Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Iraq's WMDs: Lost and Found

National Review Contributing Editor, James S. Robbins, wrote in a NR-Online column:
Wait a minute -- so there were WMDs in Iraq? The Kerry campaign, the media, assorted pundits, and others are making much of the disappearance of the 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa storage facility south of Baghdad. According to the IAEA, the U.N. watchdog agency now apparently in the service of the Democratic National Committee, some of the explosives could be used to detonate nuclear weapons. Wow -- nuclear-weapon components were in Iraq? Shouldn't the headline be, "Saddam Had 'Em?"
  • Read more ... click here
  • For books on the subject ... browse ( below

For more articles on WMDs see below:

Deconstructing the liberal arts curriculum

I have been carrying on a lively exchange with a couple of colleagues who favor dismanteling the current liberal arts curriculum. On the one hand, they oppose the reduction of liberal arts core requirements, since this would compromise their own investment in the core curriculum. But on the other hand, they are opposed to the traditional division of subjects along the lines of distinct "disciplines" corresponding to traditional "departments." The reason they offer for this opposition is that it does not do justice to the "inter-disciplinary" nature of knowledge. My own hunch is that two related concerns are more likely what really animate their opposition: first, their postmodern commitments, which inevitably tend toward deconstruction; and second, their desire to teach philosophical issues (what they would call the "meta-" issues) rather than what is traditionally proper to their own disciplines. In any case, the lively discussions we have been having may be followed, for anyone interested, at the following links:
  • An exchange on whether the liberal arts core should be deconstructed in the college curriculum (Part 1) [Note: this post focuses on the question whether the contention that curricular disciplines are cultural constructs means that the traditional distinctions between curricular courses and majors has no basis in fact. I cite Herman Dooyeweerd's work for the negative.]
  • An exchange on deconstructing the liberal arts curriculum (Part 2) [Note: this post focuses on the question whether an "interdisciplinary" approach to the curriculum is justified by the assumption that there are no irreducible aspects of experience or reality that serve as the basis for distinct subjects and majors. I cite Herman Dooyeweerd's work for the negative.]
  • An exchange on deconstructing the liberal arts curriculum (Part 3) [Note: this post focuses on the question whether there are irreducible dimensions of experience or reality, which serve as the basis for dividing the curriculum into distinct subjects or majors. I cite the work of Herman Dooyeweerd for the affirmative.]

Pro-choice logic

I recently forwarded an email to several colleagues with what I consider to be an absolutely brilliant parody of pro-choice logic by Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. It goes like this:

"I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go as far as supporting mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even non-judgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity--not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately 'pro-choice.'"

One colleague who received the email responded, which led to an interesting exchange, which you can read on my Philosophia Perennis blog here.

Yahoo group discusses Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body"

There is an online Yahoo email group devoted to studying Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" -- you might want to mention it on your blog. It's medium-traffic, only 31 members and just getting started:

You can subscribe to 'digest' mode if you don't have time for individual emails, too.

(Courtesy of Christopher Blosser via email)

Further resources for John Paul II's Theology of the Body:

Order key texts for the discussion here:

Monday, October 25, 2004

Birthplace of Reformation Found

The following courtesy of Benjamin Blosser at Ad Limina Apostolorum (Monday, October 25, 2004):
German archaeologists have discovered the lavatory on which Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses that launched the Protestant Reformation.

Experts say they have been certain for years that the 16th century religious leader wrote the groundbreaking Ninety-Five Theses while on das klo, as the Germans call it.

"This is where the birth of the Reformation took place."

"Luther said himself that he made his reformatory discovery in cloaca [Latin for "in the sewer"]. We just had no idea where this sewer was. Now it's clear what the Reformer meant."
First off, no, this is not the Onion. This is dead serious. Second of all, I am, in a spirit of ecumenism, refraining from giving expression to the myriads of witticisms which spring spontaneously to the mind in these scenarios. (Source:, via Akin.)

Dr. Janet Smith visits Lenoir-Rhyne College

Well, well, well ... What a weekend it was. Lenoir-Rhyne College hosted the Aquinas-Luther Conference this past weekend, beginning on Thursday evening with a festival vespers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hickory, with the magnificent accompaniment by the Lenoir-Rhyne College choir, followed by an hour-long presentation by Dr. Janet Smith entitled "Why Natural Sex is Best." Dr. Smith presented a natural law-based defense of the traditional Catholic view of marriage, including an interesting discussion of what makes contraception and homosexuality problematic, including a discussion of the scientific studies by Lionel Tiger.

