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Churchill & Consistency


Professor Gary Glenn also sends in the following passage on Burke from Churchill’s essay, “Consistency in Politics:” “No greater example can be found in this field than Burke….On the one hand he is revealed as the foremost apostle of Liberty, on the other as the redoubtable champion of Authority. But a charge or political inconsistency applied to this life appears a mean and petty thing. History easily discerns the reasons and forces which activated him, and the immense changes in the problems he was facing, which evoked from the same profound mind and sincere spirit these entirely contrary manifestations….No one can read the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority without feeling that here was the same man pursuing the same ends, seeking the same ideals of society and Government, and defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.” What strikes me here is that the necessary tension in Burke’s thought between Liberty and Authority has been unstrung for our contemporary libertarians, who tend to credit only one side of the equation. That is why their demand for abstract consistency is troubling.

Burke Scholar On Burke & Consistency


Apropos of yesterday’s discussion of Edmund Burke and the problem of consistency in matters political, professor Gary Glenn, a Burke scholar, sends the following thoughts: “In the practical world, Burke…thought prudence a greater good than abstract, theoretical consistency. Moreover, abstract consistency is not the same as practical consistency. A defender of Burke’s practical consistency…said that Burke changed his front but did not change his ground. Something like that is in the right direction for someone who has responsibility for acting in the real world. The demand to do to North Korea what we did to Iraq is ideological, not practical. It implies that either one should do nothing to rid the world of evils or that, having rid the world of one evil, one should be willing to rid the world of all evils. It’s demand for an abstract consistency, rather than a practical consistency, absorbs practical judgement about what is possible her and now into the metaphysic of an undergraduate. Burke thought…that the real world is too complicated and intractable to reform and be governed in that manner.” This is not a matter of justifying arbitrary practice, adds Glenn, but of consistently pursuing the right goals, even when that requires a temporary change of tactics or direction.


A Roadmap


In my piece today, I explain why I draw the policy lines I’ve described. But the point is, the position I outline in my piece applies to heterosexual cohabitation, as well as homosexuality. In general, the key battle now, as I see it, is to stop the devolution of marriage into an infinitely flexible contractual system. That covers a whole range of issues that go well beyond homosexuality, although gay marriage is clearly the issue that is driving the larger process. My oft-stated concern about legalized polyamory, of course, is fundamentally a concern about heterosexuals, not homosexuals. The same applies, by the way, to my critique of reproductive cloning, with its potentially disruptive effect on family structure. And of course, my several defenses of Waite and Gallagher were about heterosexual marriage.

Web Briefing: July 23, 2014

It’S Not All About Homosexuality


In my NRO piece today, I explain why I think we need to accept many of the liberalizing changes in marriage and sexuality since the sixties. Yet I also draw lines against too many more such changes. My key example involves heterosexuals, not homosexuals. I accept the post-sixties practice of premarital cohabitation, but I don’t want to see the government grant cohabitation legal recognition (as is now being proposed). I have the same mixture of positions on the question of homosexuality. I oppose sodomy laws and favor our post-sixties shift toward tolerance for homosexuality, but I also oppose gay marriage.


The Marriage Movers


Third, Sullivan asks why pro-marriage types often ignore attempts to strengthen divorce laws but oppose gay marriage. Actually, pro-marriage types like Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher (whose book I defended repeatedly when Harvard refused to publish it) do favor divorce reform. Yet Waite favors gay marriage while Gallagher opposes it. In general the marriage movement is much more divided on gay marriage than Sullivan implies. Some traditionalists want to move back to the fifties on the question of divorce. I see that as neither possible nor desirable. A waiting period in contested divorces involving children (a Waite-Gallagher suggestion) is a promising idea, however.

Again, I Say to You...


Yesterday Andrew Sullivan asked me to clarify several apparent contradictions in social conservatism. First, he asks, “Why is it ok to allow sodomy for straight people but not for gays?” For the umpteenth time, I state that I do not approve of sodomy laws–for anyone–and would like to see them repealed, legislatively. I have explained the underlying rationale for sodomy laws, but I do not myself believe that these laws are a good idea and would like to see them eliminated. Second, Sullivan asks why hate crimes laws are okay for every group except gays. But I do not like the idea of hate crimes laws–for anyone.

Dudes, Where’s My Corner?


