasonable people everywhere, then shame on them. The people who think that you’re fine aren’t “civil”, they’re just moral cowards, or reflexively sticking up for fellow middle class people via the marker of a certain middle class writing style.

45

piglet 08.24.10 at 5:08 pm

Bill Gardner, I assume you disclose your funding sources in each publication? I wonder whether Cato writers are doing the same. They definitely should. “This web site is made possible by Koch Industries”, “this article was published with funding from Koch Industries” etc.

46

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 5:13 pm

Rich @40: If you’re not saying that, then your case and that of Lindsay and Wilkinson are not comparable. So you offered a false equivalence between your work at a private children’s hospital and their work at a Koch-funded think tank. Which is what I originally wrote about “moral tone-deafness”.

That’s helpful, thanks. I do care about the corporation that funds the hospital. I wouldn’t work for the Philip Morris Children’s Hospital. I work for a hospital supported by an institution that, in so far as I know what they do, I agree with enough that I can live with them. I assume Lindsey and Wilkinson would have said the same.

47

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 5:22 pm

OK, with this last comment of Bill Gardner’s, I think that I basically agree with him. If Lindsey and Wilkinson agree enough with Koch so that they can live with them, then they have to take responsibility for that. I can see them making an argument, a la the one that Henry proposed, that the good that they were attempting to do by steering libertarianism in a new direction outweighs the bad. But that argument is meaningless unless you accept that they were actually doing something bad that they have to outweigh.

But mostly, I don’t trust anyone who agrees with Koch enough so that they can live with them. Calling Lindsay and Wilkinson “dupes” is giving them the benefit of the doubt, as far as I’m concerned.

48

bianca steele 08.24.10 at 6:04 pm

I confess to being confused about what “liberaltarianism” was going to be. Many of the statistics Wilkinson has been citing are not new. US non-intellectual libertarians’ social beliefs, by and large, match what is called liberal in the US. Thus, if they vote Republican, they put economic matters and/or national security above social issues. Presumably, the intention was to downplay the social issues in order not to alienate libertarian Republicans who preferred not to go along with the social conservatives, and to keep them voting Republican. However, Wilkinson has been blogging a lot about the importance of social and cultural concerns.

49

bianca steele 08.24.10 at 6:11 pm

to keep them voting Republican

And perhaps also to chip away yet another group of alienated Democrats for the “Reagan Democrat”/”Independent” wing of people who vote Republican. But there hardly needs to be a movement for that. You just need (a) single issues where individual people without strong political opinions prefer the Republican position, and (b) a Republican party that doesn’t disgust them, which is the tricky part these days.

50

Bill Gardner 08.24.10 at 6:19 pm

Piglet @43:

I do report funding that was specific to a project when I publish. We are also required to report anything that would be an apparent conflict of interest, even if the resources were not used on a project. For example, if I wrote about antidepressants, I would be required to discuss funding from Pfizer, even if they hadn’t supported that specific research. (I have never been funded by Pfizer or any other device or pharmaceutical company.) Your question prompts me to reflect, however, that we do not report contributions that support the institution as a whole (i.e., the bricks and mortar). I am not sure there’s a good reason for that.

If Cato and Mercatus disclose their funders on their websites, I can’t find it. They do say that they do not accept government support, which if nothing else is consistent.

Rich @45: Glad that we were able to work out a partial agreement.

51

Norwegian Guy 08.24.10 at 6:20 pm

How is Brink Lindsay in any way a “good” libertarian? He supported the Iraq war. If it’s that kind of heterodoxy that make him a liberaltarian, I can rather appreciate the more orthodox, anti-interventionist variety you find at for instance antiwar.com.

“Significantly, the editor of Cato Unbound is Brink Lindsey, the Cato Institute’s vice president for research. Lindsey argued vocally and publicly for U.S. military intervention in Iraq, and he wasn’t shy about touting his Cato affiliation (then as director of trade policy studies) when doing so.”

http://antiwar.com/pena/?articleid=9361

I don’t know what kind of foreign policy views Wilkinson has or had, but they are hardly the first being purged from Cato:

“In this context, the sudden involuntary departure of defense policy director Charles V. Pena, the respected defense policy analyst and staunch anti-interventionist, paints a troubling picture of an institution in the throes of a pro-war purge.”

http://www.antiwar.com/blog/2005/09/23/the-war-party-conquers-cato/

52

Chris Bertram 08.24.10 at 6:36 pm

@Norwegian Guy. Yes, he did. But he also recanted on that.

53

Henry 08.24.10 at 6:41 pm

Norwegian Guy – Lindsey has publicly and unequivocally repented his views on the Iraq war in a bloggingheads conversation with me, and, I am pretty sure, many other places. The point (at least for me) isn’t whether someone is ‘right’ – I think, given my own starting point, that Lindsey is wrong on a whole lot of stuff (health care, social security etc). It’s whether their intentions are benign, they are prepared to argue in good faith, concede when the evidence is against them etc. His “just-published counterblast against AEI culture warriors”:http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=another_culture_war_no_thanks sets out his intellectual platform and style pretty well.

bq. Here again, [AEI President] Brooks’ effort to turn economic policy problems into “us versus them” cultural conflicts collapses in failure. On the vexing question of how to defuse the entitlements fiscal time bomb, there is no “us” and “them.” The politics of us versus them is almost always ugly and illiberal. And on the policy questions that Brooks is concerned with, there’s no need for such deliberate divisiveness. Yes, there are strong disagreements about market regulation and the proper size and scope of social spending, but these disagreements are not based on some irreconcilable differences in values. Vigorous support for continued economic growth is nearly universal across the political spectrum. How else will we put jobless Americans back to work, and how else will we pay for the activities of government, without a strong, dynamic private sector? A similarly broad consensus exists for the following two propositions: On the one hand, a government safety net is needed to protect Americans from various hazards of life; on the other hand, that safety net shouldn’t bankrupt us.

bq. Figuring out how to restore growth and how to construct an effective but affordable safety net, are questions for debate, analysis, and democratic decision-making. My answers to those questions may differ from yours, but dividing up into warring tribes and demonizing each other aren’t the ways to figure out who’s right.

Lindsey is smart, honest, committed to real debate, and wants what’s right. That’s all I can ask for from an intellectual opponent.

54

Mrs Tilton 08.24.10 at 7:00 pm

The respective roles of Bill Gardner and Rich Puchalsky in life, as I see it: Gardner does useful research that may improve lives. Puchalsky sits in front of a computer informing Gardner he is a whore because part of the research is funded by some corporation.

Hey, the libertarians are right! The market really does allocate resources in the most appropriate way.

55

Mrs Tilton 08.24.10 at 7:02 pm

re: Liberty @34, passim,

Chanters of propertarian psalms are funny.

No, really funny. I’m tempted to call Poe.

56

bianca steele 08.24.10 at 7:11 pm

I kind of agree with Rich on this. The job of Cato’s writers, like Reason’s, is to get voters for the Republican party and to increase support generally for (basically) current Republican positions. They can’t reasonably expect to do that job while attempting to change those current Republican positions, if only because the better they do their job, the more they would undercut their other project. Now, if they are really personally committed to the Republican party, that would be a different question. But then non-Republicans who debate them ought to realize that, at any given time, they are more likely acting as hacks than as people committed to honest debate (their commitment would then only allow them to engage in honest debate within the Republican party, privately).

And personally, I think that if there really are a lot of people who think they are really going to change the institution while dealing with everything they are forced to put up with, when “everything” includes propaganda, something is very wrong here.

57

More Dogs, Less Crime 08.24.10 at 7:28 pm

Time to get started on Timothy B. Lee’s fantasy think tank.

58

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 7:45 pm

“Lindsey is smart, honest, committed to real debate, and wants what’s right. That’s all I can ask for from an intellectual opponent.”

And who cares that he is partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people — people who did not come to life again when he recanted on bloggingheads or whatever. What’s important is that he meets your standards for what kind of debating partner you want.

59

Keith 08.24.10 at 7:52 pm

As well as being annoying to genuine libertarians, it associates liberty with the right and an ideology (better called “propertarianism”) which is far more concerned with property than liberty.

There’s no need to invent new words to describe these folk. They’re feudalists, plain and simple. They want to divide the planet into parcels of land and then fight each other for control of said land and its resources (“resources” here includes people and whatever other pieces of hard capitol are attached) just like the barons and princes of Ye Olden Times. They’ll just use lawyers and tactical nukes now instead of swords and trebuchet.

60

Henry 08.24.10 at 8:08 pm

Rich – this is exactly the kind of argument I used to hear from people like Glenn Reynolds – that those like me who were arguing against the war were responsible for the continued torture and murder of thousands under Saddam’s regime. Glenn Reynolds was very obviously committed to any argument that would allow him to keep burnishing his public conscience, his self-proclaimed moral righteousness and his not inconsiderable sense of self-esteem. I’m not saying that this is what is driving you – you certainly do not seem to be slimy and dishonest in the same way as Glenn Reynolds – but you also seem pretty starkly opposed to any claim that people on the other side of any of a number of debates can have legitimate reasons for disagreeing with you. Even if the sources are different, the end result – a kind of Manicheanism in which everything breaks down into a simple struggle between Good and Evil – is more or less the same. It would be a much simpler world if everyone who was on the ‘other’ side was corrupt, evil or stupid. But that’s not the world we live in, as best as I can see. Maybe it’s the world that you believe that you live in – but from my perspective, that is your problem, not mine (perhaps from your perspective, my take is my problem, and not yours).

61

chris 08.24.10 at 8:18 pm

And who cares that he is partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people

Wait, what? He had veto power over the war? It couldn’t have happened without his permission?

If the war would have gone on without him, then his support has no causal relationship to the war itself; while he was still wrong about it, his wrongness didn’t kill anyone that wouldn’t have died anyway.

62

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 8:26 pm

Or perhaps from your perspective, warmongering is just the same kind of thing as saying that we should not rush to war, so that Glenn Reynolds’ views and mine are mere mirror images of each other. The commonality, I see, is that anyone who believes in anything extreme — war, peace, whatever — is a Manichean extremist who believes in simple struggles between Good and Evil, unlike the sophisticated people who don’t reject good debating partners merely because they were in fact partially responsible for thousands of deaths.

After all, those deaths — which actually happened — are just the same as the supposed deaths which would have occurred had we not invaded and deposed Saddam, correct? After all, history does not exist. Historical responsibility does not exist.

And my supposed “self-proclaimed moral righteousness” does not have anything to do with what actually happened in the last decade. Those people who I disagree with could, after all, have perfectly legitimate reasons for disagreeing with me! In theory. Who cares what their actual, demonstrated reasons are, because history does not exist.

63

More Dogs, Less Crime 08.24.10 at 8:30 pm

Rich, I think you drastically overstate the influence of Brink Lindsey. And while it may be objectionable to pray for the death of someone I dislike or torture a voodoo doll in their likeness, it doesn’t make me responsible for anything. I don’t trust Brink not to get it wrong again if the respectable people favor war, but even in that case I’ll expect him to be a follower rather than a leader. I’ve heard Yglesias cite Pollack as a reason he supported Iraq, I’ve never heard anyone say similarly for Brink.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything positive about Roger Pilon. He has often been acknowledged as going “off the reservation”. Why oh why couldn’t he get the boot?

64

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 8:30 pm

Ah, and I see that chris thinks that pundits who speak out vigorously, in public venues, in favor of war have no responsibility for the war, because they do not have “veto power”. Wow, that’s — comforting, isn’t it?

65

Henry 08.24.10 at 8:33 pm

Rich – hope you’re enjoying yourself whooping it up in the Gamma Quadrant, but me – I’m out of here.

66

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 8:46 pm

So, there were many people who said for many years that Cato was a mere subsidiary of Koch, that it was a bought-and-paid-for corporate propaganda shop. Against this, people like Henry said that we were Manichean extremists who rejected the subset of people at Cato who were honest, reasonable advocates of libertarianism. And now that we’ve been proven right, why, it turns out that we were crazy all along. And the people like Henry, who of course were wrong, were really right because they were wrong for the right reasons.

67

Henry 08.24.10 at 8:50 pm

And as a final point – if you prefer (as you apparently do) arguing with the voices that you have yourself constructed in your own internal dialogue to engaging with the actual arguments that other people are making, there are many more appropriate forums that you might consider taking this doubtless important discussion to.

68

geo 08.24.10 at 8:53 pm

Come on, Rich. All your antagonists on this thread are saying is:
1) There’s an important difference between being honestly wrong and being dishonestly wrong; and
2) There are degrees of responsibility for criminal state policies, with those who devise and implement them having a far greater responsibility than those who merely, as citizens, verbally support them.
It’s hard enough to get Americans to listen when we call Kissinger or Cheney war criminals. If we start calling people like Brink Lindsey war criminals (or almost), we may as well give up.

69

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 9:09 pm

“There’s an important difference between being honestly wrong and being dishonestly wrong”

And I guess that the people who are dead are either honestly dead or dishonestly dead. Or something.

“There are degrees of responsibility for criminal state policies [...]“

Ranging from total to zero. No, you say that the people who devise them have a greater responsibility than the people who “as citizens” verbally support them. What does that “as citizens” mean, geo? Does that have anything to do with Henry’s painstaking explanation of how Lindsay might have made compromises in order to get a position in Cato where he could have his views heard by a larger number of people than an ordinary citizen, and therefore do more good?

If I wrote some boilerplate about how great public intellectuals were, and how an intellectual speaking to the public had a certain kind of responsibility, I would guess that most people would write oh yes, very true. But it turns out strangely enough that this responsibility does not apply to deadly mistakes! It turns out that it is merely a privilege, one that goes to a certain kind of person.

70

Mrs Tilton 08.24.10 at 9:22 pm

Because Puchalsky did not assassinate Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and overthrow the GOP regime, he is personally responsible for every Iraqi death.

71

Substance McGravitas 08.24.10 at 9:30 pm

Responsibility for the war also varies with contributions in taxes.

72

chris 08.24.10 at 9:32 pm

If I wrote some boilerplate about how great public intellectuals were, and how an intellectual speaking to the public had a certain kind of responsibility, I would guess that most people would write oh yes, very true. But it turns out strangely enough that this responsibility does not apply to deadly mistakes!

Responsibility for actual events follows causation, and stops with it. The words of the powerless are not actually “deadly mistakes” because the powerless *are powerless* and no different outcome would have resulted if they had said something different.

Now of course arguments about causation and inevitability require consideration of counterfactuals, and are always somewhat arguable on that basis, but I don’t think you’re going to actually defend the thesis that if Lindsey had opposed the war it wouldn’t have happened; rather, you just want to remove the causal element entirely so you can paint with a broader brush. As you can see, most people here don’t support that endeavor.

Although I suspect most people talking about the “responsibilities” of public intellectuals are really more concerned with integrity, not saying things you know to be false, not representing unsupported speculation as established fact, etc., rather than the actual *consequences* of what they say, because in most cases there aren’t any. It’s somewhat rude to point out to intellectuals that they’re not that important in actually causing events, but they aren’t, in fact, that important in actually causing events. Which intellectuals are perceived as the voice of the Zeitgeist and which are perceived as voices in the wilderness depends on which way the Zeitgeist is already moving.

73

Snake Eyes 08.24.10 at 10:21 pm

Pro-free market libertarians from like Vegas are loony neo-confederates.
Pro-free market libertarians from like U. of Chicago or Harvard are called Obama’s economic advisers.

74

Sebastian 08.24.10 at 10:38 pm

“And who cares that he is partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people—people who did not come to life again when he recanted on bloggingheads or whatever. What’s important is that he meets your standards for what kind of debating partner you want.”

You use electricity, some of which comes from burning coal, which causes global warming. You are partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in the future whose lives will be somewhat impacted by global climate change. You might want to turn off your computer immediately!

75

Rich Puchalsky 08.24.10 at 10:38 pm

chris, I understand what you’re writing, but it appears to me to be strange kind of special pleading. It’s the public intellectual as powerless person who, if he didn’t write that we should go to war because of reasons X, Y, and Z, would probably have been replaced in his justificatory role by some other person who would have written the same thing, and none of it matters anyways.

Let’s say that’s true. Well, immediately, it means that people who say that they are working within the system so that they can change it are all deluding themselves. Or, possibly, they are simply out for themselves. Nothing that they write can actually affect anything.

It also means that discussing them is a total waste of time. They are powerless, and realpolitick says that decisions are made by the few people who are in charge of the government. Or, possibly, that decisions are made by no one — the Zeitgeist makes them. People who are concerned with what you describe as “integrity, not saying things you know to be false, not representing unsupported speculation as established fact” and so on would then have a meaningless sort of concern with authenticity, like the people who want their country music singers to really have “country” backgrounds — because after all none of that matters to events in any way.

That’s a defensible point of view, I suppose. But it’s contrary to pretty much everything that the intellectuals here write. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. Are they powerless players of intellectual games, whose only concern with getting a bigger audience for their views is the personal perqs that that gets them? Is that really better than what I’ve written?

76

LFC 08.24.10 at 10:56 pm

To echo a point that’s already been made, the influence of Brink Lindsey on the decision to invade Iraq and on the climate of opinion that supported the decision was, I would go so far as to say, minimal. Kenneth Pollack, yes. Bill Kristol, yes. And some others. Brink Lindsey, no. I follow U.S. foreign policy more closely than the proverbial person in the street and I don’t believe I’d ever heard of Lindsey until this thread. Admittedly, I was not doing much reading of blogs or similar fora in ’03. But being employed by the Cato Institute and having an online presence and engaging in debates with Henry Farrell does not make someone — in this case Lindsey — a major public intellectual. And I’m sure Rich Puchalsky is going to say that I’m an ignorant, uninformed, amoral person, but so be it.

77

Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 12:02 am

You need not have heard of him, LFC. But you can read the links that Norwegian Guy provided in comment 51 if you like. He was not only speaking out personally, he was using whatever influence he had as editor.

But again, let’s say that you’re right. He *would* have been partially responsible for getting us into war, since he was doing everything he could to influence public opinion in that direction. But he just wasn’t quite influential enough to make the pro-war pundit big leagues. Lucky Lindsey — saved by his own ineffectuality. That’s exactly the sterling quality I’d like to see in a think tank employee! It’s really important that Cato purged this ineffectual person in favor of some other presumably ineffectual person because … um …

Wait, why does this matter again? Why does anyone care what Cato says or who it employs or what tack they take, since it apparently only matters if you make the pundit big leagues? What does it matter that Koch bought a mouthpiece — they should have spent their money on Bill Kristol. Is that the idea?

78

piglet 08.25.10 at 12:16 am

The thread has gotten way uncivil (Mrs Tilton in particular, what has gotten into you?) and this is *not* Rich’s fault. Rich is right and Henry is wrong. There are those here who say that you shouldn’t take somebody to task just because they are (or have been) intellectually supporting war and other crimes and injustices, and that it is impolite to call them out on it. Some of us disagree. And I realize that this has been an ongoing concern of Henry’s – the alleged impoliteness of calling right-wingers right-wingers and taken them to account. Go on living in a fantasy world in which right-wing extremists are amenable to rational arguments.

79

Sebastian 08.25.10 at 12:36 am

“There are those here who say that you shouldn’t take somebody to task just because they are (or have been) intellectually supporting war and other crimes and injustices, and that it is impolite to call them out on it. “

Do you really think this is a fair synopsis of Henry’s argument? Do you think this is a fair synopsis of really anyone’s argument here? Which comment or quote in the post leads you to thinking this is a fair synopsis?

And isn’t it weird that you’re complaining about the ‘alleged impoliteness of calling right-wingers right wingers ‘ while also complaining about alleged incivility when calling out Rich for pseudo-random slurring?

80

CBrinton 08.25.10 at 2:24 am

“And Cato was by far the best of the self-described libertarian organizations – the others range from shmibertarian fronts for big business to neo-Confederate loonies.”

Has there been a scholarly examination of the bizarre views many libertarians have of the Confederacy? I’ve lost count of the number of libertarians who’ve told me that the CSA was just about to abolish slavery, as soon as it acquired undisputed independence. Because, you see, they’d be unable to stop slaves from running away, once they lost the protection of the federal Fugitive Slave Act.

In other words, the fact that they were about to lose a government handout would stop a group of private individuals from finding an alternate solution to the problem the government had previously dealt with–the exact opposite of the ordinary libertarian view.

81

Josh 08.25.10 at 3:07 am

Mrs. Tilton, Rich does have a productive job, and he’s alluded to it in this very thread.

That said, I wish I knew enough about taxonomies of morality to be better able to describe what’s being fought over in this discussion, ’cause I think it’s consequentialist versus aretaic ethics or something like that. Orthodontology, whatever: anyone here good at those categorizations?

