I'm No Diderot, but…

I loved Ross's headline about my reply to his worries:

When The Last Pentecostal Is Strangled With the Entrails of the Last John Bircher …

Let me emphasize that I'm a committed liberal pluralist, and I think freedom of conscience and state neutrality are bedrock virtues of a just society. At the same time, I think that a politics that takes the fact of pluralism seriously is perfectly consistent with vigorous culture war. Indeed, I think pluralist democracies demand culture war (call it “public reason” if you want to be fanciful). I think crazy conservative talk radio is a healthy part of pluralist culture war, and I think the attempt to whittle away the cultural prestige of people with crazy religion-saturated politics is also a healthy part of healthy pluralist culture war. I will go to the mat to defend the freedom of Pentecostals and John Birchers to do their things. And I will go to the mat to defend the idea that ours would be a better society if individuals come to be so embarrassed by Pentecostalism and John Birchism — by the ideas — that these communities of belief die peaceful natural deaths. Cultures become what they are through a process of selection, and this is a process we help along by arguing with one another. The reason there are so many meta-arguments about what we are going to count as good arguments–as good reasons, as considerations worth taking seriously–is that once we come to a broad social consensus on standards, some factions in the culture wars are left defenseless and end up an impotent doomed remnant. One reason I'm not that interested in partisan politics is that I think it is a higher-order manifestation of factionalism at a deeper level of the culture. I'm interested in engaging at that level. I'd like to argue for reason, science, the utility of the extended liberal order, and the authority of the liberal moral sentiments. I sincerely do not know what practical politics or partisan alignments this implies. It's fun to guess, but I know our guesses are very likely to be bad ones. As Doug North likes to say, we live in a “non-ergodic” world.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

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