Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Lost Art of Liberal Argument?

Leon Wieseltier lays out in this week’s New Republic much the same point I was suggesting last week in the Wall Street Journal, namely that liberals have forgotten or lost the ability to argue from first principles.

Discussions - 21 Comments

What are you talking about? Politicians haven't done this for decades. If you are looking for good arguments, look to the theorists. Sorry if the liberal politicians can't just throw on some cowboy boots and start preaching American exceptionalism (I believe it was a Bush II advisor who clarified for me that the words "America" and "good" were synonymous at an Ashbrook event - to great applause, of course).



Argumentation isn't acceptable in politics anymore. Everybody's looking for a good, pithy audio clip. No one has the patience to listen to real arguments. Had you been reading media sources with more than 5 pages (say, books), you might be pleasantly surprised at just how well-grounded the liberals are. But please, Professor Hayward, do not act like this is some sort of problem solely plaguing America's Leftists. "Y'all" on the right are just as pitiful and you're (and this seems to be a trend on this blog) missing the bigger picture for partisan talking points. The days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates are sadly gone forever (and if you want to read more about it, check out this book by an old-school, unabashed, academic leftist).

Mr. Hayward, good stuff, as in the podcast below, on the early days of the Reagan presidency and what it might suggest to and about President Obama. And despite Matt's carping, and overheated talk about conservative intellectual meltdown, you're right about who has the bigger problem.

Matt, pretty grim view there, don't think Neal Postman or the Madison and Hamilton he admires would endorse it.

Carl - last time I checked McLuhan was Neil Postman's rockstar-hero. I suppose if you wanted a less idealist McLuhan lover, you should check out Baudrillard. I think Postman's tune would change if he could see the state of his beloved education system today. He wrote "Technopoly" in 1992 with a pretty upbeat, hopeful look at things. If he could see today's universities and schools (not to mention TV news channels), I doubt he'd still be idealistic.



But again - grind your political axe: woe to the Left who has lost their ideological foundations. If pretending that one end of the spectrum, rather than the spectrum as a whole, has lost itself helps you sleep at night - good for you.

Liberals haven't lost the ability to argue from first principles--conservatives have. That's why we're the minority.

Liberals choose to refrain from arguing first principles because it makes them loose.

Even Obama ran as post-racial, tax-cutter, win-the-war-in Afghanistan, resotre American greatness, reduce abortions, against SSM, etc.,etc.

He ran on our first principles cos we weren't using them.

He ran on our first principles cos we weren't using them.

Obama used those in his rhetoric, but they were not evident in his policy proposals on his campaign website. Isn't that the problem? Well, one of his problems. That he cannot reconcile his rhetoric with his policies was no big deal on the campaign trail, but now, when he actually has to do something, he is caught between his words and his...words.

Matt, there is an awful lot of blab out there for you to argue against some lack of argumentation. One of the excuses I heard in my youth in favor of the proliferation of channels and the utility of cable TV was there would be, thereby, channels devoted to political argument and pithy content. It was as if a hundred "Firing Lines" would bloom. Not only that, but America would come to love the conversation. Now the closest we come media conversation is talk radio, which, apparently, we do love. We do hear argument there. If not exactly structured and reasoned argument, it is a lengthy conversation and the guys who can keep their thesis fresh and constant are the most successful at it.

Maybe that is the reason the left's talk radio does not succeed - this matter of lack of principle. It is hard to argue with a sloppy premise.

Maybe that is the reason the left's talk radio does not succeed - this matter of lack of principle. It is hard to argue with a sloppy premise.



So why does the Left's print media do so well? Could it not be that the premises of the right are just easier to boil down into radio-clips? You don't think that has anything to do with it?

So why does the Left's print media do so well?

The left's print media are all going out of business because nobody wants to buy what they are selling. The NYT is reduced to begging for bailouts from the sort of corrupt capitalists it normally rails against.


Right-wing talk radio is the exact opposite. Stations run it precisely because people want to hear it. In the marketplace of ideas, nobody is willing to pay a dime for the lefts ideas if thay can help it.

Just after I wrote that, I considered the relative success of NPR. I do not know what market share it has or is if it would succeed without government support, but it is certainly of the left and it does endure.

My point about conservative talk radio is that nothing is boiled down. Do you listen? They just go on and on about the same things. You do have a point about parallels, in that the Left's print media does just the same sort of thing.

Could it not be that the premises of the right are just easier to boil down into radio-clips?

Yeah, that's it. It's not that people have heard and rejected what you have to say, it's that your ideas are just so darn sophisticated that the sheeple cannot comprehend tham, unless they receive them as four years of indoctrination in Americas institutions of lower learning. That must be it.

