Assume that your opponent has a position, they scold. Don’t write people off as sick dupes just because they don’t agree with you. This seems like good advice to me. But allow me to suggest a corollary: some arguments are predicated on superstition, ignorance, and/or bigotry. If your interlocutor is advancing such views, you owe it to him to take him at his word. Act accordingly.
The basic idea is that liberals don’t give fundamentalist arguments the respect they deserve. According to Will and Grant most liberals don’t even realize that fundamentalists have reasons for embracing certain ideals family life, public justification, bioethics, etc.
This claim is just false. Most liberals are familiar with the arguments of the religious right.
Please look again and see if I was making a point about arguments. Look hard. I was not. If you know me, or have read this blog for a while, then you know that I’m no friend of fundamentalism, superstition, bigotry and all that bad stuff. I am an inveterate empiricist. My philosophical heroes are Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Darwin, Hayek, and Quine. You know, the founding fathers of the reality-based community.
Apparently I’m so empiricist that some folks get confused when I look out the window and report that politics is not primarily a matter of arguments, but more a matter of coalitional identity and the stories that bind these identities together. My practical point, which I also believe to be empirically sound, is that if we hope to get anywhere, we’d better face up to the facts about the way people make political choices, and that simply lashing out at others’ deeply-held identities with the disdainful counter-assertion of our identities is rather likely to be counterproductive.
We live in a pluralistic society. This is an ineradicable fact. Yet I take rather seriously the idea that everyone can benefit from a classical liberal social order, and that many more people than now do can come to see this. But causing people to see it isn’t simply a matter of giving them a good argument. It’s a matter of giving them grounds for assenting on the basis of their own commitments, in terms articulated in their own vocabulary. Now, you can try to persuade people when they like you, and they won’t like you if you hate them. Yes. You know that already. So when I say that it’s not such a grand thing to seethe with self-righteous contempt for the folks in America’s heartland, I am NOT saying that they’ve got good arguments, if only we’d listen, although some of them might. I am NOT one of them, and I am NOT indulging in Red State victimology. I AM saying that here is a huge mass of Americans, most of them good, reasonable, and open to persuasion. Most Bush voters were NOT fundamentalists, although Lindsay for God knows what reason seems to think I was talking about fundamentalists. I was talking about the people who voted for Bush. I was talking about smart, educated, industrious, open, honest non-fundamentalist Americans with whom Bush successfully connected.
My point is: we’ll do a hell of a lot better if are able to connect, insofar as it is possible, with whatever it was Bush connected with. Hint: it’s not all God talk and homophobia.