Yglesias on Weber on Cohen

by Henry Farrell on October 8, 2007

This bit of quote-fu from Matt Yglesias “nails it”:http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/10/red_baiting.php. Go read.



thag 10.09.07 at 12:30 am

The kid’s just damned impressive.
Don’t tell him I said so or anything.
Only question is: does the world need his talents employed as a pundit, or is there something more useful we could do with him?

Maynard Keynes wrote some good op-eds (a.k.a. Essays in Persuasion), but his lasting contribution turned out to be elsewhere. He was lucky in his mentors.


Ben Alpers 10.09.07 at 4:01 am

Thanks for the link, Henry. I generally don’t read Yglesias, but he has his moments and that Weber quote is terrific.

I do fear that the more “sophisticated” Iraq War supporters (and I wouldn’t put Roger Cohen in this category) reject Weber’s “ethic of responsibility” as a dangerous bit of nihilism and are (frighteningly) comfortable embracing an “ethic of ultimate ends,” though I think they think they’re following Plato, not Alexander Berkman (or whomever Weber had in mind).

Also: a nice tidbit from Yglesias’s comment thread. Bruce Moomaw (in an IMO unconvincing apology for his own erstwhile support of the war) links to this February 6, 2003 pro-war post by Kevin Drum, which seems symptomatic of the disease that our punditocracy suffered (and suffers) from. Drum wrote:

I am sympathetic to the notion that administrations lie a lot on the subject of war, and I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that this particular administration routinely lies about anything they think they can get away with. And yet….that leaves us with a problem, doesn’t it? If, a priori, nothing the administration says is believable, then opposition to war simply becomes a religious doctrine. After all, no one else is going to try and make the case.

. . .Unlike, say, during the Tonkin Gulf incident, this administration is under intense scrutiny. There’s enormous distrust of what they say, and they know it. They won’t get the free pass that LBJ did.

In fact, Drum’s own post was itself just one very small part of the policy elite’s giving Bush an enormous free pass. That Drum (and many other pundits, consultants, politicians, and journalists) were so convinced of their own toughness and intense scrutiny of the Bush administration would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

But Drum is a liberal hawk, and thus he allowed reality to rear its ugly head in his next paragraph:

What’s more, they know that everything they say is easily verifiable once the war starts. No one ever pressed LBJ for proof of what happened in the Tonkin Gulf, but there will be dozens of countries and dozens more NGOs who will be looking very closely at what we find in Iraq after ground forces move in. It will hardly be possible to fake vast numbers of mobile weapons labs, swimming pools of anthrax, ballistic missiles, and the like, and if those things aren’t found in substantial and convincing quantities George Bush will be lucky to escape impeachment, let alone win reelection.

Of course there were no WMD, Bush was reelected, and he will not be impeached. And now Drum mocks advocates of impeachment.


Ben Alpers 10.09.07 at 4:06 am

Ooops…my blockquote tags misfired above.

The paragraph that begins “…Unlike, say, during the Tonkin Gulf incident…” is a continuation of the quotation from Drum.

My own words begin again with “In fact Drum’s own post…”


dsquared 10.09.07 at 6:50 am

the great thing about that is that apart from the one mention of “Richard”, it can be carried over lock stock and barrel as an article about Nick Cohen in the UK.


Ben Alpers 10.09.07 at 7:42 am

Actually, dsquared, while this could be about Richard Cohen (as well as Nick Cohen), it is in fact about Roger Cohen.


dsquared 10.09.07 at 9:45 am

good god you’re right! Has anyone come up with a vast overarching theory about why it is that so many prominent political commentators have such similar surnames?


thag 10.09.07 at 1:03 pm

Yes, there have been vast overarching theories like that in the past, alleging that certain kinds of people with certain kinds of surnames enjoyed too much control over the media. (And finance, goes the old story).

You don’t want to go there, probably not even in jest.


Randy Paul 10.09.07 at 3:05 pm


Probably just a coincidence. Roger Cohen, who I’ve met before (we have mutual friends and I used to date a friend of his ex-wife) comes from your side of the pond, of South African ancestry and is a Chelsea fan.


George Scialabba 10.09.07 at 3:43 pm

May I post here my comment on Iglesias’ thread?

Dear Matt,

A strongly argued and elegantly written post, as usual. But I have a quibble from your left.

You blame the pro-war party for lack of foresight. This overlooks two more fundamental objections to the war. First, it was illegal, a clear violation of the UN Charter, which has the status of law for all signatories. This isn’t a technicality. The UN was founded on the premise, still valid, that a universal and public commitment to foreswear military force except in self-defense against imminent attack, if lived up to over generations, would gradually create a culture of law-abidingness and make the world an immeasurably safer place. Over the last fifty years, the US — much the most powerful and influential nation in the world — has frequently disregarded the Charter. As a result, respect for international law is much, much weaker throughout the world, and resort to military force much more likely, than they might have been had the US lived up to its legal obligations.

Second, no literate and honest person could take seriously, even in 2003, the Bush administration’s professed desire to spread democracy to the Middle East. The administration and the Republican Party are led by people who, both internationally and domestically, have never shown the slightest understanding of or respect for democracy. On the contrary, they’ve consistently undermined it. It could hardly have been plainer, even in 2003, that the purpose of the Iraq invasion was to extend American strategic power in the region in order to control its vast and crucial energy resources.

As far as I can recall, not a single American liberal or leftist who supported the war had the sense or decency to say: “Yes, this is an illegal war undertaken for base reasons, but I support it anyway, because it will have beneficial collateral effects.” If any had, then blaming him or her now merely for lack of foresight would be appropriate. But as things stand, that’s letting them off far too easily.


vivian 10.10.07 at 1:49 am

to Dsquared in 6: Actually, according to Daniel Dennett’s (ed) The Philosophical Lexicon:

cohen, n. (from cohort and coven) A collection of philosophers.

They were thinking of Morris and Gerry and Josh and, you know, philosophers, but surely the word is extensible to other fields. May the ghosts of Marx and Kant forgive me.

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