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.

23 Replies to “I'm No Diderot, but…”

  1. As someone pointed out in the thread below, the John Birchers have been strong military non-interventionists since their inception. Against Vietnam. Against Gulf War I. Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, you name it.So why are you singling them out as almost uniquely noxious? I know you don't prefer the Wilsonianism of Liberal Hawks or Neo-conservative adventurism.John Birchers have some kooky beliefs, no doubt. But if you asked me whether I'd replace the entire Obama administration with Birchers tomorrow, I'd say Yes in a heartbeat.

  2. “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 consensus on standards, some factions in the culture wars are left defenseless.”If you argue “x, therefore y,” and I argue “w, therefore not y,” we soon reach the point where we have to argue “x is a better argument than w.” Call that a meta-argument if you must, but this does not necessarily have anything to do with excluding people's arguments a priori. Are you arguing that reasons we give are really just cover for our desire for factional power? If so, how is partisan battle different from factional battle, with just as much guess work involved?

  3. 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 . . . that these communities of belief die peaceful natural deaths.I'm new here, and I don't get it. What distinction do you see between Pentacostal doctrine (to be ejected from polite society) and, say, Methodism or Mormonism or Catholicism? John Ashcroft was at times a brake on Bush administration excesses; am I to dismiss him as nothing more than a nut? Mark G

  4. 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.I'm confused. On what questions are you claiming agnosticism? I'm pretty sure I've heard you take some political positions based on those values before.

  5. And another thing — how do we decide whether abhorrence of abortion (by far the biggest impetus for religious conservatives becoming politically active) counts as a “liberal moral sentiment”?

  6. This is kind of unrelated to the topic of the post but I tought you might be interested in this fact:In norway the right of center think tanks, intellectuals, intellectually inclined politicians etc. are pretty much “liberaltarian”.The real fighting is mostly about economic issues. There is no “culture war” as you know it.

  7. Upon hearing Walt Williams claim the difference between he and his wife was that she considered everyone a friend until they prove otherwise, and he considered everyone an enemy, Armen Alchian said “Walter, have you considered a third alternative? Have you considered that people might not give a damn about you one way or the other?” I think that's where liberaltarianism is heading. Conservatives are right now desperately fighting to regain their classical liberal roots. Liberals are excitedly working to consolidate political power and eradicate classical liberal ideas. Neither has time for the liberaltarian idea; it's too liberal to appeal to conservatives and too conservative to appeal to liberals. It reminds conservatives that libertarians are hopelessly utopian in their psuedo-agrarian dreams of “the arbitrary borders of failed nation states” and it reminds liberals that libertarians aren't that far removed from the John Birchers.

  8. “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.”That's just you being you, though; believing in a future free of belief is just you exercising your right to believe what you want. What happens when you go to the mat to defend an idea that ends up eradicating any chances you have at seeing this magical world filled with smart people?An example: in Soviet Russia and Ukraine, there existed rather resilient groups of Baptists and Pentecostals. One can assume they had no advocates as gallant as you; Kruschev publicly proclaimed that his regime would kill the last Christian, and the Soviets quite actively pursued this aim. Yet the Slavic Baptists and Pentecostals survived. And they did so not by vowing to go to the mat for Party members' right to promote Soviet communism. By reaching out to liberals, you may be doing a wimpier version of what those Baptists didn't do: extending an olive branch to those who are most comfortable with expanded state power. But where does that leave your core libertarian beliefs? Do they still have an advocate? Or do you believe libertarianism simply an attractive veil to throw over the complex statist machinery necessary in “nudging” us into the proper choices?

  9. “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.” Obviously you are blessed with depth and perception, but I pause when I hear people celebrating the obliteration of traditional values at the hands of “broad social consensus.”Who defines “broad” and “consensus” in your brave new world?What if today's consensus becomes tomorrow's oppression? By labeling your vanquished foe as an “impotent remnant” have you really achieved any higher form of humanity than that secured by the gladiator standing over his bloody opposite in the coliseum? Just a few thoughts of my own.

  10. If you're talking about ergodicity, you just might be a liberal. Here, let me introduce you to Paul Davidson …

  11. In my view,metaarguements are means to avoid actual arguements and to some extend correct also.

  12. That's just you being you, though; believing in a future free of belief is just you exercising your right to believe what you want. What happens when you go to the mat to defend an idea that ends up eradicating any chances you have at seeing this magical world filled with smart people?

  13. 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.

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