Brandeis’s Ignorance

Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941; Supreme Court justice, 1916-1939) penned many snappy aphorisms. Here’s one that “progressives” are especially fond of: “Behind every argument is someone’s ignorance.” Here it is in larger context:

Behind every argument is someone’s ignorance. Re-discover the foundation of truth and the purpose and causes of dispute immediately disappear.

Spoken like the true technocrat that Brandeis was. The “truth” was his to know, and to enforce through government action, beginning long before his ascent to the Supreme Court.

There are fundamental and irreconcilable differences that Brandeis’s “truth” cannot bridge. Brandeis and his intellectual kin would never admit that, of course, so bent were (and are) they on imposing their “truth” on all Americans.

Is it ignorant to value liberty over the promise of economic security, especially when it’s obtained at the expense of liberty?

Is it ignorant to treat terrorism as a risk that’s categorically different than a traffic accident or lightning strike?

Is it ignorant to defend traditional values and their civilizing influence against the depradations of one’s cultural and physical enemies?

Is is ignorant to fear that America’s police and armed forces will become less able to defend peaceful citizens when those forces are weakened in the name of “sexual equality”?

Is it ignorant to oppose the subversion of the institution of marriage, which is the bedrock of civil society, in the name of “marriage equality”?

“Progressives” will answer “yes” to all the questions. Thus proving the ignorance of “progressives” and the wisdom of opposing “progressivism.”

Related posts:
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Intellectuals and Society: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
The Culture War
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
The Pretence of Knowledge
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Ruminations on the Left in America
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
The Real Burden of Government
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
A Dose of Reality
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
God-Like Minds
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
Marriage: Privatize It and Revitalize It
From Each According to His Ability…
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Unsurprising News about Health-Care Costs
Further Pretensions of Knowledge
“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Wages of Simplistic Economics
Is Science Self-Correcting?

Ignorance Abounds

A story about the banning of Flannery O’Connor’s works at a Catholic school is a reminder of an incident in my professional life.

First, the story about Flannery O’Connor’s works, which is told by Joseph Bottum:

…Down in the traditionally Catholic Cajun area of southern Louisiana, there’s a school called Opelousas Catholic that serves several local parishes. Early this summer, an English teacher named Arsenio Orteza placed on the summer reading list for the high-school seniors some O’Connor, including The Artificial Nigger, a tale primarily about the moral and religious blindness of Southern bigots.

Not bothering to read the story or find out anything about O’Connor, an unspecified number of parents complained about the title to Fr. Malcolm O’Leary, the pastor of Holy Ghost Catholic Church, one of Opelousas Catholic’s supporting parishes.

Likewise not thinking it necessary to take a look at the story or learn about O’Connor, Fr. O’Leary gathered the parents of black students at the school to express their complaint – a meeting to which neither the teacher nor anyone else with Catholic literary credentials was invited. An African American himself and the wielder of considerable political power in a racially charged district, Fr. O’Leary then convened a meeting with his bishop to demand the removal of O’Connor from the high-school curriculum and the disciplining of the teacher who assigned her work.

Joining the parade of those southern Catholics down in Louisiana who seem never to have heard of the southern Catholic O’Connor and couldn’t take the time to read her challenged story, Edward J. O’Donnell, the bishop of the diocese of Lafayette, issued on August 17 a letter announcing his decision. “I do not want to require the firing of the teacher involved,” Bishop O’Donnell was brave enough to declare. But “I direct that the books in question should be removed from the reading list immediately.”…

The story is eleven years old, but its relevance has grown with the burgeoning stridency of aggrieved and yet triumphant “victims.”

Only a few years before the incident related by Bottum, I had my own encounter with ignorance and political correctness. As chief financial and administrative officer of a tax-funded think-tank, I had the onerous duty of finding ways to slash spending when the think-tank’s appropriation was cut by Congress. The most obvious way, of course, was to fire employees — and we did that. But we sought other cost reductions, for the sake of saving jobs.

I met with groups of employees to discuss the options under consideration. Somewhere in the course of one of the meetings, I used “niggardly,” and I used it correctly. At least one of the employees present was black. There may have been others, but I remember her because she was secretary to another vice president. That vice president later came to my office to tell me that “some employees” were offended by “niggardly.” I do not remember the exact wording of my response to the vice president, but the gist of it was that the problem was the ignorance of the “employees,” not my correct use of a legitimate word that has no bearing on race.

Of course, ignorance abounds in matters non-linguistic. Its most dangerous manifestations occur in matters legal and economic. It is ignorance, as much as anything else, that leads aspiring beneficiaries of the welfare state to confound the Constitution with the Communist Manifesto. It is ignorance, more than anything else, that leads those same aspiring beneficiaries to believe that the welfare state can coexist with a burgeoning economy.