Max Weber and Climate Science
Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has a useful take on how to handle the various flavors of popular denial. While couched in the clothes of Why we shouldn’t play nice with David Horowitz: A Response to What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts the last being a book by Michael Berube about his encounters with the various beasts inhabiting the right wing of Ethon's US eagle cousins.
This is the problem of ‘John’ – a pretty obnoxious sounding conservative student in one of Bérubé’s seminars whose stridency in class was underpinned by an apparent unwillingness to think through the implications of his viewpoints. Second, the hacks – the Michelle Malkins, Dinesh D’Souzas, Abigail Thernstroms and David Horowitzes of the world, who purport to be public intellectuals, but who appear willing to be more or less dishonest in pursuit of political goals, and who in many cases don’t seem to believe in the ideal of independent inquiry that motivates the academy. Third are the serious critics, conservative and otherwise, whom Bérubé is willing to engage with (albeit rather impatiently) while complaining about their sometime unwillingness to dissociate themselves from the hacks.There is much here to read, and Eli is most happy to see the argument couched in terms of Max Weber's writings. Eli was a great Weber fan in college, and sees in Weber the kind of hard headed realism coupled to analytical honesty that he aspires to himself. There is a great discussion of how to handle opinionated but not very knowledgeable students, the parties of the first part. If nothing else it shows the relative immaturity and shallowness of the various framing discussions found in these blogs. Eli has an excuse, he is a Rabett, but others have a powerful lot of reading to do. The parties of the second part, the hacks, that is a different fish in the kettle
Bérubé’s ideal academy is one that has a place for conservatives, and for people whom he disagrees with radically. Indeed, this is key to the “pragmatic anti-foundationalism” that underpins his specific form of procedural liberalism. Substantive liberals – those who believe in the importance of equality etc – don’t have a monopoly on the truth. Therefore, we need procedural liberalism too,
However, I think that they don’t provide good guidance when dealing with, say, David Horowitz, on, say, the horrible state of the academy. It’s worth examining Horowitz’s modus operandi to see why. His main line of attack is that of the standard political hack, concocting a farrago of innuendoes, half-truths and out-and-out lies in order to beat down those whom he sees as his political opponents. However, when he’s attacked in the same terms as those he himself engages in, he’s perfectly happy to appeal to academic norms of reasoned debate in order to accuse his accusers of themselves being politicized. When academics on the contrary try to engage him in reasoned debate, they’ve lost the battle before they’ve started it. They grant his (often preposterous) claims a credibility that they don’t deserve, and set themselves up to have the bejasus beaten out of them through distortion, selective editing etc.Berube put it pretty clearly
In this context—the Chronicle, as opposed to Hannity & Colmes—this grants Horowitz, and his complaints about academe, a certain legitimacy. My job, therefore, is to contest that legitimacy, and to model a way of dealing with Horowitz that does not give him what he wants: namely, (1) important concessions or (2) outrage. He feeds on (2), of course, and uses it to power the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Massive Persecution Complex he runs out of Los Angeles; and most of the time, we give it to him by the truckload. Liberal and left academics need to try (3), mockery and dismissal, and thereby demonstrate, as I put it on my blog, that when someone tries to blame tuition increases on Cornel West’s speaking fees, that person needs to be ridiculed and given a double minor for unsportsmanlike bullshit.Which, again, is something that Eli has aspired to and it is a lesson that those who counsel constant comity need to learn. Go read the whole thing.