George Will v. Elizabeth Warren

George Will decided to take on that Elizabeth Warren quote that’s quickly become the favorite of liberals everywhere.  Will:

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.

Hmmm, Warren takes on Straw Men?  Here’s Will:

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitateindividual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Somehow I missed the part where Warren said/implied “The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitateindividual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.”  What’s that about a “straw man” George?

It was funny reading through this column and all its sophisticated language, i.e.,

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share.

and thinking about what a weak argument it is ultimately in service to.  Will is not particularly bright.  He’s just got a good vocabulary and wears bow ties.  That’s enough to fool most people.

Lastly, I think Will needs to get out there and listen to more conservative voices and he’ll realize that Warren is not attacking a straw man at all.  Sadly, very many conservatives almost completely fail to see the importance of society and social context in individual achievement.  Or has he not been hearing any of the “class warfare” talk about the oh-so-victimized Galtian “job creators” coming from the GOP?

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to George Will v. Elizabeth Warren

  1. itchy says:

    I had the same reaction. I agree, Will’s arguments are rarely novel or compelling, but he *has* to be smart enough — or at least a good enough write — to realize that you don’t create a blatant straw man argument one paragraph after accusing your opponent of attacking a straw man.

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