Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Ronald Dworkin on American Politics

If the two-cultures view is right, the lack of argument in American politics is understandable and inevitable. The split between the two cultures would be an unbridgeable gulf separating the comprehensive and wholly clashing worldviews of two Americas. If that is so—if the division between the two cultures is not just deep but bottomless—then there is no common ground to be found and no genuine argument to be had. Politics can be only the kind of war it has become. Many students of our politics think that that is our situation, and they may be right. But that would be alarming and tragic. Democracy can be healthy with no serious political argument if there is nevertheless a broad consensus about what is to be done. It can be healthy even if there is no consensus if it does have a culture of argument. But it cannot remain healthy with deep and bitter divisions and no real argument, because it then becomes only a tyranny of numbers.

(Ronald Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate [Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006], 6)


My friend and former student Carlos is a supporter of Barack Obama. Here is his post about the Clintons’ use of their daughter.

Birthday Boys

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on this date 199 years ago. What do they have in common? Be creative.

A Year Ago


Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Instead of going at each other all the way to the Democratic convention, it would be nice if these two very president-worthy candidates adopted a new policy for the remainder of the primary period.

The public already has a pretty good idea of the differences between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, so to continue trying to pull each other down is probably not going to be very constructive.

Competing against each other will give the Republicans a tremendous advantage over this time period. A more effective way to continue their campaigns would be for each of them to campaign against John McCain and the G.O.P.

By contrasting what they offer with what Mr. McCain has to offer, each one would continue to push his or her program, but in such a way as to combat the real opposition, not each other.

The primary elections will play themselves out in any event, with the electorate seeing the strengths of each Democratic candidate, while the G.O.P. programs will be seen for what they are.

I believe that if Senators Clinton and Obama really have the interests of this country at heart, and aren’t driven simply by personal ambition and hunger for power, this would be the best way to show it and at the same time accomplish their aims.

David Buchsbaum
Newton, Mass., Feb. 9, 2008

Note from KBJ: This is a revealing letter. It shows that, to progressives, debate is unproductive, even damaging. In fact, as John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) argued nearly 150 years ago (in On Liberty [1859]), debate sharpens people’s views, shows where those views are weak as well as strong, and helps the audience—in this case, the American people—understand differences. Academia used to be a place of vigorous debate. It is now a touchy-feely place where everyone bends over backward to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Truth (and therefore knowledge, which presupposes it) has been sacrificed to solidarity. All of us are losers because of this, and if Democrats refuse to debate one another, they will not only lose the election but deserve to.


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then you are not reading this blog.

Addendum: Here is a live version of “Black Cars.”

Vice President

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has compiled a list of running mates for John McCain. Please make your pick from this list. Better yet, supply a ranked list of five desired running mates, with “1” ranked highest. I will supply the correct answers later this evening, after I’ve chortled my way through your lists.