The Tyranny Blog

The Trouble with Arguments

This anti-Cato, anti-Koch brothers screed over at The Nation by Mark Ames has too many flaws to address. Among the lowlights, he calls Charles Murray’s Bell Curve a “racial eugenics book” (it’s not), nor does Murray argue that “blacks and Latinos are genetically inferior to whites.” David Weigel wasn’t part of IHS.  And so on.

Though I do think  Ames actually lands a good point when he observes that Cato is more of an institution of the right than many of the folks at Cato want to admit. That doesn’t make them intellectually dishonest or any of that rot. But it is true.

What I actually found fascinating, however were the comments, and I don’t just mean the commenter who seems to have rightly called out the Nation for supporting a writer who brags about getting fifteen year old girls drunk so he can force himself on them sexually.

In particular I thought this was intriguing. A commenter is deploring the role of think tanks in Washington:

Yes, but [think tanks’] main function is to pollute the political landscape with misinformation and create arguments that shouldn’t even take place in the first place.  When there is in argument, there is a stall in action against whatever the argument is over. No matter how stupid the argument against, it takes up time in Congress, the court system etc.  That is the function of these think tanks.  To stall, and even kill movements against anything that would threat the powers that be.  The powers that be, are the major funding entities of these “think tanks”.  The Koch Brothers are a perfect example.

Having worked in and around think tanks in Washington (specifically the American Enterprise Institute, where I am a fellow), this is high-proof hogwash. But it does show you a certain remarkable contempt for free speech and public debate that I think is revealing. Democracy, as I argue at length in TOC and elsewhere, is about disagreement not agreement. If you think the right’s disagreements are on their face illegitimate because they slow down the left, then you don’t understand democracy.

There’s also an irony here. The reason many conservative academics (I obviously don’t include myself here) find their way to Washington think tanks is that they are treated with such hostility on and by college campuses. If the left hadn’t made free discourse and conservative ideas so unwelcome in higher education, we probably wouldn’t have the potent conservative think tanks we have today.

One can always make too much of commenters, so make as much or as little of it as you’d like.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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