Hmmm.... some people seem awfully nervous about shutting down debate... right after slamming me. That's a fascinating approach to debate! That called some movie scene to mind for me... What was it? Something I'd seen recently. Oh, yes. It was this:
McMurphy: The Chief voted. Now will you please turn on the television set?Jonathan Adler closes the glass window. Aw, come on, you're not gonna say that now. You're gonna pull that hen-... that... c-... that rooster-house sh*t now?
Nurse Ratched: [she opens the glass window] Mr. McMurphy. The meeting was adjourned and the vote was closed.
McMurphy: But the vote was 10 to 8. The Chief, he's got his hand up! Look!
Nurse Ratched: No, Mr. McMurphy. When the meeting was adjourned, the vote was 9 to 9.
McMurphy: [exasperated] Aw, come on, you're not gonna say that now. You're not gonna say that now. You're gonna pull that hen-house sh*t now when the vote... the Chief just voted - it was 10 to 9. Now I want that television set turned on, right now!
[Nurse Ratched closes the glass window.]
You can't close the glass window in blogging. There are no last words in blogging.
So, Drezner says "Jacob Levy gets the last, definitive word." Oh, it's not only "last," it's "definitive"? It's the last, definitive, authoritative, conclusive, decisive, closing, concluding, terminal, ultimate, final thing anyone can ever, ever, ever say on the subject. Could you demonstrate a little more eagerness to cut off the debate there, Dan?
But before Nurse Drezner closes the glass window, he also has an earlier update, where he quotes me responding to him and responds to me.
Althouse responds here:Note the strange situation that always goes on when I engage with academic types. I'm writing in a different mode from them. I'm not trying to model an academic writing style or demeanor. I'm writing in a way that makes the squares exclaim "You, a law professor!" I'm doing something different here.Idea geeks. Okay. Well, my experience in legal academia is that people who try to get into the idea geek zone need to get their pretensions punctured right away. The sharp lawprof types I admire always see a veneer on top of something more important, and our instinct is to peel it off. What is your love of this idea really about? That's our method.I confess I'm not entirely sure what "geek zone mellow" means. I think Ann is warning the blogoshere [sic] that people in love with ideas qua ideas need someone to take a pragmatist hammer and whack them upside the head every once in a while.
We are here to harsh your geek zone mellow.
So, Dan had written about himself as an "idea geek" and the Liberty Fund conferences as places that attract a lot of "idea geeks" who like to sit around and debate ideas in the abstract. So that would be an "idea geek zone." That's not hard, is it? Beyond that, you need to recognize the phrase "harsh your mellow." Think about what all of this means. If you love ideas so damned much, why can't you put these ideas together? Dan, if you want to respond to me and declare things to be last, definitive words, you've got to work harder at trying to understand the things that come at you from a different angle. Don't just scrunch up your face in the Althouse-doesn't-make-sense expression.
All well and good. But my experience in political science -- particularly international relations -- is that a distressingly high percentage of legal academics write from such an atheoretical, normative perspective that they don't realize that underlying their legal and policy pragmatics are implicit theories that need to be exposed, prodded, probed, and (often) pierced. I might add that it is my fervent hope that legal academics keep on doing this, because it means that they will continue to provide empirical grist for my theoretical mill.Exposed, prodded, probed, and (often) pierced. No sexual imagery there!
All he's really got is the assertion that he doesn't like pragmatism. It's too atheoretical and normative. But pragmatism is a theory, whether you like it or not. And the demand for normativity is also theoretical. That I don't write blog posts in the style of academic theorizing doesn't mean I couldn't if I wanted to. I'm a blogger, engaged in a writing project of a particular kind that is different from what you're doing and that means a lot to me. I could write a very theoretical article about what I am doing here, but that's not what I do here. Meanwhile, you're essentially stooping to namecalling. How theoretical is that?
Now, let's move on to the supposedly final authority on what I got so terribly wrong when I objected to some abstract theories that would have preserved segregation until racists had a change of heart: Jacob Levy. Jacob Levy is a political science professor at McGill University. (Here's a picture of him.) He has this to say about me:
There's a very strange...
blogspheric discussion afoot about federalism, whether and how American federalism is tainted by Jim Crow, antidiscrimination law vs. freedom of contract, and the bounds of civil discourse-- strange because somehow it's all come to center around Ann Althouse's judgments about who weirded her out at a conference, which seems not to be the most intellectually productive starting point....
