In his column today Victor Davis Hanson considers “the new sophists.” Hanson holds that “we are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern equivalent of Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound.”
First come the proponents of unfalsifiable global warming. Then come the Obama administration’s advocates of monumental deficit spending with the rationale of stimulus.
Last comes the toughest case: “a new generation of young, sophistic bloggers who offer their wisdom from the New York-Washington corridor. They are usually graduates of America’s elite colleges and navigate in an upscale urban landscape.”
On the last point Dr. Hanson gives the example of “the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein[.]” He notes that Klein “recently scoffed to his readers [actually, MSNBC viewers} that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was ‘100 years old’ and had ‘no binding power on anything.'” (Klein actually asserted that “the issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago.”)
Dr. Hanson argues those who credit the new sophists “equat[e] wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school.” Inherently absurd arguments take their authority “in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.”
Ezra Klein is a difficult case. His credentials are not in fact impressive. He is a graduate of UCLA who started blogging as an undergraduate. He continued on his merry way in one venue or another until he was taken in by the Washington Post, or until he took the Post in.
Before his analysis of the Constitution, Klein had distinguished himself for his insight into Senator Lieberman’s opposition to one variation of Obamacare that Klein supported. Klein opined on the Washington Post site: “Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.” It was this kind of deep stuff for which the Post brought him on board.
Before his disquisition on the Constituion Klein was perhaps most famous as the proprietor of the late JournoList discussion group, where liberal journalists coordinated their approach to people and politics. Members of JournoList included, among others: Jeffrey Toobin, Eric Alterman, Paul Krugman, Joe Klein (no relation to Ezra Klein), Matthew Yglesias, and Jonathan Chait. Mickey Kaus, who first disclosed the existence of JournoList, called it “the Klein Klub.”
Wikipedia reminds us that Klein had a deep explanation for the exclusive left-wing tilt of the Klub. According to Klein, it was “not about fostering ideology but preventing a collapse into flame war. The emphasis is on empiricism, not ideology.”
As for Klein: Sophism, yes. Credentials, no.
And Hanson is overly modest regarding the lack of a modern Socrates “remind[ing] the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound.” Hanson himself is doing a good job holding down the fort for anyone who is paying attention.
PAUL adds: Ezra Klein — self-styled empiricist — is known (slightly) for insisting that Obamacare will reduce the national debt by $100 billion over the next ten years. At the Corner, Kevin Williamson and Veronique de Rugy take on this bit of sophistry.
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