Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

I expected this

Here is Daniel Larison’s very long and basically civil response to my post.

He notes that he and I have crossed paths twice before. Here is a rather dismissive response to this long post. I stand by what I wrote then (as well as here). I leave it to you to decide whether Larison actually took the trouble to understand my position.

Here’s Larison’s response to this post. I think that my response to him is a little less condescending than his initial response to me. Here’s his explanation of that response:

[I]t seemed clear to me that initially accusing Ryn of some kind of polytheism was intended quite plainly to discredit him as somehow being an apostate from the main of Western religious tradition. If that’s what was going on, that is a pretty harsh and lousy thing to say based on little more than an impression, but let’s remember that I am the disrespectful one and Prof. Knippenberg is in the position to set the rules of conduct.

I wasn’t making an accusation; I was raising a question. And I’m not in the business of discrediting people, since I’m not the keeper of an orthodoxy.

Here’s the first part of his take on the rest of yesterday’s post:

Obviously, if I didn’t think the targets of my criticism deserved withering scorn, I wouldn’t heap it on them.

I don’t have the capacity for "withering scorn" that Larison does. Here is an honest question: does "withering scorn" presuppose a sense of equality or inequality between the scorner and the scorned? If the former, how does that work? If the latter, might not something like irony be both more gentle and more reasonable?

He also responds to this sentence I wrote:

[I]f he, and others like him, can’t do this [heap withering scorn on those who deserve it] in print, they’ll explode in other, less pleasant ways.

Here’s what he has to say:

What I was referring to with this second idea, which was probably not stated as well as it could have been, was that the stifling, homogenising effects of ever more unaccountable media and government will end up creating some kind of backlash in our society. Opening up political discourse through media such as blogging and allowing bloggers to be relatively unconstrained in what they say are necessary to channel the very natural opposition to this concentration of power into some rather more constructive activities. Naturally, Prof. Knippenberg makes this remark to be mostly about me and my state of mind, which is, I’m sorry to say, not a very serious response.

Fair enough. Perhaps he wouldn’t lash out in less "constructive" ways, if he couldn’t blog. I’ve never met him, though I can’t say that anything he’s written has led me to want to meet him. (By contrast, Dan Phillips [also a paleocon] is rather charming in print and in person. He has strong views, but isn’t censorious in the ways that he presents them. I can’t dig up a link to a lengthy critique he wrote of something I once published, but I’d compare it favorably in tone to Larison’s efforts.)

Heres my bottom line: I had always thought that conservatism and gentlemanliness went together. Gentlemen are capable, to be sure, of righteous indignation, but that isn’t their principal mode of interaction with others. It does seem to be Larison’s, who is comfortable referring (in print only, not in person because that wouldn’t be "civil") to many people as "hacks, villains and tyrants." And if "villain" and "tyrant" are words he uses to describe the objects of his "withering scorn" (I’ll give him "hack," since that could fairly describe most of us most of the time, given a sufficiently elevated standard), what terms of opprobrium does he have left for genuine villains and tyrants? Wouldn’t it be "conservative" to preserve the standards of the language, not to debase them?

I hasten to add that I am in no way attempting to read Larison out of the "conservative movement." I can’t do that and wouldn’t want to do that. But I am trying to call him to the better angels of his conservative nature.

Discussions - 4 Comments

I wasn’t making an accusation; I was raising a question.

As one who is mostly sympathetic to your point of view, let me say that I find this kind of thing beneath you.

"I'm not saying that Mr Smith is a commie fascist child molester, I'm just raising the question" is simply not a respectable position. Presumably if the paleos said something like "I'm not accusing the neo's of being being Jacobin scum, just raising the question of whether they are or not. If they can defend themselves of the charge then I would be willing to listen to them", then you would praise them for their reasonable tone.

Thanks for the kind words.

Here is the link to my article you referred to. (It is also the link if you click on my name in case the one below does not work.) I thought you were being overly generous to claim Bush's compassionate conservatism was a result of his evangelical Christianity.

By providing this link I am "outing" my alternate internet identity, not that it was a very well kept secret anyway.


Sorry. I had forgotten about any "alternate" identity.


Isn't it possible to raise a question about the implications of someone's position without doing so in an accusatory tone? I may not be good at it, but that was my intent.

Mr Knippenberg

I'd say the answer to that depends on the question you are raising. Certain questions come weighted down with accusatory baggage. "Did you stop beating your wife", for example.

I believe I'm largely in agreement with you on most policy questions, but the implications of the Jaffa position raise a lot of questions in my mind, and I'm sure in many others. Would it be fair to say that questions raised about this are seen as "accusatory" by many here?

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