82

Chris Bertram 08.25.10 at 6:53 am

So if a person is committed to an immoral view and then they come to see that that view is wrong and change their minds, we should nonetheless continue to stigmatize them for their past wrongness? And there I was naively thinking that the purpose of political argument was to win people over.

83

Sebastian 08.25.10 at 7:17 am

One of the strange things about this sort of implacable enemy rhetoric is that you enjoy making fun of right-wingers for employing the exact same garbage with respect to their social enemies (of late, the “Islamist” world or whatever).

They can’t be reasoned with.

They are irrational.

They can’t ever really be trusted.

They always attempt to fool you with their alleged attempts at reconciliation while planning on stabbing you in the back.

Their alleged moderates are really just as radical as their obvious loonies. Etc, etc, etc.

They have ideas that are so deeply out of step with any civilized culture that they can’t really be taken seriously as thinkers.

84

Robert 08.25.10 at 7:38 am

Perhaps a social scientist should regard a debate or discussion with certain employees of certain think tanks in the same way a biologist would regard a debate or discussion with a creationist.

Some debates that amuse me are Vidal and Buckley in 1968 and a certain debate with David Horowitz at Reed College a few years ago. I’d like to see more discussions where the “liberal” side explains forthrightly and with evidence that the particular person representing the right is more interested in spewing nonsense and lies than an honest discussion. The evidence would be examples of previous statements by that person.

I think such discussions might lead more americans to understand that they are being fed so much propoganda. Of course, I realize, the funders of platforms where such discussions could occur are not interested in making it clear what they are funding.

85

Zamfir 08.25.10 at 7:54 am

So if a person is committed to an immoral view and then they come to see that that view is wrong and change their minds, we should nonetheless continue to stigmatize them for their past wrongness? And there I was naively thinking that the purpose of political argument was to win people over.

I would say it works different for arguments between people with significant audiences. The goal is to convince a larger share of the audience, not necessarily the writer. Winning over the writer can be a good tactic, but pointing out their error over and over again can also be good.

86

John Quiggin 08.25.10 at 9:43 am

There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets.

This seems to be something of a Rorschach blot. Between this thread and one at Balloon Juice, it’s been described as
(a) classical liberalism
(b) standard US liberalism
(c) European conservatism
(d) the Third Way
(e) total jibberish (sic)
among others.

I suspect that means I’m on to something, but I don’t know what.

87

Mrs Tilton 08.25.10 at 10:00 am

Piglet @77,

Mrs Tilton in particular, what has gotten into you?

Mmm, not sure. Maybe it just chafed my crutch to read the Commissar for Ideological Purity calling Bill Gardner a whore because Gardner’s research is supported by, of all things, a corporation. (Gardner, you running-dog snake-pig!) I did get a little uncivil, I suppose, but then I shall take Rich’s approach to civility as instruction, and be comforted.

Rich is right and Henry is wrong

No, you’re wrong about that on both counts, and have badly misunderstood Henry.

Let’s leave politeness/civility/tone to one side, as those are basically just matters of personal style. I don’t see anything in what Henry wrote that suggests people who opposed the war should not criticise people who supported the war, whether they happen to like those people or not.

What I do see is a distinction drawn between, on the one hand, ideological opponents who believe in good faith that they have solid, principled reasons for the positions they espouse and strive for a measure of rigour and honesty in discourse, and on the other hand, the cynical, hackish wingnut welfare queens; the trolls pumping the massive bellows of the Mighty Wurlitzer; the Million-Vuvuzela Orchestra of the Right; the people whom the Orwell they now profess to admire (and even try to claim for their own) despised as paid lickspittles and toad-eaters — and shot at, when an appropriate context for doing so presented itself in Spain (or would have done, if they’d had the stones to take up arms in support of the fat little Galician’s fascist coup, but those people never put themselves in harm’s way for the causes they profess to support).

This distinction seems a pretty clear, even an intuitive one to me. Is it not to you? Or are you saying, as Rich seems to be doing, that it doesn’t matter? I’m sorry if that’s the case. Me, I try to avoid such essentially theological modes of analysis.

Plus, what Chris said @80. Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, etc.

88

Walt 08.25.10 at 11:43 am

Mrs. Tilton, I think you misunderstood the argument they were having. Bill was saying “They’re not any worse than me.” Then Rich argued, “No, they’re worse than you because of a, b, c.” Then Bill argued that no they were not any worse. So Rich said, “Okay, have it your way. You’re just as bad.”

89

alex 08.25.10 at 11:45 am

@85 – as I said above, it’s what everybody does, more or less, it just isn’t necessarily what they’d care to admit to doing, either on left or right.

90

Kevin Donoghue 08.25.10 at 12:34 pm

This seems to be something of a Rorschach blot.

To me it read like:
(f) market socialism.

But it’s been a while since I sat through any lectures on welfare economics.

91

Bill Gardner 08.25.10 at 1:26 pm

Walt @87: Bill was saying “They’re not any worse than me.” Then Rich argued, “No, they’re worse than you because of a, b, c.” Then Bill argued that no they were not any worse. So Rich said, “Okay, have it your way. You’re just as bad.”

Yes. We also touched on a) the different senses of ‘bad’ at play (bad faith, wrong on the facts, etc.), and b) how one reconciles personal commitments with those of the institutions we work for; but we didn’t get far on these. I’d like to discuss these further, and also what John finished with, whether there is “room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets… and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets.

I hope that the discussion of Erik Olin Wright’s book is still on the calendar.

92

chris 08.25.10 at 1:36 pm

(a) classical liberalism
(b) standard US liberalism
(c) European conservatism
(d) the Third Way
(e) total jibberish (sic)
among others.

I suspect that means I’m on to something, but I don’t know what.

That those things aren’t as different as some people pretend? Present-day US liberalism isn’t all that leftist by the standards of real leftists, so it’s converging more on classical liberalism (except for some redistributive policies, which I assume the person who described this program as “classical liberalism” was overlooking or considering unimportant). At the same time, what passes for liberalism in the center-right US passes for conservatism in lefty Europe (aside from the xenophobic elements, which don’t really show up in this kind of abstract, economic-focused summary). And the Third Way was just a brand name pasted onto something that wasn’t all that new at all.

Either that, or the description is so vague with terms like “appreciative of the virtues of markets” (tacitly implying that you’re still allowed to criticize their flaws, if any) and “sceptical of top-down planning” (while still leaving open the possibility of adopting it when it is *truly* necessary) that it functions as the political equivalent of cold reading, and anyone will see in it something to agree with, because everything that would normally be a point of disagreement vanishes into the vague terms that people are free to interpret in a way that suits them. Presumably this is what the “total gibberish” description is getting at.

93

chris 08.25.10 at 1:40 pm

Are they powerless players of intellectual games, whose only concern with getting a bigger audience for their views is the personal perqs that that gets them? Is that really better than what I’ve written?

Considering your previous position is that they were mass murderers, yes, I’d say describing them as ineffectual blabberers is an improvement.

Of course public speakers would like to sway public opinion or the decisions of people with genuine power. And maybe once in a while they actually do, although I’m skeptical. But this clearly wasn’t such a case. Lindsey not only wasn’t choosing the direction of movement, he wasn’t even in the front rank.

94

Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 2:07 pm

Thanks, piglet, Josh, Walt. Mrs Tilton’s bit is based on disinclination to read, and I didn’t see any point in responding to it. Once Bill Gardner said that he did in fact care about what kind of corporation he was supporting, then my point was made. The difference between him and people working for Koch is that either they a) don’t care what kind of corporation they support, in which case they are corporate whores, or b) they do care, in which case they don’t have any great objection to climate change denial and a whole range of other right-wing corporate propaganda that Koch implements.

95

engels 08.25.10 at 2:20 pm

Kevin – no, because ‘a form of liberalism/social democracy’ by definition defends capitalism whereas ‘market socialism’ wants to institute a different economic system (albeit one that still relies on the market).

96

Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 2:46 pm

Geez, chris. There’s no room for a normative space for pundits in between “they personally ordered mass murder” and “they had no effect at all, and never can”? I don’t think that we need to get very far into exotic modes of morality to decide that this is BS. Strangely enough, we have no trouble judging public intellectuals harshly who tried to stir up aggressive war if they happened to live in other eras, and weren’t people who are part of the present day good old boy’s club.

Let’s look at it from a society-wide point of view for a moment. Our society does not lack people who wish to become pundits. I’d say that any of our current ones could have their jobs easily filled by other people, couldn’t they? So really, it would be no trouble if all of the ones who were cheerleaders for aggressive war for reasons that all turned out not to be true got innocuous jobs instead — perhaps as tech writers, high school teachers, all of the kinds of jobs that we recommend here to people who want to be english professors but who worry that they can’t make it.

After all, when someone cheerleads for war in this way, they reveal something about how they think. They are still going to think that way in the next situation that comes along. Andrew Sullivan, to piick an example out of a hat, is still the same person who could write that the left was going to form a hostile 5th column, even though he’s repudiated the statement. His basic style hasn’t changed.

So, have any pundits resigned their jobs? None that I know of. All right, so they are self-interested people, and when they apologize for cheerleading for war, it’s to salve their own egos and go on with their careers rather than being anything meaningful. I have no trust whatsoever that they won’t find a reason to cheerlead for war next time.

But perhaps if all of the people who are actually capable of meaningful remorse left, the field would be left to those who weren’t? Well, on the right, that’s already happened. Except that people like Henry keep describing some of the people who remain as rational, honest, fine people that it’s good to disagree with. What was that advertisement for Marvin the robot in Hitchhiker’s Guide? “The plastic pal that’s fun to be with.”

And then Henry says that oh dear, it’s Manichean — “theological” in Mrs Tilton’s terms — to point this out. That we must preserve this difference that does not, in observeable reality, exist. Because otherwise Henry would have no one to argue with. And that would make him sad.

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engels 08.25.10 at 2:53 pm

Anyway I certainly think that one thing academic economics, philosophy or political science in the English speaking world over the last several decades _can’t_ be criticised for is not having been sufficiently ‘appreciative of the virtues of markets’.

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Sebastian 08.25.10 at 3:05 pm

“Mrs Tilton’s bit is based on disinclination to read, and I didn’t see any point in responding to it.”

Heh, of course the fault must have been hers. No right thinking person could ever actually disagree with you.

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bianca steele 08.25.10 at 3:06 pm

JQ:
No one’s called it neoliberalism? IIRC that was the name Sullivan was pushing at The New Republic circa 1990 (though I was only 23 at the time, and I may have misunderstood what the magazine was advocating at the time–at least, he was pushing the idea of Democrats’ calling themselves “neoliberals” and asking for increased support for “classical liberal” or “free market” ideas).

I can understand that the argument would look different if you were trying to move Democrats’ center of gravity rightward than if you were trying to move the Republicans’ toward the left, and that emotional appeals to cultural issues meant to attract voters are not the same as arguments meant to attract academics or intellectuals.

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bianca steele 08.25.10 at 3:15 pm

chris: what passes for liberalism in the center-right US passes for conservatism in lefty Europe

Since I don’t know much about lefty Europe, I’m not sure whether you mean (a) Republicans and center-right Democrats who sadly admit that liberalism isn’t what it was before Goldwater and Nixon made it impossible to be a “true” liberal, or (b) center- or farther left leaning people who still aren’t embarrassed to call themselves liberals now that anyone in the center or farther right, these days, uses it as a casual insult.

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bianca steele 08.25.10 at 3:21 pm

Rich,
Is it ok to be a whore for a good (left) organization? or if you need to work for a living is it ok to be a whore for your employer as long as you let everyone know that anyone in your position has the wrong beliefs (and why)?

102

piglet 08.25.10 at 3:22 pm

“Since I don’t know much about lefty Europe”

Perhaps I can help. What chris is saying is that many European conservatives tend to hold policy positions that in the US are associated with liberal Democrats, whereas what is called conservatives in the US would regard these same policy positions as “socialist”. Does that make sense?

103

Henry 08.25.10 at 3:42 pm

Oh dear – I would have hoped that things might have improved during my absence. But sadly not. Let me make it plain. Crooked Timber is a site which has a clear political identity, which is firmly on the left side of the spectrum. Our posters vary from Marxists through social democrats to various flavors of liberal. Commenters here vary more, but still with a very definite skew towards the left. But CT is also a site devoted to argument – and to taking argument seriously. That means that if people on the right have what we (in our doubtless flawed ways) consider to be good arguments, we are going to treat them as such. If they have what we consider to be bad arguments, we will treat them as such too. In short – this is a site which is devoted to engaging in political argument. It is _not_ a site that directly engages in politics. While our political sympathies are clear, we do not view our work as being to engage in partisan politics. Here, we differ from many other sites – see e.g. this defining statement on dKos.

bq. This site is primarily a Democratic site, with a heavy emphasis on progressive politics. It is not intended for Republicans, or conservatives. … This is not a site for conservatives and progressives to meet and discuss their differences. … Conservative debaters are not welcome simply because the efforts here are to define and build a progressive infrastructure, and conservatives can’t help with that. There is, yes, the danger of the echo chamber, but a bigger danger is becoming simply a corner bar where everything is debated, nothing is decided, and the argument is considered the goal. The argument, however, is not the goal, here. This is an explicitly partisan site: the goal is an actual infrastructure, and actual results.

That’s not what we are about. _Absolutely nothing_ wrong with it – if you want to create a viable political movement, that’s part of what you have to do – but that’s not what we are trying to do here. We are trying to engage in good debate.

And part of that involves – like it or not – engaging respectfully with people whose politics we don’t agree with, but who are themselves engaging in good faith and have (what we consider) good or useful things to say. Not to do this is to be, in a quite fundamental sense, dishonest and untrue to our vocation (see e.g. Weber). That’s what this site is about, quite as much as saying rude things about people we disagree with (we may do more of the latter than we should, because it’s fun, but that’s a different argument).

You can criticize the way we do this – Lemuel Pitkin has quite fairly suggested that I (and perhaps other CTers) should spend more time engaging with people to my left and less with those to my right. But this is a quite different position to the one that I believe Rich takes, under which _any_ engagement with the right is ipso facto wrong, because there is by definition no-one on the right worth talking to (they are all liars, evildoers or dupes). I’ll note in passing that Rich doesn’t seem particularly interested in factual accuracy, given all the guff above about how ‘people like Henry’ defend Cato – but that’s a minor point. What is more important is that this site is committed to _good argument_ . It isn’t committed to the kind of ‘four legs good two legs bad’ politics that Rich seems to prefer. If he has a problem with that, there are many, _many_ places on the Internet that would probably suit him better. If he wants to persuade us that we are wrong, he will have to come up with better arguments than the ones he has provided to date, which seem manifestly crafted after the fact to support a particular position (in this instance: that he doesn’t like Brink Lindsey – someone who I suspect, perhaps incorrectly, that he never even heard of before yesterday). But let me be clear – if Rich wants to serve as a one-man ideological enforcement agency for the comments section of this blog, coming up with any old pseudo-argumentative rubbish he can in order to try to forestall any dialogue with people he doesn’t like, then he both mistakes the nature of this blog, and his own role (as one commenter, among many) within it.

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chris 08.25.10 at 3:48 pm

There’s no room for a normative space for pundits in between “they personally ordered mass murder” and “they had no effect at all, and never can”?

False dichotomy much? You were the one pushing “partial[] responsib[ility] for the deaths of thousands of people” onto pundits. The idea that their views can be wrong, or disgusting (to some observers), or even in some sense reprehensible, *without* actual blood on their hands doesn’t seem to have occurred to you.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 4:04 pm

chris, part of the requirement for war, in contemporary societies, is mobilizing public opinion in favor of war. The people who choose to do this are indeed, in my opinion, partially responsible for the deaths. I don’t see any false dichotomy there, only your insistence that the middle does not exist, that they can not be partially responsible.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 4:15 pm

bianca: “Is it ok to be a whore for a good (left) organization? or if you need to work for a living is it ok to be a whore for your employer as long as you let everyone know that anyone in your position has the wrong beliefs (and why)?”

It’s a matter of basic integrity to work for something that you believe in. One of the basic criticisms of the left for the right is that forcing people into wage-slavery denies this to them.

Do some people in our current society have to take any job that they can get in order to survive? Sure. But we’re not talking about McDonalds or Wal-Mart employment in this thread. We’re talking about well-paid, elite pundits who have many other job opportunities available, should they choose to do something else. If they work for Koch because they don’t care whoe they support, as long as the money is good, then I think “whore” is a good term, yes. Bill Gardner for some strange reason originally thought that this was the same as his work for a branded private hospital, even though he had actually evaluated the corporation that branded it to some extent and wouldn’t work for Altria Hospital.

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piglet 08.25.10 at 4:37 pm

chris 61 and 103, do you really deny that intellectual propagandists can be “partially responsible” for (e. g. ) mass murder without having physically participated in it or directly ordered it? What you have been writing implies that Nazi propagandists cannot be held responsible for the genocidal acts they helped justify. Their views may have been “disgusting” but as long as you can’t prove a direct link to actual crimes, they cannot be held responsible, not even partially. Please clarify whether that is your position or not.

[In case I need to make this clear: no I am not suggesting that Cato pundits are Nazi propagandists.]

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.25.10 at 4:48 pm

Wherever you work, even if you’re printing Che portraits on t-shirts all day, all kinds of monied interests are involved; that “good corporation” might be owned, behind the scenes, by the Carlyle group, or, for that matter, by Koch Industries. That’s the nature of the beast. In the end, all you have is your personal integrity. Of course, one wouldn’t want to work for the KKK or some such, but Cato Institute doesn’t strike me as an obviously objectionable employer.

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bianca steele 08.25.10 at 5:01 pm

Rich:
OK, I think I understand what you mean. I also wonder, though, about people who have sympathy for the left, or have sympathy for some left positions, or are beginning to think critically about conventionally held, right-wing positions, but for whatever reason, don’t commit to the good (left) organization. They could be considered to be in the position of workers who simply are denied an intellectual life due to the demands of their way of life. But there is a very large gap between “uneducated people who work too hard to think or to read Newsweek” and “people who did not commit their ideas and their energies to the movement.” How is that gap to be dealt with?

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Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 5:03 pm

Henry, good argument has to be based on reality. I’ll quote you:

“engaging respectfully with people whose politics we don’t agree with, but who are themselves engaging in good faith and have (what we consider) good or useful things to say. Not to do this is to be, in a quite fundamental sense, dishonest and untrue to our vocation (see e.g. Weber). “

But what if they are not themselves engaging in good faith? This is unpossible, you write. It cannot be. It must simply be that I like “four legs good, two legs bad” politics, that I am a one-man ideological enforcement agency, that I am Manichean and so on.

I’ve said it twice already, and I don’t expect it to get through. But what is the result of finding out that people who worked for Cato were, in fact, following the corporate orders of Koch, that even the “good faith, honest” people who worked at Cato were only there as long as they functioned to boost Koch’s overall message? The result is that the people who said this all along were wrong. People like Henry — for even Henry has to see, at least dimly, that he’s just defending the privilege of people like himself at this point — are always right, because hippies are always wrong.

It has nothing to do with partisan politics. Henry’s loyalties are to the left, but in an even more fundamental sense, they are to the respectable interlocutors, left and right, who make up his world. He quotes Weber, but he doesn’t seem to have actually thought about Weber.

That’s the current moment in microcosm. Why can Obama’s administration not take global warming seriously, or get a large enough stimulus, or get health care that isn’t warmed over RomneyCare, or refrain from hippie-punching their base over oil drilling? I’m sure that they have people, like Henry, who will patronizingly explain this is what they have to do, this is their job and it’s political reality and hey, maybe there’s a street demonstration somewhere we’d be more suited to. But really it’s because they can’t believe that the organizational structure that they depend on is gone. Not coming back. The hippies must be wrong, because otherwise things would just be too uncomfortable.

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Sebastian 08.25.10 at 5:06 pm

“part of the requirement for war, in contemporary societies, is mobilizing public opinion in favor of war. The people who choose to do this are indeed, in my opinion, partially responsible for the deaths.”

And you are partially responsible for global warming and that deaths that will be associated with that because you use electricity which is generated in a market which often uses coal burning and other environmentally bad techniques.

Yet you obviously leave your computer on.

Why are you allowing yourself to be complicit?

112

bianca steele 08.25.10 at 5:11 pm

me @ 108
Lest I be misunderstood, I don’t have a specific answer in mind. I can think of minimum two different ways, in fact. (1) They could be denied the ability to engage in political action except on the right. (2) Their ideas and energies, which they intend to devote elsewhere, could be appropriated by the movement on the grounds that they will otherwise go to waste (and they really belong to us anyway, deep in their heart). Others may have something else in mind.

