Friday, January 11, 2008

Not-Much Shorter Jonah: "Tom Wolfe Likes It!"

Two of the recurring themes at Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism blog are that (I paraphrase) none of the liberal critics of the book have actually read it; and rather than engage its arguments, liberal critics dismiss the credentials of the author. These, of course, are demonstrably untrue--especially the former, as more and more folks on the left make some attempt to engage a book that doesn't merit the effort.

Yesterday evening, I got annoyed enough at the disingenuousness of this to e-mail Jonah for the purpose of calling him on it. To his credit, he responded (and he does deserve credit for that; I could name a fair number of big liberal bloggers who don't bother to respond to e-mail from strangers). Hence, the following exchange.


This constant refrain of 'liberal critics haven't read the book' is vulnerable on (at least) two fronts. First, you highlight the liberals who say they haven't read it but neglect to mention the ones who have. I won't even include Sadly, No!, hilarious and apt as their dissection was, because I'm sure you don't consider their approach 'serious'; but what about Spencer Ackerman?

Secondly, when a critic is more familiar with the underlying history and philosophy than you are (as seems to be the case with John Holbo), and it's clear to him that they don't support *any* argument remotely like the one you advance, then what does it matter that he hasn't read
your *particular* argument? If I were to construct an elaborate justification for the notion that the world is flat, would anyone with a passing familiarity with science really have to read it to know that it's completely wrong?
wow this is silly. If you take spencer ackerman and sadly no remoyely seriously, you're a fool. As for holbo, he's wrong and he hasn't read it. If he had, i'd bother with him. But how do you deal with the fact that a great many very serious people agree with the book in large measure. Ron radosh is no hack. Dan Pipes, steve hayward, tome wolfe, (coming soon) paul johnson: these people outweigh everyone you mention by a wide, wide, margin.

Try harder.
Thanks for responding.

This is a bit of a shell game here. When people dismiss the book based on your own lack of distinction, you say we should engage the arguments; when Spencer Ackerman clearly and cogently demolishes your arguments, you say Spencer Ackerman is a nobody. See the problem

And by the way, Radosh, Pipes, and Johnson are ideologically-driven hacks. Wolfe has written some pretty good works of (sort-of) non-fiction and several terrible novels; sometimes he is very
perceptive and sometimes he gets it laughably wrong, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground.
again, if you think a nut job like ackerman is serious, you're a fool. Radosh just recently evicerated stan evans ' book on mccarthy in nr. And so far all of your arguments are variations on appeals to authority of your choosing. Sorry, this really isn't worth a lot of my time. [hyperlink added]
So, to recap:
  1. I suggest that he is ignoring people who do engage the substance;
  2. He responds by telling me his favorable references are far weightier than the critics I cite;
  3. I point out that he is engaging in precisely the sort of appeal to authority he has accused liberal critics of using against him;
  4. He calls Spencer Ackerman a 'nut case', and accuses me of arguing from authority.
Which, of course, is exactly what Jonah does in the book: set up a fallacious opposing argument, demolish it, then turn around and assert exactly the same sort of argument from the opposite direction.