Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Comment Sections on Blogs

Peter Beinhart from The New Republic and Jonah Goldberg at National Review discuss the relative usefulness of comment sections on blogs as well as the usefulness of blogs in general here.

Discussions - 42 Comments

My friend Pete Boettke used to say that a form of Gresham’s Law (bad money drives out good) exists in the world of internet discussion lists. He came up with this back in the pre-blog era, but it applies just as well to blogs--or, at least, to blog comments. What happens is that the ones who comment most are the ones who have the lowest opportunity cost for their time. As a result the crackpots and jerks quickly take over, and the reasonable people increasingly feel as though responding is a waste of time.

Well, why not jump in for some abuse?

Does Boettke�s axiom apply to those who write blogs (as in, the blog posts themselves, such as Julie�s that started this thread), as well?

Speaking of who is commenting the most, having watched three of the Beinart and Goldberg clips, I have noticed how Goldberg seems to dominate the discussions a great deal. I�m not sure yet if that�s because he just has more to say than Beinart or if Beinart is taking a Colmes-like backseat to Goldberg�s Hannity-esque role as driver. In the clip about blogs, though, it seems that Beinart�s self-evident point still eclipsed Goldberg�s long-windedness. And I�m not even sure why Goldberg felt the urge to complain about blog commenters. As far as I know, neither The Corner nor The Goldberg File at NRO accepts comments anyway.

Finally, why are they doing it in this video format? Regardless of how stimulating and enlightening the discussion might be, there seems to be little reason for us to watch their faces. I don�t need to see Beinart nod his head or Goldberg stroke his goatee. At least a coupla steps below (or above??) watching the Sunday talking heads on the snooze-o-meter. Wouldn�t an audio-only podcast or whatever suffice? This format, with them sitting in front of their computer cams seems pointless and static to me.

Yes, John, there is a bit of that here. On the other hand, I have to say that much of what has happened here has been instructive and clarifying even--and perhaps especially--when it is not civil. That said, I would like to offer another plea--this time more rational, I hope, than my other plea in the post below this one--for more civility in these posts. I think the instruction and clarification that can be garnered from the incivility has reached the point of diminishing returns. And I also tend to think that there are people with whom it makes almost no sense to try and have a conversation once the extent and the degree of your differences becomes clear--particularly when the conversation is about the same thing every time.

But hey, Brutus agrees with me that those rubber bracelets are stupid . . . (uh-oh, . . . should I wear one now?)

Who cares what the neocon clod Jonah Goldberg thinks. This is the same guy who did not know what the Austro-Hungarian Empire was, and misdefined �patriotism� looking at the wrong entry. He cannot be taken too seriously.

This may surprise you, but of all the NRO folks I find Jonah reasonably tolerable. (And Derbyshire when he is not bashing ID.) Jonah is honest and frank and hence doesn’t shy away from or paper over the big government tendencies of modern NR style conservatism.

He is right about group think at certain blogs. (See Free Republic for example. Not really a blog, but it illustrates the point.) Although all blogs have a point of view. No problem with that. And he is right that there are a lot of rude people on blogs. The anonymity of the internet allows people to behave in a way they would never face to face. And certain debates (Israel and the Middle East for example) are always dominated by the extremes. A widely read political blog (as opposed to a more niche blog) has to be edited or you get a lot of rude people, flamers, and trolls. Thomas Fleming has stopped accepting comments to his articles at the Chronicles blog because he got so frustrated with all the foolishness. (He was especially put off by any comments he would make on Israel. Immediately you got the "Jews are the cause of all ills" and the "Israel can do no wrong" factions duking it out with little middle ground.)

My problem with the video would be with the easy use of terms like "tin foil hats" and "whacko" and "loony." Part of the problem, IMO, with the modern political spectrum/debate is that it is dominated by the center. (The discussion about Ron Paul is a good example.) So who gets to determine what ideas are whacko? The current center which is already dominant? Clearly some ideas are whacko. (Martians built the pyramids.) But distance from the current political center does not whacko make. (Such as we should literally follow the Constitution as intended.)

For the record, the NLT blog tolerates a great deal of dissent, which is admirable.

P.S. I hear that Conservative Times blog is a real up and comer.

That’s not very nice.