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Bill Gardner 08.25.10 at 5:29 pm

Rich @105: If they work for Koch because they don’t care who they support, as long as the money is good, then I think “whore” is a good term, yes. Bill Gardner for some strange reason originally thought that this was the same as his work for a branded private hospital…

Yes, if it’s true that Wilkinson and Lindsey share your evaluation of Koch and don’t care, then they are corrupt. But I doubt the premise. So the ‘strange reason’ is that I assumed that Lindsey and Wilkinson were reflective about where they worked and who funded the place, and were willing to accept moral responsibility for those choices. You or I may have reasons, good by our lights, for reviling those choices.

I think that in the absence of evidence of bad faith, it makes sense to assume sincerity in scientific, moral, and policy argument. (This default attribution will sometimes be wrong, see Marc Hauser.) I don’t think the issue is tone. If policy Y entails racial murder, then make it clear that advocate X is arguing for racial murder. But discussing the motivations of people you don’t know diverts attention from what matters, which is the argument.

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Steve Williams 08.25.10 at 5:39 pm

Sebastian @110

“And you are partially responsible for global warming and that deaths that will be associated with that because you use electricity which is generated in a market which often uses coal burning and other environmentally bad techniques.

Yet you obviously leave your computer on.

Why are you allowing yourself to be complicit?”

Sebastian, when you initially made this point, further upthread, I had thought that you were joking, and that it wasn’t too bad a gag, but given you’ve repeated it, I’m not sure that it’s not meant seriously.

Clearly, you don’t have to get run over by a tank to be a good peace activist; however, you definitely CAN’T be a good peace activist writing op-ed articles supporting a war. Similarly, you don’t have to live in a cave to be a climate activist, but you definitely CAN’T be a climate activist if you write articles saying ‘drill, baby, drill!’.

Rich has made reasonably clear, I think, (“Do some people in our current society have to take any job that they can get in order to survive? Sure. But we’re not talking about McDonalds or Wal-Mart employment in this thread. We’re talking about well-paid, elite pundits who have many other job opportunities available, should they choose to do something else.”) that the debate here is not over consumers of opinion, or political talking-points, but over the producers instead. Insofar as he’s drawn a distinction between the agency of the consumers (not very much) and the producers (really quite a lot), I don’t think he’s mistaken at all, and that’s why your climate change analogy doesn’t work.

115

Henry 08.25.10 at 5:49 pm

Rich – you are not having an argument with me. You are having another argument with the straw men in your head. I don’t think that there is any particular point in arguing with you, since you seem to be having a far finer time of it on your own than you would were I to intrude with awkward ‘facts,’ ‘logic’ and suchlike – but for the benefit of interested onlookers.

(1) Rich claims.

bq. But what if they are not themselves engaging in good faith? This is unpossible, you write

Umm no, actually. I didn’t write anything which even under the most generous interpretation could be interpreted as saying this. It might be more convenient for Rich if I _had_ so written, but criticisms are usually more convincing to the outside world when they refer to what people (as opposed, e.g, to the voices in one’s head) have actually said. This gets filed together with the quite remarkably incoherent claims above that I am suggesting that history does not exist etc etc. When I try to evaluate whether someone is arguing in good faith, I try to go on things like track record and previous experience, willingness to admit error etc. This seems to me, all in all, to be a better approach than dismissing people _tout court_ without actually investigating what they are saying.

(2) Criticism of Rich is not hippy-punching. It is undoubtedly soothing to the soul to believe that forcefully expressed counter-arguments constitute evidence of arrant elitism. But not all that is soothing is true. That one is on the left does not absolve one of the need to come up with convincing arguments and evidence to support one’s arguments e.g. that someone is responsible for the deaths of thousands. Tarted up claims-from-original-sin don’t cut it. It may be hard to believe, but one can hold _both_ the thought that the policy establishment of this country is corrupt, _and_ that some members of it, including right leaning members, are decent, well-meaning people in one’s head at once without collapsing into a welter of contradictions.

3. This site is about argument. I’ll repeat it. If Rich – or others – don’t like being on a site where there is sometimes substantial debate between left and right, they can leave it. In Rich’s case, I wouldn’t miss him in the slightest. I would probably take a different line if Rich could come up with better arguments in defense of his position. It is undoubtedly convenient for Rich to dismiss our commitment as one to “respectable interlocutors.” But this misses the point. I engage with a lot of interlocutors on this site who are not “respectable” in the sense that I don’t have the slightest idea who they are in real life, nor do I particularly care. What matters is that they’re committed to argument. Rich seems to find this ideal of argument to itself be elitist. But that, frankly, is Rich’s problem, not mine or (though I don’t speak for them here) that of the other posters on CT. That’s why we set up this site. That’s why we pay the hosting fees each year without getting a penny from advertising. And if Rich doesn’t like the ice-cream that we’re dishing out, he can demand his money back and find another supplier. There’s nobody stopping him.

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Jan Bonham 08.25.10 at 6:38 pm

Wilkinson “Ten Influential Books” A post linked without comment at CT

5. The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. This is the first intellectual book I ever reviewed in print. I gave it a mixed review in the Northern Iowan. (I think I had some misgivings about some of the race and IQ stuff, but I understood that it was not a book about race.) A sociology professor either sent me an email or wrote a letter to the editor (I don’t remember which!) condemning me for not condemning the book for being racist. This was my first taste of the excitement and frustration of participating in public intellectual life. I was impressed with Murray’s fortitude and grace in the face of what seemed to me to be outrageously unfair, truly scurrilous attacks. And it helped me understand the difference between trying hard to honestly think through tough social problems because you care and mouthing comfortable pieties in an effort to get credit for caring.

Good intentions, hell etc.

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chris 08.25.10 at 6:44 pm

chris 61 and 103, do you really deny that intellectual propagandists can be “partially responsible” for (e. g. ) mass murder without having physically participated in it or directly ordered it?

I thought that was settled at Nuremberg. The responsibility for action rests with the actor. If telling someone “Shoot this Jew or I’ll have you executed for insubordination” doesn’t shift responsibility off them in the event that they comply, how could “This Jew is undermining our country and deserves to die”, without any accompanying threat, do so?

The audiences of propagandists are free and thinking beings who may choose to reject the propaganda, not the passive recipients of mind-control waves.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t *some* criticisms that can’t fairly be leveled at the propagandists — certainly there are. But responsibility for murder isn’t among them. Talking about murder is fundamentally different from committing it, and the audience isn’t a mere weapon in the hands of the propagandist (as the cliched metaphor goes).

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chris 08.25.10 at 6:46 pm

In case my previous posts haven’t made it sufficiently clear, I believe that urging people to commit murder is a reprehensible act. I don’t believe it is, itself, murder. Lindsey is guilty of, at most, the lesser offense.

119

MPAVictoria 08.25.10 at 7:41 pm

I find myself in the middle ground here. I do believe that policy thinkers and public intellectuals are too frequently given a free pass for their mistakes. How many writers, journalists or intellectuals were ever fired or demoted for being wrong about the Iraq war? I would also argue that people who work for organizations bear some responsibility for what those organizations do. In the case of the Cato institute everyone who worked there had to know that it was a shill for the interests of the Koch Corporation. Shouldn’t they have to bear some blame?

That said there also has to be room in life for people to admit that they made a mistake, apologize and try to move on. Holding a grudge forever against those who made an honest error in judgment seems vindictive.

120

roac 08.25.10 at 7:58 pm

Debating whether the people who led the cheering for the Iraq war are guilty of murder sort of distracts from the important question, which is “Why are they still so influential?”

121

piglet 08.25.10 at 7:59 pm

One might add that “responsibility” is not the same as being guilty of a punishable crime. The term was “partially responsible”, not “murderer”. So again, chris, your argument consists of false dichotomy cum strawman.

Nuremberg did not to my knowledge find anybody guilty for purely intellectual support of Nazi crimes, but hardly anybody doubted that those intellectual supporters had some responsibility. Many of them (not enough, actually) for example lost university jobs, many were excluded from political office, etc.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 8:22 pm

Since the thread has already been Godwinned, I’ll mention that what chris says “was settled at Nuremberg” is actually the opposite of what took place. To quote wiki (for convenience) on Julius Streicher: “In essence, the prosecutors took the line that Streicher’s incendiary speeches and articles made him an accessory to murder, and therefore as culpable as those who actually ordered the mass extermination of Jews [...]“.

Do I think that pundits are guilty of the crime of mass murder? No. I think that they are partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

Is saying that a distraction, as several people have mentioned? No, I think it’s the truth. This thread is not a political campaign and there is no message to be off of.

123

Popeye 08.25.10 at 8:27 pm

Q: Is it morally acceptable to work at Cato?
A: Pro-war pundits are partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

124

Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 8:44 pm

Bill Gardner: “Yes, if it’s true that Wilkinson and Lindsey share your evaluation of Koch and don’t care, then they are corrupt. But I doubt the premise. So the ‘strange reason’ is that I assumed that Lindsey and Wilkinson were reflective about where they worked and who funded the place, and were willing to accept moral responsibility for those choices.”

I already addressed this branch of the argument. If Lindsey and Wilkinson knew what Koch was, and evaluated it as being compatible with what they wanted to do, that’s even worse then if they were dupes. If, to use your prior example, you were willing to work at Philip Morris Hospital, in the full knowledge that your work was going to be used to support teen smoking campaigns — and yes, I think that’s a fair analogy to what Koch does — you might be willing to accept moral responsibility for it. But that would indicate even more serious moral failure than if you just didn’t care.

Is there some special sense in which it might be possible to morally justify working at Philip Morris Hospital? I’m sure that anyone could make up a thought experiment for doing so. You are near a cure for cancer, there is no other funding immediately available, you will save many more lives etc. Yes, one can imagine a special situation in which it can be justified. But what you said, originally, was that “I’m not suggesting that there is a moral difference between my situation [of working for a private hospital] and the Mercatus / CATO scholars.” And that’s just wrong. Not every case of working for a corporation is the same as every other. There are some corporations that are known bad actors, and the people working for them need really good reasons to carry out propaganda operations for them, much better reasons than the minimal justification needed to just work for a private hospital.

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Henry 08.25.10 at 8:54 pm

Jan – to the contrary – the discussion of Herrnstein and Murray in Kieran’s post can reasonably be read as a quite eloquent and extremely pointed comment – “many people who I’d thought might have known better turned out to have a healthy appetite for eugenic tripe, as long as it was presented more in sorrow than in anger” etc. I had been intending to write a post on the topic of why the hell so many libertarians (including ones who I usually liked, like Wilkinson), were taking the Charles Murray Died For Our Sins line, but was beaten to it by Kieran, who did it better than I could have in any event.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 9:04 pm

Popeye at 121, it’s not even a distraction from the thread. The point is that it’s impossible to lose the evaluation “I try to evaluate whether someone is arguing in good faith, I try to go on things like track record and previous experience, willingness to admit error etc.” even if that person said that we should kill thousands of people. That’s not part of their track record, I guess. Or it was a good faith error and we should forget about it now that they’ve admitted they were wrong. Let bygones be bygones. After all, what’s important is that they said that they were wrong later, not that they called for people to be killed.

It’s the same thing that immunizes these people from taking money from known global climate change denialists. If they are individually part of the Reasonable Person Club, then who cares who they work for, whose goals they carry out? Evaluating them as if none of that matters is a “better approach than dismissing people tout court without actually investigating what they are saying.”

And that’s why, as roac mentions in 118, these people are still so influential. Henry has been thoroughly socialized into the same mode of thought that all of the “reasonable people concerned about argument” hold to. What matters is their social mores. Not whether their argument is insane or brutal, or whether they are making it on behalf of some corporate propaganda operation. They can apologize for that later, if it becomes no longer fashionable to have called for war, and then it’s only civil to forget all about it.

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chris 08.25.10 at 9:27 pm

One might add that “responsibility” is not the same as being guilty of a punishable crime.

ISTM that the term “partially responsible” is too vague to be useful, if you’re going to define it so far down as to not even require causation. Then you’re just arguing guilt by association.

128

Jan Bonham 08.25.10 at 9:51 pm

Henry, I didn’t say anyone here approved of the book.
But you enjoy the white man’s luxury of magnanimity.

129

Henry 08.25.10 at 9:57 pm

Rich – please, _please_ – try to argue against claims that I have actually made, rather than claims that the imaginary Henry who you conduct arguments against in your head, and who I imagine you win against _all the time_ has made. If you can point to anywhere where I even _hint_ that people who make ‘insane’ or ‘brutal’ arguments should have this forgotten about, point to it. Otherwise, please shut up about it. More generally, I would be grateful whenever you make similarly ridiculous claims if you can actually include the specific text that you are ‘interpreting’ so that others, myself included, can figure out where the hell you are getting these bizarre interpretations from.

What you seem to be positively suggesting is that anybody who argued anywhere on behalf of the Iraq war was making an ‘insane’ or ‘brutal’ claim – if that’s not what you’re saying, say so. This seems to me to be a completely implausible and indeed pretty ridiculous argument. Invading Iraq was a truly horrible mistake. Those who deliberately misled the American public into it are – not to put too fine a point on it – war criminals. But this does not mean that everyone who bought into their arguments are war criminals too (this is the crucial point that George Scialabba (geo) was making above, which you seem to have completely ignored). It is certainly fair to say that their judgment on foreign policy questions can be seriously called into question. And this conducts into the very serious point that roac is making (and that I too have made, I believe, in various blog posts) – that the US foreign policy establishment has never come to terms with how badly it fucked up. But Brink Lindsey is not, and was not, a foreign policy intellectual or a member of that establishment. Furthermore, in contrast to most of the foreign policy establishment, he has admitted repeatedly and publicly that he got it badly wrong. If the foreign policy pundits were prepared to admit that they had completely fucked up, and that people should take their future pronouncements on matters of war and peace with a substantial dollop of salt, and to _actually try to learn from it_ that would be enough for me, in most cases. It may not be enough for you – but that’s a different argument.

This brings us to the second leg of your argument – that he is in some sense ‘responsible’ (along with others) for the Iraq war. As has been pointed out by numerous commentators, you have _no evidence whatsoever_ to support this claim. Instead, you attempt to substitute handwaving, bluster, and repeated bouts of Very Serious Person style moral indignation (the resemblance to the average Harry’s Place commenter fulminating on Saddam’s crimes and the responsibility therefore of liberalism circa 2003-2004 is quite remarkable). To say that _x_ is responsible for _y_ is to propose a _causal relationship_ between _x_ and _y._ You don’t have one. You don’t even hint at one. Unlike Julius Streicher, Brink Lindsey’s thoughts on the war were not read by many people. If Brink Lindsey had spent the entire period of the Iraq war debate reading up on the research on happiness, and not publishing a single word, there is no reason to believe that the outcome would have been any different than it was. If you have an argument to the contrary, you have failed to present it. Instead, you seem to be relying on the manifestly bogus claim that anyone who wrote anything in support of the War was in some sense responsible for it. I can only presume that the responsibility is of the spiritual and ineffable variety. It certainly is irrelevant to the real world.

And really – this all seems to me to be posturing. Maybe I’m being unfair here (and if so feel free to argue back). But your general approach, as I have noted before, seems to be that _any_ engagement with people on the right (even people, like Lindsey, who are only on the sort-of-right, and who are clearly interested in talking to liberals, figuring out how the conservative movement has gone horribly wrong etc) is selling out, because everyone on the right is either a fool or a villain. I can’t think of any instance to the contrary, over a couple of years of seeing you in these comments sections. This seems to me to be a great way to burnish the image of Rich Keepin’ It Pure Puchalsky. But it doesn’t do much to further good argument and conversation, which, like it or not, is what we are about here. The arguments that you are making are too manifestly rickety and ad-hoc – they are obviously intended to tear down people who you have decided to tear down anyway, on general principle, rather than to actually contribute to people’s understanding. As I’ve said and will say again if I need – this is a blog which is devoted to intellectual debate on the merits. We have a clear understanding of what we think is right or wrong (obviously, various CT members may disagree in the particulars of this understanding). But our basic, fundamental commitment is to the better argument, and to engaging with people, of whatever political stripe, who can come up with good arguments. You don’t have to like this. You certainly don’t have to think that this is the only legitimate way of arguing politics on the web (I certainly don’t think it is the only legitimate way of arguing politics). But you have to accept this as a basic ground rule of the debates that we are trying to encourage and engage in. That is the way things work around here, and they aren’t going to change. Trying to tell us each time that we take _x_ person on the right seriously that we are selling out to the Man by so doing is going to annoy rather than convince.

130

Henry 08.25.10 at 9:58 pm

bq. But you enjoy the white man’s luxury of magnanimity.

? ? ? I’m presuming this is a slur of some class, but it’s honestly too cryptic for me to understand, let alone be insulted by …

131

piglet 08.25.10 at 10:46 pm

Thanks Rich 121. I took for granted what chris had said, having forgotten about Streicher. Granted that Streicher’s is an extreme case but it is clearly established that somebody can be held not just responsible but guilty for mass murder without having directly, physically participated.

chris will you please have the decency to concede that your claim was wrong. Your behavior has been pretty pathetic here. And to say (as you do in 126) that “responsibility” is too vague a term is another pathetic distraction.

In that context one last comment on Sebastian:

You are partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in the future whose lives will be somewhat impacted by global climate change.

Yes we ARE responsible for contributing to climate change, all of us, and we all know it. What is scandalous about that statement? It is a fact. What we do, how we deal with that fact is a totally different question but acknowledging that fact is neither contradictory nor does it undermine my credibility as an environmentalist.

132

Sebastian 08.25.10 at 10:46 pm

“Sebastian, when you initially made this point, further upthread, I had thought that you were joking, and that it wasn’t too bad a gag, but given you’ve repeated it, I’m not sure that it’s not meant seriously.”

Some jokes are serious. It is definitely a joke, as the reasoning is patently ridiculous. But it is definitely serious, as Rich’s chain of causality in being “partially responsible” is much tighter toward global warming than Lindsey’s is for the Iraq war. There is a direct, though small, causal chain between Rich’s computer usage and global warming. The same is not true of Lindsey’s responsibility for the Iraq war.

133

Sebastian 08.25.10 at 10:47 pm

“What is scandalous about that statement? “

Nothing. Which is rather my point.

134

piglet 08.25.10 at 11:07 pm

“Nothing. Which is rather my point.” I have no idea what your point was but the rhetoric you used is familiar from anti-environmentalists who like to argue that you cannot be an environmentalist unless you emulate a stone age life style. I never understood that kind of reasoning but it seems to be related to difficulties with the concept of responsibility. Perhaps we’ll find out more about this mystery.

135

Rich Puchalsky 08.25.10 at 11:14 pm

“If you can point to anywhere where I even hint that people who make ‘insane’ or ‘brutal’ arguments should have this forgotten about, point to it.”

You do one paragraph below.

“What you seem to be positively suggesting is that anybody who argued anywhere on behalf of the Iraq war was making an ‘insane’ or ‘brutal’ claim – if that’s not what you’re saying, say so. This seems to me to be a completely implausible and indeed pretty ridiculous argument. Invading Iraq was a truly horrible mistake. Those who deliberately misled the American public into it are – not to put too fine a point on it – war criminals. But this does not mean that everyone who bought into their arguments are war criminals too (this is the crucial point that George Scialabba (geo) was making above, which you seem to have completely ignored). It is certainly fair to say that their judgment on foreign policy questions can be seriously called into question. And this conducts into the very serious point that roac is making (and that I too have made, I believe, in various blog posts) – that the US foreign policy establishment has never come to terms with how badly it fucked up. But Brink Lindsey is not, and was not, a foreign policy intellectual or a member of that establishment. “

Let’s see what Brink Lindsey wrote about the Iraq War, shall we? Here’s the first Google hit: http://reason.com/archives/2002/10/29/no-more-9-11s.

“In light of the above, I would support military action against Iraq even if 9/11 had never happened and there were no such thing as Al Qaeda. After all, I supported the Gulf War back in 1991 in the hope of toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime before it fulfilled its nuclear ambitions. Unfortunately, quagmire was plucked from the jaws of victory in that earlier conflict, and so today we are faced with concluding its unfinished business. In my view, standing by with “patient watchfulness” while predatory, anti-Western terror states become nuclear powers is irresponsible and dangerous folly.”

Now, against this, you say that Brink Lindsey gets a pass because he was fooled. He “bought into their arguments”. And in any case he wasn’t part of the foreign policy establishment, so … what does it matter. It doesn’t matter to you that anti-war activists were complaining about Brink Lindsey’s active participation in urging us towards war, and in supporting the war as late as 2005. It doesn’t matter to you that his work for Cato, and his position of influence within Cato, was specifically what they were complaining about. He gets a pass; let’s forget about it.

And actually, I did answer George Scialabba, up at comment 69. Brink Lindsey made those compromises that you spoke of, working within the system, and got greater access to the public than an ordinary citizen gets. But he gets no additional responsibility along with this? He’s well-known enough so that his departure from Cato was one of the subjects of this thread. But not well-known enough so that his brutal cheerleading for war makes any difference?

