I would have preferred Gerard ask why leftists are so condescending toward all non-leftist views, but the point remains largely unchanged: anyone who disagrees must be sinister, stupid, prejudiced, or driven by emotion at the expense of reason.
I won’t quote much from the article as it’s better read in its entirety, but I will excerpt a fairly incensed critic of the article in Matt Yglesias:
I have a condescending attitude toward this op-ed. Of course I think my views are correct and based on fact and reason. If I thought my views weren’t correct and based on fact and reason, I would adopt different views—correct fact-and-reason based ones. Does Alexander really think that conservatives don’t think their views are correct? Does Alexander not think his own views are correct? Not based on fact? Not based on reason? I’m not sure it’s possible to be condescending enough to this op-ed.
Look, Matt’s point in isolation is impossible to disagree with, but it also completely misrepresents what Gerard is saying. At least to me, it seems Gerard is pointing out that by-and-large leftists aren’t seriously entertaining the right’s positions simply because they aren’t the left’s positions, and then finding post-hoc excuses to avoid thinking more critically about them.
And by the way, I don’t want to put Matt into this category directly. Pompous as he is about his own views, he takes the right’s arguments about as seriously as any mainstream leftist pundit, and he deserves credit for that.
Gerard’s article reminds me of a different but nonetheless excellent point by Will Wilkinson in a debate with Ezra Klein over the use of the filibuster:
I may be mistaken, but I could swear that Ezra has portrayed Democratic support for health-care reform as grounded in a good-faith desire to secure social justice, reduce suffering, and save lives. Well, whatever that incentive is, that’s the one congressional Republicans have to help Democrats reduce unemployment and avoid fiscal disaster.
[I]t is not really surprising, is it, that Democrats and Republicans disagree about the policies that would best achieve these aims? Indeed, these differences help explain why the Democratic and Republican parties are different parties. If the Democrats tomorrow announced support for the kind of employment-stimulating and deficit-reduction policies generally favored by Republicans, we’d suddenly see once “difficult” legislation sailing through the Congress. But given the reality that the Democratic Party and its supporters think these are the wrong policies, what incentive does the majority party have to help the minority party lower the unemployment rate and sign on to painful decisions that will avert a fiscal crisis?
When Lieberman effectively nixed the public option, Ezra suggested that callous indifference to mass death was at work. If supermajoritarian rules are bringing this kind of monstrous pathology into play, then by all means let’s get rid of them! But, as it is, those rules aren’t even capable of preventing the congressional majority from imposing massive unpopular institutional changes on a reluctant public. That Ezra sees these evidently manageable constraints on the majority party as a positive danger to the public interest suggests that he sees opposing views as unworthy of respect.
If Gerard is correct, one problem leftists will run into in holding these kinds of views about non-leftists is that they will tend to accept their arguments as self-evidently true by any coherently-thinking person, and they won’t focus their energy on strengthening the intellectual foundations of their arguments. Indeed, Gerard suggests that conservatives may be gaining ground in this area:
Some observers have decried an anti-intellectual strain in contemporary conservatism, detected in George W. Bush’s aw-shucks style, Sarah Palin’s college-hopping and occasional conservative campaigns against egghead intellectuals. But alongside that, the fact is that conservative-leaning think tank scholars, economists, jurists and legal theorists have never produced as much detailed analysis and commentary on American life and policy as they do today.
(I would have called that scholarship more libertarian than conservative, but whatever.)
On the question of who’s proposing a more rigorous intellectual defense of their principles, I have to side with Gerard here — and hopefully not because I’m sinister, stupid, prejudiced, or driven by emotion at the expense of reason.
I’d never support this as a mandate, but I’d gamble that if every public official elected, appointed, or hired was required to test competency in ten books relevant for the office — five chosen by the left and five chosen by the right (or three by each and four by libertarians if you want to go with the Boaz and Kirby data) — you certainly wouldn’t see subsequent intellectual movement toward the left. Notwithstanding how public choice theory could very seriously undercut the results of my experiment, of course… but if you buy public choice, you’re probably already on the way to proving my point.