The Corner

G-File & Consistency

Here’s the first email out of the block in response to today’s G-File:

You write:

“And, second, Sullivan says with considerable rage that incest is usually abusive to minor children and it’s outrageous to compare consensual relations between two adults to an abusive relationship between an adult and his child. That’s all fine as far is it goes. But it says nothing about the principle involved.”

I agree completely with you. What I don’t understand is why it matters to you that Sullivan’s argument does not clarify the principle at stake. You have written extensively about the forgivability of inconsistency in argument and the usefulness of hypocrisy in public policy. Why can’t Sullivan appeal to these things as well? Why can’t he say “Well, okay, the principle is not being consistently applied, but as Jonah Goldberg has argued, that doesn’t really matter so much provided we are getting to a place we can all live with?” Now I realize that might, in fact, characterize the argument you make, namely that compromise is necessary and conservatives can’t just ignore the existence of homosexuals in American society. But if you expect your earlier arguments about inconsistency to persuade other conservatives, why not expect them to do so here?

My response: There are several answers to this. Let me go through a few. 1) Andrew continually insists that principle and reason are on his side (and he’s been dubious of my whole “ode to inconsitency” approach as well), so I am judging him by his standards not my own. 2) I’ve never said that consistency is a useless concept or that inconsistency is necessarily preferable to consistency. Rather, I’ve said it depends on the circumstances. 3) Even when I’ve taken the position that inconsistency can be forgiven, I’ve also argued that inconsistency is certainly fair game for debate and discussion. It would be nuts of me to promote a position which forced me to applaud people for being inconsistent. I’ll stop there.

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