What you’re doing is special pleading, that’s all. You feel free to be all fierce about calling people war criminals, in seemingly a formal sense (something I haven’t done) if those people are outside your social circle. But if they are? Well, then.

Was Brink Lindsey the worst? No. Was his war cheerleading decisive? Almost certainly not. Was it a causal factor in getting us into war? Yes. Mobilizing a public for war requires a lot of cheerleaders. He was one of them, and did what he could, as a public intellectual, to be one. Telling me to trace back the causality specifically to him is nonsensical: it’s like telling a historian to trace back the exact causes of any historical event. People like him were needed in the chain of causation, or there would have been no war. He did his best to be part of that chain, and used his resources as a pundit to that end.

And you think that is just all beside the point, or it’s just to build up my purity or something. (Those dirty hippies always are concerned about purity, never reality.) In fact you deny that I have a serious argument at all. Well, that’s quite expected. People whose jobs involve the inability to understand something never do. And your job — or rather, your ambition — is to punditize with these people.

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Sebastian 08.25.10 at 11:17 pm

“I have no idea what your point was but the rhetoric you used is familiar from anti-environmentalists who like to argue that you cannot be an environmentalist unless you emulate a stone age life style. “

And the same argument is used by Rich to argue that you cannot be a right thinking human being unless you agree with him.

Yes the argument is stupid. You’re absolutely correct.

137

Henry 08.25.10 at 11:35 pm

Rich – again, you’ve got nothing. You can make a case that Lindsey’s pro-war argument was horribly, horribly wrong. You can’t make a serious case that it was ‘brutal’ and ‘insane.’ You can of course _assert_ this, but you can’t (and don’t even try) to make a serious case. I do indeed deny that you have a serious argument – for the simple reason that you _don’t have_ a serious argument. You repeatedly claim that there is a causal argument there, but you don’t and can’t provide any evidence to back up your assertion. And frankly, if my ‘ambition’ was to ‘punditize’ with these people, I would spend a lot more time more time actually punditizing, attending foreign policy events etc and a lot less time arguing in the comments section of this blog. Trust me that this is not a hot career move for the career that you think (quite incorrectly as it happens) I want to have. The final irony is that your fundamental problem is largely the same one as the one that led the foreign policy elites to crap up. People who automatically dismiss whole groups of others as _inherently incapable_ of saying anything valuable, without listening to what they have to say, are liable to fall victim to all sorts of groupthink, confirmation bias etc, which, if you have political power (and there is the difference obviously) is likely to have quite unhappy consequences.

Piglet – what Sebastian is claiming is the following. Rich is ‘responsible’ for global warming – but in a pretty trivial way. Anyone who e.g. argued that we should not take his views on global warming seriously, because he is ‘responsible’ in this way, would be making an extraordinarily stupid argument. Yet this is _just the kind of argument_ that Rich is making about Lindsey. Indeed, Rich’s argument is perhaps _even weaker._ There is an unambiguous, although trivial way, in which Rich’s actions contribute to global warming. There is no such unambiguous way in which Lindsey’s actions contributed to the Iraq war. Hence, ‘responsibility’ of this kind simply cannot do the argumentative work that Rich claims it can. If you find Sebastian’s claim about responsibility ridiculous, the same is true – in spades – of Rich’s claim (the difference here being that Rich purports to make this claim in all seriousness).

138

AcademicLurker 08.25.10 at 11:50 pm

I have to agree with Rich on this one. The job of selling the war to the American public was not performed only by members of the foreign policy establishment. I was done by an army of pundits, talk show hosts, journalists, public intellectuals and bloggers who jumped 110% on the pro war bandwagon and shilled for the Bush administration and its talking points (and lies) as often and as loudly as they could.

Obviously any individual member of this group – as an individual – can’t be credited with accomplishing much.* But the mass of them beating the drum 24/7 for months leading up to the invasion helped make it palatable to the public, and so they bear some responsibility. I don’t see why these dots are so difficult to connect.

*The really big fish, Bill O’Reilly & etc.

139

AcademicLurker 08.25.10 at 11:52 pm

That footnote should read “Except for the really big fish…’

140

piglet 08.26.10 at 12:08 am

Henry 136: trying to explain what Sebastian is claiming is a bit dangerous shall we say. Is that your argument or Sebastian’s? But it gets better when you totally misquote me: “If you find Sebastian’s claim about responsibility ridiculous, the same is true – in spades – of Rich’s claim”. What makes you think that, I have no idea (especially given my comment 130).

Sebastian 135: “And the same argument is used by Rich to argue that you cannot be a right thinking human being unless you agree with him.”

Again, this is not ridiculous, it is completely disconnected from the discussion. It is not the kind of statement that can be rationally debated, which makes it all the more insidious because the person making the claim will always feel vindicated.

141

Sebastian 08.26.10 at 12:18 am

I fully endorse Henry’s explanation of my joke. It is right-on. I’m sorry for being indirect about it. I thought it was obvious that I couldn’t really be indicting Rich for using his computer and ‘contributing’ to global warming and therefore that I was trying to point out how his ‘responsibility’ argument was similarly ridiculous. Example number 503,372 of the fact that sarcasm doesn’t translate well on the internet.

“It is not the kind of statement that can be rationally debated, which makes it all the more insidious because the person making the claim will always feel vindicated.”

Yes, this is EXACTLY what Rich does here. Again, you are precisely right about the insidiousness of such statements. I find it weird that you find it so ridiculous when I parody it, but don’t remotely recognize it when Rich employs it.

And frankly, my parody has a tighter logical connection than Rich’s actual comment.

Which to be clear, is *not* an argument that there is a particularly tight logical connection in my parody.

142

piglet 08.26.10 at 12:22 am

And Henry, another thing. I am not familiar with Lindsey and have no opinion so far about him. You and Rich disagree in your judgment about that person but this debate has long ago transcended that particular issue. The claim has been made that a propagandist cannot, under no circumstances, be held responsible for the acts that he/she publicly advocates and justifies. That is the issue and I would like to hear whether you endorse that view. The claim has been made, and shown to be false, that Nuremberg has exonerated propagandists. I would argue that the suggestion to exclude propagandists from considerations of responsibility, if not guilt, is unhistorical, unpolitical, and immoral. Again, this is not about what you think of Lindsay, it is an important question of political morality and I am amazed to say the least that you are willing to embrace such a shallow viewpoint.

143

piglet 08.26.10 at 12:24 am

(roll eyes)

144

engels 08.26.10 at 12:36 am

Henry – This isn’t a complaint about this blogs commenting policy – you are entitled to spend your own money however you see fit – but after several years of this my opinion is that the policy of constant ‘engagement’ with (vituperative, furious, abusive) representatives of the centre, Right and Far Right usually precludes serious discussion of left-wing or radical ideas here.

145

Henry 08.26.10 at 12:57 am

piglet – I don’t misquote you. The “if you” is a general statement, referring to a general you. Read it as “If one” if you prefer. The precise distinctions between your position and this general statement, I’ll leave to you. And no, I certainly have not made the claim that propagandists should not be held responsible for acts that they justify _under circumstances where there is a reasonably clear causal connection between their propagandizing and the actions that it inspired._ For example – should the lunatic who set out to kill everyone in the Tides Foundation have succeeded, the propagandist who set out to demonize the Tides Foundation in the eyes of the right (Glenn Beck, I believe, although I could be mistaken) would certainly have had a quite considerable degree of culpability. Given that we have no reason to believe that Lindsey’s arguments in favor of the war had any such effect, this is of course quite irrelevant. In lieu of such evidence, one can certainly bluntly, and indeed if one wants, very harshly criticize those who got it so horribly wrong, but one can’t hang the deaths around their necks, any more than the Decents could reasonably hang the deaths of tortured Iraqis under Saddam around the necks of those who argued against the war.

More generally, I note that there is an interesting rhetorical maneuver going on in the transition from the hectoring “I would like to hear whether you endorse” and (insinuation-via-passive-voice) “The claim has been made” to the flatly untrue and frankly rather offensive “I am amazed to say the least that you are willing to embrace.” This has some similarities to the much beloved “Will-You-Condemn-athon”:http://decentpedia.blogspot.com/2007/08/will-you-condemn-thon.html of the Decents, but succeeds, amazingly, in pushing it several steps further into the realm of absurdity. Perhaps one might describe it as the ‘Since-you-have-not-yet-condemned-the-offense-that-I-have-asked-you-to-condemn-two-sentences-up-in-this-same-unpublished-comment-I-now-immediately-and-without-appeal-anathematize-you-for-your-amazing-embrace-of-this-heinous-position-athon,’ but I fear that this probably isn’t quite snappy enough to catch on.

146

Henry 08.26.10 at 1:03 am

engels – this is an entirely fair criticism and one which I worry about (as I note above, it’s a criticism that Lemuel Pitkin has made too). For what it’s worth, the seminar that Harry is organizing on Erik Olin Wright’s book should have some good serious discussion of possibilities for the left, and I am trying to read my way through the work of Sam Bowles (which I find fascinating and important). I would genuinely be grateful for recommendations of other lefties I should be reading. I follow Phil’s Gaping Silence blog, have gone off Splintered Sunrise since it moved from entertaining discussion of differences among UK and Irish Marxists into a bizarre mix of laddishness and crypto-Catholicism, and occasionally check out Lenin’s Tomb. I’m grateful for other recommendations. I note that my personal druthers are for empirically inclined analyses rather than various manifestations of ‘Theory’ but am prepared to read the latter if reasonably light on the jargon etc.

147

sg 08.26.10 at 1:08 am

Henry, given that most of the world – and particularly most of the populations of most of the countries that did it – knew from the outset that the invasion of Iraq was a cruel and unnecessary war of choice, without having any special access to any special knowledge, don’t you think that you’re going a bit far in claiming that a right-wing pundit who supported the war was “acting in good faith”?

Quite apart from Rich’s arguments, I’d like to see an explanation from you as to how we can judge this “good faith” (my apologies if you’ve already put it up on CT somewhere else).

For example, I don’t see recanting previous support as evidence of “good faith.”

If we’re talking about someone down the pub, then yeah, supporting the war can be done in good faith because they may not have access to all the information and they don’t have any influence to worry about. But – just like climate science – it’s really hard to look at the “evidence” for the Iraq war and conclude anything but that it shouldn’t happen. So – just like climate science – you need really strong evidence to the contrary before you conclude someone with this opinion wasn’t just a lying turd. And in this case we have solid evidence – worked for Cato – that the person is a lying turd. The fact that their shit blew back into their face when it hit the fan, and they had to recant in order for us to give them a tissue, doesn’t save them from this judgement – it just weakens them.

On a side note, I would like to vote in favour of switching the phrase “corporate whore” to “corporate mercenary.” Or just “scumbag.” Sex is a nice, fun thing that some women do for money. Killing – which is what we’re talking about here – is what the Cato Institute supported for money. Sex work is a reasonable, decent job. Being a paid shill is not. Let’s not slander perfectly decent women with the continuing misappropriation of their job title.

148

Henry 08.26.10 at 2:14 am

sg – I was strongly and publicly against the war, for what it was worth (not much, obviously), but lots of other people were not. Including a couple of co-bloggers of mine here, whom I obviously both believe were acting in complete good faith, and who are not stupid or under-informed people down at the pub. So too various luminaries of the blogosphere, including Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall. They are open to criticism – but not, I would contend, for acting in bad faith.There was a weird, febrile atmosphere – Ken Pollack and lots and lots of groupthink. NB that this is not to say that the case against the war wasn’t both obvious if you thought about it properly, and entirely correct. It is to say that a lot of smart people were not thinking about it properly for sociological reasons that I’ve never seen a really adequate discussion of. I won’t say that I know Brink Lindsey well – I’ve spoken to him for a few times, never for more than a couple of minutes, and swapped an occasional email. I’ve read his work quite frequently. I usually don’t agree with it but I do usually find it thought provoking. I’ve always found it honest – willing to engage seriously with viewpoints other than his own, and to directly address inconvenient evidence. He has also shown a willingness to pursue awkward and uncomfortable topics – his piece in the Prospect this month arguing against the AEI’s attempts to revive a culture war on economics is a good example. And other honest people work for Cato too. I’ll defend Julian Sanchez’s honesty and integrity against all comers – a libertarian who arguably did more than anyone else to uncover the manifold dishonesties of John Lott. If you want to claim that Julian is a “lying turd” because he works at Cato, all I can say is that you’ll have your work cut out for you if you want to back up this assessment. I’ve previously “described”:http://crookedtimber.org/2010/06/09/whitewashing-rosh/ Cato as “an odd mix of genuinely smart and honest people (e.g. Sanchez, Brink Lindsey) and organized hackery.” I’m sticking by that assessment.

149

piglet 08.26.10 at 2:17 am

“The precise distinctions between your position and this general statement, I’ll leave to you.”

No Henry. Anybody who can read can know my position about whether or not we are responsible for climate change and there is no need to engage in any word play here and frankly I have no patience with your trying to obfuscate the record.

“the flatly untrue and frankly rather offensive “I am amazed to say the least that you are willing to embrace.”” You have attacked Rich on account that he believes war propagandists have responsibility for the acts they justify. I asked you to clarify your position and what comes in response is, frankly, weaselly. If I misrepresent your position about the culpability of propagandists, I regret that but I am going by what you have published in this forum. In my view, you are completely dodging the moral question I have raised and it is really up to you whether you wish to set the record straight or not.

150

Henry 08.26.10 at 2:25 am

Piglet – I’m afraid to say that is complete bullshit. I criticized Rich for making a specific claim about a specific person, not for any general claims that he made or did not make about ‘war propagandists.’ As for the “it is really up to you whether you wish to set the record straight” guff, this rhetorical trope really wasn’t very effective the first time that the Decents tried to push it, and it isn’t very effective now. From the “Encyclopedia of Decency”:http://decentpedia.blogspot.com/2007/08/will-you-condemn-thon.html, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with this august tome:

bq. Will-You-Condemn-A-Thon
Sporting Pursuit

bq. Amusing internet pastime, in which several Decents quiz a pro-fascist, repeatedly demanding denunciation of a vast range of randomly-chosen murders, atrocities, war crimes and military actions in an increasingly hectoring tone.

bq. “I agree, Guantanamo Bay is an affront to democratic ideals. But Will You Condemn Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli restaurants?…

bq. Yes, well, Do You Condemn Jihadist chlorine-bomb attacks?…

bq. Okay, I knew you would be too sly to openly support such acts, but Will You Condemn terrorist attacks upon the American military?

bq. What about the Battle of Teutoberg Forest, then, Will You Condemn that? …I see.

bq. …Oh, fuck off, Nazi.”

bq. Secondary stage of the Decent Debating Technique, the Will-You-Condemn-A-Thon can only be averted by reciting the Catalogue of Contempt in its entirety.

151

Rich Puchalsky 08.26.10 at 2:39 am

“There is an unambiguous, although trivial way, in which Rich’s actions contribute to global warming. There is no such unambiguous way in which Lindsey’s actions contributed to the Iraq war.”

I think that pretty much says it. Henry doesn’t just disagree with something like _Manufacturing Consent_, which would be a quite common type of disagreement, he thinks that when a pundit writes “We should go to war!” there is no unambiguous way in which that contributes to us going to war.

engels can look here for serious discussions of left-wing or radical ideas here if he likes. Good luck with that.

152

sg 08.26.10 at 2:42 am

Henry, does that mean that your judgment of “good faith” is purely subjective (I don’t mean this in a bad sense), i.e. based on your interactions with them and the quality of their work, and if so is it at all determined by who they work for? Because it seems to me that you can be allowed a certain degree of independence by something like the Cato Institute, and still be required to argue certain positions (or understand that you have to argue certain positions). In my view that doesn’t make one a paragon of good faith, it just means that one has been allowed a certain degree of moral flexibility in these areas, to be reeled in at will – that ain’t good faith.

e.g. it’s entirely possible that Julian Sanchez is a “lying turd,” he just wasn’t required to be a lying turd in the instance you site. (I don’t know whether he is or not, this is just an example).

I’m naturally inclined towards Rich’s view of this, that you can’t associate yourself with an organization whose specialty is clearly opinions-for-hire, and expect (or deserve) to be treated as a genuine interlocutor, even if occasionally the institution in question allows you to be. It’s not as if there aren’t (I presume) other, more good faith people writing about the same issues, and being seen as intellectually serious/worthwhile by others is part of the reason shit-stirrers like the Cato Institute get to continue influencing public opinion. I should add, I worked at an “independent” think tank of some repute for a while, and there were very serious discussions internally about the need to dissociate ourselves from any impression of being opinions for hire. I don’t think the right-wing think tanks care about this because they seriously don’t see a cost attached to being seen as partisan.

I suppose I’m probably echoing Rich, but isn’t there some kind of intellectual responsibility on your part to treat these people like the intellectual exiles they are, in the interest of discouraging others from taking up their line of work? As a case in point, the thing that really frustrated me during the build up to the Iraq war (well, one of the things, the main one obviously being the blood rage of its main proponents) was the way obvious liars and conmen got to be treated as serious on an issue which a 10 year old could see was a bunch of bullshit. If their institutions and their line of work received the respect it deserved (none) then maybe this wouldn’t have happened (I know I’m being hopeful).

Though obviously it’s your blog and I do enjoy reading the libertarian headkicking that goes on here.

On the topic of the Iraq war, I too cannot understand how supposedly rational, intelligent commentators of the left got fooled, and it’s a sociological question well worth investigating. Millions marched around the world, majority public opinion opposed it on solid grounds, but people here supported it – why? The only argument I can think of, and again this probably means I agree with Rich, is that they didn’t want to look like hippies, i.e. it was caused by moderate-left hippy-punching. And I think the need for leftist “thinkers” to do that sort of thing would be reduced if the far right commentators were held to account in the public intellectual field as corporate mercs and liars, rather than “good faith” commentators who got it a bit wrong while they cheered for a war that killed a million people.

In short (but not really): when you engage these mercenaries on the terms of a proper intellectual playing field, you empower them to set up the kind of febrile environment that prevented the left from thinking clearly and presenting a clear intellectual case in a pressing issue.

153

Rich Puchalsky 08.26.10 at 3:01 am

“I suppose I’m probably echoing Rich, but isn’t there some kind of intellectual responsibility on your part to treat these people like the intellectual exiles they are, in the interest of discouraging others from taking up their line of work?”

I’ve tried this one before, sg. No, their responsibility as they see it is to be avatars of pure argument, bravely evaluating each one on its individual merits, with no attention paid at all to the externalities of what they are doing. Nor do they know what “solidarity” means, in the other direction. Trying to bring up the history of what someone has, after all, said in the past is disallowed, except in the social-formal sense of whether they have played the game as a proper middle-class person. So, for instance: Brink Lindsey’s support of war was a meaningless event in his youth that affected nothing, while my criticism here makes me a one-man ideological enforcement agency.

154

Irregardless 08.26.10 at 3:10 am

Amen sg.

I’ve never commented here ( at least not that I can remember) but I have a lot of sympathy for Rich’s position. What bothers me right now is that all the war advocates out there have thrived despite being absolutely wrong on the one of the most important ( dare I say, easiest) questions facing America.

These individuals were absolutely and completely wrong in a manner that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, countless maimed individuals and trillions of dollars. There has been no cost at all to their careers because there is always a Henry willing to take up arms to defend them. Maybe just maybe if such a colossal failure in judgement was allowed to reflect on ones judgement then we might be in a better position as a country.

Seriously, read this link Rich posted and tell me that the arguments there are in good faith. http://reason.com/archives/2002/10/29/no-more-9-11s

In defending Lindsay, you bring up Yglesias also going getting affected by a “weird febrile atmosphere” but never in bad faith. Oddly enough Yglesias wrote about this the other day.

This is the exact cause sg mentions above. Yglesias merely wanted to be with the elites punching hippies. He was also influenced by Kenneth Pollack who I believe bares absolutely no responsibility,for writing that book in making a case for war.

Would it be arguing in bad faith to say that Yglesias made his arguments in bad faith?

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Sebastian 08.26.10 at 3:11 am

“In short (but not really): when you engage these mercenaries on the terms of a proper intellectual playing field, you empower them to set up the kind of febrile environment that prevented the left from thinking clearly and presenting a clear intellectual case in a pressing issue.”

Or alternatively, people like Rich might actually get listened to every now and then if he sometimes engaged…

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Irregardless 08.26.10 at 3:18 am

Forgive the typos and all. I’m writing while watching a friends JRT that I swear is hopped up on crystal meth.

The Yglesisas link;

Read the whole thing especially the last two paragraphs.

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sg 08.26.10 at 3:23 am

Depends on who you engage with, Sebastian, and how they’re engaging you. When the anti-war left tried to engage the issue, the response was such vehement hippy-punching that it poisoned the atmosphere, and became a component of the rush to war. Even the terms of the debate were rich with violence, which I think Rich is trying to point out here with his use of the term “hippy-punch.” You can’t construct that tone in a debate without being accorded a lot of legitimacy; and you can tell you’ve gained public intellectual power when your opponents are dismissing their own conscience in order to be seen as serious.