The following two days included talks by Richard Niebanck, yours truly (Philip Blosser), Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis, John Pless, and Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of Touchstone magazine. Friday evening, following the banquet presentation by Bishop Jugis, Campus Pastor Anderew Weisner (pictured left) organized a student discussion session in the Hickory Room, where students could ask questions directly of the presenters. Unbeknownst to those in attendance, Pastor Weisner had asked student, Sean Fagan, to "drop a bomb" to spark a good discussion. Mr. Fagan's rather liberal interpretation of Weisner's suggestion led him, while sitting near the Bishop of Charlotte, to assume the role of an overheated gay activist promoting the glory of anal sex. Fellow student, Eric Wallace, who had introduced himself as Mr. Fagan's roommate, quickly ventured to withdraw the earlier statement he had volunteered during introductions that he was Fagan's roommate. The discussion, for obvious reasons, was quite lively, with particularly memorable input by student Amy Greensfelder and presentor Dr. Janet Smith.

My only regret, as I mentioned to Dr. Smith after the conference, was that more students did not have the chance to hear or engage in discussion with Dr. Smith. Whatever their views on sex and marriage, those who met and talked with Dr. Smith were nearly unanimous in their assertions that she had given them a lot to think about. Thank you, Dr. Smith.

For books by Dr. Janet Smith and other related books, see below:

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Incommunicado for a few weeks ...

I will be incommunicado for a few weeks as I devote all my spare time to a presentation I am crafting for the Aquinas-Luther Conference hosted by the Center for Theology at Lenoir-Rhyne College the end of this month on the subject of "Sex and Marriage." Pray for me. If you have any suggestions, I welcome them (my email address is:

In this final post (until the end of October), I want to relay a piece that I pass on to you courtesy of Stephen's Place: The Trumpeter's Pulpit, which Stephen called: "Pope John Paul II's Final Challenge: Before He shuffles off this Mortal coil??????." The original piece, by Michael J. Gaynor, is entitled "Pope John Paul II's Final Challenge: Protecting the Holy Eucharist from Nominally Catholic, Pro-Abortion Politicians." Take a look ...

Also in other news, see Citizens United for the cinematic rebuttal to Farenheit 911: CELSIUS 41.11 (the temperature at which the brain begins to fry).

Monday, October 04, 2004

A picture you will not see on Network TV

The picture to the left of Mike McNaughton of Denham Springs, LA. He stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan Christmas 2002. President Bush came to visit the wounded in the hospital. He told Mike that when he could run a mile that they would go on a run together. True to his word, he called Mike every month or so to see how he was doing. Well, last week they went on the run, 1 mile with the president. Not something you'll see in the news, but seeing the president taking the time to say thank you to the wounded and to give hope to one of my best friends was one of the greatest/best things I have seen in my life. It almost sounds like a corny email chain letter, but God bless him.

CPT Justin P.. Dodge, MD
Flight Surgeon, 1-2 AVN RGT
Medical Corps, U.S. Army

Axing liberal arts courses (part 3)

I've heard critics of the liberal arts core courses talking about a "silo mentality" among those who wish to defend the integrity of their disciplines. "Silos" stand for the "disciplines" and I see their point: they think students don't get to see how what goes in one "discipline" (or "silo") relates to what goes on in others.

We home-schooled all four of my youngest sons (one all the way through high school, the three others up to high school) because we didn't like the the public school program they were in (they were in a school no longer in existence) and felt the socialization was antisocial, anti-intellectual, and the schooling was an excuse to monitor problem students rather than teach. Home schooling was difficult, but I learned a lot about how kids learn, and how the concrete context of everyday situations ofter furnishes the best learning situations. Disciplines are rarely compartmentalized in real life as they are in college.

Having said that, I don't think there is any other way of organizing learning in some fields (calculus, metaphysics, and many higher-order disciplines), and for as many students as inhabit a college. We can't very well take whole classes through Winn Dixie to teach each member how to read the label on cans and boxes, calculate the best size for the best buy, the healthiest ingredients and why, etc.

