Saturday, July 23, 2011

Edmund Burke Against Grover Norquist

Garry Wills has written an interesting and eloquent refutation of the trend of imposing "pledges" on lawmakers - most famous of which is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge proferred by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform: a promise to never, under any conditions, support the raising of a tax.

Wills explains that there's been a long history of attempting to lock politicians into pledges, dating back to the governmental "instructions" of the 18th and 19th centuries:

"Constituents issued instructions on how to vote, and candidates for office bound themselves to follow such instructions. Otherwise, it was said, how could a member of Parliament be echoing what his constituents thought or wanted? The obvious objection to this is that it makes office holders impervious to changed conditions, new evidence, the learning experience of exchanges with his fellows, personal growth, or crises of one sort or another. It would render parliamentary discussion otiose and ineffectual."
It turns out that Edmund Burke thoroughly refuted this sort of thing back in 1774 (here's his gist: "What sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion?"). Of course, one could also point out that Clarence Darrow refuted opposition to teaching evolution back in 1925. Foolishness evades enduring refute.

And irrefutability is the very problem. The more comfortable we become with the irrefutable as we amass foregone conclusions and hardened positions, the less reason will ever be to listen, discuss, grow, or learn.

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