The right's call for 'first principles' is a kind of evangelism. They have been abandoned, not because of some leftist conspiracy, but because they have lost their hold, their ground, in serious thought, like those holding to the eternal biological essences of species in the face of darwinian findings. First of all, there are no first principles. There never were. It is a white mythology. Or there are dozens of them, each clamoring to be first. Second of all, the very call for first principles just is an expression of the desire for first principles. The conservative desires a ground, then desires to be lord of that ground. Given the collapse of such principles, demands for them reduce to being 'called out' in some hopelessly flawed gender manliness move.


The liberals do just fine with their slogans. People are so propagandized that they just need to hear them attractively packaged. No need for principles.

Kate; "he is caught between his words and his...words."

In fairness, he ran on both sets of words: for tax cuts, against tax cuts, for abortion, against abortion, etc. The Usual Suspect Media abetted.

If Goverrnment could do "Fairness", NPR would be the fairest of all instead of a reliable Democrat house organ. At least Rush doesn't make liberals pay for his show.

Liberal talk fails because the more people understand it, the less they like it. That's why they want to make listening mandatory with a Fairness Doctrine or it's cousin, local content complainers, ie, ACORN of the Airwaves.

The left's print media are all going out of business because nobody wants to buy what they are selling.



Print media in general is failing. Y'all are lucky Murdoch's standing there to save your publications. Despite that, though, leftist publications (I'm thinking The Nation and The NYT) are still more popular than right-wing ones.



unless they receive them as four years of indoctrination in Americas institutions of lower learning.



Universities don't do enough, in my opinion, to combat the ethnocentrism America breeds so well among its citizenry. It's a lot easier to just reaffirm an exceptionalist point of view (as the right typically does) than refute it. People tend to like thinking that their culture is the best one . . . and that there can be a best one . . .



If more people are voting for leftists, subscribing to their magazines, and joining their organizations (as the trend has been recently), I think that seems to indicate right-wing radio is simply more spectacular than anything the left can provide. There's an audio for left-wing talk radio, and there are attempts to utilize it ("RadioNation" or "Freethought Radio"), but those just can't deliver the same sort of fantastic ignorance Rush & Co. can (yeah - I have listened). I don't hear Schramm's podcast on the radio - because he actually thinks (about more things than just getting listeners) before he speaks. I think that same problem is evident throughout the vast majority of Leftist radio media. I can't think of any other explanation as to why their market would be so disproportionate to that of the Left (even if we count ol' NPR). There haven't been so many active, left-leaning Americans in a long time . . . but their radio stations fail because they have no good arguments? Right . . .

Maybe Matt, but then again I am not sure on the "ethnocentrism" front. So far as I can tell the only way to combat "ethnocentrism" is to devote oneself in an almost monastic way to a rigid Kantian diet, whereby one is stripped in thought of all that is contiengent, empirical, anthropological, human. In other words is you are going to do the first principles "thing", become a serious Kantian or Cartesian and stay alone in the world of analytical philosophy. Then again something like this was desired by Shaupenhauer, and music was his key, which means that what he desired to strip away was conceived in a different way. In a sense I agree with Stertinius on the point of first principles...but I decidely take a turn for his second varient that there are dozens clamoring to be first, regardless of what one thinks of Mansfield this ends up being a large component of what Machiavelli teaches.

On a tangent one sees that europeans no longer believe that one can escape "ethnocetrism" and so require something like an intellectual class....

This preocupation with "ethnocentrism" is just another varient of ontological structuring, just another way of being from or locked into the spirit of the times(having a place?) Universities can't break this, Carl Scott can't get his students to see past the prejudices and dogma's they bring to the table, and even if he could get them "de-ethnocetrised" he would just have them re-oriented and probably rarely to his way of thinking.

"People tend to like thinking that their culture is the best one . . . and that there can be a best one . . ." Right, and people tend to think they are right, but ontological structuring and bondage to the spirit of the times reveals that this statement and all your statements are simply an argument in favor of the antithesis, in other words being people proffesors or liberal intelligensia are also subject to thinking that they are right.

That is the allure of being right is omnipresent, this isn't escaped even if it is refined, and the more refined the greater the pride in being right, the stronger the pull...

In other words escape from indoctrination is only possible if Stertinius is wrong about first principles, since he is more or less right escape from indoctrination either in the form of prejudices aquired locally or at a university is impossible(Of course the education of a prince is in part concerned with this, but also with the humility/wisdom to know that complete escape is impossible) A conservative or a liberal what are such things but ethnocentric groupings? Organizations of the like-minded/ousiotically structured?

Because I might loose people who are not ousiotically disposed to tolerate academic nonsense without concrete examples...consider that its application is important in determining if Pakistan or Afghanistan are to get along. These two nations ousiotically structured in the minds of its citizens as sharing Islamic identity are allies, but if Afghanistan is ousiodically structured to consider first ethnic nationality then the two become dangerous neighbors and fight over old land claims...suddenly India becomes a viable ally for one against the other.