I agree that Jonah Goldberg is not very bright. There is no excuse for not knowing what the Austro-Hungarian Empire was. This guy is a culturally illiterate clown. But hey, it is no surprise. NR has been going down hill since the 1970s. Buckley made certain to purge all conservatives from the publication (Kirk, Sorban, Brimelow, Sam Francis, John O’Sullivan, et al.). Now it’s just a neocon rag. By the 1990s it came to the point where Russell Kirk said that Chronicles Magazine is the only true conservative magazine left in the USA.

Didn�t Goldberg spend some time in Prague before he was handed his NRO gig? Perhaps he should�ve spent more time taking in some history there. Anyway, if you�re looking for examples of his laughable ignorance and jaw-dropping arrogance, look into his aborted bet with Juan Cole about how great things were supposed to be in Iraq by now, and his related cocky assertion about Iraq that "I do think my judgment is superior to his [Juan Cole�s] when it comes to the big picture."

I think the comment section is not accepting apostrophes and quotation marks right now. A technical, not a civility problem. I will contact the appropriate folks--but in the meantime you may want to avoid using them if you want to be understood.

John Moser,

This is funny; I was just thinking this morning that I am running out of time for this kind of writing. I say this as I sit waiting for dinner to cook, too tired after the afternoon’s lectures to do anything else, but blab. However, my family resents that I spend time in faceless conversations. The current NLT delight in vituperation baffles me, though I know that comes and goes. And so many words seem spent so fruitlessly. Words, words, everywhere and not a thought to think. Or maybe I have been reading for long enough that "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, there is nothing new under the sun" nor on the blog.

I could not hear the Beinhart/Goldberg discussion, unless I bent my ear right to the speaker, which got old, fast. So this merely a comment on the comments and that is SO esoteric.

Julie - You are a very generous person. The incivility and ignorance, the personal insinuations, the cowering anonymity and the pig-headedness exhibited on the Jaffa thread. . . well, never mind.

I wasn’t surprised, but what’s the point of participating in such things?

Yes Steve, I gave up on that thread too. But it’s spilled over into others. This is what I had to finally say in the "Query for Dan Phillips" thread. From what I gather about many you and your many posts here, we do not always agree. We have some points on which I think it’s fair to say we strongly disagree. But what I like about you is that you are fair and you are thoughtful. I have always found you to be a perfectly reasonable and pleasant interlocutor. We make each other better. That is the whole point of conversation, isn’t it? But that lesson seems to be lost on some.

There was a time when people called themselves Neoconservatives. Irving Kristol actually wrote an entire book on how he earned that name. But now that the neoconservatives have driven all of the old school conservatives out of the movement they want to shun the label, and just be plain old conservatives.

Julie, in her final post, suggests that the term neoconservative is a canard. (I think she is hinting that anyone who uses it is some kind of anti-semite). That’s just ridiculous. Whether Jaffa embraces the label manners little. His students, so far as I can tell, are all neoconservatives. I’m not interested in playing some politically correct game of newspeak. They are what they are, and when they are done destroying the Republican party they will find some sort of Scoop Jackson/Joe Lieberman guy to get behind.

Julie - Thank you for the kind words. Yes, I agree, that is the point of conversation. The young (whatever their ages may be) and the ideological (whatever their politics) seem to believe that they are immortal, and they haven’t yet learned that intellectual friendship is sweet. Such friendship can exist even among those who disagree and who have never met face to face.

Steve--very nicely and succinctly put. It’s also very good to know that a person you may never meet face to face has, at least, the courtesy and the courage to use his proper name. Such people can become friends, no matter the disagreement, because they deserve respect.

Yes, unlike those uncourageous cowards James Madison and George Kennan.

Why should we put out our real names, so you can team up with your natural allies, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and put us on some kind of McCarthyite blacklist? Or so that you can do what you did to Bradford?

Brutus, when you write something that rivals the Federalist in purpose, scope and insight perhaps then you can compare yourself to Jimmy M. Until then, I think you’re just a bit too comfortable in your anonymity. And your remark above gives me pause. It says so much more about you than it says about us. I don’t think it is pushing it--given the opening you’ve presented here--to suggest that some of your natural allies have enjoyed anonymity behind their white sheets. It’s never been my purpose to push the disagreement to that point, but you seem determined to so expose yourself.

