Monday, 1 January 2007

My New Year’s Resolution

You’re probably wondering: Does an anal-retentive person such as me make New Year’s resolutions?  Does a bear shit in the woods?  Is the Pope Catholic?  I’ve been making—and recording—New Year’s resolutions since 1 January 1979, which was just over a month after I began keeping a journal (on 21 November 1978).  I won’t say I’ve made resolutions every year, but I’ve come close.  I do find, however, that I have fewer resolutions to make with each passing year, since—brace yourself—I’m becoming more and more perfect with age: intellectually, emotionally, morally, and physically. Think about it.  Does God make resolutions?  What could God want, other than to lose a few pounds?

My resolution for 2007 is to change the political terminology I use.  If you go back through this blog’s archive, you’ll see that for some time after creating the blog, I used the word “liberal” to describe those with whom I disagree on matters of political morality.  Eventually, I began referring to them as “leftists.”  For a couple of years now, it’s been “conservatives” versus “leftists.”  I sometimes use the expression “classical liberals,” but more often I use “libertarian” to describe the view in question.  I don’t know what a liberal is anymore.  Ronald Dworkin calls himself a liberal, but he’s an egalitarian, which puts him on the left.  John Rawls is thought of as a liberal, perhaps because of his Equal Liberty Principle, but he, too, was an egalitarian.  Members of the American Civil Liberties Union probably think of themselves as liberals, but they take positions that can hardly be classified as neutral or middle of the road.  In short, I don’t know what “liberal” means anymore, so I’ve all but stopped using it.

To me, the important fight, politically, is between those who wish to conserve various traditions, institutions, practices, and ways of life and those who wish to abolish or modify these things.  The latter would use reason—which they exalt—to rethink everything, with no presumption that what has existed for a long time be retained.  Many of these people refer to themselves as “progressives.”  They have a vision of how society can and should progress, and they seek to implement it—through coercion if necessary.  They view conservatives such as me as impediments to progress (which may be why they treat me so poorly).  I view them as reckless social engineers who don’t appreciate the extent to which reason is (already) embodied in traditions, institutions, &c.  They think I’m anti-reason.  I think they’re oblivious to reason’s limitations.

Neither of us is an absolutist.  Conservatives aren’t categorically opposed to change, and progressives aren’t categorically in favor of it.  It’s more a matter of temperament.  Conservatives are disposed to leave things alone, as long as they work.  Progressives are disposed to change things, if they can be made better (by their lights).  Conservatives are pessimistic, and progressives optimistic, about reason’s ability to make things better.  Conservatives are motivated by fear—that things will get worse.  Progressives are motivated by hope—that things will get better.  We might also put the difference in terms of presumptions.  Conservatives presume that what exists is good, and insist that anyone who wishes to change it bear the burden of proof.  Progressives reject this presumption, or, if they endorse a presumption against change at all, they endorse a weak one—one that is more easily rebutted.  You can see the difference between conservatives and progressives quite clearly on the matter of homosexual “marriage.”

Peter Berkowitz recently edited two volumes for the Hoover Institution: Varieties of Conservatism in America (2004) and Varieties of Progressivism in America (2004).  I like the symmetry of these labels.  About the only thing I don’t like about the word “progressivism” is that it’s loaded.  Progress is, by definition, change for the better.  Progressives obviously believe that the changes they advocate are for the better, so they find their label accurate.  But conservatives don’t! Conservatives think that some of the changes advocated by progressives are for the worse, in which case the proper label for them would be “regressives.”

In a way, I like it that “progressivism” is loaded.  If I use that term, instead of, say, “leftism,” nobody can accuse me of trying to gain a rhetorical advantage by my choice of labels.  I don’t want a rhetorical advantage.  I want to win fair and square, using only logic.  I’m reminded here of Don Marquis, who used the terms “pro-choice” and “anti-abortion” in his famous 1989 essay “Why Abortion Is Immoral.”  What’s odd about this choice is that Marquis argues for the immorality of abortion.  Why would he not use the preferred label of those who share his view, which is “pro-life”?  When I asked him about this, he told me that he didn’t want to be accused of trying to gain a rhetorical advantage.  I like that explanation.  In fact, it’s brilliant.