Some suggest that that the joy of discovery is an extra-curricular activity that has no place in our curriculum. Perhaps that's a bit like saying that the one sure way of killing romance is to get married. Yet I doubt that either of those things is entirely true. Re-discovering romance in marriage may mean outgrowing some adolescent popular-culture-formed notions about what romance and marriage are. Likewise, discovery may involve outgrowing some adolescent popular-culture-formed notions about how "boring" learning is, and so forth. HOW that happens is a bit tricky, it seems to me. I haven't discovered any magic pill. There's probably some truth in the adage that says you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Still, there are better and worse ways of leading a horse to water, I suppose. It may be romantically naive to suppose that the majority of our students would suddently all flock to discussions and books about calculus and metaphysics and ancient history if we simply didn't require them to study these subjects. On the other hand, requiring them to study these subjects is no guarantee that they'll find them delightful. It probably takes a combination of several things, including, perhaps, the disposition and background of individual students, the personality and style of particular professors, and the circumstances in which ideas are encountered. I know that for me it was something that happened in my sophomore year of college when I decided to pick those subjects that interested me rather than the prescribed courses. So that may argue in favor of flexibility. On the other hand, I wouldn't have discovered what interested me had I not been required to take a core course in philosophy. And that may argue in favor of a required core. So I'm not sure where that leaves me, but I'm in no hurry to tear apart the core. I think it has to be (and can be) "worked" better, in the sense of being more rigorous and engaging, etc. I seriously doubt whether there's a legistlatable "structural" solution to the problem of student interest and discovery that learning can be fun.

I've made fascinating discoveries in the classroom while in the midst of teaching things that I've taught numerous times before. Often. So I doubt that the reason for dullness and lack of excitement in learning is attributable entirely to the structured learning framed by our liberal arts core requirements. I think the dullness and disinterest has more to do with cultural and social attitudes toward learning and discovery. Perhaps more than we ever think it may even have to do with the now pervasive belief that "truth" is relative and "reality" is pretty much whatever a person wants it to be. Some people are in for a rude awakening.

Axing liberal arts courses (part 2)

(1) If the only purpose of the liberal arts core requirements were to keep encroachments of professional programs at bay, they would be a worthless gimmick. The core was traditionally intended, I would say, to give each student, whatever his major, a liberal arts education so that he is not a mindless drone. The difficulty is this: the utility of auto mechanics is easy to defend: you can use it to fix cars and earn a living. But the utility of the liberal arts (knowledge for its own sake) is hard to defend: knowing Shakespeare, the Battle of Agincourt, or the metaphysics of Aristotle has no immediate utility. Yet it's the most important part of meeting the Socratic ideals of "self-knowledge" and "the examined life."

(2) We should all be liberally educated so that we all know something about philosophy, history, biology, astronomy, etc. There is perhaps even a unique way in which philosophy, unlike other disciplines, is everybody's business in some sense. But the notion that this end is best achieved by having the core requirements in philosophy met by all faculty assuming responsibility for it in their courses I find silly -- no less silly than that the core requirement in biology or chemistry should be met by my assuming responsibility for these subjects in my teaching as a philosopher. The Great Books program at St. John's College (both in Annapolis and Santa Fe) attempts something like this: all learn math by working their way through Euclid, Leibnitz, Einstein, etc.; but I doubt that's a viable option generally. Now philosophy, as I've said, is unique in some ways. So I might agree that it is political scientist's business to be familiar with (and deal with) basic philosophical discussions of justice, equality, and liberty. But I wouldn't want to encumber him with a detailed familiarity with Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and Politics, Augustine's Civitas Dei, Thomas Aquinas' Treatise on Law and Treatise on Government, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, John Locke's Treatise on Government, Hegel's Philosophy of Right, etc.; any more than I would want to encumber our resident mathematicians with Derrida's work, On the Origin of Geometry.

