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June 21, 2004

Sticklers for the Rules

In a piece extolling dogma, Jonah Goldberg touched on a reality that has come up here, in recent weeks, in the context of discussions between liberals and conservatives (broadly defined):

And this is where my renewed faith in dogma comes from. Without getting too deep in the weeds, dogmas are simply values or principles that cannot be proven, but that we accept as true or divinely decreed (and therefore true). Chesterton and Hayek explain to us that the right dogma is just as liberating — if not more so — as bad dogma is oppressive. For example, you could never be a first baseman on a baseball team unless everyone else, on both teams, accepted any number of dogmas uncritically. Everyone would have to agree that it's worthwhile to play the game in the first place. Everyone would have to accept that the umpire's decisions are final. Everyone would have to accept that the rules were clear and applied to both sides equally. Everyone would have to agree that cheating is both wrong and deserving of punishment when found out. And so on.

Now, I would wager that very few baseball players can give you very articulate and knowledgeable explanations of why these things are all so. But I would also bet that most baseball players are certain these things are true nevertheless. In Anthony Lewis's world, these people are enemies of decency and humanity. But in reality it is exactly the opposite. Without an unthinking agreement to play by the rules, you could have five first basemen all squabbling over the bag. You could have ties settled by fistfights. Indeed, you could have horrendous bloodshed. As Hayek noted, society's adherence to traditional morality guarantees the most fundamental freedom: freedom from getting your ass walloped by everybody else. (Okay, I'm paraphrasing).

Posted by Justin Katz at June 21, 2004 9:43 AM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

That's a great article. Jonah is right that everyone has a dogma, even if they claim not to. I would go a step further and say that nearly everyone has a religion, especially those who claim not to have one.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at June 22, 2004 3:49 PM

Well, it might be more accurate to say worldview, since the point you are making is that they have certain fundamental beliefs about God, man, and nature, but they don't necessarily have the external symbols of religion.

But it is an interesting development when we get to a place where people can dogmatically assert that dogma is evil. People still have a desire for the good, even though they've convinced themselves that certainty and truth claims are the problem, rather than false claims. But you can't have the good without the truth. Cella's essay was excellent, too. (see post above)

Posted by: Mike S. at June 22, 2004 5:46 PM