So that’s my resolution for 2007.  I may slip up every now and then and use “leftist,” “leftism,” and “the Left,” but I’ll try to stick with “progressive” and “progressivism” from here on out.  When you see these terms, you may, if you like, imagine me winking and whispering, “What I really mean is ‘regressive’ and ‘regressivism.’”


Happy new year, everyone!  I was born on 7 April 1957.  I recall wondering, when I was a kid, whether I’d make it to 2007, since that would be the year in which I turned 50.  I made it!  Whether I make it to 7 April remains to be seen.

Letters to The New York Times

Steve Sailer has an interesting post about letters to the editor of The New York Times.  (Thanks to Mark Spahn for the link.)  As you know, I read the New York Times letters every day and select one for posting.  I never cease to be amazed by their progressive slant.  Sometimes every letter on a particular topic (such as the war in Iraq) expresses the same evaluation.  There are two possible explanations for this.  The first is that the readership of the Times is overwhelmingly progressive.  A representative sample of an overwhelmingly progressive readership is overwhelmingly progressive.  The second is that the person who chooses the letters is biased toward progressivism.  Which do you think it is?


This is interesting.  Why do you suppose nurses rank so much higher than journalists?  In fact, let me ask a broader and more difficult question: What explains these results?  State your theory.


Good news.  I just received an e-mail informing me that someone (Steve Walsh) submitted a comment.  The content of the comment was reproduced in the e-mail.  All I had to do was read the comment, confirm that it was civil, and click “approve.”  As soon as I did so, I checked to see whether the comment appeared on the blog.  It did.  So we know that the comment feature works.  Please follow the instructions if you want to post comments.  I’m sorry you have to do this again, but it’s a different blog company.  You should be able to use the same username and password when you create your account, if that helps.


George W. Bush is the most admired man in the world—for the fifth consecutive year.  See here.  Perhaps that’s what causes Bush Derangement Syndrome.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Saddam Hussein Hanged in Baghdad; Swift End to Drama; Troops on Alert” (front page, Dec. 30):

As hard as it is to mourn Saddam Hussein, his hurried execution raises a number of disquieting questions.

Was the trial fair?

The statements of President Bush on the subject are hardly reassuring, as they come from a man who supports detention without due process and who considers torture a legitimate interrogation method.

What will the repercussions of this execution worldwide be? Will it encourage the most brutal dictators of the world to hang on to their power by all means to avoid certain execution once they are deposed?

More generally, does revenge through the death penalty bring closure, or does it elicit more revenge and more violence, initiating a spiral of hatred that no human force may be able to stop?

I am afraid that the execution of Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with justice and was carried out only to satisfy the hatred he inspired in most of us.

This is a lame excuse to take any life, including Saddam Hussein’s.

Lodovico Balducci
Tampa, Fla., Dec. 30, 2006

Note from KBJ: Once again, we have what purports to be an argument against capital punishment, but is in fact an argument against punishment.  For consider: It is as much revenge to imprison someone as to kill him or her.  The former deprives one of liberty; the latter deprives one of life.  Also, why would only one type of punishment—capital—“inspire hatred”?  Why wouldn’t imprisonment or corporal punishment inspire hatred?  As for President Bush’s statements not being “reassuring,” what does that have to do with whether Saddam Hussein deserved to die?  Why must everything relate to President Bush?

A Year Ago


Animal Ethics

Here is Mylan Engel’s latest post.

December Statistics

Welcome to my new blog. I’ve had it up and running for a couple of weeks, but today—the start of a new year—is the day I begin posting to it. The blog will be substantively the same as the other one. The only differences are the name (I’ve abandoned “AnalPhilosopher”) and the appearance. I hope you like the changes. I had a good month in December. Here is a chart showing readership since the blog’s inception on 5 November 2003:


As you can see, the blog’s readership has increased, although not continuously. The most revealing measure of growth, to my mind, is not month to month, but year to year. Beginning in November 2004, readership has been greater in each month than in the same month a year earlier. The reason this is more revealing is that readership is higher in some months than in others. December, for example, is never as good as November, since it contains several holidays. People have other and better things to do during holidays than read blogs. I’m still learning how to use the new blog, so bear with me as I familiarize myself with its features.