Some may remember Jonah Goldberg's thesis that liberals are the real fascists because (a) they share some ideas with the fascists and (b) they think government ought to make people do stuff for the common good–such as have health insurance, not pollute, not abuse their children, among other things. The former point of course is just a variation on the fallacy of the undistributed middle–some liberals are vegetarians, some nazis were vegetarians, and, as the Medieval philosophers would say, ergo etc. The latter however asserts that any application of government's coercive power constitutes fascism. Not really. It depends on how that coercive power is asserted–as a matter of fact, one might argue that the differing means of coercion are what distinguish one type of government–or one type of constitution, as the Philosopher might say–from each other. So it's not what you do, it's how you do what you do that makes you a fascist.
Goldberg's silly thesis–decried justly by many as an intellectual abomination–had always struck me as eerily reminiscent George Will's basic shtick. For those familiar with Will's work, he has a couple of basic arguments against liberals. You'll notice, by the way, the much of his work consists in arguing against liberals–perhaps on the mistaken assumption that such an argument would establish anything about his conservative view. That, dear readers, would be as silly as me saying George Will's crippling illogic establishes the cogency of my liberal politics. It doesn't, obviously. But sometimes I need to repeat that.
Back to his basic arguments. The more prominent of these is the ad hominem–preferably the tu quoque. This fallacy, as you know, consists in accusing someone of hypocrisy when such a charge is irrelevant to the particular point that person is making. True to form, this is how Will opens is piece today:
Judging from complaints by her minions, Hillary Clinton considers it unfair that Barack Obama has been wafted close to the pinnacle of politics by an updraft from the continent-wide swoon of millions of Democrats and much of the media brought on by his Delphic utterances such as "we are the change." But disquisitions on fairness are unpersuasive coming from someone from Illinois or Arkansas whose marriage enabled her to treat New York as her home and the Senate as an entry-level electoral office (only 12 of today's senators have been elected to no other office) and a steppingstone to the presidency.
Even if Clinton considers it "unfair" (which isn't the argument–oh the distortion!–another basic Will tactic), her situation has nothing to do with whether or not Obama deserves his current success. What he deserves–in treatment by the press and the voters, is, after all, the more likely interpretation of her complaint. She may or may not have a point on that. Considering how the press treats her (Cackle anyone? Accusations of murder?), she's probably right.
We see another variation on this a little bit later. Since the Democrat's moronic adherence to a principle of pure formal equality is unsustainable, they are forced by reality into hypocrisy:
So superdelegates — party dignitaries, most of them elected officials — would have to be. What ethic should guide their decisions? Should each of them vote as did their state or congressional district? Or for the candidate who won the most votes nationally? Or should they think like Edmund Burke?
On Nov. 3, 1774, Burke, an intellectual founder of modern conservatism, delivered a thank-you address to people who, upon hearing it, perhaps wished they had not done what he was thanking them for. They had elected him to represent them in the House of Commons. He told them he was duty-bound to represent the national interest, as he understood that. He said he owed them not obedience but his independent judgment of the public good — independent of "local prejudices" or "local purposes."
Burkean superdelegates among the Democrats? What fun.
This is entertaining first because there's an implicit charge of hypocrisy–how could Democrats act in the way a conservative luminary said he was going to act a long, long time ago? They're hypocrites because they don't adhere to absolute direct democracy! Of course, as any sensible person knows, such an accusation is purely moronic. Direct one-to-one representation isn't any more a Democratic notion of representation as it is a Republican one.
But it's doubly moronic because of the Goldberghian implication that sharing a view with someone of another political party (a) constitutes some kind of contradiction or (b) means that you share all of your political views in common. So the Democrats may seem to share a political view with Edmund Burke–a conservative of sorts. Does this make the Democrats conservatives? Obviously not.
It's triply moronic because Will frequently accuses Democrats of too much federalism of the kind Burke describes–too much thinking, in other words, about the common good (as they see it).
Will has other basic tropes–such as the straw man, usually involving selective and distorting quotation–but we'll save that discussion for another time. Or you can just look at the archives.
4 thoughts on “Die Goldberg-Variationen”
_Judging from complaints by her minions, Hillary Clinton considers it unfair_
Just like the mindset of Obama’s supporters do not necessarily reflect the substaqnce of his policies–or lack thereof, on Samuelson’s account–neither do the mindsets of Hillary’s supporters reflect how she feels about Obama’s surge. When you begin a sentence with “judging from the mindsets of X’s minions,” you already warned everyone that what you’re about to say has no basis in fact, and is, in fact, pure conjecture.
Well, that statement could be valid if Will can read minds. Let me check.
No, he can’t read minds. Carry on.
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