(3) Despite all the obstacles to interdisciplinary work of the kind some would like to see at a small liberal arts college like this (heavy teaching loads, understaffing, severe budgetary constraints), I think the college could encourage interdisciplinary work on a voluntary basis among those willing to undertake it. In order to meet the scheduling requirements of students wanting to take Latin and Classics, our resident Classics and Latin professor typically juggles the equivalent of 2-3 overloads. He does this voluntarily because he likes teaching and is thrilled at encountering any warm body interested in what he has to teach (a scarce commodity). It might require that sort of voluntary commitment to teach interdisciplinary courses. Short of that, however, there are scads of other ways in which what we do is already inter-disciplinary. English professors here teach courses in which they read a wide variety of literature beyond the traditional English canon. History is similary open to cross-disciplinary teaching. Philosophy is the mother of all inter-disciplinary teaching because she is the mother of all liberal arts period. A doctorate in Chemistry is a Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD). All our contemporary disciplines find their beginning in philosophy, which Aristotle divided into three species: (1) theoretical (metaphysics, mathematics, physical sciences), (2) practical (ethics, politics, law, etc.), (3) productive (literature, drama, etc.). Hence it comes as little surprise that a whole slew of philosophy courses are available with titles that take the form of "Philosophy of ________" where the blank may be filled with: mathematics, science, technology, language, art, law, politics, society, knowledge, religion, morality, and so forth.

With this in mind, one can well imagine how ludicrous it would seem to have to defend the place of philosophy in the core. There are reasons for this, of course, pertaining both to the Lutheran academic legacy of a general disinterest in philosophy and the general disinterest in liberal arts generally (of which I see philosophy as the core 'discipline'). What would a curriculum look like that reflected the fact that philosophy is the mother of disciplines? The Free University of Amsterdam had the model: philosophy is the hub of a wheel from which spokes radiate outward as the special sciences and other disciplines. This would seem prima facie self-serving to an outsider ignorant of the history of philosophy. But I think all would agree, at least, that other candidates for the 'hub' are few and far between: biology? chemistry? economics? sociology? None quite have the universality of philosophy, do they.

(4) Some state that they think we're ready for a change in the curriculum. They say that they think our current system demoralizes students and faculty both. Is it the curriculum that demoralizes people, or something else? I was never demoralized by the curriculum. While the curriculum is far from perfect, it sure beats what we had when I arrived here twenty years ago: philosophy at that time had no required hours in the core. The core courses I taught (my two huge classes each semester) were in "Western Heritage" (essentially history). I didn't resent teaching history, because I like it. But I wasn't prepared to teach it. I probably knew a bit more than those I was teaching, but I lacked the wealth of background a PhD in history would have had. Since then we acquired (finally, for the first time in the history of the college) 3 hours in the core. This meant I could teach an introductory survey in philosophy, dealing subjects I was well-prepared to teach, such as moral philosophy, theory of knowledge, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion. Furthermore, a course previously entitled "Ancient and Medieval Philosophy" (lumping together 2000 years of philosophy from the pre-Socratis to the late medieval nominalists in one 3 hour course) was eventually split into two courses at my request (I pushed for this for years), permitting me to devote two separate courses to those two philosophically highly fruitful periods. Now these two courses have again been conflated into one as a result of core pressures. If the trends continue as suggested by the proposals being floated, I may soon find myself teaching a watered-down version of that "Western Heritage" history course again, this time under the heading of a "Humanities" service course to professional majors. What joy irony intended]!

It seems to me that we have now a workable core curriculum if only we have the will to work it. The pressures are coming from the professional program and from students who find their core courses more difficult than they'd like. Students don't like being forced to take courses outside their major. Virtually all students who take a required philosophy course to fulfill their core requirement come to class the first day not having a clue what philosophy is. They sometimes resent having to take it. But when they find out what it is, some of them perk up and find it interesting. And a few choose to major in it. The only way I have of acquiring majors in philosophy is through the required core course in philosophy. All students know, or at least think they know, what history and English are. But almost no freshman would attempt even a definition of philosophy. The answer to these problems, then, is to simply resist these pressures to reduce the liberal arts core, and to reduce the pressures from students who want to wiggle out of the core requirements, from having to learn to write, reason, argue, etc.