Those guys on the other threads who would chose De Maistre over Jefferson are hardly my natural allies. I would say they are more like liabilities.

But calling them Jew-baiters, comparing them to Holocaust deniers, or insinuating (like you do above) that they are Klan members is not going to teach them to respect the principles of the American founding.

Perhaps my reference to the SPLC seemed out of place. Perhaps they do good work in helping to stop hate crimes. But I do not think Thomas Dilorezo, Clyde Wilson, or the late Grady McWhiney ever wore hoods or threatened minorities. Nevertheless, the SPLC profiles them like they are war criminals. I’m going to try posting a link here to show you what I mean:

De Maistre was a Counter-Revolutionary. Aren’t we supposed to be counter the French Revolution as well?

The SPLC is a despicable group of liberal PC thought police. Why wouldn’t every self-respecting conservative join in a condemnation of them?

Et eu Brute,

What is the problem with De Maistre? No preference to Jefferson (who was a mixed bag and a contemporary, more or less, of De Maistre) is implied. Just a continuity to an ancient European heritage as opposed to the "radical break" that others have mentioned. Here is a link to a great article by Paul Gottfried where he dismantles Goldberg on the subject. An excerpt is below.

In his polished, aphoristic dialogues, Evening Conversations in St. Petersburg, Maistre had noticed that it might be more useful to try to understand people as Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, or members of other national or ethnic groups than simply as human beings. Such a conceptual perspective, according to Goldberg, goes against conservatism, which is about the spread of “human rights.” Since Maistre did not believe in such rights, or in the universalist assumptions that they presuppose, he therefore made war against something Goldberg calls “conservatism.”

What Goldberg is really pushing is a form of leftist imperialism reaching back to Robespierre and Jacobin France. Goldberg has dusted off the platform of the French revolutionary Left and misnamed it conservatism, while taking a once renowned conservative, Maistre, and assigning him to a neocon version of eternal perdition. It might be properly asked why anyone would mistake the bearers of this view for certified conservatives.

Here is a link.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by "we" or "as well." But I will say this: I’m not going to borrow my political principles from someone who wanted a hereditary monarchy and who believed the Pope should have temporal power.

By we I mean conservatives. I don’t think many conservatives today would want a hereditary monarchy or temporal rule by the Pope, esp. not in Protestant America. (Although hereditary monarchy is very likely preferable to mass democracy as Hoppe has argued.) Most American paleos would be some degree of Roundhead, I suppose. But we can support his sentiments against universalism, against "natural rights," and for the established order against revolutionary Jacobinism. Just as I can support Jefferson’s Southern agrarian sentiments without endorsing his religious heterodoxy and his misguided use of Lockean idiom.

I don’t reject the label "conservative," but I’m not sure it has much meaning anymore or if it ever did.

And I agree with Jefferson’s use of the "Lockean idiom." People form governments to protect their lives, liberties and properties. If the government looks like it is planning to destroy their lives, liberties and properties the people have the right to alter or abolish the government. The offical NLT people say that they believe in these self-evident truths but I wonder if they really do. Every time I assert them they throw a bunch of nasty innuendo in my direction.

Every time I assert them they throw a bunch of nasty innuendo in my direction.

Aww, Brutus, who’s been picking on you? Not me. The "Jew-baiting" remark was directed at whomever dredged up the old "amen corner" chestnut--you’re the one who tried to turn it into an attack on anyone of a noninterventionist persuasion on foreign policy (a position which I’ve already said I’m in considerable sympathy with). As for the the mention of Holocaust denial, that was aimed at Dan Phillips. I was honestly curious as to whether he was one of them. I gladly accept his word that he’s not, but can you blame me for wondering? Let’s face it--some of the neo-Confederates run in the same circles as the IHR crowd. I just wanted to know whether I was dealing with someone worth my time and effort. If he had said that he was that would’ve been a sign that there was no point in communicating with him.

I did not say that you called me those names. I said that the offical NLT people throw innuendo in my direction. See post 18 above for an example.


