Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jonah Goldberg says Only Extremists can Build Bridges.

Sound counter-intuitive?

I was reading the intro to Jonah Goldman's just released The Tyrrany of Clichés.  The intro can be accessed the "Tyrrany Blog", created to promote the book.

So here is how he views extremism or some true-blue ideological position vs "the center".  The ideologist of one stripe will build the bridge across the river.  The one of another stripe won't build the bridge at all, but the moderate or centrist will build it half way across the river.

There are, to be sure, some situations analogous to this analogy, but more often such a thing will happen when conflicting designs clash, as when New Jersey's governor Christie cancelled a collaborative rail tunnel (to New York) project in the midst of the recession after half a billion dollars had been spent on it.

No, JG wants to draw the picture of centrists as being simply half-assed something-or-others.  It is mostly in the service of the right-wing cliché that a liberal is a half-assed Marxist.  Such people, I'm sure, existed in the 60s expecially, but today most liberals are people who recognize that the marketplace and private capital serve extremely essential roles, and that government does also, and that government should continue to provide education, roads, research programs, and some other positive goods, as well as preventing unjust violence and theft (Nozick's "night watchman state").

Yes, one way that beliefs can fall into ultra-A, ultra-Z, and center is that A demands all of something, Z demands none of it, and the center says "let's just have half".  And this is what people who only see one dimension in politics are apt to see.  Hell, even Libertarians tell us there are two dimensions to politics: economic and social.  But what if we actually have to do quite a few things, let's say a dozen, and what if quite a few won't be provided automatically by washing our hands of it and leaving it to the market?  In such breakdown, A and Z might not be the party of yes and the party of no, making moderates the party of "maybe".

Rather, one often sees two extremes in which A says do X only - we'll have none of Y, and Z says do Y only - we'll have none of X.  So A says "The Bridge has to have have an engineered structure to hold it up, and Z says "No, the bridge has to have a flat surface for cars to drive on", and only the person who says "We need both, and we need to balance the budget between the two needs" can actually build an effective bridge.

It's kind of like heart and brain.  Why argue which is most important?  Without either one, we're dead.  And guess what?  There aren't just two absolutely essential organs - there are quite a few of them - maybe dozens.

If JG reads this, he will probably change the subject.  He is so clever at pandering to both right wing views about liberals:  That they are ideological fanatics, and that they are unprincipled triangulators always "splitting the difference".

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