Against ruthlessness

Why liberals shouldn’t try to match the wingers dirty trick for dirty trick.

Billmon points out that liberals lose in part because the other side consistently fights dirtier than liberals are willing to. That’s largely true.

But he also imagines that it would be possible for liberals to act like a bunch of “sick, sadistic bastards” without becoming a bunch of sick, sadistic bastards. I doubt it. “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back.”

Or, as Machiavelli says (Disc. I, 18):

“…it rarely happens that good men want to seize power through bad means, even though the objectives be good; or that bad ones, having seized power, want to work for good, or that it should enter their minds to use for good the authority acquired by evil means.”

I think that liberals are stuck with the character of liberalism. We need to acquire discipline and to overcome squeamishness. But our side really doesn’t do “ruthless,” and we shouldn’t try. That’s just as true between the Blue Team and the Red Team as it is between the West and the Islamofascists, or between NATO and the Soviets, or between the Allies and the Axis.

Like David, we need to fight in our own armor, and with our own arms. Let’s leave Leninism to the right-wingers who seem so comfortable with it.

JFK liked to tell what he claimed was a Norse myth, though it’s not one I’ve encountered in any other source and which I therefore suspect is from the RichardGoodwinSaga:

It seems that Odin, through his sorcery, divined that the secret the Aesir needed to overcome the Frost Giants at the Ragnarok was held by a certain witch. When Odin approached the witch and asked her the price of the secret, she said “Your left eye.”

The All-Father, knowing better than to try to bargain, promptly plucked out his left eye and laid it on the table between them, demanding the secret.

The witch replied: Watch with both eyes.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: