The Right has not cornered the market on civility, not by a long shot. But in my experience, liberals and leftists are worse in the civility department than conservatives. If you don’t agree with me on this, then this post is not for you. To try to prove my assertion to libs and lefties would be like trying to prove to them that such major media outlets as the New York Times tilt leftward. To achieve either goal, I would have to possess the longevity of a Methuselah, the energy of a Hercules, and the dogged persistence of a Sisyphus – and I still would not succeed.
So, given that conservatives are more civil than libs and lefties, why is this the case? One guess is that conservatives, for whom there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things, are more civil due to a natural piety with respect to received modes of human interaction. Civility works, and conservatives are chary about discarding what works. They were brought up to be civil by parents and teacher who were themselves civil, and they see no reason to reject as phony or ‘precious’ something that is conducive to good living. They understand that since we live in a world of appearances, a certain amount of concern with them is reasonable. They also understand that by faking it a bit, one brings oneself to actually feel the emotions that one began by faking. For example, by saying ‘Good Morning’ when I don’t quite feel like it, I contribute to my own perception of the morning as good.
But leftists, many of whom are of a rebellious and adolescent cast of mind, have a problem with what they perceive to be phoniness. They are always out to unmask things, to cut through the false consciousness and the bourgeois ideology. Connected with this hatred of phoniness is a keen sensitivity to hypocrisy. So when Bill (William J.) Bennett was caught wasting money on the slot machines in Las Vegas a while back, the libs and lefties pounced and denounced: "Hypocrite!" they cried.
So pouncing and denouncing, they proved that they do not know what hypocrisy is. Although Mr. Bennett’s behavior was suboptimal, it was neither illegal nor immoral: he’s got the dough to blow if that’s his pleasure. Given his considerable accomplishments, is he not entitled to a bit of R & R?
A hypocrite is not someone who is morally perfect or who fails to engage in supererogatory acts. Nor is a hypocrite one who preaches high ideals but falls short. Otherwise, we would all be hypocrites. For if everyone is, then no one is. A hypocrite is someone who preaches high ideals but makes no attempt at living up to them. The difference is between failing to do what one believes one ought to do and not even trying to do what one says one ought to do.
The leftist obsession with perceived phoniness and perceived hypocrisy stems from an innate hatred of moral judgment, a hatred which itself seems fueled by a confusion of moral judgment with judgmentalism.
So perhaps the answer is this. Leftists are less civil than conservatives because they do not see civility as a value. They don't see it as a value because it smacks of a bourgeois moral ideology that to them is nothing but a sham. Adroit unmaskers and psychologizers that they are, incapable of taking things at face value, they think that none of us who preach civility’s value really believe what we are preaching. It really has to be something else, just as the desire for democracy in Iraq really has to be something else: a desire for economic and military hegemony.
You wrote: ". . . one must turn their own Alinsky tactics against them . . . . Conservatives should not allow themselves to be hobbled by their own civility and high standards."
I completely agree which is why I support the ambush tactics of Jason Mattera (most recently of Lois Lerner fame). In my opinion the tactics are sleazy, but they are necessary as you note above. Mattera delivers to the left a taste of their own medicine. Moreover, in being slammed to a wall by Harry Reid's armed guard, Mattera does more to reveal the thuggish nature of the left than any polemic, no matter how well delivered.
As for all the criticism that Mattera has elicited, well, when one is getting flack one knows one is over the target.
In this video, Mattera responds to critics of his ambush of Lois Lerner, IRS chief. It is too bad that these ambush tactics are necessary, but when we are dealing with corrupt leftists who use the awesome power of the State to silence dissent, and who refuse to take responsibility for their actions or admit their wrongdoing, then tactics far more adversarial than those of the mild-mannered Mattera are justified.
We need less civility and more confrontation. The courageous Mattera is doing the job that journalists are supposed to do as members of the Fourth Estate, namely, monitor politicians and government functionaries such as Lerner in order to ensure that they don't violate their oaths of office or otherwise abuse the democratic process.
I speak as a conservative when I say that we need less civility and more confrontation. But of course there are leftists who say the same thing.
I think most of us will agree that confrontation and contention are not good and that peace is better than war. But how reduce the level of political strife?
There is a conceptually easy answer, but it won't happen. The Left has to back off. But the Left, being totalitarian, cannot consistently with it own nature back off or limit itself. Like Nietzsche's Will to Power it does not seek merely to preserve itself but always to expand and extend itself. (Here is a clue as to why leftists love Nietzsche; it is not because of his reactionary views.)
What we need is more federalism, less integration, and more voluntary segregation. I don't mean any of this racially. It is relatively easy to get along with one's ideological opponents if one limits contact with them. But this presupposes that they are willing to back off. If they don't, then war is inevitable.
I have been and continue to be an avid reader of your wonderful blog ever since I stumbled upon your post on Wittgenstein’s anti-philosophy some years ago. And I must say that your assorted musings and reflections – even your polemical jabs - have given me many valuable lessons, even if I do not necessarily agree with every point and detail. For all that, you have the gratitude and admiration of this humble correspondent and junior fellow-traveler in philosophy (male, hailing from the Philippines, partly of Chinese descent through my father).