In terms of why conservative talk radio has an advantage...I think christian radio sprung up to combat secular messages and spread christian music and alternative view points and grew into what it is now gradually...so some of the answer is accidental unless you probe deeper into ousiodic structuring...So the developed answer requires years of study by a sociologist or a little imagination on the part of a Machiavellian. I think a large portion of it involves the power of associated ideas, even if some conservative talk radio is antithetical to the christian message...the connections and chemistry of how the messages were connected in thought and evolved...well they did so in such a way that friendships were formed between bedfellows and ideas were repackaged to fit...I mean a sociologist 10 years from now is going to discover that the evolution of christian radio into christian talk radio into conservative talk radio explains X, Y, Z...Contradictory ideas need not be contradictory if they are not associated in thought in contradictory fashions.

Ethnocentrism, or Xism is simply what is present most forcefully to the mind(or operative), so when Matt wants Universities to cure ethnocentrism or when John complains that Universities are indoctrinating, both are complaining about what is most forcefully held in the forefront of minds...ultimately ousiotic structures, or modes and orders(and again think of Toqueville), many ways of thinking about it...including more modern ways the knowledge of which I am not privy too...of course the ability to hold one topic in the mind differs, and what that topic is or the words used to describe it may themselves give birth via association of ideas to a train of consciousness...the train of consciousness is still victim and beneficiary to habits/customs and associations specific to time and place. You are basically thinking about the rules that govern how and why you(or others) think the way you do...but if you are thinking about this, you are of necessity also not thinking of other things, probably more important or concrete things with "get a life" potential...So you can't escape the damnation of focused and particular attention...you can neither think and ballance all things, nor do them simulataneously, nor think about the proper order of things and also work towards achieving them with the same time spent.

Matt, please tell me you don't seriously consider the NYT to be "leftist". Or even The Nation, for that matter. Just as there are distinctions to be made between conservative and right-wing (although I'd say the latter has really infected the former to a serious extent) there are distinctions to be made, and should be made, between liberal and leftist. The Nation is unabashedly liberal, sure, but leftist? I don't think that fits. And there's an argument to be made that the editors and newswriters of the NYT are "liberal" in the perverted sense of liberals as in like, say liberal Democrats like Clinton, Obama, etc. - not like, say, Kucinich - who is further along the liberal path (but still not an out-and-out leftist). Remember, the New York Times gave one of the decade's biggest losers (and awful analysts) - Bill Kristol - a job writing his fact-challenged rants. Pretty nice thing for a newspaper devoted to pushing the liberal agenda to do, no?

So, don't play using the rules and standards used by the NLT bloggers - they're not reality-based.

Indeed, Craig, there are valid distinctions to be made between "liberal"and "left," "conservative" and "right-wing." But if your political compass allows for you to label The Nation magazine as anything other than far left, that tells me all I need to know about how skewed your political peceptions really are -- you're way out there, brother. No forest for the trees, huh.

Hey, Omar, if The Nation is far left, then where do publications clearly to the left of it, such as In These Times, Z, Monthly Review, International Socialist Review, etc., fit? And there are a handful to the left of those, even. Pretty soon we'll end up with Alan Colmes as the designated benchmark for the furthest point left.

...oh, and I'm not your brother.

on't play using the rules and standards used by the NLT bloggers - they're not reality-based.

Right, we should take instruction instead from an anonymous blog commenter who feels that The Nation is not left-wing enough to be labeled "left-wing".

Pretty soon we'll end up with Alan Colmes as the designated benchmark for the furthest point left.

We can hope. I notice that Sean Hannity is already considered the benchmark for the furthest point right.

.. leftist publications (I'm thinking The Nation and The NYT) are still more popular than right-wing ones.

Please Matt, get with the program!

The official line is the the NYT is NOT leftist, and in fact is the tool of the supposedly reich-wing corporatist establishment. I'm sure that the pathetic Craig Scanlon can school you on this point.

In truth Americas corporations are loyal supporters of every idiotic left-wing idea to come down the pike, from anti-white racism to "global warming" to electing Obama. But the reality-based community finds this to be too much reality to bear.

Universities don't do enough, in my opinion, to combat the ethnocentrism America breeds so well among its citizenry.

The typical brainwashed university graduate believes with all his being that the greatest thing America can do is become a non-white country. And you write this infantile drivel?

Clearly you've been marinated in the Kool-Aid.

"Right, we should take instruction instead from an anonymous blog commenter who feels that The Nation is not left-wing enough to be labeled "left-wing".

...and you are not an anonymous blog commenter exactly how??

"We can hope. I notice that Sean Hannity is already considered the benchmark for the furthest point right."

No, I'm sure he's not. There are certainly radio ranters to Hannity's right. Who has said what you claim? He MIGHT be the guy furthest to the right on FoxNews, the cable TV channel, but I don't watch enough of it to be sure of that, by any means.

You should consider collecting all of your "thoughts" in one comment at a time, rather than spamming up the works with 3 comments submitted over 13 mins., as you did above.

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