Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist of some standing. But he, unfortunately, isn't much for logic. Or, perhaps, simple consistency. His recent article, "The New Sophists," over at National Review Online, exemplifies these two traits in spades.
Hanson's thesis is that there's just so much double-talk and empty rhetoric, especially from the left, and more especially regarding global warming. Al Gore "convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, and then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he had helped create." And the recent record snowfalls in the Northeast are clear evidence that global warming is a sham. When climate scientists explained that events like this are not only consistent with global warming, but to be expected, Hanson retorts:
The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow is proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: What, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?
It's not just climate science that has the double-talk, though. Hanson sees it with discussions of the Constitution:
One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed on MSNBC that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “written more than 100 years ago” and has “no binding power on anything.”
To all of this, Hanson makes his analogy with classical Athens and the problem of the sophists:
One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, someone writes that record cold proves record heat, . . . or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.
OK. That's a nice point, at least if it were true about the cases he was discussing. (Did Hanson not read the reasons in the NYT article he never cites as to why we'd get crazy snowfalls because of global warming? If he's going to talk about the article, talk about its argument, too. Sheesh. And Klein said it was over 100 years old, and that it's not binding, … but that doesn't matter to Hanson, I guess). But it's on this point about sophists run amok that Hanson bemoans our fate:
We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can be.
So we don't have a modern Socrates. So what's Hanson doing, then? By that statement, he can't think he's Socrates or doing the job of criticizing the new rhetoricians, can he? So what is he? I think I know: He's another sophist.
4 thoughts on “There’s no modern Socrates, so you must be…”
Great post. I had given up on Hanson as he has nothing but contempt for his interlocutors. This is a great example, as he has run with a line straight out of right wing blogs. Ezra Klein said the *reading* of the Constitution on the floor of Congress was a stunt and had no binding power on anything because the real *problem* is how to interpret a more than 100 year old (Klein knows how old) document. Both of those things are obviously true. Hanson is a sophist sophist (a sophist who accuses others of sophistry).
"26 year old Ezra Klein" — nice circumstantial there. And a beautiful straw man following it.
Jem – Nice observation about the straw man. Hanson's interpreting Klein's statement in the maximally uncharitable manner.
John – 'Sophist sophist' is a fabulous meta-term. It works in the same fashion as fallacy fallacy, except in this case, it's about accusations of argumentative misconduct.
Thanks Scott. On the straw man, Hanson has completely misrepresented Klein's statement. If you watch the video, he says the "reading" of the constitution" has no force, because the real issue with the constitution is its interpretation. That's a fairly straightforward representational form straw man. But if you want to have fun, google the exact phrase, and you'll get page after page of outrage on right wing blogs. In a related manner, the comments on Hanson's piece are pretty funny. Some are even critical.
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