Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Progressivism and Conservatism

Progressives want to engineer society in accordance with a blueprint. Conservatives want to let individuals work things out for themselves, in communities. Progressives want to impose order from the top. Conservatives want to let order emerge, spontaneously. Progressives put their faith in reason and view tradition as an obstacle. Conservatives put their faith in tradition, which they believe to be the embodiment of reason. Progressives are impatient; they want to bring about heaven on earth. Conservatives are patient; they don’t believe that heaven on earth is possible (even if it were desirable). Progressives want to force change—from without. Conservatives want change to come naturally—from within. Progressives want revolution. Conservatives want evolution. One reason I enjoy reading Thomas Sowell is that he gets to the bottom of things. See here for his latest column.


TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. This principle applies not just in economics, but in medicine. If you take a drug to alleviate one symptom of disease, such as acid reflux or knee pain, you produce another. This isn’t an argument against taking drugs, for sometimes the symptom you prevent is worse (in some respect) than that you produce. See here for Dr John J. Ray’s interesting blog post on iatrogenic illness.

Determinism and Freedom

Here is a website that contains many classic essays on determinism and freedom.


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia, won by Italian Danilo Di Luca (affectionately known as “the killer”).

Islam and the West

Bernard Lewis puts 9-11 in historical context.

Best of the Web Today



Bob Hessen sent a link to this review, by a political scientist, of a posthumously published book by John Rawls: Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Key paragraphs:

Rawls typically wrote in a gray bureaucratic prose—the style only a lawyer could love. Nevertheless the Editor’s Foreward to the book contains a semiautobiographical fragment from a 1993 essay titled “Some Remarks About My Teaching” in which he stresses two features of his pedagogy. The first was to try understand [sic] the great thinkers as they understood themselves, not to impose our contemporary preconceptions and concerns on them but “to pose their philosophical problems as they saw them, given what their understanding of the state of moral and political philosophy then was.”

The second feature was always to make the strongest possible case for the figures he was reading. A sign of his generosity as a reader was a favorite adage of his quoted from John Stuart Mill: “A doctrine is not judged at all until it is judged in its best form.” To achieve this end, he writes, “I always assumed that the writers we were studying were always much smarter than I was. If they were not, why was I wasting my time and the student’s time by studying them?” One learns how to do moral and political philosophy by studying its greatest “exemplars” and not contemporary figures who are likely to be derivative and second-rate.

It speaks well of Rawls that we continue to study him.


This so-called religion makes no sense to me.

Hall of Fame?

John Smoltz. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

Richard Swinburne on Miracles

There is good reason to suppose that events such as the following if they occurred would be violations of laws of nature: levitation, that is, a man rising in the air against gravity without the operation of magnetism or any other known physical force; resurrection from the dead of a man whose heart has not been beating for twenty-four hours and who counts as dead by other currently used criteria; water turning into wine without the assistance of chemical apparatus or catalysts; a man growing a new arm from the stump of an old one.

(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 188)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Witness Next Door” (column, May 14):

For some time now, Nicholas D. Kristof has been goading our collective conscience into doing something about Darfur. At first glance, our ability to sit and watch all of this unfold is incomprehensible. By now, it is pretty clear that nothing short of military intervention is going to have much effect.

It is surely the right thing to do, but we should remember our experiences in Somalia and Iraq. In Somalia, we intervened militarily to end a famine; in Iraq, to topple a tyrant. These were done imperfectly but did achieve the desired short-term result.

But in doing so we made war on Muslims, enraging much of the Islamic world.

If we were to take military action in Darfur, we could expect to succeed in the immediate objective as we did in Somalia and Iraq. But we should also expect that most of the Muslim world will get pretty upset.

That is probably not good enough reason to passively watch as the people of Darfur are slaughtered, but we should do it with our eyes open and not expect much thanks, much less cooperation.

Michael Woram
Brooklyn, May 14, 2007

Note from KBJ: Darfur is a hard case for progressives, many of whom have been saying for the past several years that the United States has no business intervening militarily in other countries’ affairs. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t both oppose intervention in Iraq and support intervention in Sudan. That is, unless there’s a morally relevant difference between the cases. Can anyone discern such a difference?

A Year Ago