Jonah Goldberg's "Arrogant" Young Questioner Responds

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by Alina Stefanescu

Alina Stefanescu is the girl Jonah Goldberg discussed in the weekend article that got him "8 zillion" emails from people to his political right. Alina is Jonah's "young lady at the AFF event [brimming] with the type of arrogance I'm talking about." Jonah continued with the suicide analogy that failed to make his point (1, 2, 3), though he called it a "tried and true trick question." Jonah finished by labeling Ms. Stefanescu a reality-challenged ideologue. Lest anyone think he's right, we'll let Ms. Stefanescu speak for herself.    ~ Brad Edmonds

"The suicide analogy is a classic example of hard cases making bad law. If X decided to kill himself, it certainly matters whether or not he has the rational capacity to understand the consequences of such a decision. For example, if X is rationally impaired because he is intoxicated, mentally disabled, or a toddler, it makes sense to treat him differently than one would a cogent adult. Reason may not always work, but Mr. Goldberg skips a lot of logical steps to arrive at the conclusion that, in these cases, government is qualified to intervene. The challenge for Mr. Goldberg would be to prove it – to engage in the rigorous philosophical grunt work required to bring truth to light.

"Further, I never suggested that policemen should not be allowed to use force in some situations, especially those in which one person threatens another's safety or property. Government is set up to provide protections that we, as individuals, may not be able to provide ourselves. But there is a long, complicated road between asking the government to protect you from others and asking the government to protect you from yourself. The current debate over legalization of drugs is a good example of an issue where citizens are divided over whether the government should play a paternalistic role in protecting you from yourself. Indeed, it does not necessarily follow from the fact that government intends to do good that it will do good: The overcrowding of American prisons with nonviolent drug offenders and the loss of drug-unrelated freedoms for all of us are outcomes of u2018good' government intentions to protect us from ourselves.

"By tossing the word u2018zealot' around without really harnessing its meaning, Mr. Goldberg misses the distinction between zealotry of ideas and zealotry of ideas in conjunction with the use of force to serve the ideas. The zealots we fear, like Hitler, Stalin, abortion-clinic bombers, terrorists, etc., are those who support the use of force in the battle of ideas. On the other hand, some of our greatest heroes, such as Gandhi and Jesus, were zealous about their principles while rejecting violence as a means to force their ideas on others.

"Ideas alone never hurt anyone. It takes a weapon and a threat to make an idea painful. We don't fear zealots because they have principles or because they are consistent – we fear them because they are willing to use force to implement their principles. Mr. Goldberg is braver than I am, or maybe he has better guns. I prefer a conversation to a gunfight any day, and I don't think it's because I am too young to know any better. People who want to force their principles on others with a gun scare me, no matter how good, sweet, moral, or religious their intentions.

"Finally, the huge conceptual leap that Mr. Goldberg takes from the claim that an individual can use force to prevent the suicide of a friend to the claim that government can use force to prevent the suicide of anyone is just plain wrong. There is also a difference between calling a church group or a private organization that can be held accountable, and empowering the government by calling policemen who enjoy all the benefits of public sector bureaucratic protection. After I stayed up all night once with a suicidal friend in college and talked her through it, we became even closer. I wonder if our friendship would remain as strong if I had done as Mr. Goldberg might do? Who would you rather have as a friend – the one who calls the police or the one who calls your closest friends and family?

"Despite his grunts to the contrary, I don't think we young, u2018deluded' libertarians bother Mr. Goldberg as much as he claims. If we were as hopeless as he suggests, he wouldn't bother. He wouldn't be involved in AFF events, which, I might add, have been one of the best parts of my first week in Washington. (Hats off to a great organization that inspires and motivates young people of conservative, libertarian, etc. political leaning!) However, there is danger in his strategy – by attempting to pigeonhole all excited, politically libertarian young people into a single category, he often misses out on what they are saying, in much the same way as many people miss his common ground with Michael Lynch due to the focus on the nomenclature of political affiliation.

"When I asked Mr. Goldberg my questions, the most interesting of which he failed to mention in his article, I wanted to learn from him, to delve more deeply into topics that time often prevents us from covering. If he thought me too zealous, he should relax: The heat I pack is that of ideas. Understanding, like the market and language, is dynamic – constantly changing, evolving, adapting. There is nothing, in my view, more exciting. Yet I must thank Mr. Goldberg for his example and his passion. There is nothing wrong with principled passion. It is the base upon which this country was founded. As long as conservatives and libertarians continue to struggle for a vision faithful to that of our most honorable predecessors, like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, we are in the same boat, Jonah. We have greater enemies to attack than youth and consistency."

Alina Stefanescu [send her mail] is an Alabama libertarian – she got her degree in political science, minor in philosophy, at Auburn, where she attended conferences at the Mises Institute and served on the Alabama Libertarian Party Executive Committee. She is in Washington, D.C. as a research intern.

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