Take a vat of whine, add a heaped tablespoon of chutzpah, and you have the perfect recipe for an RWA on the losing side of an argument. 3 cases in point:
- David Horowitz in “debate” with Reed University dean Peter Steinberger (2006). Horowitz was pimping his “Academic Freedom” bill and regaling the audience with tales of leftist professors indoctrinating children with leftism with YOUR tax dollars. Pious lecture on how an education should teach you how to think not what to think, how to gather evidence and construct an argument & c. & c. The usual schtick. Steinberger asked why, given Horowitz’s role as a rightwing culture warrior, who in his own words believes that “In political war, argument, evidence and truth are irrelevant,” anyone should take his posturing on academic virtues seriously. He then addressed the indoctrination mythology, demonstrating how Horowitz is a purveyor of what Steinberger called “the truthful lie[: . . .] saying something that is technically true in order to tell a substantive lie.” Citing several examples, Steinberger focused upon one instance in which Horowitz egregiously misrepresented the content of a textbook on modernity. In order to support his accusation that students were being “force-fed a Marxist diet” in a certain political science class he was auditing, Horowitz claimed that the book provides no opposing views to Marxism, makes no mention of Hayek (gasp!), whereas there are “plenty of discussions of obscure Marxists like Nicholas Poulantzas, who wrote a book on the ruling class in the 1960s, before jumping out a window at the age of 29.”
[STEINBERGER:] Horowitz says that there’s no reference to Hayek, which presumably proves that students are being force-fed a narrow, one-sided Marxist diet. It’s absolutely true, there’s no reference to Hayek. What Horowitz fails to say, however, is that the book is an introduction to sociological and historical approaches, and that the absence of an economist like Hayek is hardly unusual. He also fails to say that, while there’s no reference to Hayek, there is in fact a substantial discussion of Hayek’s great intellectual predecessor, Adam Smith, the founder of political economy, the source of the market approach that Hayek adopted and almost certainly the greatest influence on Hayek himself.
Further, Horowitz, therefore, doesn’t say that the treatment of Adam Smith is in fact not even remotely negative. It is highly respectful, it is balanced, serious, rather accurate. Horowitz tells a technical truth-no Hayek in the index-to tell a substantive lie: namely, that only Marxist views are presented.
As the passive indicates, Horowitz says that there are numerous discussions in the book of obscure Marxists like Nicholas Poulantzas. Again, the point is that students are being force-fed a narrow, one-sided Marxist diet. What he doesn’t say is that, in the entire book, and it is a huge book, 670 pages, there’s exactly one mention of Poulantzas, a single paragraph. It’s four sentences long, right there. They’re not the shortest sentences in the world, but not the longest either. That’s four sentences in a massive book of 670 pages. In fact, it’s a bit surprising that Poulantzas is not treated in more detail, since he’s actually one of the more influential Marxist theorists of the post-war period. Now, it’s true, as Horowitz says, that the index contains reference to some other Marxist theorists. But what he doesn’t say is that the index contains at least as many references to theorists who would broadly be classified as conservative. Not anti-Marxist liberals, but conservatives of one stripe or another. Specifically, Hannah Arendt, Ramon Aron, Daniel Bell, Isaiah Berlin, Francis Fukuyama, Hans George Gadamer, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Alistair McIntyre, Robert Nesbit, Talcott Parsons, Edward Shils. Classical theorists, like Burke, Coleridge, Herder, Montesquieu, Ricardo, Tocqueville. All in the index, all of whom are somewhere on the right side of the political spectrum and, from the passages that I looked at, virtually all treated with responsible respect.
Horowitz tells a technical truth: there is a reference to Poulantzas in order to tell a substantive lie. In fact, the book devotes about equal attention to Marx, Durkheim and Weber, which is precisely what one would expect of any responsible approach to the sociology of modernity. And its treatment of those authors is remarkably and appropriately balanced. It does take Marxism very seriously, as it should, but it also takes Durkheim and Weber at least equally seriously and one would be hard-pressed to find any expression of a clear preference. At one point, for example, it concludes that, I’m quoting now, “Weber produced a model of class structure which allowed for infinitely more complexity that Marx’s polar model.” It also says, for example, that Stalinism identified as one of the great horrors of world history, “is not simply an aberration of the Marxist project, rather, it is an outcome of the deep structure of Marxist categories.” The book is filled with sharp criticisms of Marx and is filled with deep admiration for Durkheim and Weber.
Horowitz says the book is an ideological Marxist tome. Well, there are plenty of ideological Marxist tomes out there, but believe me, this isn’t one of them. It’s not even close. There’s just no connection between what Horowitz says about the book and the book itself. He’s made it up. Why would he do this? It’s just impossible to believe that anyone could read this book and conclude that it is an ideological Marxist tome. The only explanation I can think of is that he is indeed a political warrior, who will say whatever it takes to win and the truth be damned.
Ouch. Steinberger concluded with the very astute observation that forcing universities to hire faculty on the basis of their political beliefs rather than academic merit is the very antithesis of the academic freedom Horowitz and his supporters claim to desire. This prompted Horowitz to chew up 20 minutes of his 5 minutes allotted rebuttal time (which in turn prompted the moderator to depart in wrath) moaning and screaming about how mean and nasty the dean was being to him, how disrespectful, how he took back everything nice he said about the dean, given his “personal, vicious and totally mendacious attack.” They’re such manly-men, these RWAs, in the company of likeminded individuals on Fox News. They’re such crybabies when their arguments are put under the microscope.
- PZ Myers versus the Discovery Institute’s Geoffrey Simmons in debate on Christian radio. This Simmons character is really something to behold. First, he demanded (and won) a change of topic, given that the original topic would have obliged him to present evidence in favour of intelligent design. The hosts tried to claim responsibility for the “error,” but Myers saw right through that, and said so in his opening remarks. Next, Simmons tried on the “look Mum the evolutionist just admitted that evolution is only a theory!!!” routine, putting Myers in the position of having to explain to a physician what he should already know.
Then Simmons got into this thing about how there were no intermediate fossils between land mammals and whales (he read it in a copy of Scientific American, apparently), and when Myers asked him if he had heard of Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, Rhodcetus, Basilosaurus, etc., Simmons–the author of Billions of Missing Links: A Rational Look at the Mysteries Evolution Can’t Explain–replied in the negative. When Myers then pointed out that Simmons’ ignorance about whale evolution does not count as evidence against it, Simmons cried foul and accused Myers of being abusive, using terms like “ignorant.” (The hosts also chided Myers at this point.) Oh boy.
- The Coalition. Four sitting days and four question times per week under Howard (with countless gagged and guillotined debates). Five sitting days and four question times per week under Rudd. And the Opposition behaves like a three-year old on the floor of a supermarket aisle when it has been denied a Milky Way.
Need I say more?