Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Berkowitz on Ponnuru

The tireless Peter Berkowitz reviews Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death, which I also reviewed here and further discussed here.

Berkowitz attacks (that’s a little too strong a formulation, but I can’t think of a better at the moment) Ponnuru’s rationalism in the name of what he describes as a more subtle and nuanced public opinion. In his argument Berkowitz flirts with the position articulated by Jeffrey Hart, though with more respect for the role that principled argumentation can play in influencing public opinion.

As yet, I’ve seen no response from Ponnuru, though there’s sure to be one at the Corner.

Update: Here are responses from Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg, and John J. Miller, as well as some commentary from the pseudonymous QD at Southern Appeal and from Claremont’s Richard Reeb.

Discussions - 7 Comments

We’ll have to ask what JWC thinks of this neocon letting tradition or history trump the direct rule of reason and nature.

Mr. Hart is wrong when he claims that Roe v Wade was a libertarian decision -- it was in fact the opposite. The government now interfers with the right to life of a person and renders him property of the mother, to be disposed of at will.


Nothing libertarian about that.

Mr. Kelso,
There’s another way of looking a it: The libertarian position is sometimes thought (beginning with Locke) to originate in the alleged fact that each individual has property in her own body, where the fetus hangs out. Libertarian Randy Barnett agrees with me on this, but others like Epstein sort of agree with you. I should mention that I’m not a libertarian.

Clearly, Berkowitz’s labeling the anti-abortion position as cold science is a ploy, and very unusual, in that most defenders of abortion claim the scientific ground and attempt to smear opponents as unscientific religious zealots. The truth is, science and
Biblical religion agree, for distinct reasons, that life begins at conception. It is remarkable, to say the least, that Berkowitz is saying that something like doctrinaire rationalism drives opposition to abortion. What a caricature of reason! What a pale substitute for religion.

Well, Richard is completely right. The "rhetorical ploy" is not up to PW’s usual high standards. Again, how would you guys fit it into JWC’s conservative foundational categories?

I was surprised but not too surprised by Berkowitz’s review. He’s at his best when he skewering liberal fatuity (e.g., Rawls), but he tends to be skishy and mushy on the grounds and principles of ordered liberty. And he violated a cardinal canon of reviewing: let me know the author’s chief argument, please, so we can judge the validity of your (critical) comments. He nodded.

This is the best review the WSJ could muster??
In this instance, at least, PB is at best a becalmed Howard Dean dressed up in an Armani suit, not quite unhinged but still spewing nonsense (my apologies to Armani). Conservative foundationalism? If *any*, that of "cold, killing anti-reason".
Did PB even read the book? (On NRO this a.m., RP says PB read "a few chapters".) He certainly didn’t respond to any of the arguments.
A crashing disaapointment. Garden variety moral relativism. And a cultural cousin to the seismic political disconnect noted yesterday by Peggy Noonan between Washington and ’the people who sent them there.

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