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Beyond Goldberg

How you can tell me that I shouldn't dismiss Marxists out of hand when they have something useful to say, while your book serves as one long ad hominem against two dimensional, greedy, "mainstream conservatives" is really quite beyond me. ~Jonah "Lie for a Just Cause" Goldberg, Crunchy Cons

One major point: the book does not use ad hominem arguments. It is precisely a critique of the ethics championed by "mainstream conservatives." Ad hominem arguments are fallacious because they attempt to disprove a man's argument by citing an irrelevant or spurious fact about the man. Thus the man would say, "It seems to me that all knowledge comes from sense perception," and his opponent would shout, "What would a fascist like you know about epistemology?" That is ad hominem. There are varying levels of it, but one will read in vain to find anything like that in the book. Rather like labeling people "unpatriotic" for taking a different view of foreign policy. Sound familiar?

Hortatory rhetoric is something all together different. Hortatory rhetoric engages in criticism, and often it is criticism of a man's habits because the habits are detrimental to the man and tend towards his moral and (if it is in a homily) spiritual ruin. It would not surprise me that it is beyond Goldberg to know the difference between exhortation and ad hominem.

On the question of citing Marxists when they happen to say something insightful (always in spite of themselves and their ideology), Goldberg's complaint does not make a lot of sense. When Marxists agree with the conservative tradition, we can recognise that and acknowledge the agreement. The Conservative Mind itself is an extended effort to discern conservatism in what might appear to be the most unlikely of places (Santayana!--why, wasn't he an atheist?) and claim the sensibility Kirk discerned in them as a conservative one to weave a conservative tradition in the English-speaking world that treasured the same goods. That is, to be blunt, the entire point of the book. The point of Rod's book, for those folks who have still missed it, is to show the ways in which the way of life of "mainstream conservatives" cannot really be squared with the conservative tradition Kirk was describing. Goldberg revolts against Rod's eclecticism, but a major strand of the modern American conservative movement was born from a labour of eclecticism. There might be reasons to criticise some of the eclectic choices here and there, but the method itself is one that Kirk himself did use. That part of the conservative inheritance is apparently also beyond Goldberg.

Daniel Larison | March 01, 2006


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