I believe people have the right to alter or abolish their government, especially at the theoretical level. But In general I don’t think people really "form governments to protect their lives, liberties and properties." That is a largely theoretical construct, but doesn’t match the reality of how things have historically happened. America is prone to this conceit because we are a colonial nation that broke away from the Crown, but do you think Japan, for example, conceives of itself that way? Governments are not the result of a bunch of people contracting together and creating an imposed order. They are generally an organic outgrowth of the society and represent a spontaneous or natural order. The implications of these two different conceptions are great. The later is essentially a contra-Locke viewpoint. One reason I like Maistre and also Filmer.

John Moser,

My experience is that the neo-confederates and the holocaust deniers do not generally "run in the same circles" as you say. The same reason neo-confederates (who are essentially a form of decentralist, regionalist paleo) don’t often see eye-to-eye with white nationalists. We have a common enemy in political correctness and certain aspects of anti-liberalism, but most holocaust deniers that I have run across are rabid nationalists, not regionalist. Many are centralists, not decentralists. Many/most are actually anti-secession and some admire Lincoln.

The problem is that there is no place in the modern political spectrum for non-centrists of any sort. Therefore you sometimes get a hodge-podge grouping of enemies of the regime that are alike in their distance from the current center, but are leagues apart on certain underlying philosophical and political issues.

Okay, I guess I’m not "official." Probably because I never went to Claremont....


If the government of Japan began to threaten the lives, liberties, and property of its citizens those citizens would have a natural right to alter or abolish it. Natural rights theory might not explain how their society came into being, but they have the same natural rights as any other group of human beings.


You’ve got a great sense of humor.

Like my hero Jefferson I get sick of arguing, so I hesitate to say the following because I fear your colleagues will lash out at me again. But go and borrow a copy of _Natural Right and History_ from them. If you read it carefully you will find that Straussians only espouse the idea of modern natural rights because they find it "prudent" to do so. They actually prefer what Strauss calls "classic natural right."

According to the terms of "classic natural right" wisdom must take precedence over consent. That’s why they like Lincoln so much. His rule in the North made Joe McCarthy look like an ACLU member. Against the South he brought only war. But he had the "wisdom" to see the Union through to its present state of greatness. Therefore by the terms of classic natural right he is our greatest president.

Brutus your hiding behind the skirts (well, okay, pants) of Mel Bradford is getting old. You can’t seriously think that I believe you won’t post your real name because Mel Bradford didn’t get a job in 1981. For my part--since you included me in the "conspiracy" against him--I was all of 11 years old then. And I fail to see why preferring one person to another for a federal job heading an institution that probably shouldn’t even exist (and you above all people must agree with that!) is such a great big deal anyway. There are many reasons to prefer one person over another for such a job and not all of them have to do with intellectual merit. Further, if it weren’t for the fact that I came to Claremont in the early 90s, I’m more than certain I never even would have heard of Bradford. In every class I ever took where he was mentioned, by the way, it was always with respect. His arguments were taken very seriously and debated upon their merits. I will grant you that I don’t recall any of my professors drawing their lines in the sand with him . . . but no student ever got away with the lazy dismissiveness that characterizes many of the comments on this and other threads here.

You’ve got a great sense of humor.

Aw, shucks. Flattery will get you anywhere.

Seriously, I’m not a Straussian. I’ve never even read Strauss, and I don’t recall ever meeting a Straussian before I arrived at Ashland. I’ve known and worked with several here, and I’ve found them all to be fine people and excellent colleagues. So when I hear awful conspiratorial things--in some of the most intemperate language imaginable--said about people whom I consider good friends, well, it gets my dander up.

As an historian, what I find most puzzling about the Lincoln critics is how they assume that Lincoln was free to act otherwise than he did (actually, the pro-Lincoln people seem to assume that as well). For me the best defense of Lincoln’s decision to use force to keep the South in the Union is this--he would surely have been impeached had he not done so. Just as he almost certainly would have been impeached if he had surrendered Fort Sumter. And he would have been succeeded by Hannibal Hamlin, who was far more radical, and would certainly have authorized all-out war against the South. Virtually everyone in the North--Democrat or Republican, abolitionist, Free-Soiler, or slavery defender--was determined that the Union be held together. To expect a different result would be ahistorical.