Levy is another one of these academic bloggers who launch into writing about me -- taking a superior but clunky attitude -- without getting my approach to blogging. Yes, I wrote a post that was an impressionistic take on my experience in a particular social setting. Now, of course, it wasn't just an introspective me-and-my-feelings manifestation of blogginess. There were daggers in there. And I was doing something provocative. People were provoked. One thing led to another. Various humorless oafs roused themselves to throw punches at me. I take responsibility for doing all of that. It is, after all, what I do.
I've got a discussion of these questions in my APSR paper, and a much more extensive follow-up in a an article that should be coming out in Social Philosophy and Policy any day now....Oh, well, then you've got the most intellectually productive starting point. (And ending point, if we're to listen to Adler and Drezner.) You've got some articles. Wow -- the reader is suppsed to think -- unlike with Althouse, this is sure to be intellectual.
Nevermind that I've published scholarly articles on the subject of federalism for the past 20 years. Levy spells out some basic points and platitudes about federalism as if I'd never heard them before. Because, you know, I didn't put them in my blog post. (Go to the link if you want to consume Jacob's pedantry on federalism.)
He then has this about me:
Oy. I just read some more of Althouse's own posts on all this-- which are a really bizarre mix of extreme defensiveness, extreme personal vitriol, and a dramatic interest in herself and her own sense of righteousness.Don't bother to mention that that I was responding to a vicious personal attack on me. You're a real model of fairness yourself there, Jacob.
And I then remembered the tone, and remembered where I'd heard of Ann Althouse before. (I know she's become a big-deal blogger, but she's never been on my to-read list.) She was the one who found Feministing blogger Jessica guilty of having breasts while standing in the same room as Bill Clinton.So I'm the one with "extreme personal vitriol," when you swing wildly like that? No one reading this could begin to understand what that old controversy was really about. Shame on you, Jacob Levy, for presenting such one-sided hostility on that touchy old topic. My side of it is that Feministing is a blog that holds itself out as feminist yet spices up its webpage with numerous images of breasts, and that the blogger Levy sees fit to call only by her first name proudly posed in front of Bill Clinton, at a luncheon designed to enlist bloggers in the Clinton political agenda and lacked the feminist grit to object to what Clinton meant for feminism. Not that she "had breasts." That is the meme spread by various bloggers who felt like defending Clinton. You know, Jacob Levy, if you're such a powerful intellectual, why not put a little deep thought into this instead of just catching the meme and re-spewing it. And if you want to pontificate about the ethics of blogging and denounce me, clean up your own act.
The arguments that followed spiralled nastily quickly-- I think due to that same combination of traits. I don't know Professor Althouse-- never met her-- and I have no idea whether the persona of her blog corresponds to her character. (Blogging's not for everybody, and it can be very tricky to keep control of the tone of one's blogging.) But the blog persona seems to be consistent across the two cases, and to be... something less than admirable.Look in a mirror, pal.
Levy prints a comment from a reader who suggests that Levy actually agreed with me about federalism. Levy bristles:
Althouse's position isn't really an anti-dogmatist one. It's dogmatism without a theory.Levy's all: I have a theory, which is mine, a theory that is, that it is, this theory of mine, this theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, it is mine...
She's drawn a bright line in a particular place, and those on the wrong side of it are presumed to be arguing in bad faith for malicious motives because no one could ever really hold such a view. Her bright line isn't drawn deductively, but it's a much brighter line than those that have been drawn by any of her critics. Even if I draw the federalism line kind of close to where she does, I do so on the basis of balancing considerations some of which she's preemptively declared it illegitimate to even take into account.What is he talking about? You may well wonder. What's this bright-line dogmatism? And what are these presumptions I've supposedly made? He seems to be demanding high standards of logical reasoning, but he's engaging in pure rant here. You can't even tell what he's talking about. And even as a generalization, it's nothing even close to an accurate account of what I said. He is simply falling all over himself trying to denounce me.
