Rightbloggers on Healthy Conservative Debate: Shut Up! (Whoops, We Mean: Epistemic Closure!)

We're not accustomed to think of rightbloggers as intellectuals. For one thing -- as we have ample opportunity to observe here every week -- they sure don't act like intellectuals; in fact, they seem allergic to logical argument, and sometimes even committed to a backwards Bizarro World version of it.

Cases in point: Recently rightbloggers found in the revelation that SEC investigators had surfed for porn at work "proof that the big government socialist model is ineffective" -- notwithstanding that the surfing took place during the presumably non-socialist Bush Administration. (Or maybe the Bush SEC was socialist, but rightbloggers forgot to get mad about it until a Democrat was President.)

Also, when the Obama Administration expressed justifiable displeasure that a famous rightwing plagiarist had reported, without evidence, that a possible Supreme Court nominee was gay, rightbloggers took their outrage to mean that "this White House unwittingly showed the liberal streak of anti-gay feelings."

There's also the traditional conservative contempt for pointy-heads in general -- a historical hallmark of their movement, but especially resonant in the blog world, where ALL-CAPS bellowing is considered a valid form of argument -- as with Reliapundit's accusation of "KNEE-JERK LEFT-WING IDIOCY" against Stephen Hawking -- yes, that's right, the world-renowned physicist. Hawking suggested that space aliens, if they came to earth, might not come in peace. This seems unremarkable, but Hawking compared such an encounter to Columbus' with Native Americans, which apparently fired Reliapundit's chauvinism; he summoned as contrary evidence "MEL GIBSON'S APOCALYPTO" and "MICHAEL MANN'S THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS," then presumably pointed up a finger-gun and blew across its tip.

But as is shown by the examples of the jailhouse lawyer and the backwoods attorney, even the bleakest wastelands will attract some sort of intellectual class, and the conservative world is no exception.

Among the better-known big thinkers of the online right is the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, who first came to public notice as an accessory to his mother Lucianne Goldberg in her exploitation of Monica Lewinski and Linda Tripp against Bill Clinton. He is best known for Liberal Fascism, a book basically about how Democrats are the intellectual heirs of Adolf Hitler, which became understandably popular among rightbloggers and cemented his reputation as one of the movement's great minds.

Perhaps because of his status within the movement, Goldberg likes to brag about the intellectual superiority of conservatives. While "for mainstream Democratic Party liberals one gets the sense that the history of their movement is all about action and emotion and very little about ideas," he has written, "I can't think of a single editor or contributing editor of National Review who can't speak intelligently about the intellectual titans of conservatism going back generations."

If this claim that his colleagues have exhaustively studied conservative philosophy as if it were Mao's Little Red Book does not convince you of conservatism's intellectual cred, Goldberg also explains that conservatives, unlike liberals, have healthy debates: "The history of the conservative movement's successes," he claimed in 2005, "has been the history of intellectual donnybrooks ...while the conservatives defend different ideological philosophical schools -- neoconservatism, traditionalism, etc. -- the liberals argue almost exclusively about which tactics Democrats should embrace to win the White House."

Through years of rightwing blather about death panels, Obama's birth certificate, and, well, Liberal Fascism, Goldberg has clung to this line. When young political writers Julian Sanchez and Noah Millman recently suggested that instead the modern conservative movement was tending toward close-mindedness -- or, as they rather grandly put it, "epistemic closure" -- Goldberg was compelled to enter the debate. "I just don't know what these people are talking about when it comes to the notion that the conservative mind is closed," he said. "Where is the data to back this up?"

The data came about a week later, when National Review contributor Jim Manzi wrote an unfavorable review of Liberty and Tyranny -- a book about the global warming "fraud" by one of National Review's conservative Elect, Mark Levin.

Manzi carefully explained that, while he "had a lot of sympathy for many of its basic points" -- Manzi is also skeptical of AGW -- he regretfully could not endorse Levin's slovenly reasoning and unsupported assertions. Manzi was admittedly provocative -- he called the book "wingnuttery," an insult favored by liberals -- but within the terms of the current conservative intramural debate: He meaningfully put into the title of his post the words "epistemic closure."

What ensued might indeed be described as a "donnybrook," though not of the sort Goldberg may have meant. A team of National Review writers quickly jumped Manzi, and did not seek to disguise that their main objection was not the quality of Manzi's review as a review, but that he had betrayed the gang and its code of intellectual omerta.

"I love debate, as people here know," asserted Kathryn J. Lopez, "but to treat Mark Levin as a mere 'entertainer' who was just looking for a bestseller is to not know Mark Levin or have taken his book seriously." Regrettably she did not link to a biographical slideshow whereby readers could get to know Levin better.

"No one minds a good debate," claimed Andy McCarthy, "but Jim's gratuitously nasty tone... is just breathtaking... [Manzi] has always struck me as a model of civility, especially in his disagreements with the Left [!]. Why pick Mark for the Pearl Harbor treatment?"

That seems rather gentle, if oddly personalized -- but later McCarthy, perhaps fortified by a pep rally or a couple of drinks, returned to sputter more ferociously against Manzi. The gist: McCarthy had found an article by a scientist named Lindzen, who had been cited by Manzi; like Manzi, Lindzen is a global warming skeptic, but much more full-throated about it and, more importantly, he didn't insult Mark Levin.

"To me, Lindzen doesn't seem like a kook who probably thinks the Queen of England and the Trilateral Commission are in on a farcical global science scam," snarled McCarthy. "But what do I know? I don't even have a Ph.D."

Sounds like a direct warning to the apostate: We can always get a nuttier wingnut!

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