The Triumph of Reason? Why bad theories never die (2005)

I find the following statement, from this very short 2005 piece in City Journal, a wonderful encapsulation of the stubborn manner in which politically correct ideas spread:
Why do I spend so much time arguing against such obvious rubbish, which should be both self-refuting and auto-satirizing the moment someone utters it? Why not just go and read a good book?
The problem is that nonsense can and does go by default. It wins the argument by sheer persistence, by inexhaustible re-iteration, by staying at the meeting when everyone else has gone home, by monomania, by boring people into submission and indifference. And the reward of monomania? Power.

14 thoughts on “The Triumph of Reason? Why bad theories never die (2005)

  1. Gavin

    A short but important article, in my view. I often listen to talk radio – LBC from London, to be precise – and it is scary what a poor grasp of reason (not to mention grammar) most callers possess. I bear in mind that few people have the time or inclination to phone into these programmes.

    Something I do find annoying is how often the media see fit to ask for the opinion of obvious extremists who are in a minority. For example, today they were discussing Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s declaration that marriage is outdated, so they sought an expert opinion on this matter: that of a lesbian feminist. Middle ground views are assiduously avoided, thus implicitly relegating them. (This may be partly to inspire calls, granted, but it is still sensationalist.)

    While LBC does have its liberals, most notably James O’Brien, it is reasonably balanced, also having James Whale, with whom I rarely disagree. (I’m surprised Whale is even allowed on the air with his conservative views on law and order actually, though he is careful to avoid certain topics and is rather fond of the European Union.)

    I can imagine Dalrymple’s frustration though. I wouldn’t like to see him on Question Time or called as a witness on Radio 4’s Moral Maze. Having to seek the approval of those who lack one’s sensitivity or capacity for insight must be trying indeed. This is why I really respect people like Dalrymple and Douglas Murray. It cannot be pleasant to raise one’s head above the parapet, often on uneven ground (i.e. in an institutionally left wing media), but if we are to retain democracy yet promote sense, then some have to do it..

  2. Clinton

    Very well said, Gavin. It takes tremendous courage (or simply indifference to the disapproval of the chattering class) to play the necessary role of relentlessly refuting such garbage.

  3. Michael W. Perry

    In my own experience, the more often and loudly some group claims something, the less likely it is to be true. In a very real sense, what these people are doing is drowning out their own thinking.

    I saw that when I was part of a small group picketing an abortion clinic in Seattle. Our group walked calmly, chatting with one another and with those passing by. We were so approachable, the abortionist and I spent an hour one Saturday talking. His claim: “this is the only way I can make a living.”

    Our counter-pickets were the exact opposite. They screamed and chanted slogans like “Not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate.” Real conversation was verboten.

    When a grandmotherly woman in our group began to befriend a young woman in the other, the counter-pickets forced that young woman to quit talking to us. And oddly, it was their screaming that did more to deter women from getting abortions than anything we did.

    One afternoon, I noticed a distinguished, white-haired gentlemen in our group looking at the others, and shaking his head. “Germany was just like this in the early 1930s,” he said. Talking further, I discovered that his wasn’t book knowledge. As a young boy, his father, a German pastor, had spent seven years in Nazi concentration camp for opposing the Nazi regime.

    That’s why Dalrymple is right. We must keep refuting their lies. If the only voice people hear is their own, a lot of people will be duped. If we don’t speak out, a lot of naive and well-meaning people will become a party to evil.

    And don’t forget Hannah Arendt’s warning in The Origin of Totalitarianism. Propaganda is only needed, she wrote, before absolute power is achieved. Given enough unrestrained power, any evidence of their lies can be destroyed. A lie then becomes “true.”

  4. Colin


    I, for reasons I don’t really know, am an avid follower of The Moral Maze.

    You are right that Dalrymple would get short shrift on such a programme. He appeared on it in 2008, talking about the extent of the state’s duty to house and feed people. Their resident guilt-ridden middle-class leftie, Clifford Longley, attempted to maul TD, but I’m glad to say TD won out. Claire Fox also objected to his views.

    You can get the episode still, I think. If not I’ll put it up somewhere if you’re interested.

  5. Jaxon

    Perhaps I’m guilty of “inexhaustible re-iteration” … ahem…

    Peter Hitchens was on a talk show hosted my Susanna Reid – they were discussing (as I understood it) how people who’ve largely treated Christian values with contempt are still eager to have their children in Christian faith schools.

    Hitchens made some understandable, yet fairly questionable off the cuff, remark about how only religious schools are any good; Reid didn’t merely disagree, she responded quite dismissively, even contemptuously, something like “Don’t be ridiculous Peter!”

    Where as the incorrigible Terry Christian was rudely and repeatedly interupting and Reid indulges him with a smile, almost as if to imply [sigh]”ahh cheeky charm, you so remind me of boyfriends I had back at highschool”

    My monomania suspects that for her, someone like Hitchens is a bit of a ‘creep’, she can’t really accommodate him, his views, for reasons she knows deep down to be dishonourable (I mean would Hitchens ever go on Big Brother like Christian did?).

    If enough girls like her respond to guys like him dismissively they might succeed in eliciting just the sort of ‘creep’ responses (self fulfilling prophecy) that justifies the prejudice, relieves the sense of guilt… and so on ad nauseam

  6. Voltroon

    Speaking of ideas that never die I did enjoy the Guardian using Vaclav Havels death as an excuse to shoe horn in a paean of praise to communism.

    Oh for the charming police states of yesteryear, we never knew we had it so good . . .

    That such things can still be printed in a daily newspaper in spite of all we know for me rather highlights the danger of the ignoring this type ‘nonsense’ as TD describes it.

    Ah well, Merry Christmas to all!

  7. mike

    Many thanks for the link. Sadly, there are still millions in the western world (including here in Australia) who will automatically believe such shockingly dishonest drivel purely out of learned Americophobia.

    A few days ago, an Australian paper reminded its readers of a quote from St. Noah Chomsky re Havel’s speech in the U.S. Comgress in (I think) 1990, in which the venerable linguist (my goodness, if only he’d stuck to linguistics) offered the view that life in Eastern Europe was “a paradise” compared to that of the victims of “U.S. tyranny and violence”.

  8. Louise

    That’s an excellent insurance policy for incompetent teachers. Ethnicity is destiny so whatever they do will make little difference. But you can bet your bottom dollar that if their own children have difficulty mastering the art of reading, all the big guns will be. brought out. Maybe even that diagnosis of dyslexia will be dragged out.

    Can this rather foolish woman be named and shamed? After all, she influences public policy which, in turn influences the long term prospects of countless children,

  9. Jaxon

    Actually I think Reid said “Peter, you know that’s not true!” but it was, I think, rather contemptuous all the same.

    Also, a small point, even if Christian didn’t remind her of boys she actually went out with I should guess he almost certainly reminded her of people with just the cocky insouciance that makes for a guilt free, non judgmental, shameless atmosphere… a load of rubbish? Maybe, but what about this women?


    Very interesting

  10. Gavin

    Wow, I’ve got to admit that was very well written (the video dialogue) and quite appropriate that it was delivered by a computer. The feminist era seems to have delivered us a whole generation of women who pretty much fit this description. They are just not considered “empowered” by their friends unless they behave like this. Highly destructive, of course.

  11. Jaxon

    Oh yeah, “empowered” – “may the force be with you young Slutwalker…” and all that; destructive for sure.


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