Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A War of Ideas is a Political Process

Bruce McQuain of The Q and O Blog analyses a Jonathan Chait analysis of the impact the Netroots are having on the Democratic Party. One telling observation is that hyper-motivated moonbat activists are entirely focused on results. This mentality is so dominant that academic liberals who spend their time analyzing other analysts are held in contempt, if their efforts are not productive for the cause.

How successful have the Netroots been in driving the political debate? The prevailing sentiment here, however, is not a distrust of pointy heads. Rather, it's a belief that political discourse ought to be judged solely by its real-world effects. The Netroots consider the notion of pursuing truth for its own sake nonsensical. Their interest in ideas, and facts, is purely instrumental.

To Walsh and other journalists, the relevant metric is true versus untrue. To an activist, the relevant metric is politically helpful versus politically unhelpful. There is a term for this sort of political discourse: propaganda. The word has a bad odor, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Propaganda is often true, and it can be deployed on behalf of a worthy cause (say, the fight against Nazism in World War II). Still, propaganda should not be confused with intellectual inquiry. Propagandists do not follow their logic wherever it may lead them; they are not interested in originality. Propaganda is an attempt to marshal arguments in order to create a specific real-world result—to win a political war.

A war of ideas, though, is not an intellectual process; it is a political process. As my colleague Leon Wieseltier has written, "[I]f you are chiefly interested in the consequences, then you are not chiefly interested in the ideas." The Netroots, like most of the conservative movement, is interested in the consequences, not the ideas. The battle is being joined at last.

In other words, seeking power is absolutely not the same task as seeking truth. There is nothing inherently wrong in seeking power, however, power can be achieved by either coercion or conversion. The activist left have no qualms about using their fully operational propaganda machine. If the right does not sufficiently counter punch then they will continue to lose more public support than necessary.