Publisher's Note: One of the most significant things you can do to promote Liberty is to support our mission. Please make your gift to the 2021 Year-End Campaign today. Thank you! —Mark Alexander, Publisher

Maarten van Swaay / May 27, 2014

Thought and Slogans

In reaction to a recent column by George Will, “An Address We’ll Never Hear”:

As usual, Mr. Will writes lucidly, and what he writes appeals to me. No news there. The view he presents reminded me of Richard Feynman’s book “The Meaning Of It All.” In its first (of only three) chapters Mr. Feynman argues that anybody who either expects his audience to believe he ‘knows it all,’ or makes vague and dubious promises, thereby disqualifies himself from office. Mr. Feynman’s book is based on a set of three lectures he gave in 1963. Mr. Will’s view is quite current, but far from new.

Then what makes Mr. Will a bit nostalgic about the hope – which he recognizes as vain – that some future president will indeed give a speech such as Mr. Will suggests? One may expect that the current style of political aspirants is ‘market-tested’ in the sense that it appears to be successful in swaying the voting public. That is no compliment to that public: one would have to conclude that slogans and (unsupported) promises trump information.

Slogans offer no space for judgment or nuance; those whose actions rest on slogans can therefore be little more than unthinking automata. Promises are cheap, especially when they are tacitly understood – and tolerated – as empty. But (sound) judgment is precisely what we need from those who claim to have the competence – and integrity – to govern.

It was not always thus: the writings (which likely reflect speeches) of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and much later Lincoln and Churchill aimed at informing the public. Then what changed, why, and how?

There was a time when the expected emphasis in schools was summarized as “three R’s.” It may well be that the perceived, but of course not the actual importance of those three skills has been reduced. TV has discouraged reading, Twitter has discouraged writing, and calculators have discouraged study of ‘math’ – in scare quotes because mathematics covers much more than the simple arithmetic that calculators can do. But the three R’s served a more fundamental and more important purpose: they cultivated the skill of analysis and critical thought. Today those skills are usually referred to as ‘scientific,’ with often more than a whiff of condescension.

Science does not have a monopoly on critical analysis: that faculty is equally indispensable in the humanities, in economics, in politics, in all of life. Science is possibly much less forgiving toward sloppy thinking than other disciplines: it is defined as the study of the testable. Hence scientific observation – experiment – will almost always expose the flaws emerging from sloppy thinking: ‘reality will intrude.’

This intrusion of reality can help us stay on track; we ignore it at our peril. But reality is precisely what is missing from too much political ‘debate’ today. Without reality – and the habit of observation needed to recognize it – analysis becomes untestable, thought is drowned by dogma, and debate is drowned by dictate.

Professor Maarten van Swaay retired from Kansas State University in 1995. He can be reached at [email protected]

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2021 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.