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.

Most Popular

Culture

Road Trip

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Especially future contributors to my GoFundMe page), I am currently in the passenger seat of our family fun mobile, passing mile marker ... Read More
Books

The Maker of Middle-earth, in Gorgeous Detail

Oxford, England — After five months of ferocious and futile slaughter in “the Great War,” an Oxford undergraduate — knowing his deployment to the Western Front was inevitable — used his Christmas break in 1914 to cultivate his imagination. Twenty-two-year-old J. R. R. Tolkien began writing “The Story ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Answering my Critics

My post on Elizabeth Warren’s cynical/bonkers proposal to effectively nationalize every American firm with revenue of $1 billion or more has met with predictable criticism. I will address two points here. One, some have complained about the use of the word “expropriation,” or more broadly about ... Read More
Culture

Winslow Homer’s Art, through the Camera Lens

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art's show Winslow Homer and the Camera takes a perceptive, original look at one of America's great art visionaries. It's special for many reasons. It takes a much-considered artist — Homer (1836–1910) is among the gods atop the heap of American artists — and finally makes ... Read More