Not Unity But Civility


In the wake of the recent attempted assassination of a Republican Representative and other people at least nominally sympathetic to Republican principles, conservative commentator Mark Steyn makes a point that I had not thought about, but find myself agreeing with:

“If your organization calls people haters, you are the hater. I would like to disagree with the tone of what we have heard here today [on several Fox News broadcast segments], including in the last hour [from on-air talents]  Martha MacCallum and Brit Hume, when they were talking about unity and [asking] ‘will this unity last?’ ”

“Obviously, the unity won’t last, because ultimately [Republican Senator] Rand Paul has very little that unites him with [Independent Socialist Senator] Bernie Sanders [who caucuses with the Democrats]. We don’t actually need unity. We need robust, civilized disunity — people honestly recognizing that they disagree with each other on health care, on immigration, on Islam, on transgender bathrooms, and a bazillion other things, but that doesn’t make the other person a hater. Simply put, the left has to be willing to actually engage in debate with people that disagree with them.”

Steyn’s point complements what I’ve written several times about argument being a lost art. What passes for debate these days is too often less than that, especially on the political left, where a proliferation of idols keeps jealous guard over little fiefdoms with names like Tolerance, Diversity, Fairness, and Sustainability. This is because leftism is hell-bent on finding substitutes for what the (almost touchingly old school) Pledge of Allegiance calls “one nation under God.”

It’s no good to point at bogey men of the “alt-Right” and claim that the right and the left are mirror images of each other, because the vast majority of conservatives won’t give the alt-right the time of day, whereas progressives, propped up by fellow travelers in the media, tend to dismiss conservative concerns as “-isms” or phobias unworthy of engagement (until the shoe is on the other foot and those same little dogs who barked at the parade going by have somehow created a “climate of hate“).

Hyperbole and double standards not only exist; reflexive adherence to them is the price of admission to inner circles. When an appeal to reason makes an impression, leftists move the goalposts with variations of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. One example of that is the idea that Communism would work “if it had ever actually been tried properly.”

The air these days is thick with Twitter quips, sound bites, insults, and angry assertions (For example: it’s not just Donald Trump who is either cartoonishly or frighteningly evil in the eyes of some progressives — even his budget is evil). People raised on sitcom laugh tracks think a bon mot from someone in their ideological camp is today’s version of a speech from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But the aforementioned items are declarations rather than arguments, because arguments are built from the brick and mortar of premise and evidence. Arguments attempt to persuade by shedding logical light on cause and effect; they’re not simply flags to mark holes on the “Golf Course of Disagreement.”

Patrick O’Hannigan writes at Compass Headings

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