I think this is what happened in the build-up to the Iraq war. The Catos and Heritage Foundations of this world, in conjunction with some serious media pressure, had so effectively controlled the terms of debate that the only way that the “Moderate left” could look “reasonable” was by alienating the only people who were talking sense – the anti war left. This basically left the entire debate to the loony right, and forced the “moderate left” to behave like mercenaries to get heard. And what did they end up saying that was worth listening to? A moderate version of kill/destroy/burn/ruin. And what was the upshot? A million people died. I somehow doubt that they had much of a moderating influence, and I doubt those million dead (and 2 million displaced) see much value in the leftist contribution to the “debate” about the war.

In my view the main debate concerns the extent to which these “think” tanks control the public space. In Australia not much; but in the US they seem to have a lot of heft, financial and intellectual. Engaging them as serious thinkers is a lose-lose game for the intellectual left.

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Popeye 08.26.10 at 3:28 am

he thinks that when a pundit writes “We should go to war!” there is no unambiguous way in which that contributes to us going to war.

The critical disagreement in this thread is about whether it is possible to work for Cato and not be a horrible person, or if it is possible to have supported a war at some point and not be a horrible person.

Now I personally think that both things are indeed possible, although perhaps not very likely. I also think that to successfully argue that something is impossible requires a higher burden of proof than to say something is possible. So I am not too surprised that having started a debate by arguing that no one working for Cato could possibly be a decent person, Rich has decided to claim victory by attacking the position that no pro-war pundit could possibly have any responsibility for any of the consequences of war.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.26.10 at 3:37 am

Actually, no, Popeye, I didn’t start out by saying that people at Cato were horrible people, I made a claim about how they *functioned*. Here’s the quote:

“Cato always was a front for Koch, Lindsay and Wilkinson notwithstanding—their role was to give it cover. This kind of funding is one reason why libertarians always came down so firmly on the side of global climate change denial. (Their inability to come up with any solutions was another reason, of course.)

As with a lot of the Tea Party activity, this signals the GOP’s weakness, not it’s strength. Once they had the ability to fund dupes like Lindsay and Wilkinson, now they don’t. Similarly, once they could claim things like “compassionate conservatism”, now they are forced to fall back on raw xenophobia. In the short term, it’s impressive, but it offers them nothing to build on unless they really bring the whole system down.”

And now the thread has ended with Henry’s claim that pundits don’t function to do anything at all, except in some rare case where one person starts an easily trackable meme. That is Henry’s serious political analysis. In keeping with that level of seriousness, he also prefers to dumb everything down into whether meanies are saying that everyone is a horrible person or not.

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sg 08.26.10 at 3:38 am

no Popeye, the central questions are a) can you work for Cato and be judged not to be a liar b) even then, is it possible for you to be judged not to be lying in this instance and c) was it possible to support the Iraq war without being either taken in by lies or a liar.

Obviously if the answer to c) is no, then the culpability of Cato and its allies in the slaughter of a million Iraqis depends very much on the answers to a) and b). Were they morally culpable, or just awesomely stupid? Rich and I think the former, so in this case they’re also horrible people. But it’s secondary to the main question.

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Popeye 08.26.10 at 3:42 am

Your initial comment was very interesting, Rich, but it wasn’t what kicked off the debate in the comment thread. That only came after Bill Gardner wrote “I’m not suggesting that there is a moral difference between my situation and the Mercatus / CATO scholars” and you replied “That’s moral tone-deafness… Wilkinson and Lindsay are just as complicit as the people who wrote propertarian boilerplate.”

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Popeye 08.26.10 at 3:49 am

no Popeye, the central questions are a) can you work for Cato and be judged not to be a liar b) even then, is it possible for you to be judged not to be lying in this instance and c) was it possible to support the Iraq war without being either taken in by lies or a liar.

No sg, these were not the central questions in the comment thread — excluding your comments, the word “liar” appears exactly once in this thread. And excluding your comments, the word “lies” appears twice. I appreciate your attempt to re-frame the debate but somehow this comment thread reached 146 comments before you chimed in.

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Henry 08.26.10 at 4:03 am

Rich – when the pundit (a) has little influence on security policy decision makers or the general public, and (b) the administration has decided that it is going to go to war regardless of what people say, then yes, that is correct. There is no obvious causal path through which the pundit’s advocacy is causing the war. If an actual causal relationship had obtained, one would expect that if one subtracted Brink Lindsey’s influence, one would see, at the least, a marginally appreciable difference in the likelihood of war. This seems to me to be wildly implausible. Again, contrary to your suggestions above about what I am arguing, this does not mean that we have to ‘forget’ what they said. They are – and remain – responsible for their words. But they are _not_ responsible for deaths which did not flow from those words. NB that this does not mean that other pundits or opinion makers may not be responsible for deaths. Apart from the most obvious suspects, you can make a quite plausible case for the culpability of Thomas Friedman and a damn good one for people like Richard Holbrooke and Fareed Zakaria (who, for the record, are a _lot more likely_ to have consequences for the future career of an aspiring Democrat leaning foreign policy pundit of the kind you suggest I want to be than Lindsey could ever). So too for most of the leadership of the Democratic party.

As for the stuff about how this is all middle-class solidarity etc – this is not worth engaging with except to note that it reflects a (I suspect only semi-conscious) set of defensive mechanisms designed to prevent actual engagement with argument. From this ‘discussion,’ it would appear I and/or the elastic category of ‘people like Henry’ have been accused of a multitude of sins, including general defenses of Cato, defending the namby-pambyism of the administration on health care, fighting back against environmentalists, arguing that the past does not exist, and refusing to recognize The Truth because it would hurt my nascent career as a pundit. I don’t need to dwell on the fact that you have no evidence to support any of these quite grotesque and ridiculous claims. After all, evidence is hardly needed. What is happening is the enactment in this comment section of a kind of personal psychodrama, in which I’m being pressed into service as a handy personification of the Sneering Establishment, hellbent on hippie-punching Rich Puchalsky and his mates into oblivion. Under the circumstances, a tedious attention to accuracy would wreck the pantomime buzz.

sg – one point of historical accuracy which is important here. Cato (after heated internal arguments) came out against the Iraq war, so the suggestions that they supported killing for money, dominated the debate and hence helped precipitate the war etc are pretty far off the mark. This means that you could criticize Lindsey I suppose for being for the war when many of his colleagues were against – but that seems to me to make the ‘he did it because he was a hack working for Cato’ claim to be much harder to sustain. I suspect that you’re confusing Cato with AEI, which did strongly support the war.

I think that Cato has strong tendencies towards hackishness and have argued this previously. But it also has some good people, especially on the civil liberties side. If you want to work e.g. on government surveillance stuff, your choices are to work at a small underfunded place like EPIC (which does great work, but is held together by string, sealing wax and personal energy), or at Cato. More generally, the US thinktank scene is quite different than Australia’s (where you have worked???). This “piece”:http://www.socialsciences.cornell.edu/0609/Medvetz.hybrid.pdf by Tom Medvetz is the best sociological introduction that I know of. Most US think tanks on both left and right strike an uneasy balance between the opinion-for-hire and dispassionate policy advice, meaning that it is tricky to try and gauge someone’s level of hackishness from their affiliation without further knowledge (unless they’re at Heritage). Even the AEI has Thomas Mann, who is a highly thought of, and manifestly independent, Congressional scholar.

On what to do with people who advocated for the Iraq War – my feeling is that the problem is mostly structural rather than individual. As it happens, I completely agree with the claim that a lot of it was down to hippy-punching, and a lot of it was down to careerism. Anti-war people were systematically excluded from the debate. It seemed to me at the time that Paul Krugman was the only person with a significant public voice in the US who was describing at all the world that I could see around me. I’d certainly like to see far more accountability than I have seen.

But the question is – _who_ do you want to drive out into the wilderness to ensure accountability. You surely want to drive off some. Richard Holbrooke – who did as much as anyone to dampen dissent among Democrats (any person who wanted a job in foreign policy in a Democratic administration feared pissing Holbrooke off) does not deserve to have a job, let alone the senior one that he has. Thomas Friedman should have lost his column for “suck on this” and been systematically shunned. But my particular animus is reserved for (a) those who were specifically dishonest in making the case for war, (b ) those who bullied others into supporting war through various means, (c ) those who were racist in their support for war (e.g. Glenn Reynolds, the Bernard Lewis ‘the Arab can only understand force’ crowd etc), and (d ) those who still refuse to admit they were horribly wrong (in particular, those who continue to try to punch out the hippies through the ‘even though we were wrong, we were the morally serious ones’ nonsense). These are the people who I think deserve shunning and (in various degrees) contempt. Those who got sucked down into the maelstrom, and who later came to their senses are, for me, a different story. Certainly, they deserve criticism. Certainly, we should be enormously skeptical about future foreign policy pronouncements that they make. But as long as they don’t start beating the drums for new wars, I don’t think that they need to be made into pariahs.

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Henry 08.26.10 at 4:08 am

and sg – one final comment before I go to bed. I worry that your account lets the moderate left (in particular the leadership and foreign policy establishment of the Democratic party) off the hook much too easily. They certainly faced a difficult political choice in 2002-2003 – war was very popular. But many of them – far more of them than said so in public or voted in Congress – knew that it was probably a very bad idea.

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Henry 08.26.10 at 4:15 am

Rich – come off it. Not only the ‘complicit’ claim – in 27 you proposed that the possibilities were (a) that they were dupes, or (b) that they were out to dupe others. I _agree entirely_ that this is a ‘dumbed down’ argument – but it’s you yourself who did the dumbing down, and you should own it.

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sg 08.26.10 at 4:44 am

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Henry. I’m not sure I agree with your perception of the American thinktank world but you’re right, I don’t know that much about it. My experience of think-tanks, btw, was in the UK, where I worked as a research fellow at The King’s Fund (I don’t make a point of revealing my identity or career details online, but I don’t try to hide it either, so there you go).

I certainly agree with your last comment in 163 and I don’t think I’m letting off the moderate left, who failed in key debates and used hippy punching to cover their failure – and, of course, finally, voted for or allowed to proceed a terrible war. But failing in your response to a war push you didn’t start is very different morally to starting that war, or indeed to jumping onto the pro-war bandwagon for very dodgy reasons, which is the general character of the right’s behaviour in that time.

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LFC 08.26.10 at 4:55 am

“Even the AEI has Thomas Mann…”

I believe you meant to say Norman Ornstein. (Mann is at Brookings, I think.)

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Henry 08.26.10 at 10:33 am

Thanks LFC – exactly right (it was midnight after a long day). Ornstein it was.

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Barry 08.26.10 at 12:06 pm

Henry 08.26.10 at 4:03 am

” Rich – when the pundit (a) has little influence on security policy decision makers or the general public, and (b) the administration has decided that it is going to go to war regardless of what people say, then yes, that is correct. There is no obvious causal path through which the pundit’s advocacy is causing the war. If an actual causal relationship had obtained, one would expect that if one subtracted Brink Lindsey’s influence, one would see, at the least, a marginally appreciable difference in the likelihood of war. “

Which IMHO works against your comment about Rich: “There is an unambiguous, although trivial way, in which Rich’s actions contribute to global warming. ” If Rich ceased to exist right now, would that have a marginally appreciable difference in global warming? I’ll bet that the confidence interval for Rich’s effects covers zero.

Which is dishonest of me, but it’d be matching your argument – you’re taking advantage of:

(1) the fact that we can’t go to GoogleMemeTracker, and actually quantitatively track Brink’s influence, whereas we can (in theory) measure Rich’s carbon footprint (disclaimer – not well; you wouldn’t have a meaure of the GW that Rich helps prevent).

and

(2) The fact that it’s not Brink ‘Bringer of Mars’ Lindsey alone, but the whole crowd, which had an effect. One might use the term ‘lynch mob’ here; remove the people who only vocally supporting and came along, and one could well not have a lynching – both in the present, and in the fact that people who were in the crowd will probably also be those who only want to Look Forward, not Backwards after the fact.,

and
(3), the fact that we can’t measure on an individual basis the contribution of those who repeatedly deal with liars and those who’ve been repeatedly wrong in suspicious circumstances as if they were honest people. This, of course, greatly helps liars, because being accepted into a purportedly honest debate is a necessary first step to having one’s lies triumph.

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Henry 08.26.10 at 1:36 pm

bq. (1) the fact that we can’t go to GoogleMemeTracker, and actually quantitatively track Brink’s influence, whereas we can (in theory) measure Rich’s carbon footprint (disclaimer – not well; you wouldn’t have a meaure of the GW that Rich helps prevent).

As it happens, there is such a thing as “MemeTracker”:http://www.memetracker.org (albeit it is not run by Google), and I am about to start working with it (funding willing) on a project looking at how debates over the Gaza blockade worked, who was influential etc. So these questions of causation are not a momentary or opportunistic interest of mine – they are something I have been thinking about a lot. MemeTracker does not have data going back to 2002-2003, so we can’t answer this specific question. But my strong belief that Lindsey’s arguments had no appreciable causal impact is, I think, a justified one. Where we might expect to see a likely causal impact is under one of three circumstances. (1) Someone, whether on the margins or elsewhere, comes up with a new meme or way of framing things, which is taken up by other more central actors and disseminated. (2) Someone is relatively central to broad public debates (i.e. is a highly connected node in networks of public debate through e.g. a column in the New York Times or whatever and helps diffuse the meme to previously uninfected people (or to reinforce ‘partly’ infected people). (3) Someone is relatively central to the relevant networks of debate among policy elites and diffuses etc among those. Lindsey seems to me to qualify under none of these categories. His way of framing things repeated already-existing and widely disseminated memes. He did not have a major platform which allowed him to reach out to the general public. Finally, libertarians – including Cato – are at best very poorly connected into the DC foreign policy discussions through which the war meme spread and infected policy makers. They are not part of this network (they have some impact on discussions of international trade, but that is about as far as their foreign policy reach goes – they are primarily domestically focused). This does not mean that there is _no possibility_ he had an impact – meme diffusion is a highly stochastic process. But it does mean that it is, as best as I can discern from casual empiricism, highly unlikely.

To put it another way – if I decided tomorrow to start banging the drums for missile strikes against Iran, the likelihood that I would have any impact on debate is asymptotic to zero (this despite Rich’s claim that I am a foreign policy pundit in the making, and the fact that I have academic international relations credentials etc). I have no wide-scale public audience, and the policy types who do work in this area don’t even know me, let alone take me seriously. If a war with Iran actually happened, with multiple casualties, then I would not have any credible responsibility for the deaths that had occurred. I _would_ have responsibility for having made idiotic claims (and if I had made offensive insinuations about e.g. the inherent bloodthirstiness of Shi’a Muslims, grossly offensive ones too). But that’s a different category of responsibility.
Short version: when someone asks the

bq. Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot

question, the correct answer under nearly every circumstance is ‘no dear. I hope that doesn’t make you feel unimportant.’ Again – that does not mean that people should not be held responsible for their words. If they are dishonest, express vile sentiments (such as e.g. Dan Simmons’ claim that Arabs only understood violence, and we should kill one out of every ten Arab men by lot to prevent September 11 ever happening again), then they should be held accountable for those words. But that is quite different from the claim that they should be blamed for the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

On the

bq. the fact that we can’t measure on an individual basis the contribution of those who repeatedly deal with liars and those who’ve been repeatedly wrong in suspicious circumstances as if they were honest people.

claim, if I am understanding it correctly (the ‘deal with liars’ bit seems to me to probably be a phrasing mistake), we first have to have some evidence that the person is, indeed, a repeated liar. We don’t have any evidence of that that anyone can produce (claims that no-one could seriously have believed the pro-war case don’t work, because many people who should have known better _did_ believe the pro-war case). Treating people as liars without evidence that they _are_ liars seems to me to be a case of giving a dog a bad name, and hanging him (I don’t know if this phrase is used on this side of the Atlantic, but the meaning is clear, I trust).

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Bill Gardner 08.26.10 at 1:37 pm

Rich @124: If, to use your prior example, you were willing to work at Philip Morris Hospital, in the full knowledge that your work was going to be used to support teen smoking campaigns—and yes, I think that’s a fair analogy to what Koch does—you might be willing to accept moral responsibility for it. But that would indicate even more serious moral failure than if you just didn’t care.

Sure, that is why I wouldn’t work at Philip Morris Hospital. But that’s not how I see L and W. Suppose that Wilkinson didn’t believe that tobacco caused cancer, and chose to work at Philip Morris. What would I say about W? I’d say a) W doesn’t understand epidemiology, b) W is contributing to teenage smoking, and c) W took the job at PM in good faith. I would criticize W for a) and b), not c). My sense is that Wilkinson holds views something like Jim Manzi’s about climate change, and thus I don’t see any reason to attribute bad faith.

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piglet 08.26.10 at 2:05 pm

Rich:

Brink Lindsey’s support of war was a meaningless event in his youth that affected nothing, while my criticism here makes me a one-man ideological enforcement agency.

This pretty much sums up my own perception of what this argument is about, and why I am unwilling to let Henry off the hook so easily.

Henry 145 gives an interesting example: “For example – should the lunatic who set out to kill everyone in the Tides Foundation have succeeded, the propagandist who set out to demonize the Tides Foundation in the eyes of the right (Glenn Beck, I believe, although I could be mistaken) would certainly have had a quite considerable degree of culpability.”

I quite agree with that but you are raising a complex moral question here because presumably, Glenn Beck didn’t call for killing “everyone in the Tides Foundation”. He may have inspired that act but presumably it wasn’t his intention to get anybody killed (at least it would be difficult to prove that). So why is that a more clear-cut case than somebody making unambiguous war propaganda? Also, what about lesser known and less influential pundits parroting Glen Beck? Are they off the hook because they are just repeating what others said? What if 100 pundits are spreading a certain propaganda and somebody acts on it and commits a crime, how many of the 100 pundits are responsible and how do you apportion culpability? Is it 1/100th each or proportional to the readership or do you have to track which one of the 100 the perpetrator actually happened to read or listen to? And if the perpetrator is a whole nation and thousands of pundits contributed to propagandizing the crime, are they all off the hook because the marginal contribution of each one is not measurable? Well that is what you have been arguing. You still think so?

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Barry 08.26.10 at 3:27 pm

Hnery: “But my strong belief that Lindsey’s arguments had no appreciable causal impact is, I think, a justified one. Where we might expect to see a likely causal impact is under one of three circumstances. (1) Someone, whether on the margins or elsewhere, comes up with a new meme or way of framing things, which is taken up by other more central actors and disseminated. (2) Someone is relatively central to broad public debates (i.e. is a highly connected node in networks of public debate through e.g. a column in the New York Times or whatever and helps diffuse the meme to previously uninfected people (or to reinforce ‘partly’ infected people). (3) Someone is relatively central to the relevant networks of debate among policy elites and diffuses etc among those. “

The list of human evils for which this applies to 99% of the people involved would be vast – let’s take the Holocaust, or the Gulag, for example. I’m a guy in a guard tower with a machine gun, keeping prisoners in. There are three other guard towers covering that section of fence, and they’re not always manned at all times. If I weren’t there, somebody else would be (in general). Or I’m a guy processing the paperwork, or cranking out propaganda,….

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Henry 08.26.10 at 3:38 pm

Barry – that’s not, as far as I can see, relevant. All of those things – with the exception of (some) propagandists – have a clear causal connection between action and outcome. If I am guarding the walls, I am doing something that materially and obviously connects to the outcome of keeping the prisoners inside. The issue at hand isn’t _replaceability_ (I don’t believe that I say anything that could reasonably be interpreted as a ‘if he wasn’t doing it someone else would be’ claim), it’s whether there is a reasonably clear causal chain between the action and the outcome. That’s the basis of my argument.

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chris 08.26.10 at 4:09 pm

The list of human evils for which this applies to 99% of the people involved would be vast – let’s take the Holocaust, or the Gulag, for example. I’m a guy in a guard tower with a machine gun, keeping prisoners in. There are three other guard towers covering that section of fence, and they’re not always manned at all times. If I weren’t there, somebody else would be (in general). Or I’m a guy processing the paperwork, or cranking out propaganda,….

But that *doesn’t* apply to the prisoners you actually gun down — sure, someone else *might* have gunned them down, but they also might have missed, or missed on purpose, or pretended their gun was jammed, or openly refused to fire and been court-martialed. That’s precisely why you’re responsible for the deaths you *actually cause* and not the ones that merely occur in your vicinity as part of some larger enterprise in which you are an insignificant cog.

