Saturday, March 03, 2007

Joe Klein's Loyalty Oath

Time blogger Joe Klein gives his list of "left-wing extremist attributes." Here are some of the weirder ones.

--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.

Hm, I guess we still drive the world economy and produce a large number of the best medicines, but would it be so bad to say that we're at an, ahem, low point right now? What if the bad outweighed the good 51%-49%? Can you invade countries and kill hundreds of thousands of people and be a "fundamentally" positive force? I'm not even going to trot out the Aristotelian distinctions between potential and actual.

--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.

This is a strange "not/but." What if I don't believe it was an "individual case"? What if, however, I don't believe there's a "fundamental imperialistic nature"? How can I be a patriot, Joe?! Help me!!

--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.

Um, and if it's the second best...? It's odd that welfare-statism beats out, say, individual rights or the separation of public and private. Also, I hate to break it to Mr. Klein, but there are quite a few libertarians who now fall into the "left-wing extremist" category, since they don't believe in progressive taxation. Hell, much of the Democratic Party doesn't believe in progressive taxation.

--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).

What is this man talking about? I take it that most people live comfortably (probably too comfortably) with the fact that much of American society is unfair. Fairness would mean that neither one's class nor one's racial background would count against the chance of success. Does Klein really think these things can be "improved" away? By another, stronger, definition of fairness, one's natural endowments wouldn't count against you, either, since you didn't choose them. Only your effort would count. I take this to be the stance of many mainstream liberal thinkers, including Rawls and Dworkin. Indeed, in Rawls' case, the whole point of introducing the difference principle in A Theory of Justice is to correct for chance and good fortune, which he finds so morally arbitrary. I can't fault Klein for not having read Rawls, but I don't doubt that Rawls and many of his disciples would readily call American society "fundamentally unfair" as it stands now. Didn't Joe Klein's mother ever tell him life isn't fair?

--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the [sic] primarily the fault of society.

It's distinctly odd that unfairness is an "aspect to be improved," while crime and poverty are "eternal problems." What does it mean for these things to be "primarily" the "fault" of "society"? Would Klein prefer we say that they are "primarily" the fault of individuals? Does anyone really say that crime would disappear under a different social structure? Don't they say, rather, that it would be reduced? Can anyone really doubt this? Can anyone really doubt that we could eliminate poverty if we wanted to?

--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.

No one would actually have this disagreement with Joe Klein. They would agree with him that America exhibits the form of democracy he desires (representative republicanism), and he would agree with them that America doesn't exhibit the sort of democracy they desire.

--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.

Jebus, this man likes the word "fundamental." Here's my syllogism:

1. All corporations are fundamentally profit-making.
2. Untempered profit-making can lead to evil results.
3. ??? (All corporations fundamentally have the potential to be evil? All corporations have the fundamental potential to be evil? All corporations have the potential to be fundamentally evil?)

The most important thing to acknowledge, however, is that corporations definitely are "fundamentally" something: they are fundamentally profit-driven. Couldn't someone reasonably make the claim that having profit-making as your raison d'etre at the expense of other considerations is at least not good? Wouldn't even some Christians call this evil?

The most disturbing thing about this otherwise silly list is that Klein seems to be striking the pose that it doesn't matter if the things he lists are factually true or not; what matters is that you know how to respond appropriately to them. Imagine a list put out by a Fars news columnist that tells you how to point out an "anti-revolutionary extremist":

--believes that Iran is a fundamentally negative force in the world.
--believes that Iranian extremism is the primary cause of Western imperialism.
--doesn't believe that the Iranian Revolution is the best idea in human history.
--believes Iranian society is fundamentally unfair.

...etc. America may beat out Iran on every single one of the items posted, but all this "fundamental"/"primary" talk points to a more bizarre, propagandistic angle. You can read more about Klein's loyalty oath from Scott Lemieux and Ezra Klein.


Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

I agree, and am not going to make up a criticism in order to make reading this comment less of a waste of time--this time.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...


11:51 PM  

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