Now even though we do not stand on the same side with regard to several matters of value and praxis -- as I am far to your left and you are far to my right -– I nonetheless wish to civilly discuss some topics surrounding the more heated disputes. Specifically, there are some nagging political-philosophical questions in my mind that I happily share with you, and your thoughts on them (either as brief responses to each query or perhaps a sustained post or series of posts on a cluster of selected issues) would be very much appreciated. Pardon if it took me so long to reach the heart of the matter, of if I seem to ramble on too much, but here goes:
1. To what extent can one extend hospitality, generosity, or charity to the arguments and premises of one’s opponents or rivals in polemical situations? It seems to me that apart from the unflinching commitment of many of the parties involved to their respective positions despite the absence of perfect justification, there is also the issue of mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation (unintentional or otherwise), exacerbated by the fog of war. For instance, many conservatives, libertarians, and socialists appear to be rarely acquainted with the intricacies of each other’s theoretical standpoints and values, even as they dispute about practices and proposals.
MavPhil: How far extend hospitality, etc. in a polemical situation? Not very far if the situation is truly polemical and one's interlocutor is an opponent or adversary. I make a sharp distinction between polemical discourse and strictly philosophical discourse, and I engage in both. I engage in both because both are needed in the world as it is. It is a mark of the conservative that he deals with the world as it is without illusions or evasions or escapes into u-topia (no place). In a phrase of Richard M. Weaver, the conservative stands on the "terra firma of antecedent reality," a reality logically and ontologically antecedent to one's hopes, dreams, wishes, and desires.
As I see it, philosophy ceases to be philosophy when it becomes polemical. That goes for political philosophy as well which ought not be confused with political discourse in general, most of which is, of course, polemical.
Philosophy is inquiry. It is inquiry by those who don't know (and know that they don't know) with the sincere intention of increasing their insight and understanding. Philosophy is motivated by the love of truth, not the love of verbal battle or the need to defeat an opponent or shore up and promote preconceived opinions about which one has no real doubt and refuses to examine. When real philosophy is done with others it takes the form of dialog, not debate. It is conversation between friends, not opponents, who are friends of the truth before they are friends of each other. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.
There is nothing adversarial in a genuine philosophical conversation. The person I am addressing and responding to is not my adversary but a co-inquirer. In the ideal case there is between us a bond of friendship, a philiatic bond. But this philia subserves the eros of inquiry. The philosopher's love of truth is erotic, the love of one who lacks for that which he lacks. It is not the agapic love of one who knows and bestows his pearls of wisdom.
What I have described above, however, is rare in this fallen world of contention and strife. No philosophy without spectatorship, but here below we are embattled spectators. Hence the necessity of self-defense in several forms, from verbal polemic to shooting wars. The spaces of civility, wherein philosophy, science, the arts, humane living, and everything civilized flourish have always been encircled by evil forces against which one must be prepared to deploy violent remedies. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. (Cf. Plato, Laws, 628d) Civility is for the civil only. One must oppose and in extreme situations kill the enemies of civilization. Last century, Nazis among others; this century, radical Muslims.
But why not stick to one's stoa and cultivate one's specialist garden in peace and quiet, neither involving oneself in, nor forming opinions about, the wider world of politics and strife? Why risk one's ataraxia in the noxious arena of contention? Why not remain within the serene precincts of theoria? For those of us of a certain age the chances are good that death will arrive before the barbarians do. Why bother one's head with the issues of the day? Many of us will most likely collapse before the culture that sustains us does.
We enter the arena of contention because the gardens of tranquillity and the spaces of reason are worth defending, with blood and iron if need be, against the barbarians and their witting and unwitting leftist enablers. Others have fought and bled so that we can live this life of beatitude. What has been passed on to us, we must passon. And so though we are not warriors of the body we can and should do our bit as warriors of the mind to preserve for future generations this culture which allows us to pursue otium liberale in peace, quiet, and safety.
Some object to the popular 'Obamacare' label given that the official title of the law is 'Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act' or, as commonly truncated, 'Affordable Care Act.' But there is a good reason to favor the popular moniker: it is descriptive where the other two labels are evaluative, expressing as they do a pro attitude toward the bill.
Will the law really protect patients? That is an evaluative judgment based on projections many regard as flimsy. Will the law really make health care affordable? And for whom? Will care mandated for all be readily available and of high quality?
Everybody wants affordable and readily available health care of high quality for the greatest number possible. Note the three qualifiers: affordable, readily available, high quality. The question is how best to attain this end. The 'Affordable Care Act' label begs the question as to whether or not Obama's bill will achieve the desired end. 'Obamacare' does not. It is, if not all that descriptive, at least evaluatively neutral.
If Obama's proposal were referred to as "Socialized Medicine Health Care Act' or 'Another Step Toward the Nanny State Act,' people would protest the negative evaluations embedded in the titles. Titles of bills ought to be neutral.