Being too quick to assign personal responsibility to the insignificant cogs isn’t just cheap sanctimoniousness — it’s an attempt to convince yourself that *you* wouldn’t do the same thing in the same position, which may be true for some people, but evil systems wouldn’t accomplish so much evil if they couldn’t convince or coerce a pretty substantial number of non-evil people to go along somehow.

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AcademicLurker 08.26.10 at 4:21 pm

“it’s an attempt to convince yourself that you wouldn’t do the same thing in the same position”

This thread has become simply bizarre. No one is talking about how heroic they would have been had they been around in 1940′s Germany. The events in question took place less than a decade ago.

So we in fact do know what we would or wouldn’t do “in the same situation”. Many of us were around in 2002-2003, and somehow noticed that the Bush administration was giving a different justification for the war every week, and that several of their strongest claims for the supposed imminent threat posed by Iraq (yellowcake anyone?) turned out to be based on a raft of lies.

We noticed this despite the “strange and febrile atmosphere” that the Smart People were apparently helpless against (any possibility that the strange and febrile atmosphere in question was largely of their own creation?).

There are no fantasy heroics going on here, this is what actually happened.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.26.10 at 5:56 pm

This is absurd. Koch or no Koch, Lindsey or no Lindsey, the Cato was probably the most anti-Iraq-war mainstream think tank in the US. And they are the guys with machine guns in guard towers? How come? What about the Brookings?

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Sebastian 08.26.10 at 9:09 pm

Isn’t the anti-Irq-war position of Cato an example that they aren’t the complete Republican stooges that Rich thought they always were?

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Mark Paul 08.26.10 at 10:05 pm

I don’t know what John considers mainstream, but I described the “Kochtopus”in this article in May 1980 in Mother Jones. The article is badly transcribed but can profitably read to put this week’s events in some context. For the Koch boys, past is prologue.

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sg 08.27.10 at 1:34 am

Henry, while your argument is strong I think it misses the importance of the contribution of the minor players in the pro-war debate on producing the pro-war environment that the “Smart People” got sucked into. It’s not just Richard Holbrooke who built that environment, and without the apparent consensus of everyone on the right (including the supposedly minor players at the think-tanks with their supposed independence) it would have been a lot harder to generate the kind of right vs. left conflict that seduced “reasonable” lefties into the hippy-punching.

I remember an Australian journalist (Paul Kelly) calling people opposed to the war “cowards” in an interview. You can’t get away with that shit unless there’s a general consensus on one side of the debate that the war is absolutely necessary. And you don’t build that consensus if only a few “significant” “thinkers” are onside.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 1:44 am

Coming back to this after a day — first of all, Academic Lurker has a very good point. The people here remember quite well what they were doing in 2002-2003. If there was a “febrile atmosphere”, we (including Henry) didn’t fall for it. We aren’t bravely imagining that we would have done something in some far-past time. And, of course, if the pro-war peoples’ assertions about Iraq has been true, they would now quite justly be blaming us for being partially responsible for thousands of deaths. That’s the responsibility you take on when you try to influence political events.

As for whether Lindsey was negligible, I’d guess (not having the benefit of a meme tracker) that he was one of the top 100 pro-war pundits. Why? Because there really aren’t that many pundits. He had control of 0ne of the primary sources of opinion to U.S. libertarians, and helped to make sure that they did not become a primarily anti-war group. Is that negligible? I’d say not.

Is that after-the-fact grousing? No. What people are not putting enough weight on is that anti-war people complained about Lindsey at the time. They were ignored then, and you’re compounding that by ignoring them now.

Why is this important? It all comes back to why people at Cato are still influential despite the growing confirmation that Koch calls the shots. Henry’s first impulse is to explain to us why one of the elites really isn’t responsible for anything real. He’s willing to criticize those people who he hasn’t e.g. had Bloggingheads discussions with, but when it comes to someone in his circle, then out come the arguments about how we can’t hold Lindsey responsible for the effects of anything he wrote. And that’s our situation, as I wrote before, in microcosm. The Villagers do the same thing for the Villagers.

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geo 08.27.10 at 2:37 am

we can’t hold Lindsey responsible for the effects of anything he wrote

This doesn’t seem to be Henry’s position; he (like others here) seems to differ with you about the actual effects of what Lindsey wrote. But supposing, for the sake of argument, that you’re right about the magnitude of those effects. What would “hold Lindsey responsible” mean? Obviously he can’t be prosecuted, unlike those who actually designed and implemented the policies he (initially) supported. If you or someone like-minded were a prospective employer, you would certainly have a right not to hire him for a job that would enable him to make similar misjudgments. You have a right not to read him or associate with him, or to criticize him in any terms you like. Is this last what you’re asking us to do? If so, then you ought to address Henry’s (and other people’s) response that Lindsey does occasionally write things worth reading. One can’t, after all, rule out that possibility a priori, just because he was wrong about Iraq. Of course one can rule out the possibility that Charles Krauthammer or William Kristol will ever write anything worth reading — not, however, because they were ardent apologists for a criminal war and have never recanted, but because they in fact never do write anything worth reading, and it would be sheer masochism to keep giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Many 20th-century authors (Heidegger, Maurras, Celine, Malaparte, Pound) had despicable opinions, and in some cases did despicable things. But it would be absurd to deny that they all wrote things well worth reading.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 3:38 am

“What would “hold Lindsey responsible” mean?”

1. It means, at minimum, admitting to the general case that pundits can sometimes do bad things, things that make them responsible for actual deaths, even when they were not the sole driver of events. Henry has, after a lot of weaseling, admitted to this in principle.

2. It means giving up on the idea that the following is apolitical:

“This site is about argument. I’ll repeat it. If Rich – or others – don’t like being on a site where there is sometimes substantial debate between left and right, they can leave it. In Rich’s case, I wouldn’t miss him in the slightest. I would probably take a different line if Rich could come up with better arguments in defense of his position. It is undoubtedly convenient for Rich to dismiss our commitment as one to “respectable interlocutors.” But this misses the point. I engage with a lot of interlocutors on this site who are not “respectable” in the sense that I don’t have the slightest idea who they are in real life, nor do I particularly care. What matters is that they’re committed to argument. Rich seems to find this ideal of argument to itself be elitist. “

When Henry says this about Lindsey — assuming that you have granted that Lindsey does bear partial responsibility for the deaths of thousands — then the site isn’t “about argument” at all. It’s about validating someone as a reasonable interlocutor whose past history is irrelevant to whatever argument he’s currently coming up with. Heidegger, Maurras, Celine, Malaparte, and Pound are all dead, after all, not participants who might come up with something new.

In other words, holding Lindsey responsible means that when Lindsey argues X, it’s a valid counterargument to say “But Lindsey was partially responsible for killing thousands of people, and should be ignored. Other people who haven’t been partially responsible for killing thousands can make that argument, if it’s worth making.”

3. It has to be brought up if you do feel that you have to address him, or — at minimum — you have to not complain when other people bring it up. Holding him responsible means that it follows him around forever.

4. It means that you have to give serious consideration to treating him as you would like to think that you would have treated Heidegger, Maurras, etc. when they were alive. Would you want to engage with someone as brilliant as one of these figures? Yes, you might possibly feel that you should. Would you tell people to stop bugging you about whatever despicable things they were doing? Only if you were a fool.

That’s off the top of my head, anyways.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 4:05 am

I’m going to go back to the accusation that I’m dumbing things down by saying that people are dupes, or that everyone who works for Cato is complicit.

What is the role of Cato? It’s a think-tank controlled by Koch, and does what Koch wants. What then is the role of someone who writes things that I 100% agree with at Cato? It’s to make Koch look good, and let the rest of their agenda pass into the mainstream. It may have positive externalities — but what Koch *intends* is that it help the rest of it pass.

Let’s imagine a person named Jane Goodperson, who works at Cato. Jane is anti-war, and writes solely about civil liberties. Jane has done great things for civil liberties. Is Jane complicit? Of course she is. She’s doing that for Koch, after all. The purpose of her being at that job is for her glory to reflect on them, and to help to conceal their bad deeds.

Bill Gardner, at least, seems to understand this. I assume that his work involves some praiseworthy acts of medicine. But he wouldn’t do them for Philip Morris Hospital. He might say that Koch isn’t as bad as Philip Morris, or that people working at Koch might reasonably think so, but really I think that’s probably due to his ignorance of what Koch has actually done.

Henry was perfectly capable of understanding this in past cases. I think that other reasons have to be looked at for why he can’t understand it now.

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tom bach 08.27.10 at 4:15 am

I have to say I agree with this

Let’s imagine a person named Jane Goodperson, who works at Cato. Jane is anti-war, and writes solely about civil liberties. Jane has done great things for civil liberties. Is Jane complicit? Of course she is. She’s doing that for Koch, after all. The purpose of her being at that job is for her glory to reflect on them, and to help to conceal their bad deeds.

If by “complicit” you mean responsible for granting legitimacy to an organization engaged in a more general policy of dishonest argumentation.

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geo 08.27.10 at 4:33 am

holding Lindsey responsible means that when Lindsey argues X, it’s a valid counterargument to say “But Lindsey was partially responsible for killing thousands of people, and should be ignored. Other people who haven’t been partially responsible for killing thousands can make that argument, if it’s worth making.”

No, it’s not a valid counter-argument. If someone has written nothing but hateful nonsense for many years, like Kristol or Krauthammer or Martin Peretz, then one is entitled to ignore them, not because they once wrote hateful nonsense but because they always write hateful nonsense. If someone once wrote hateful nonsense but at other times makes good sense (like Lindsey, according to Henry – and you have no basis for disagreeing with Henry about that, since you refuse to read anything further by Lindsey), then you’d be wrong to ignore him. Note that you’d be especially wrong to ignore someone if you generally disagree with him, since an honest person will pay particularly close attention to arguments against his own position. (See J. S. Mill, On Liberty.)

Holding him responsible means that it follows him around forever.

Yes, fine, as I acknowledged in a previous comment, it should follow him around in relevant contexts, eg, when he’s arguing for US military intervention somewhere. Not if he’s arguing about health care reform or economic stimulus. If you insist on bringing up your opponent’s opinions about non-related matters, you won’t cut any ice whatsoever with your readers or listeners. In fact, you’ll only create sympathy for him or her. Of course, if you don’t care about your effect on your listeners, but only want to demonstrate your own fervor, then go ahead.

Would you want to engage with someone as brilliant as one of these figures? Yes, you might possibly feel that you should. Would you tell people to stop bugging you about whatever despicable things they were doing?

Yes, I would want to engage with anyone brilliant anytime. If I didn’t know about whatever despicable things they were doing, I would thank anyone who told me and then weigh whether I still wanted to engage with the brilliant person. Very likely I would, if it were a matter of engaging with Heidegger about Greek philosophy, Maurras about French literature, etc. If I decided I did, and if the gadfly person then continued to bug me, I would tell him or her to get lost.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 5:03 am

“Note that you’d be especially wrong to ignore someone if you generally disagree with him, since an honest person will pay particularly close attention to arguments against his own position. “

I can only conclude that, because of your social position, you’re incapable of seeing that you are acting politically when you make this choice in a social context. As usual, you’re characterizing it as apolitical and natural, as what “an honest person” does, which is another way of saying that you refuse to think about it.

I’m not saying that you have to pay no attention to the argument, by the way. I’m saying that you have to pay attention to how you publicly engage with the person making the argument. In particular, it’s almost never the case that they are the only person making it.

“If you insist on bringing up your opponent’s opinions about non-related matters [...]“

How the person thinks on one issue has no relation to how they think about others? Again, this is almost never the case.

As for your remarks about telling gadflies to get lost, well, I think they stand on their own. I think we’re starting to see, here, just why it’s been so difficult to get the foreign policy people in general to admit that they did anything wrong. They’re engaging with each other, and they think that they’re brilliant, after all.

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sg 08.27.10 at 5:54 am

geo, it is possible, surely, that you/we could create an equivalent atmosphere by our collusion to that which the pro-war crowd created in 2003. That is, an atmosphere where lying for money is unacceptable, and where everytime a person who supported the war and works for a shill institute (like the Cato) opens their mouth, they are forced to defend their shilling and their warmongering. So that, just as in 2003, every person who objected to the war was forced first of all to say “I know that saddam’s a bad person” and “I’m not supporting Saddam,” someone like Lyndsey has to say “I know my employers are fucksticks” or “I’m not a liar, honestly, and I know my work is compromised, but…”

We could do this and still engage with their work. For example, Henry did a bloggingheads with Lyndsey. Perhaps in that bloggingheads, Henry could have raised the issue of Lyndsey’s untrustworthiness, asked him to defend himself, and wherever issues of the reliability of a fact were to arise, reminded Lyndsey “but oh, you believed that shit George Bush spouted about Uranium in Iraq,didn’t you?” and “oh, but I don’t think we can really give your opinions on foreign policy much credence in light of your prior credulity,” and the like.

This is what happened to us (“us” being the majority of the people in the rest of the world, ordinary people with no access to Koch’s money or their ability to grease the wheels of media and political power, who saw through the Bush administration’s lies in the blink of an eye). We were told we supported saddam, we were “objectively pro-terrorist,” that any deaths were our fault, etc. Occasionally some lucky ones amongst us got to put a case on tv against the war; those people were then called cowards by our adversaries in the political world.

I think it’s possible to create a “febrile atmosphere” now in which the people who aided and abetted that process then are forced to wear it on their chest now. “Look at me, I’m a proud war-mongerer whose intellectual worth needs to be judged at least partly by the fact that I believed the stupid shit that a knuckle-walking idiot told me about Saddam Hussein.” Maybe a shorter badge: “I believed Saddam Hussein had a people shredder. Do you still think I’m smart?”

But it doesn’t happen. Being mistaken about things like this should count for something.

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sg 08.27.10 at 5:56 am

By way of example: Simon Jenkins, who writes for the Guardian, was for a long time an AIDS denialist. Every time he writes any kind of article on risk and public health, it’s usually a rant about how terrible the public health establishment is for being hyperbolic about risk.

Every time he writes one of these articles, someone pops up in comments within about 20 comments, to point out that until 1993 he didn’t believe that HIV caused AIDS. Do you think that maybe that helps some readers to judge his evidence in a different light?

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.10 at 5:56 am

Let’s imagine a person named Jane Goodperson, who works at Cato. Jane is anti-war, and writes solely about civil liberties. Jane has done great things for civil liberties. Is Jane complicit? Of course she is. She’s doing that for Koch, after all.

I still don’t see much of a difference between this and, say, remaining an American citizen and paying American taxes while two – count ‘em, two! – stupid wars are going on. Should Rich Puchalsky – or any American – be forever ignored because they are imperialist lackeys? Should those who attempt to renounce their citizenship be the only legitimate voices?

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John Quiggin 08.27.10 at 6:18 am

I must admit when writing the post I wasn’t aware of Lindsey’s initial support for the war. I disagree with Henry’s argument that this support was inconsequential – at a minimum it was presumably intended to be consequential.

On the other hand, unlike most supporters of the war, Lindsey has publicly and (as far as I can tell) unequivocally recanted. In terms of future wars, that seems at least as consequential as the actions of those who have been consistently antiwar or (like me) supported the Afghanistan war and opposed the Iraq war (more thoughts on Afghanistan soon). With the drums beating for a war with Iran, it’s important to have people willing to say (to the potentially pro-war audience) “Like you, I was fooled into supporting the Iraq war. Let’s not be fooled again”. If engaging with repentant hawks will produce statements of this kind, then a refusal to engage implies a willingness to accept a greater risk of war in the pursuit of justice for past sins.

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Sebastian 08.27.10 at 6:19 am

“Let’s imagine a person named Jane Goodperson, who works at Cato. Jane is anti-war, and writes solely about civil liberties. Jane has done great things for civil liberties. Is Jane complicit? Of course she is. She’s doing that for Koch, after all.”

Complicit in the Iraq war? Cato was against the Iraq war. You’re getting your think tanks confused.

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Will Wilkinson 08.27.10 at 7:31 am

Let me just say that this is immensely entertaining.

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sg 08.27.10 at 8:03 am

substance, I don’t think the tax analogy works well, because the choice in that case is: pay taxes or go to jail. But for wankers at think tanks the choice is: get a different job, or shill for war. I don’t think they’re really comparable.

Also, as individuals, we don’t have the ability to control how much tax we pay, where it goes, how tax laws are set, etc. – this is changed by large numbers of individuals in a polity. However, wankers at think tanks as individuals have a choice about whether to shill for war, and the community they’re fighting to change by their individual action is much smaller than that which you need to change to end war taxes; and the means of changing it (talking to and debating the other wankers) is the same as the problem itself (the wankers talking about war). This isn’t true for changing tax law.

Finally, most Americans – like, sadly, most Iraqis – don’t have anywhere else to go, so they can’t just bug out on the issue.

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sg 08.27.10 at 8:04 am

also of course some portion of our taxes goes to good ends that we agree with. This can’t be said for the words coming out of the mouths of most wankers at most think tanks.

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alex 08.27.10 at 9:19 am

How unjust to think-tank wankers that you should demand they get on their bikes and look for more respectable work! Perhaps they, too, like so many miners, steelworkers and millhands, just have nowhere else to go?

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sg 08.27.10 at 9:51 am

fortunately for the wankers at the cato, alex, they have very strong political ideas about what should happen to people who have no marketable skills. Sadly, social safety net ain’t one of them…

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alex 08.27.10 at 12:43 pm

Or unfortunately…?

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 1:00 pm

“Let me just say that this is immensely entertaining.”

Well, that’s kind of what I expected from Wilkinson. Do you have anything to say about your former place of employment, now that you’ve left it? People do have an interest in knowing what Koch is doing. Of course, maximizing your own range of future employment means that you’ll say nothing, as you’ve done.

To John Quiggin: is recanting on the Iraq war any guarantee that someone will in fact oppose future wars? Or does it just mean that it is no longer fashionable to have supported the Iraq war? What happens when people start saying that we need to have a war with Iran, and the recantee says “Well, I was fooled by the febrile atmosphere around the Iraq war. Plus, evidently there were three individual people in the Bush administration who faked evidence. But for *this* war, well, the evidence is much better.”

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.10 at 1:09 pm

substance, I don’t think the tax analogy works well, because the choice in that case is: pay taxes or go to jail.

No, you can move.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.27.10 at 1:42 pm

@200, not so fast, mister. The US government levies taxes based on your citizenship rather than residency. If you’re a US citizen, it’ll tax your worldwide income, regardless of where you live. You would have to renounce your US citizenship and become a stateless person.

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Henry 08.27.10 at 1:53 pm

I’m heading off for a few days, so will probably not be able to engage in this much more. But it’s the same old same old. Rich – the problem wasn’t that”after a lot of weaseling, [I] admitted to this in principle.” The problem was that you attributed a quite insane general position to me without any evidence. I didn’t address this specifically, because it was one of a number of equally incredible positions that you attributed to me. Without going through each email point by point, you accused me (or) “people like Henry” of
(1) mounting a full-fledged defense of Cato against truth-telling defenders like Rich.
(2) Claiming that history does not exist.
(3) defending the political compromises that Obama made on healthcare
(4) defending hippy-punching (and engaging in it myself)
(5) defending the lousy small stimulus.
(6) defending Obama’s sellout on global warming
and plenty more besides. Perhaps I’m “weaseling” by not mounting specific defenses of my position on each of these positions. Or perhaps they are positions that I don’t hold, and have never held. You have a lot of anger. A fair amount of that anger seems to me to be reasonable on its merits. But I’m not sure why that anger and this welter of accusations is being directed at me. The “people like Henry” thing is an especially weird trope when it refers to “people who are not like Henry” because e.g. they hold diametrically opposed political positions.

You are correct in saying that it is a political choice to create a space where people from left and right can argue together, and that it is a political choice to say that people who were pro-war, and have decided they were completely wrong, can be a part of this argument. It isn’t the only valid political choice. As I’ve said – there are many websites where the discussion specifically excludes people from the ‘other side’ whatever that side can be. There are tradeoffs to that (the risk of groupthink), but benefits too (you need forums like that to enable collective action). But that is not what this site sets out to do. It sets out to enable discussion – a choice which has its own tradeoffs, but a choice that we have made. My problem is not that you want to criticize Lindsey. If he starts supporting another war somewhere, then it is _completely fair game_ to go after him for his support of the last one, and how horribly it turned out. My problem is that you want to see him completely excluded from debate, and seem willing to latch onto any old argument that will justify this, regardless of the argument’s merits. That’s not on, for the reasons that George (who is very probably to your left – you should check out his writings at “http://www.georgescialabba.net”:http://www.georgescialabba.net ) lays out. The advantage to argument with people who have starkly opposed positions is that sometimes you learn – your own positions turn out to be wrong. This is why Mill (who George quotes) is in favor of partisanship.