As to writing, I don't see any easy way out of courses specifically devoted to writing, as onerous as they may be. I require a lot of writing in my courses, but with enrollments of 38-40 students in each class, the writing burden is becoming intolerable. I used to require eight or nine two-page reaction papers per term in these classes. But do the math. That meant reading and grading nearly 1,200 pages of sophomore writing each semester (not counting any of my upper-level classes). I used to spend a lot of time grading grammar, punctuation, even style. But that becomes a ludicrous, thankless undertaking after a while. Further, there are many of our colleagues who won't be pressured into requiring writing at all with class enrollments such as we have. I don't know any way around having writing courses with small enrollments (20 max) taught by people trained to do this. The alternative would be to reduce course enrollments across the board in the liberal arts (20 max), which just isn't going to happen. I suppose I feel about teaching logic a bit like English folk may feel about teaching writing. Wouldn't it be nice if we could market pills to students which made them logically and grammatically literate!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Axing liberal arts courses in a market driven curriculum

Well, about every five or ten years it always seems to come back around to what can be cut from the liberal arts core at these private, church-related liberal arts institutions. Funny isn't it, how the liberal arts is nearly always one of the central components nestled securely in their mission statements. Yet the liberal arts courses are usually the first to fall under the axe. Usually something like art. Or philosophy. Or history. Or religion. Why? The problem, apparently, is that they seem the least defensible in a market-driven economy.

Aristotle gave us our distinctin between theory and practice. He also had a third category: production. These were his division for the sciences (from the Latin term scientia, meaning "knowledge"), which where not sharply distinguished from philosophy. These three categories corresponded to 'knowing', 'doing', and 'making'. Productive science improves things in the world. Practical science improves our practice. But what does theoretical science (knowledge for the sake of knowledge improve? The philistine mind might well answer: nothing.

This, you see, is what we're up against. The usefulness of subjects like "computer science," or "industrial arts," or "auto mechanics" is immediately apparent. They are practical. If you know auto mechanics you're not worthless. You can fix cars. You can get a job. You can make money. Auto mechanics thus provides the clear means towards attaining the desired practical end: gainful employment. Thus one becomes a productive citizen. But to what end are liberal arts courses like history, philosophy, literature, and religion directed? What are they good for? Again, the philistine answer would seem to be: nothing.

Why "philistine"? Because the liberal arts are the core of a what the accumulated wisdom of the Western tradition has long regarded as a genuine education. Productive science may improve things in the world. Practical science may improve our practice. But theoretical science -- or "knowledge for the sake of knowledge," which is what the liberal arts represent -- which seems so "useless" to the philistine, actually improves the most important thing of all: the self, one's self-understanding and depth of understanding of human experience as such. People who lack an education in the liberal arts lack depth perception, glimpsing only the surface of things. They themselves are flat, like cardboard cutouts. Yet demonstrating this is next-to-impossible in an ethos that has been effectively eviscerated of this depth dimension of understanding. Socrates said "know thyself," and "the unexamined life is not worth living." People today seem to frightened of self-knowldege and to suppose that the effort required in examining life makes the only life worth living the unexamined one.

The Lenoir-Rhyne College administration is floating a proposal that would mean the diminution of the liberal arts core of its curriculum by a little over 20%, and a reduction by approximately 25% in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion. From the vantage point of someone educated in the classic Jesuit tradition where core requirements included three courses in philosophy -- one in logic, one in ethics, and one in philosophy of human nature -- the fact that Lenoir-Rhyne is now floating a proposal to eliminate their single core requirement in philosophy and effectively undermine the viability of a philosophy major strikes me as ludicrous. Of course, though, from the vantage point of administrators who view courses in terms of market forces, the prospect of requiring students to take something as "useless" as philosophy is understandable. It's not even that philosophy is unpopular among students. Rather, it's that most of them don't even know, before they've had a class, what philosophy is. All they want to do is make themselves marketable when they graduate, and they think thy know that philosophy won't be of any help.

At the same time, it's mildly amusing that one problem the administration faces is graduating students performing abysmally poorly in senior exit exams in the area of "critical thinking," an area in which more rigorous philosophy requirements could help shore up scores considerably. What, these students don't need logic? Out of my 78 students in two sections of Intro to Philosophy this fall, only one student could tell me who "that man" is in the following simple puzzle of logical relationships: "Brothers of sisters have I none; but that man's father is my father's son." And that's after I gave them five minutes to puzzle it out in their notebooks. No wonder these students succumb to the pervasive pedestrian relativism in the atmosphere! They don't even know the difference between an argument and an unsupported assertion (which is why so many of them think John Kerry "won" the first "debate" with George Bush), much less the difference between what's "valid" in reasoning and what's "true."