So, if you are rational, you will not find anything derogatory about 'Obamacare.' But liberals are not known for being particularly rational. But they are known for playing the the race card in spades. (See my Race category for plenty of examples.) And if the liberal in questions hosts for that toxic leftist outlet, MSNBC, then 'morally obnoxious' can be added to the description. So the following comes as no particular surprise:
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry went off on a tangent in a recent broadcast, ranting about the racist overtones of a word that’s been used for years by both sides of the political aisle — Obamacare.
“I want to talk today about a controversial word,” she said, as FrontPageMag.com reported. “It’s a word that’s been with us for years. And like it or not, it’s indelibly printed in the pages of America history. A word that was originally intended as a derogatory term, meant to shame and divide and demean. The word was conceived by a group of wealthy white men who needed a way to put themselves above and apart from a black man — to render him inferior and unequal and diminish his accomplishments.”
Slanderous and delusional.
So the question arises once again: Can one be both a liberal and a decent and sane human being? Or is scumbaggery as it were inscribed into the very marrow of the contemporary liberal? Or perhaps it is more like this: once liberalism infects a person's mind, the decency that was there is flushed out. Need an example? Try Martin Bashir on for size. Or Keith Olbermann. (At the end of the hyperlink I defend Dennis Prager against Olbermann's vicious and stupid attack.)
I suppose I should say at least one good thing about MSNBC: both of the these leftist scumbags got the axe.
By the way, 'scumbag' is a derogatory word and is intended as such. But you knew that already. It is important to give leftists a taste of their own medicine in the perhaps forlorn hope that someday, just maybe, they will see the error of their ways and learn how to be civil. Civility is for the civil, not for assholes. 'Assholicity' for assholes.
Civility is a good old conservative virtue and I'm all for it. But like toleration, civility has limits. If you call me a racist because I argue against Obamacare, then not only do I have no reason to be civil in my response to you, I morally ought not be civil to you. For by being civil I only encourage more bad behavior on your part. By slandering me, you have removed yourself from the sphere of the civil. The slanderer does not deserve to be treated with civility; he deserves to be treated with hostility and stiff-necked opposition. He is deserving of moral condemnation.
If you call me a xenophobe because I insist that the federal government do what it is constitutionally mandated to do, namely, secure the nation's borders, then you slander me and forfeit whatever right you have to be treated civilly. For if you slander me, then you are moral scum and deserve to be morally condemned. In issuing my moral condemnation, I exercise my constitutionally-protected First Amendment right to free speech. But not only do I have a right to condemn you, I am morally obliged to do so lest your sort of evil behavior become even more prevalent.
Examples can be multiplied, but the point is clear. Civility has limits. One ought to be civil to the civil. But one ought not be civil to the uncivil. What they need is a taste of their own medicine.
One must also realize that 'civility' is a prime candidate for linguistic hijacking. And so we must be on our guard that the promoters of 'civility' are not attaching to this fine word a Leftward-tilting connotation. We must not let them get away with any suggestion that one is civil if and only if one is an espouser of liberal/left positions.
The motto of the No Labels outfit is "Not Left. Not Right. Forward." 'No Labels' is itself a label and a silly one , implying as it does that there are no important differences between Left and Right which need identification and labeling. It is also preposterous to suggest that we can 'move forward' without doing so along either broadly conservative or broadly liberal lines. To 'move forward' along liberal lines is to move in the direction of less individual liberty and ever-greater control by the government. This is simply unacceptable to libertarians and conservatives and must be stopped. There is little room for compromise here. How can one compromise with those whose fiscal irresponsibility will lead to a destruction of the currency? Any compromise struck with them can only be a tactical stopgap on the way to their total defeat. Fiscal responsibility and border security are two issues on which there can be no compromise. For it is obviously absurd to suppose that a genuine solution lies somewhere in the middle.
Worst of all, however is to claim that one is neither Left nor Right but then take policy stances that are leftist. This demonstrates a lack of intellectual honesty. The 'No Labels' folks cite the following as a "Shared Purpose":
Americans want a government that empowers people with the tools for success – from a world-class education to affordable healthcare – provided that it does so in a fiscally prudent way.
But that's not a shared purpose but a piece of pure leftism. First of all, it is not the government that 'empowers' people -- to acquiesce for the nonce in this specimen of PC lingo -- government is a necessary evil as libertarians and conservatives see it, and any empowering that gets done is best done by individuals in the absence of governmental shackles. It is also not the role of the federal government, as libertarians ansd conservatives see it, to educate people or provide health care. Only liberals with their socialist leanings believe that.
What the No Labels bunch is serving up is mendacity. First they paper over genuine differences of opinion and then they put forth their own opinion as neutral, as neither Left nor Right, when it is obviously leftist. So what these people are saying to us is that we should put aside all labels while toeing the leftist party line. And be civil too! I say to hell with that. Let's be honest and admit that there are deep differences. For example, if you say that health care is a right and I say it is not a right but a good, or a commodity, then we have a very deep difference.