I don’t really understand why you seem to want to know my name. But it’s not just Bradford who noted this tendency among Neoconservatives. Kirk said the same thing in an address at the Heritage Foundation in 1988:

"My second instance of the spreading distaste for Neoconservatives comes from a well-known literary scholar: ’....It is significant that when the Neo-Cons wish to damn any conservative who has appealed for a grant to a conservative foundation, they tell the officers of the foundation that the conservative is a fascist....’"

You just seconded a plea for civility from Dr. Knippenberg, yet earlier this morning you were claiming that I associate with Klansmen.

Brutus - I know this is not an argument; it is an observation. Your version of Strauss is worthy of a bumper sticker - or it was until you drew your remarkable conclusion that followers of Strauss revere Lincoln because he foresaw everything in the present that you detest. Keep at it and you’ll eventually have a Classics Comic.

At the time, I have been thinking about how or why Lincoln (or Jaffa’s Lincoln) inflames you and others. You don’t seem to be a Filmer or a deMaistre type. I do not know whether you consider yourself a neo-Confederate. As we know in detail from historians like James McPherson (as well as from Jaffa), Lincoln did alter the meaning of the principles of the founding, and he did accept the legal and social revolution that the Civil War became. Perhaps in stressing the depth of his political thought and the power of his political rhetoric, some people seem - seem - to neglect the changes in American life that he ushered in.

I would have to defend Brutus here in responce to Ms Ponzi, being affilated with Bradford kills your acadmic possibilities in the States, that is why I teach in Poland. And although I disagree with Brutus’s views on Strauss and think they are wrong, on these issues he is no way a klanman, as could I ever be... or even Mel B.. who although was a supporter of Wallace (and for political purposes contra Nixon’s and Democratic issues in Texas politics) would never be a memeber of the latest invocation of the KKK. And such tactics are bad habits of Jaffa students who lack the friendship that Jaffa had with Bradford that made those remarks when made at the time more of a insider joke than a smear that they would now be outside the contexts of two friends. Even Mel B used to get mad at my reomantic sympathy for Booth, in my late 20s and early 30s. Bradford said that Booth did more harm to the South by that act in that by killing Abe they turned him into the Christ by which the GOP would cruisfy the South. No a life AL would have been forced to have a much more moderate policy to the South after defeat.. but such historical recollections and what ifs are not useful here.


The charge that I despise America today has been made on this page before. I don’t know where that charge comes from. But when I see people whose follow the philosophy WWLD (What Would Lincoln Do) comparing today’s Democrats to Copperheads I can only fear for the civil liberties of all Americans.


You can feel free to be upset with my account of the Straussians, but if you read _Natural Right and History_ you will see that I’m not exagerating. I’ve known Straussians and learned from them. Many of them are great people. But their "central teaching" is dangerous.

In any event Schramm has spoken and it looks like I will no longer be able to spill the secrets of the temple, at least on this webpage. It would not be prudent for these things to get out. It might shut off that sweet, sweet, flow of NEH and DOE money.

I just looked again at Dan Phillips’s quote from Paul Gottfried in comment 22 above. Like Bradford the neocons came after Gottfried. Catholic University offered him a graduate professorship, but when the word got out the neocons started making phonecalls until the offer was rescinded.

I know that Gottfried claims that this happened, but is there any evidence to back it up?

I don’t know the case well enough to say.

This is a long painful story about Gottfried... at Catholic. It came after my least favorite paleo Ryn did some rather nasty things to Mary Nichols while she was there.. and she left.. and Ryn offered the job to Gottfried.. who although writing on German things is trained as a classist.. but the anti Ryn faction in the admin (who wanted to get back at him for his antics against Nichols) sent Gottfried’s cv to Tom Pangle who did a hatch job to the Catholic board. It was not a nice thing to do to Gottfried, when do two wrongs make a right, but Ryn is something else.. and I would blame Ryn as much as creating the hostile setting at Catholic at the time.

That’s very interesting Dr. Bates. Thank you.

I have one question though: Gottfried has continually said that part of the reason the Neoconservatives opposed his appointment had to do with him being "unreliable" on Israel. Is Gottfried making that part up?

I can’t answer that question.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2007/03/comment-sections-on-blogs.php on line 1518

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2007/03/comment-sections-on-blogs.php on line 1518