Matthew Yglesias has become a blogosphere fixture by writing many sharp observations and arguments. Given the quantity/quality trade-off that lowers his batting average, however, no one could wish that his posts were more numerous. His weakest entries tackle important questions with the haste of a postcard from summer camp written just before the start of archery class.
Here, for example, is the entirety of his examination of the policy and constitutional questions raised by Roe v. Wade: “I think the effort to convince even pro-choice people that there’s something legally dodgy about Roe ought to be resisted.” Should it be resisted because Roe is a good decision, or a bad decision that was the only way to bring about the results Yglesias favors? That detail is left unaddressed.
And here is Yglesias refuting libertarianism: “[T]o me the idea of [a] state committed to neutral and effective administration of justice around laissez faire lines seems like an illusion. The alternative to reasonably effective democratic institutions and a viable left-wing political movement isn’t free markets but the capture of the state by large economic interests as during the Gilded Age or, indeed, the Bush administration.”
Yglesias has an obvious gift for saying too little; many haikus dig deeper than his discussions. Yet he also has the ability to say too much at the same time. Both of his hit-and-run arguments reveal the same core belief: Politics is about power, and the concepts of right, law and justice are just pretty, empty words meant to confuse us. There is no justice, only outcomes we like or dislike, groups we favor or oppose.
Plato needed all ten books of the Republic to allow Socrates to talk Thrasymachus out of the opinion that justice is merely the advantage of the stronger. Given the vastness of his cynicism and limits of his attention span, Yglesias would have required a much longer Socratic dialog.