And this is what Adler and Drezner think is the last word? Oh, you boys are showing all the signs of desperate denial. Let's remember what the subject is. I said that if you are devoted to an abstract theory of government that would have allowed racial segregation to persist indefinitely, then it raises the question whether the reason you like this theory so much is either that you actually desire segregation or that you are insufficiently concerned about it. Once this question arises, you need to talk about it, and the avoidance of the question makes those who have the question feel even more dissatisfaction with the theory. How does that fit with Levy's final rant? It's more strenuous avoidance of my question, with efforts at slurring me for even asking it.
Really, it's quite absurd. The problem of race is central to American law and history. If you don't want to talk about it, you have a problem. If you retreat into abstractions and go on and on about how intellectual and theoretical and logical you are, you look worse and worse to people who care about civil rights.
This is exactly what occurred at that dinner with Ron Bailey. The more intensely the self-styled theoreticians insist on avoiding the serious question about race, the more nagging the question becomes, the more you feel pulled toward blurting out what is -- I admit! -- impolite: How do I know I'm not sitting at a table with racists? How would actually sitting at a table with racists be any different from this? Assuming, of course, they were intellectual racists. With theories. Who spell out deductions for you. And for themselves. I'm sure they've gotten so sophisticated they don't even think about race at all anymore and so cannot imagine themselves as racists, who are those crass, illiterate southerners of bygone days. And this, in case you don't know, is a theory.
Meanwhile, back at the comments to Jonathan Adler's post, someone who calls himself Tom Tildrum has some words about the Levy post that Adler called "the last word":
I'm sorry; I consistently like Levy's writing and have always found him quite sensible, but this post is a trainwreck.Yeah, really. And Adler and Drezner could apologize for linking to that and calling it "the last word."
His seven scholarly points boil down to the conclusion that political theory has absolutely nothing substantive to offer on the question at hand (concluding that "it's a case-by-case balancing test" is not a theory).
Overall, Levy's post simply evades Althouse's point: does he believe that to oppose the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "is not to support Jim Crow"? That's what Althouse was writing about, and the fact that the Liberty Fund's stated principles lead to opposition of *that* extension of federal power. Levy twists around this issue by changing the subject and writing instead about "the centralization of 1937," but that's so far off point as to be nearly irrelevant.
Levy does make the point that "in figuring out the balance of advantages about any particular allocation of responsibility between the states and the center, Jim Crow must loom large in the American historical memory." That point, of course, is precisely what Althouse was arguing at the Liberty Fund conference, and precisely what the libertarians there were insistently ignoring. For some reason, though, when Althouse makes Levy's own point, Levy calls her "dogmatic." Given Levy's focus only on Althouse's arguments, and not on the libertarians' pigheadedness, his analysis is hopelessly one-sided.
What's worse, Althouse is dogmatically anti-racist "without a theory"! Given Levy's own inability to articulate any coherent theoretical point about federalism and racism, this conclusion is simply risible.
Finally, Levy chastises Althouse for her personal tone, while wholly ignoring the personal nature of the Ron Bailey's attacks on her. This is borderline sexist; when a man goes after a woman in this way, Levy has nothing to say, but when a woman retaliates, he's offended.
Thus, I would hate to think that this aberrantly poor post (from a writer whom, as I said, I usually respect very much) should be taken as the last word on this subject. I think Levy needs to respond forthrightly to the real questions that Althouse has raised: can one oppose the passage of the Civil Rights Act without supporting Jim Crow, and if one's principles lead one to support Jim Crow, is that racist? Also, I think Levy needs to examine how much his own predilections and loyalties may have influenced his analysis, and he should apologize to Althouse for the slanted and patronizing tone of his post.
UPDATE: Levy doesn't apologize, but, in an update to the post discussed here, he does seem to concede that he doesn't get this blog (not that he intends to start trying). In the comments, Amba gives me some classic Amba-style encouragement that I really appreciate:
Cloistered intellectual weasels vs. a street-fighting thinker, or street-thinking fighter. It really makes you see that thinking needs to be liberated from the academy to have any relevance to reality. Thanks, Ann.It help to have someone I admire so much see what I'm trying to do and help me keep believing in it.