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‘National Dialog’ and Other Howlers

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Here’s a letter to the New York Post:

Annie Karni’s analysis of the neckwear worn by GOP presidential hopefuls during televised debates highlights the absurdity of the claim that democracy promotes reasoned, collective discussion of important issues – and, hence, it rightly (if unintentionally) exposes as laughable the suggestion that candidates’ utterances during these debates deserve serious attention (“GOP’s ‘tie’ game [2],” Nov. 27).

The great economist Frank Knight [3] in 1944 wrote words that are wise, if unwelcome to democracy’s more dewy-eyed devotees: “Genuine, purely intellectual discussion is rare in modern society, even in intellectual and academic circles, and is approximated only in very small and essentially casual groups.  On the larger scale, what passes for discussion is mostly argumentation or debate.  The intellectual interest is largely subordinate to entertainment, i.e., entertaining and being entertained, or the immediate interest of the active parties centers chiefly in dominance, victory, instructing others, or persuading rather than convincing, and not in the impartial quest of truth.”*

A night manager at Wal-Mart competing with his counterpart at the nearby Target is far more likely to speak substantively and sincerely than is anyone vain enough to fancy that he or she is fit to exercise – or fit to instruct whoever will exercise – the powers that are today vested in the President of the United States.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* Frank H. Knight, “The Planful Act: The Possibilities and Limitations of Collective Rationality,” in Knight, Freedom and Reform [4] (New York: Harper & Bros., 1947), p. 349.