Finally – I think that even on your own terms, your attack on Cato as necessarily a bad thing doesn’t succeed. Cato isn’t simply an extension of Koch. It does a lot of work on issues that Koch doesn’t care about, such as civil liberties, the police state and surveillance. These are things that are poorly handled by Democratic leaning think tanks, which have gotten a lot quieter about them since Obama came to office, presumably for the obvious reasons. That’s why I’m not as down on Cato as I was e.g. on Tech Central Station – the non-economic stuff is not window-dressing, and actually has an important real world impact. Ask “Glenn Greenwald”:http://www.cato-unbound.org/2010/08/09/glenn-greenwald/the-digital-surveillance-state-vast-secret-and-dangerous/ (who I have disagreements with as you know, but who is not, to the best of my knowledge, in the window-dressing-for-Koch-enterprises business). It would be quite fair, I think, if your priorities lay that way, to say that this stuff is less important than the economic agenda that Cato pushes, just as it would be fair (if your priorities lay in the other direction to say that the civil liberties stuff trumps much of the bullshit that e.g. Steven Milloy used to pump out when he was there). But I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s pure window-dressing. Politics is a choice of evils (Weber again). And think-tanks, like it or not, play a key role in shaping policy in this country. None of these think tanks are pure. Some are unmitigatedly evil, and should imo be wiped off the map (I would shed no tears for Heritage, AEI or various others). But Cato is a judgment call, depending on your priors. I think it’s an unmitigatedly good thing that e.g. Radley Balko is pounding the beat on police powers (before you ask – I have never met, talked to, emailed or otherwise come into personal contact with him). And I suspect that if not for Cato, he wouldn’t have a position where he could do what he does. Perhaps that’s outweighed by the evils of Koch – but that’s a judgment call.

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.10 at 2:13 pm

The US government levies taxes based on your citizenship rather than residency.

Yes, but the US government doesn’t have access to your pay stubs when you move.

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chris 08.27.10 at 2:15 pm

The US government levies taxes based on your citizenship rather than residency. If you’re a US citizen, it’ll tax your worldwide income, regardless of where you live.

Sure, if you’re voluntarily complying with those tax laws. But if your new residence has no extradition treaty with the US, they’re going to have a little difficulty actually arresting you for tax evasion, aren’t they?

Such inconveniences are merely the price of noncomplicity.

In other words, holding Lindsey responsible means that when Lindsey argues X, it’s a valid counterargument to say “But Lindsey was partially responsible for killing thousands of people, and should be ignored. Other people who haven’t been partially responsible for killing thousands can make that argument, if it’s worth making.”

This is the textbook definition of argumentum ad hominem, *even if* you accept the responsibility claim. (Which I don’t, but because there’s no universally accepted system of deciding who is responsible for what, I admit that dispute is probably unresolvable, and that I should have acknowledged that sooner instead of attempting to impose my own judgments on Rich or anyone.) Being wrong about Iraq doesn’t prevent Lindsey from being right about X, whatever it is. And that would be true even if he hadn’t recanted.

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Salient 08.27.10 at 2:56 pm

I would go so far as to say it’s an actively good thing to be “complicit” in the sense that’s being discussed.

Roughly, I think “complicit” has meant “doing right + doing no wrong personally + getting paid to do it by people who are also paying wrongdoers to do wrong.” Isn’t that complicity just cleverly diverting resources toward your right-doing that very likely would have been spent on wrong-doing?

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sg 08.27.10 at 3:13 pm

no chris, it’s not argument ad hominem. Pointing out that someone has been repeatedly, stupidly wrong with serious consequences is not argument ad hominem. It’s simply adduction of evidence. People who thought the Iraq war was a good idea made a fucking stupid judgment call (at best) or were blatantly evil murderous motherfuckers, and this was very clear from the start. You don’t get to re-enter polite conversations after you do the latter, and your jugdment on international politics needs to be called into question over the former. Except, it would seem, in “public intellectualia,” where pissing in the punch bowl holds more social weight than, you know, forcefully advocating for the cold-blooded murder of a million people, the displacement of 2 million more, and the destruction of the economy and daily social lives of another 16 – 2o million. Apparently, such opinions don’t count as either signs of abject stupidity or evil.

substance, most people in America can’t move. So it ain’t the same.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 3:36 pm

Henry: “The problem was that you attributed a quite insane general position to me without any evidence. I didn’t address this specifically, because it was one of a number of equally incredible positions that you attributed to me. Without going through each email point by point, you accused me (or) “people like Henry” of
(1) mounting a full-fledged defense of Cato against truth-telling defenders like Rich.
(2) Claiming that history does not exist.
(3) defending the political compromises that Obama made on healthcare
(4) defending hippy-punching (and engaging in it myself)
(5) defending the lousy small stimulus.
(6) defending Obama’s sellout on global warming”

etc. Once again, you haven’t understood my argument, and once again, you have a very strange disinclination to understand what is an ordinary argument.

My argument is about what you call groupthink. Except that where you say that your willingness to engage with people across the aisle insulates you from groupthink, I think that it actually makes you more vulnerable to it — a different form of it. A form in which the important divisions are not between left and right (whatever those mean these days) but between people in your professional circle and people outside your professional circle.

Did I write that you, Henry, defended Obama’s positions on healthcare and global warming? No. I wrote that what you’re doing here is a microcosmic kind of example of what is happening with Obama’s people. They are more concerned about the “professional left” criticizing them — in other words, the people outside the cozy Washington consensus between a little bit left and very much right — then they are being obsessively bipartisan with the right-wingers. The right-wingers, after all, are fellow pols, like they are.

As for whether you’ve claimed that history doesn’t exist? Well, you claimed to evaluate someone’s argumentative history when you made a judgment about whether they should be engaged with. But what does that evaluation actually involve? It involves matters of politeness. Did the person apologize after they were found to be wrong? Do they habitually argue within the argumentative forms that you prefer? Do they argue “in good faith”, i.e. “in the manner of a professor”? You initially denied that the content of their argument really mattered at all in any real world sense. And yes, that is denying that history — real history, not the history of argument — exists.

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geo 08.27.10 at 4:01 pm

People who thought the Iraq war was a good idea made a fucking stupid judgment call … and [their] judgment on international politics needs to be called into question

No one anywhere on this thread has disagreed with that statement.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 4:51 pm

“I would go so far as to say it’s an actively good thing to be “complicit” in the sense that’s being discussed.”

Only if you don’t believe that Cato itself has a reputation that right-doing in its name adds to. And, as with Tech Central Station, that just isn’t political reality.

Is it possible to say something like “Yes, I worked for Cato, but the good that I did outweighed the bad I did in working for them”? Yes. I’ve said as much, from the top of the thread. But that calculation requires *an honest admission that bad was done*.

In particular, I’d be much more likely to believe this if the people leaving Cato now said it. If e.g. Wilkinson said “I knew that Koch was bad, but I diverted their resources to my good work, and now that I’ve left I can say that,” then sure, that’s an argument. “Let me just say that this is immensely entertaining” is what Wilkinson actually said, though.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 5:03 pm

sg: “People who thought the Iraq war was a good idea made a fucking stupid judgment call … and [their] judgment on international politics needs to be called into question.”

geo: “No one anywhere on this thread has disagreed with that statement.”

All right, then I’ll add to it. I quoted a paragraph from Lindsey’s no-more-9-11s essay above. I’d say that anyone who could write that paragraph is a third-rate thinker. It’s not just their judgment on international politics that needs to be called into question. It’s their judgment.

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.10 at 5:19 pm

substance, most people in America can’t move. So it ain’t the same.

They can move, so it is the same, particularly those who pay federal taxes. Americans do move, and even – !!! – work illegally in foreign countries.

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geo 08.27.10 at 5:44 pm

I’d say that anyone who could write that paragraph is a third-rate thinker

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to check, Rich. You could just have asked Henry to cite something non-third-rate of Lindsey’s. Or you could have looked yourself. If the first half-dozen or so things you read by Lindsey on other subjects were all third-rate, then you’d be justified in a tentative judgment of third-rateness, or at least in challenging Henry to justify his different judgment. But instead you simply decided that no further investigation was necessary — Lindsey was surely, necessarily third-rate, worth no attention on any subject. Now I myself haven’t read anything by Lindsey, so I can’t be sure which of you is right. But having a certain amount of confidence in Henry’s judgment, based on many hours of reading his stuff on this blog, I’d say you’ve left yourself out on a limb.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.27.10 at 5:53 pm

“Yes, I would want to engage with anyone brilliant anytime. If I didn’t know about whatever despicable things they were doing, I would thank anyone who told me and then weigh whether I still wanted to engage with the brilliant person. Very likely I would, if it were a matter of engaging with Heidegger about Greek philosophy, Maurras about French literature, etc. If I decided I did, and if the gadfly person then continued to bug me, I would tell him or her to get lost.”

Just saw this again, and really, that is the most depressing thing in the thread, right there.

Try to imagine that you’re actually in the situation that I proposed — in which Heidegger is a currently living person, not a dead eminence. So George proposes to have a nice public discussion about Greek philosophy with Heidegger. Someone — later to be classified as “a gadfly person” — comes up to George and says, but George, Heidegger is a Nazi. George thanks them for this information. Then, of course, George goes on to engage the brilliant Heidegger about Greek philosophy. The person comes back and says “George, Heidegger is still a Nazi. He’s supporting the party that is right now murdering Jews. The prestige of his support comes in part from people like you being willing to engage with him as if that doesn’t matter. Why are you doing this?” And George tells the gadfly to get lost.

Godwin, yes — but this was George’s example.

No one on the left can really trust the people who think in this way. If people like that are the left intellectuals, then we are without intellectuals.

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chris 08.27.10 at 5:56 pm

Pointing out that someone has been repeatedly, stupidly wrong with serious consequences is not argument ad hominem.

True. But concluding that therefore they are wrong *now* is argumentum ad hominem. Seriously, it’s the textbook definition, look it up or something. People who are wrong about some things can still be right about others. That’s why argumentum ad hominem is a fallacy.

Or maybe you just think the strict rules of logic should be relaxed in favor of some kind of Bayesian evaluation where you can consider the source? Lindsey says X, Lindsey is usually wrong, therefore probably not-X? I don’t see how that justifies failure to engage X on the merits — if anything, it only underlines the necessity of doing so if X is of any importance, since you surely can’t take Lindsey’s word for it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.27.10 at 6:33 pm

How exactly does a discussion about Greek philosophy help with the prestige of his support for the Nazis?

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geo 08.27.10 at 6:45 pm

Rich @213: If I were an opponent of Nazism (as I like to think I would have been), then I would have been obliged to oppose Nazism, when and where I judged most effective. I would not have been obliged to do nothing else, in any circumstances, except oppose Nazism. Greek philosophy is a legitimate, even praiseworthy, pursuit, and Heidegger was one of its greatest interpreters. If Heidegger had tried to suggest during our discussion that Greek philosophy was merely a prelude to glorious National Socialism, then of course I would have felt obliged to protest. If, on the other hand, he were saying brilliant things about Greek philosophy that had nothing whatever to do with National Socialism, then I probably wouldn’t have felt obliged to protest. This would not have precluded my being just as dedicated and effective an opponent of National Socialism as someone who disrupted the discussion by yelling repeatedly at Heidegger.

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roac 08.27.10 at 6:45 pm

My first and last contribution to this thread: If I am in an argument whose outcome may have consequences, and somebody is taking my side, I am not likely to interrupt that person and say “Don’t listen to him! He’s a sleazebag and a liar!”

(The assumption here being that my goal is to influence the course of events, more than to preserve my soul unspotted from the world.)

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piglet 08.27.10 at 8:24 pm

The debate has reached a new low in Substance’s total substanceless claim:

“I still don’t see much of a difference between this and, say, remaining an American citizen and paying American taxes while two – count ‘em, two! – stupid wars are going on. Should Rich Puchalsky – or any American – be forever ignored because they are imperialist lackeys? Should those who attempt to renounce their citizenship be the only legitimate voices?”

With standards like that, no moral argument can be had. We are all sinners and need to repent, whether I am a members of a Nazi SS death squad or a dissenter who happens to live in a country the government of which is doing wicked things against my will. As I have said before, the crux of this argument seems to be the difficulty some here have with the term responsibility. It’s apparently too much dialectics for some debaters here to acknowledge that there can be different degrees of responsibility, that the degree depends among other things on whether the actor acts voluntarily or not, what choices were available and what constraints limited the actor. I agree that taxpayers, especially in a sort of democratic country, bear some responsibility to what happens with their tax money but to say that there is no difference in degree between involuntarily paying for war and voluntarily advocating that war is pure nonsense. Just as I agree that we all bear some responsibility for Global Warming but that it makes a difference whether or not we consciously minimize our environmental footprint, whether or not we actively support a political solution to reducing GHG etc. The dichotomy between either denying responsibility outright or pretending that everybody is equally responsible because each of us is constrained by being part of a political and economic system that none of us can change on our own is totally outlandish and I am at a loss to understand what is really going on here, why people here are making these obviously absurd claims that deny political reality and moral sense. And it is ironic that we who reject that false dichotomy get accused of “Manicheanism” (Henry 60).

I have another moral case study to throw in while we are at it. How do we apportion the responsibility (or culpability if you like) of a member of Congress who voted for the war? Since there was an overwhelming majority, no single member had “veto power” (the standard put forth by chris 61) over the war. A single vote switch wouldn’t have changed the outcome. It is not possible to prove a direct causal relationship (the standard put forth by Henry 129) between the vote of an individual member and the decision to go to war. So where does that leave us? No Congressperson can be held responsible for anything they vote for except in the unlikely case that the outcome depended on that one vote. No Congressperson, no voter is ever responsible for anything they vote for! Now that is a remarkable discovery that is likely to surprise some moral philosophers. Henry should rush to write that up in a paper.

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.10 at 8:37 pm

With standards like that, no moral argument can be had.

Well, exactly. But those are Rich’s standards of complicity as far as I can tell. Myself I’m okay with simply filtering out Brink Lindsay for myself, and sure, I could choose a reason like being wrong on Iraq: there is no positive duty to read his words when there are uncountable words elsewhere.

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piglet 08.27.10 at 8:43 pm

“But those are Rich’s standards of complicity as far as I can tell.”

Really? Rich says that we are all equally culpable for the Iraq war? Where does he say that? Please enlighten us. (If you will, please use these: “”, instead of just making baseless allegations.)

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Substance McGravitas 08.27.10 at 8:54 pm

See the Jane Goodperson analogy above. Now for “Koch” substitute “America”.

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sg 08.28.10 at 12:37 am

chris at 214, I think you’re confusing logic and public ethics. Sure, logically I should listen to every single thing that a person says and argue with it on its merits. But practically no-one does that. Often I and most of my peers will be reading the work of people like Lindsay in areas where I am not myself an expert. So then I have to make a judgement about his honesty as an interlocutor. And the two main facts that I have at my disposal are that a) he supported the Iraq war and b) he worked for Cato. So that tells me all I need to know about his honesty and integrity. I now know that a) none of the “facts” he presents in support of his case can be believed or trusted, and that b) he almost certainly hasn’t done proper, thorough research on his case.

As an example of this, consider Roger Scruton’s screed against the WHO and Tobacco Control. You could engage it on its merits, but you’ll just spend an hour or two of your life reading a filthy pamphlet – a better alternative would be to say “oh, paid to write this by Big Tobacco?” and use it to wipe your arse. Having established once that Scruton can’t be trusted, you save yourself a few hours of his horrid prose in future.

Now, if I were talking to him about something specifically in his field – aesthetics, I think? – then it would be different (probably). But it’s unlikely (to take geo’s example) that if I were living in Nazi germany I would be engaging Heidegger on greek philosophy. I’d be reading an article he had written in support of some kooky theory about plays written by American negroes, or defending the exclusion of jews from economic life. Knowing that he supports ludicrous racial theories is enough to discount his work out of hand.

The same goes for Lindsey, unless you’re engaging him in his main field of expertise, and that field is also your field of expertise. But the only way less politically-engaged people than me can know whether or not to trust his work, is if a large body of public intellectuals establish the boundaries of his trustworthiness, and remind everyday readers (and public intellectuals engaging outside of their field of expertise) exactly to what extent he can be trusted, and how clearly he thinks.

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sg 08.28.10 at 12:41 am

Incidentally, the main people I find presenting this ludicrous “you should take every argument on its merits” approach to public discourse are libertarians, usually in defense of whatever paid shill they’re currently depending on to back up their stupid arguments.

It’s a secondary purpose of these think tanks and institutes, to muddy the water of reasoned debate so that you’re forced to waste time and energy engaging with nastiness and stupidity in order to make any point at all. In time constant reengagement with these debates gives them credibility – for example the “hockey stick is fraud” argument.

Did you see George Bush do that with the studies of deaths in Iraq? No, he discredited them out of hand. “Oh yeah, that study is well-known to be unreliable” or somesuch – and the entire right wing talking machine followed his lead. If we did the same thing with actually unreliable, shite work, we’d be doing well.

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b9n10nt 08.28.10 at 4:46 am

I think if I were alive in the 30s my opposition to Nazism would definitely be in the form of a sociopolitical community that identified as anti-Nazi. And in deed I would want these associations to be anti-Nazi enough to encourage even the attempt at effective social ostracism of agressive right wing nationalists.

This would at least be the case for me if i were in non- occupied nation (everywhere in Europe for much of this decade. I would enjoy the pursuits of philosophy and the like if so dong didn’t compromise my relationship to the left community I had chosen.

Heidigger put his feet on the wrong side of the fence, and the fence is more important than ancient Greek philosophy.

If I’m alive in the 30′s, I gotta figure that’s how it’d go down.

Now if I’m in an occupied country, that’s more difficult. The attempt at social ostracism could ostracize oneself to no forseeable political benefit. And so, hey, Greek philosophy is pretty cool.

Okay, so I can say this: I want a leftism that is like water. It seeks all available channels to cut into the rock of human cruelty. If I have an opportunity to seek the lower ground (to extend the metaphor) I will do so . Any diversion (Greek philosophy) is contrived.

But that itself is an ideal to strive for. So good on ya Rich Pulasky, yer one helluva guy.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.28.10 at 2:35 pm

Thanks, b9n10nt, but this is hopeless. I mean, look at what my imaginary surrogate was asking imaginary George to do. He wasn’t asking him to deny Heidegger’s brilliance, or to stop reading Heidegger, or stop thinking about Heidegger’s work, or speak any untrue word about Heidegger, or even to stop privately corresponding with Heidegger. He was just asking him to, during the time when Heidegger was a showpiece intellectual for the Nazis, refuse to publicly engage with him. To, if he were brave enough, announce that he refused to engage with Nazis, or, if he wasn’t as brave, simply decline, and not add to the sense that Nazism was an acceptable political affiliation like any other.

Previously, upthread, someone — was it chris? I can’t scroll well on this machine — mocked people’s fantasy views of what they would have done if they’d been around during the time of the Nazis. Well, what is George’s? In George’s imagination, someone comes to the debate between him and Heidegger about Greek philosophy, and starts to heckle Heidegger for being a Nazi. And George tells the heckler to get lost.

If this is what someone thinks about an actual Nazi — or, like Henri Viextemps, they literally can’t even understand what’s going on — then of course there is no chance of anything ever happening with a comparative saint like any of our current pundits.

So, yeah, I really should just leave them alone. These people are not the left, no matter what theories they may hold, and it’s useless to try to treat them as such.

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geo 08.28.10 at 3:29 pm

Rich, remember that I (or this hypothetical person alive in the 1930s) am a committed and effective opponent of Nazism, who is also passionately interested in Greek philosophy. Remember that Heidegger is not merely another person interested in Greek philosophy, but one of the 20th century’s most original critics of Greek philosophy. Remember who he is: a philosopher who dabbles in Nazism, not a Nazi who dabbles in philosophy. Remember that Heidegger limits himself during this discussion entirely to philosophy — not a word about National Socialism. Remember also that I may yet denounce (or may already have denounced) Heidegger for his Nazi sympathies. Finally, remember the situation: the listeners have come to hear about Greek philosophy, they already know what they think about Nazism, and they already know about Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies (or at least will know after the gadfly’s (by the way, “gadfly” is not a disparaging term — on the contrary) first intervention and can then leave if they want to. Those who stay are not going to learn anything from your repeating the declaration in a loud voice; on the contrary, they will become increasingly irritated with you and will be more inclined to sympathize with strong measures against “disorderly leftist rabble,” as they will no doubt think of the disrupters. In this case, the disrupters will have about the same net political effect as another group of disrupters who throw rocks through the windows of parliamentary buildings.

Can we bring the discussion closer to home? Suppose Chomsky were lecturing somewhere on linguistics and the philosophy of mind. Suppose a small group of Cambodian immigrants went to his talk and accused him (falsely, of course) of defending Khmer Rouge barbarism. If true, that would be a very grave error of judgment. But wouldn’t the audience be entitled to say: “Thank you for bringing this up; we will investigate it; but we have come to discuss philosophy tonight and are unwilling to abandon that purpose and spend the evening instead discussing the controversy about Chomsky’s writings on Cambodia.”

