Arnold Kling is a libertarian economist who blogs at askblog. His tag line for his blog is "taking the most charitable view of those who disagree." In a recent post, Being Uncharitable to Those Who Disagree, he began with:
In his recent book, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, Jason Brennan writes,
American politics has two large camps. The first camp advocates an American police state–one that polices the world at large while policing its citizens’ lifestyles. It advocates having government promote traditional Judeo-Christian virtues. It wants to marginalize or expel alternative modes of life. The second camp advocates an American nanny state–one that tries to nudge and control the behavior of its citizens “for their own good.” Both camps support having the government manage, control, and prop up industry and commerce. In rhetoric, a vicious divide separates the two camps. Yet when in power, the two camps act much the same.
Brennan’s book is in large part an effort to refute the uncharitable views that others hold about libertarians. In that regard, it may be valuable. However, the quoted paragraph offers what I believe is an uncharitable view of progressives and, especially, conservatives. ...
... I think that if you want to be convincing in an argument, taking an uncharitable view of the opponent is a bad strategy. Just as libertarians become scornful and defensive toward those who take an uncharitable view of our beliefs (think of people who say “libertarians just want to let people starve” or “libertarians believe markets are perfect”), we can expect others to become scornful and defensive if we take an uncharitable view of their beliefs.
I have written an essay, to appear next month, in which I suggest that the core conservative belief is that civilization is always threatened by barbarism. Think Lord of the Flies. Meanwhile, I think that progressives also see a threat everywhere–the threat of oppression. Think of the Biblical story of the Exodus. Libertarians do not typically focus on barbarism or oppression. Instead, we focus on coercion vs. free choice. We celebrate the fruits of voluntary cooperation via markets. Think I, Pencil.
Suppose that my characterization of conservatives is correct. Then libertarians need to address their concern. How do you keep civilization from sliding into barbarism? Conservatives viewed Communism as barbaric, and they saw a need for our government to defend against it. Similarly, they see terrorism as barbaric, and they see a need for our government to defend against it.
How should this concern with external barbarian threats be addressed? ...
Cleansing our conversations of all caricature and uncharitable characterizations is probably not realistic. It may not even be desirable. On occasion, such characterizations can sharpen communication as we passionately debate. Not every conversation is an attempt to persuade. But Kling's point is exactly right. If your point is to persuade or open a conversation, why would you resort to uncharitable characterizations of the person you want to persuade? It continues to amaze me how common it is to read a book, article, or blog post that starts out with stated aim of convincing readers of a particular view but then uncharitably mischaracterizes the audience that the author intends to persuade.
Do you agree about the prevalence uncharitable characterizations in conversations that are intended to persuade? If so, why are we so prone to it?