August 29, 2010

This Week in Rick Puchalsky

[For a much fuller discussion of the removal of Mr. Brent Lindsey from the rolls of the Cato Institute, FWIW, see this post and its ensuing cascade of comments at Crooked Timber]

I find myself at odds with Henry Farrell when he argues this way:
If an actual causal relationship had obtained, one would expect that if one subtracted Brink Lindsey’s influence, one would see, at the least, a marginally appreciable difference in the likelihood of war.
This is the "he was just a raindrop in the gathering stormcloud of war" argument in different clothes. Add or subtract Mr. Lindsey from that cloud and it retains its full force, yes. The influence of that one raindrop eludes measurement. But logically we could turn to any other raindrop of punditry in that cloud and say the same: subtract it and one would see no appreciable difference in war's likelihood. The gathered cloud was a mighty cloud, and made up of more than pundits. Even if Thomas Friedman himself had shut the fuck up, that stormcloud of war was set to break.

And yet somehow, every participating raindrop did share an irreducible responsiblilty for constituting the cloud's being. Brent Lindsey participated in a collective call for war, lending his agency to the project of creating the proper atmosphere for waging the thing like so many others did at the time. Later he admitted he was wrong about that.

I'll pass on the politics of atonement in Mr. Lindsey's case. Like so many others unaware of what he'd said, I was unimpressed at the time by his pro-war pronouncements and by his many recantations later. I don't know what the benchmarks for quality and frequency of expression are when repudiating the wrong a person has previously advocated, but I note that Henry and others seem to agree Mr. Lindsey has met their standards in this.

But what are we to think of anyone who, presented with the greatest, most momentous global challenge of a generation, the choice of whether or not the US should plunge into a vast open-ended foreign military adventure, chose freely and horribly and proactively wrong? What's the half-life of justified opprobrium for Lindsey's irreducible role in promoting the thing in the first place? What's the justified level of suspicion that Mr. Lindsey's thought on any subject is congenitaly faulty thought, inferior when put to the test, given the evidence of his expressed thoughts on going to war?

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