Another example: John Updike supported the Vietnam War. Suppose he gave a talk about novel-writing techniques; would it be reasonable, after informing the audience that Updike supported the war, to insist that everyone leave or that the evening’s original topic be abandoned and that we instead discuss the war?

All we are saying, Rich, is: stay calm, be patient, give your comrades the benefit of the doubt, and above all, try to think of what will really work to accomplish our shared goals, rather than just relieve our feelings.

Finally, don’t forget about my comment at 212. Anything in it?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.28.10 at 3:31 pm

I do understand why someone might choose to avoid any discussions (public and private) with Nazis and their sympathizers. What I don’t understand is this idea that if I did choose to have a public discussion of astronomy with a Nazi, it would validate Nazism somehow.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.28.10 at 9:25 pm

George, since you would like a response, I’ll say that I see nothing wrong with disagreements about the effectiveness of shunning as a tactic. All tactics are situationally appropriate, or not, and perhaps that would be the wrong one for the situation. What really surprises me is that some people just flatly don’t understand the concept.

Let’s take your Updike example as an example. It confuses the time of intervention. Let’s say that a literature professor was invited to host Updike for lectures on novel-writing techniques. If he or she made an announcement that he or she had been invited to do so, but had declined because he or she could not at this time have such a discussion with a supporter of the war, there would have been no disorderly whatevers at the door. The time of decision, for this intervention, comes earlier.

And let’s remember the context of this thread! We have here a known case in which a corporate interest is buying cover for its bad acts through funding seemingly beneficial activities in its name. They could be discussions of Greek philosophy if that was still what the target audience respected. Instead, they are defenses of civil liberties. Not understanding this doesn’t show my Manicheanism or desire for purity or whatever, it’s just naive. Not even naive, since it has been explained — did people bother to read the New Yorker article? — it shows every sign of that determined unwillingness to understand that shows a professional interest at stake.

As for 212, as far as I know, no one has yet mounted a defense of Lindsey on anything but the grounds that he exists and therefore should be engaged with.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.28.10 at 9:40 pm

There was a confusing sentence above — it should be “[Other people] Not understanding this doesn’t show my Manicheanism or desire for purity or whatever [...]“. In other words, I’m not demanding that people adhere to some strange form of ideological purity. I’m asking that they recognize political reality.

What’s another contemporary example that bears on this? The Journolist incident. Once Tucker Carlson stirred up the Tea Partiers with his stories of liberal conspiracy, Ezra Klein, in an impressive show of weakness, “protected” his listmembers by promptly closing the list and deleting its archives and taking no other action. It was immediately every person for him or herself, as the list subscribers rushed to individually assert the obvious truth: that they were too institutionally feeble to have conspired to do anything, even if they had desired to, which they didn’t. I remember Berube writing that at least Ezra Klein would know better than to invite Tucker Carlson to do anything again, but actually I think he’s wrong. My guess is that Carlson will never be excluded from anything, and anyone who says that he should be will be immediately greeted with the same “we judge arguments only, we engage with everyone” boilerplate that is trotted out here.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.28.10 at 10:25 pm

I should write something for piglet, who has been suffering nobly: clearly I don’t think that responsibility smoothly covers everyone. The analogy between Cato and America doesn’t hold for so many reasons that I can’t even list them. 300 million people vs 100 pundits? The fact that you’re born into America vs chosen for Cato for a role, like a player on a sports team? The role of necessity vs choice?

But people should consider structural factors too. I think that nation-states should be considered ecologically, in the sense that they are all tempted to the same abuses of power, limited only by their resources at the time. Saying that Americans are uniquely bad is just American exceptionalism in reverse. Moving to another nation-state only means that you then take on the responsibilities of whatever that country is doing. And, unless you’re a certain kind of refugee and the neighboring states want to keep you stateless, remaining stateless over a long period of time is something that only the truly wealthy can do.

The example brought up by the odious Sebastien — someone who still falsely claims that the East Anglia Emaillers were guilty of something — isn’t even worth addressing. But the general case of global climate change can’t be addressed by individual, voluntary action: it can only be addressed by changing the base of installed infrastructure. There is math to back this up that is beyond the scope of this thread.

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Substance McGravitas 08.28.10 at 11:41 pm

I should write something for piglet, who has been suffering nobly: clearly I don’t think that responsibility smoothly covers everyone. The analogy between Cato and America doesn’t hold for so many reasons that I can’t even list them. 300 million people vs 100 pundits? The fact that you’re born into America vs chosen for Cato for a role, like a player on a sports team? The role of necessity vs choice?

Well, you’re wrong in terms of complicity. You are right now supporting torturers, a massive war machine, and an economy that can tip over the rest of the world’s economy when it likes, and you have the choice not to do so. You are fully aware of America’s role in the world: I think you have been born and know what’s up. I agree not every American is covered by the argument, but you certainly are.

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Mrs Tilton 08.29.10 at 12:10 am

Geo @226,

Rich, remember that I (or this hypothetical person alive in the 1930s) am a committed and effective opponent of Nazism

That’s entirely irrelevant, George. Can you not read? Hearken unto the word:

So, yeah, I really should just leave them alone. These people are not the left, no matter what theories they may hold, and it’s useless to try to treat them as such

The left is a Church of One, George, and you are not that One. That One is a humourless cadre primly admonishing Rosa Luxemburg that she must not dance, and his current incarnation is Puchalsky.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 12:49 am

Mrs Tilton, I have to admit that I’ve been ignoring you ever since you bravely defended Bill Gardner against a charge that both he and everyone else agrees that I didn’t make.

But if I must engage with your exercise in projection, then I’ll point out that it was George who asserted that the hypothetical person was a committed and effective opponent of Nazism. That wasn’t part of the original hypothetical. In fact, the whole thing began with me questioning whether people were effective opponents of the right-wingers living now. If you want to assume from the start what I called into question, then the whole thing rather loses its point. I didn’t point that out to George, since, eh, he called on solidarity. But just for you, I will.

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IM 08.29.10 at 2:22 am

Emma Goldman, not Rosa Luxemburg. You really don’t belong to the Left!

Let’s imagine a person named Jane Goodperson, who works at Cato. Jane is anti-war, and writes solely about civil liberties. Jane has done great things for civil liberties. Is Jane complicit? Of course she is. She’s doing that for Koch, after all. The purpose of her being at that job is for her glory to reflect on them, and to help to conceal their bad deeds.

Let’s imagine Glenn Greenwald in other words.

This strict rule “never waste your time on a war supporter and (former) propaganda mill employee” sounds very convincing but…

I still read Greenwald. And I read TNR, who did certainly more for this war (all of them since WWI) than L and W. And is owned by a racist. And I am reader of Balloon juice and John Cole… And I am a big Larison fan, who has quite the anti-war bona fides but is otherwise quite the reactionary.

All this appeasement .Why? What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality

I can’t be really be power or gold or discussing within my class.

So perhaps a certain leniency is sometimes warranted?

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sg 08.29.10 at 2:40 am

Is it seriously the case, Mrs. Tilton, geo, et al, that when you read the work of someone who supported the war and is paid to have an opinion, you don’t question their work just a little?

You don’t check their facts? If you aren’t familiar with the field, you don’t consider the possibility that they only researched the bits that are useful to them? You don’t think that maybe their sources are restricted?

If you don’t, then rest assured that you’ll be misled whenever you read on a topic with which you aren’t yourself infinitely familiar, because these people are liars and scoundrels, and you can’t rely on them to tell the truth.

The Heidegger example doesn’t quite work because in that example you’re talking to him about his specialty (greek philosophy). That’s why I suggested adjusting it to a political debate, about, say, the value of plays written by black people, or the value of a pro-white hiring policy at university. These are the areas where he is most likely to behave disingenuously and where, because he is writing outside of his main discipline, he is most likely to lie and do poor research. It’s at this point that you point out to those observing the debate that he has fallen victim to ludicrous notions of racial superiority, doesn’t understand the science, does faulty research, etc.

The Chomsky example is also stupid because he also gives lectures on politics, and it’s there that these debates happen – and in any case, the accusation in question is false; while the accusation that lindsey supported the war is true. Subtle difference, that.

This is almost certainly the case for Lyndsey. It was the case for Scruton. It’s the case for almost every AGW denier. Why waste your own and your observers’ time going through their work to prove it wrong (which you will) when you can just point out that that they’re paid to be wrong, and spend the time you saved doing something interesting?

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 3:27 am

Yeah, IM, I was going to go with “If I can’t dance with Nazis, I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” thus proving that I can make at least a lame joke. But then I realized that she’d mentioned Rosa Luxemburg, and it didn’t seem that funny any more.

Glenn Greenwald worked at Cato? Did not know that. Oh maybe that’s because it’s not true. He let Cato hire him to do a one-shot research paper, and I guess in my role as humorless cadre that means I now need to condemn Greenwald. Or, you know, not.

But, you know, read whoever you want, that’s what I’ve always said. It does seem relevant, though, when people ask why the foreign policy pundits who got everything so wrong about Iraq are still so influential and aren’t being shunned, to point out that none of their fellow pundits shun anyone.

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Sad Tweedledim 08.29.10 at 3:35 am

Grignr weighed his position observing his plight, where-upon he took the soldier’s advice as the only logical choice. To attempt to hack his way from his present predicament could only warrant certain death. He was of no mind to bring upon his own demise if an alternate path presented itself. The will to necessitate his life forced him to yield to the superior force in
hopes of a moment of carlessness later upon the part of his captors in which he could effect a more plausible means of escape.

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IM 08.29.10 at 4:05 am

Glenn Greenwald worked at Cato? Did not know that. Oh maybe that`s because it’s not true. He let Cato hire him to do a one-shot research paper

Stop nitpicking. He is just a contractor! doesn’t change that much, especially because he is defending his CATO associations aggressively all the time. He seems of the opinion compared to war and detention etc. defending mainstream democrats CATO is rather harmless. But take that up with him.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 4:33 am

I guess I’m going to have to hurt my Manichean cred by saying that I flatly refuse to condemn Greenwald for anything. If that makes me inconsistent, oh well. But really I think that this is another example of the various people trying to exclude the middle ground of responsibility, saying that e.g. either the Iraq War was either a plot accomplished by 3 individuals in the Bush administration and no one else, or that the Zeitgeist did it and we can’t pick out anyone in particular. I don’t care about Greenwald’s one-shot research paper for Cato, I don’t think it’s equivalent to working for Cato full time, and I’m sorry that I’m not meeting your expectations condemnation-wise.

You did mention John Cole. One important thing about John Cole, Jim Henley and so on was that as the war went on, and the right went crazier, they looked around and finally left. Well, maybe Cole still thinks of himself as a conservative, but he’s not a movement conservative. The people taking paychecks did not quit. Or if they did quit, well, wait. Did any of the noteable more-left-wing-of-the-right people actually quit, rather than getting pushed out? I don’t know.

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IM 08.29.10 at 4:57 am

Yes, Id did mention a certain John Cole, now an cherished part of the blogging left. And don’t talk about the war!
So he can change his mind about the war but Lindsey can’t? Because one is a professional and the other an amateur? Are you just inconsistent or shifting the goal posts?

I am inconsistent too: I can’t anything Frum writes seriously. Even if he is now another sane conservative in good lefty standing. Still, should you not tolerate the inconsistency of others, o soft minded enforcer?

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sg 08.29.10 at 5:42 am

I just looked at Brink Lyndsey’s health care reform proposal at the Cato Institute, and I can only say about it what he said (oh, so politely!) about Naomi Klein at his website: he is not a serious person and it is not a serious argument.

Why does this not surprise me? someone who is paid to have opinions of stellar stupidity, who supported a war of stellar stupidity, writes a document on one of America’s biggest problems, and that document is of… stellar stupidity.

If his plan were implemented I’m sure that within a few years he’d recant (just as he did over the Iraq war) and I suppose then everyone would think he’d written the original report “In good faith” – despite the fact that it mirrors the aims of his funders, and is awesomely stupid.

Now, I could spend a lot of time analysing that crap. Or I could just point out to anyone who cares to listen that this is a document written by an idiot who is paid by idiots to make idiotic plans.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 10:23 am

IM, I think that it’s an important distinction whether someone is a paid pundit or an amateur with a blog. Why? Because the whole “we treat each argument individually” thing is inadequate once you admit to basic political facts, such as: propaganda exists, and is intended to create real-life effects. Corporations and other interests pay pundits to create propaganda. People from corporate-controlled operations are not really individual actors.

So, for instance, why is liberaltarianism “dead” now that two people have left Cato? Well, I’m guessing, here. But you’d think that Lindsey and Wilkinson could keep writing about it wherever they were, couldn’t they? I rather suspect that the whole point of liberaltarianism was that people who think of each other as being in coalition naturally tend to compromise with each other’s views. So the point of it was to get the far more numerous liberals to accede to various kinds of economic right-wingery, which Koch has interests in, in return for the help of some tiny number of libertarians on social issues, which Koch doesn’t care about. But it started to conflict with their far more successful Tea Party operations, and Lindsey and Wilkinson were too identified with it to be useful any more, so, two hirelings overboard.

So, yeah, I know that a number of tiresome people have been calling me a one-man enforcer, and now you expect an enforcement plan. But this thread really isn’t about John Cole. It’s about a think tank that was never and is not now insulated from a right-wing interest that told its people what to do.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 10:58 am

The quotes around “dead” were because Henley said it, but now that I look back, he didn’t actually say it. He only said that someone could make a case for it. I’m willing to predict that it is, for what that’s worth.

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roac 08.29.10 at 6:03 pm

either the Iraq War was either a plot accomplished by 3 individuals in the Bush administration and no one else, or that the Zeitgeist did it and we can’t pick out anyone in particular.

I well remember something Fallows wrote, back when I was watching the runup to Iraq in horrified fascination: He quoted an unnamed insider as saying, “If we could put about 18 people under house arrest for six weeks, we could stop this from happening.” So apparently there is a case to be made for your first alternative, though the number is somewhat larger.

Certainly decent folk would want to have nothing to do with those 18 people (Kristol can stand for all of them). Equally certainly, refusing to associate with anybody who ever supported the war would drastically restrict your networking. What I don’t see is the basis for putting this Lindley on the left side. Is it because Cato paid him to have certain opinions? But everybody on this thread was saying that his opinion on the war was contrary to Cato’s position. Is the assumption that he wasn’t really for the war, and Cato told him to say he was, by way of double-bluffing?

(I never heard of Lindley before and I don’t particularly care what he thinks about anything. But if you are going to organize a shunning campaign against somebody, your reasons really ought to be clearer than they are after all this back and forth.)

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Norwegian Guy 08.29.10 at 7:36 pm

My main point in bringing up Brink Lindsay’s support of the Iraq war was that this was generally a heretic view at the Cato Institute and in the American libertarian movement. And that the fact that he was not purged because of this, but rather because of some small “liberaltarian” deviations, tell something abot Cato, or their owners’, priorities.

But wouldn’t liberaltarianism easily end up in neoliberalism, and isn’t that part of the problem, not the solution?

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 8:00 pm

roac, I don’t really care about Lindsey in particular either. I do think that he suffers from a particularly toxic combination of both having worked for Cato / Koch, and having supported the Iraq War in what I consider to be a brutal way — see the link / quote above. (These are, as far as I know, unconnected: he used Cato resources to agitate for war, but I don’t think Koch cared one way or the other at that point, or rather I’d guess that they didn’t mind having an iron in both fires. Koch doesn’t own a security company, so it’s not one of their core interests.) As I’ve written before, I think he comes in somewhere towards the bottom of a list of the top 100 pro-war pundits, so that while he’s not in the top 18 he’s certainly close.

But what I really can’t stand is the resistance to the very idea of holding people accountable. Sure, blame Bill Kristol: that’s very convenient if you never meet Bill Kristol. But as soon as you talk about someone in someone’s social circle, it becomes “But he’s a nice guy in my social circle! You can’t shun *him*.” Followed in short order by “You must be a horrible one-person ideological enforcement squad, and you don’t understand that we just don’t shun people here. We leave that to people at declasse places like Kos; here we evaluate arguments only, and discuss matters across partisan lines. That keeps us free of groupthink.” Of course, Bill Kristol’s colleagues are saying the same thing, and that’s why no one is ever actually shunned.

So it’s turtles all the way down, so to speak. No doubt whatever left-ish pundits operate at Bill Kristol’s level are saying “Why blame Bill? He wasn’t even in the Bush administration! We can’t refuse to engage with his arguments just because he took a particular policy position.”

So really, Lindsey is just another moderately horrible person who was partially responsible for the deaths of thousands. It’s the people here who are being moral cowards about it. Shun him, don’t shun him — but don’t give me the latest iteration of the “we are above that” BS and pretend not to understand that our whole society suffers from this same syndrome. Don’t pretend not to understand why people would distrust everyone who works at Cato once they learn that Koch controls it. If people are going to participate in the same moral blindness that means that Bill Kristol will never lose his job, then at least admit to it.

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Sebastian 08.29.10 at 8:04 pm

“So really, Lindsey is just another moderately horrible person who was partially responsible for the deaths of thousands. “

And you’re a moderately horrible person who is partially responsible for global warming, and more responsible for it than Lindsey was the Iraq war.

Let the shunning begin?

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 8:05 pm

Oh, one last thing: I also think, in Lindsey’s case, that we could at least honor the anti-war people who spoke out against him in real time, couldn’t we? They were ignored then; they are being ignored now. If they speak out for Lindsey and say that they welcome him to the fold now that he’s rejected his former sentiments, I’d gladly welcome Lindsey as well.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.29.10 at 9:54 pm

Sebastien is an interesting case too. He still holds to the right-wing smear that the East Anglia Emaillers were guilty of something — in other words, while I blame people (perhaps excessively) for words which they actually wrote, he lies and claims that people did something that they didn’t do. But he’s a Crooked Timber model citizen: Henry agreed with his ridiculous and wrong global warming example, and never gives him pissy little lectures about how he should go somewhere else. He’s the test case of whether it’s conformity to local mores or actual honesty that counts.

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LFC 08.29.10 at 10:41 pm

It has been very well documented (e.g., by Frontline) that members of the press — i.e., reporters writing not on the opinion pages but in the ‘news hole’ — were, with a few exceptions, remarkably credulous and uncritical w/r/t to the Bush admin’s arguments and “evidence” in the run-up to the Iraq war. So not just pundits, policymakers, and politicians were to blame, but the fourth estate, the body that’s supposed to help keep them honest.

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politicalfootball 08.30.10 at 2:48 pm

An interesting thread. I get the sense that at least some of the proprietors of Crooked Timber are uncomfortable with this sort of conversation, and would prefer that it not take place here. I’m glad they are willing to tolerate it, though.

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Henry 08.30.10 at 3:02 pm

bq. I guess I’m going to have to hurt my Manichean cred by saying that I flatly refuse to condemn Greenwald for anything.

and

bq. But as soon as you talk about someone in someone’s social circle, it becomes “But he’s a nice guy in my social circle! You can’t shun him.”

make for an interesting comparison. As does your suggestion that:

bq. But [Sebastian is a] Crooked Timber model citizen: Henry … never gives him pissy little lectures about how he should go somewhere else.

Perhaps you should ask Sebastian whether this claim is, in fact, true. There is a difference, though. On those occasions when I have despaired of Sebastian, it’s because I have thought that he could and should do better. On those occasions when I despair of you, it’s because I worry that you can’t.

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Henry 08.30.10 at 3:19 pm

politicalfootball – speaking for myself (and not others in CT), I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly uncomfortable. I would not want to have this meta-debate repeatedly, but I don’t think that it does any harm to spell out the various understandings of what CT should be about every once in a while.

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politicalfootball 08.30.10 at 3:23 pm

I don’t think that it does any harm to spell out the various understandings of what CT should be about every once in a while.

Sure. I’m just putting my vote on the record.

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piglet 08.30.10 at 7:02 pm

246 sums it nicely up for me:

But what I really can’t stand is the resistance to the very idea of holding people accountable.

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Rich Puchalsky 08.31.10 at 4:46 am

I have no idea why Henry thinks that Greenwald is in my social circle.

I’ve given up on the idea that Henry and the people like him can do any better. The proud, parochial nonsense of “what CT is about”! — as if that wasn’t what every pundit was about. Henry and the people like him will provide a comfortable cocoon for the pro-war people from Kristol on down, and ensure that they never, ever get held actually responsible for anything. Sure, some protest may be heard over at dKos-like places, but who cares. The people who the pundits actually have arguments with will defend them against those mean hecklers and ensure that no interruption to the professional rounds ever takes place.

So Henry really is right. It’s a waste of my time to be here.

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