I think some of us confused today with Christmas or something. Where are we? I promise all you loyal readers now forced to do work for your employers we’ll make it up to you–check out the homepage in the meantime, buy a t-shirt, subscribe…you know there’s tons to do without leaving NRO.

My Nobel Vote


K Lo: My Nobel Peace Prize vote goes to Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, the man behind the Varela Project in Cuba. There’s already a campaign on his behalf, supported by Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Lotteries, Again


Tom from Florida “takes umbrage” at being called innumerate for playing the lottery:

He says he knows that “the odds are about 1 in 23 million…but that it’s still fun to bet $5 or so on a long shot,” a point echoed by a number of other readers.

Meanwhile, on the subject of governments pushing ‘vice’, how about state-run liquor stores? Judging by the remarks from a correspondent in Pennsylvania, the ones there sound peculiarly depressing: “high prices, less selection and employees in the Cliff Claven mold.”



He promises not to expose the round-the-clock games of caribbean stud poker and pai gow taking place in my basement.

For The Record


Josh Green of The Washington Monthly got in touch with me and says the transcript I posted below is either wrong or that he misspoke. Green stands by his $8 million dollar net loss assertion as reported in his article.

Consistency and Paradox


From a reader:

Hey Jonah,

Don’t you dare back down on the tyranny of consistency, the twin of the tyranny of hypocrisy!

This is something that’s bugged me for a long time, one of the main causes behind e.g. “Something so ridiculous only an academic could believe it.”

One thing that doesn’t seem to get mentioned often is the difference between a contradiction and a paradox. A paradox is only a seeming contradiction, based on incomplete knowledge. Take Zeno’s paradox, for example, (where the hare can never catch up to the tortoise, because the tortoise will always have moved forward by the time the hare catches up to where he was; related to not being able to cross a room because you are always halving the distance, etc.). The paradox was thought up to prove Xeno’s idea that motion and change are mere illusions. We have a contradiction, therefore the premise must be false.

The point, of course, is that apparent contradictions or inconsistencies may only prove a lack of knowledge or understanding (in Zeno’s case, of differential calculus).

In philosophy, the idea is to sit in a dark room and understand the universe using reason alone. In science, the idea is to ask “OK, what actually happens” i.e. do an experiment and see what reality says about your ideas. I’ll take reality over intellectual consistency any day (although, of course, most scientists are perhaps a bit distant from reality).

More On The Prom


A reader who went to the public high school
(class of 1993) in the next town over from mine says that his school’s prom
was effectively segregated, but it wasn’t really a race thing as much as a
cultural one, because some black kids came to the private prom too:

When I graduated from one of your rival high schools, we still had the
school-sponsored prom open to all and attended by only black students, and
the private white prom, attended by the white kids and the black students
who generally tended to hang out more with the white kids than black kids.
The reason had less to do with race (though admittedly for some that was the
reason), in my opinion, than in music, culture, etc. The white kids
listened to country and rap and were more sedate and the school prom
featured rap with some R&B, boisterous activity, and always, always gunshots
at some point.





Cosmo, that was a joke. The Onion is a parody site.

A National Disgrace


From the Onion:

Nation’s Dogs Dangerously Underpetted, Say Dogs
NEW YORK—At a press conference Monday, representatives of the Association of American Dogs announced that the nation’s canines are dangerously underpetted. “Every night, thousands of U.S. dogs go to bed without so much as a scritch behind the ears,” AAD president Banjo said. “If this sort of neglect from our masters continues, it could lead to widespread jumping on the furniture.” Upon his owner’s arrival in the press-conference room, Banjo abruptly ended his speech, frantically barking, leaping, and rolling over on his back in an effort to communicate his need for a vigorous belly rub.

What John Derbyshire Is Really Doing These Days


“Zero Chance”


Bush and Blair have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (SHOCKING), and good old Chris Matthews, just now on MSNBC, is outraged: “you shouldn’t get peace prizes for well fought wars” (he’s, of course, not worried the Nobel Committee would seriously consider them). I’m wondering who exactly should get them then. Now, Kofi Annan has nothing to do with keeping or bringing peace. Or YASSER ARAFAT. Or Jimmy Carter. Should I go on?

Man in Clinton Mask Robs Bank


Green Scissors - Still Dull


Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and U.S. PIRG rolled out their annual “Green Scissors” report today. Last year I had this to say about the report, and after looking it over, the 2003 edition is not much different.


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