And what, they don't need ethics? And they embrace a sophomoric subjectivism that collapses any possible distinction between the "apparent good" and the "authentic good"? And they don't need a philosophical understanding of human nature, the basis for any notion of natural rights? of any notion of natural vs. abnormal psychological development? of our tradition of political liberalism, which says government is best that governs least because human nature can't be trusted with absolute authority?

And now they want to drop 3 hours of religion from the core. In a school where we've graduated a senior (a daughter of a prominent local lawyer) who didn't know the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.? Where a graduating senior came into my office and asked in her senior year: "Can you tell me, just who was this Jesus dude?" Where 19 out of 25 students flunked an introductory religion course because they couldn't pass a final in which the curve allowed anyone to pass who made 50% or higher?

And they want to drop 3 hours in history, in an ethos intellectually inimical to any study of the historical, where, as George Santayana declared, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it"?

The School of History, Philosophy of Religion, lies at the core of the liberal arts, with its disciplines centered on tradition. From the utilitarian perspectives of the market-driven economy, these disciplines are very difficult to defend. What looks more impractical and useless than history, philosophy, and religion? Yet these are in many ways the "mother disciplines" at the heart of an education that cultivates intellectual virtue, not merely as an end in itself, but as a means
of fostering practical wisdom and pointing the way to the virtues of morality and faith.

Two indispensable components of our institutional mission lie at the heart of Lenoir-Rhyne: (1) a liberal arts committment, and (2) a committment to the Christian perspective represented by the affiliated religious tradition. I see the current proposals, however inadvertently, as undermining the integrity of this mission. I see little hope in an environment where members of the college board of trustees no longer have much of a clue what they hold in trust. Let us hope that there are still some burning embers around in whom the fire of intellectual life has not died out completely.

I keep telling my students that the ideal of a liberal arts education for everyone is a relatively new and novel ideal in history. Just take a look at when most small liberal arts colleges and universities were founded. Most were founded in the mid-19th century. Most of their grandparents, I tell them, probably didn't go to college. And now, looking ahead, I suggest to them that their children may no longer have available the possibility of a liberal arts education. They have the privilege of living during this opportune window of time in which they have access to the kind of education that most ancients and medievals would have died for. Of course such remark don't have much impact.

For an excellent example of a church-related liberal arts institution that has done it's homework, see: Christian Liberal Arts Education: Report, Grand Rapids, Curriculum Study Committee, Calvin College.

For a profoundly insightful discussion of what the liberal arts means in a life devoted to the Socratic ideal, see: A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods

For another excellent discussion, see Robert Benne's Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions

Friday, October 01, 2004

The debate ...

Observing the reactions of students and others, as well as the spin-masters, after last night's debate, it's interesting to ask who they think "won" the debate, and why. Most often they say Senator John Kerry. If you ask why, they remark on his "clarity," "decisiveness," or "leadership" image, in contrast to President George Bush, who seemed "defensive," "flustered," or "indecisive." I understand why they think and say these things. Bush has never been comfortable in debates. He has even joked publicly about his own inarticulateness. Kerry, by contrast, is smooth. He did seem decisive and sure of himself, in contrast to Bush. His gestures were commanding.

We would do well, however, to remember what a debate is. A debate is about arguments. A debate calls for each participant to deal with facts, with data, evidence, and to construct arguments based on them that will make his case, rebut his opponent's arguments, and persuade his audience. If a debate were about image and making impressions, then certainly Kerry won last night. But if a debate is about substantive argument, Kerry lost, though few will discern this. The points he made were nothing more than bald assertions with nothing to support them: "I can do better in Iraq." "I can do better with the Iraqi elections." "I can do better with the international community." Certainly he uttered these declarations with apparent conviction, with firm voice and impressive gesture. But these assertions were not only unsupported by any sort of evidence or argument; in many cases they are unsupportable.

Since Kerry isn't offering arguments, he must be assuming that people will vote for him on the basis of blind faith in his assertions. But why should anyone believe these? Why should we believe that Kerry can do better in Iraq, with Iraqi elections, or the international community, when he has had virtually no international experience and has gone out of his way to demean the coalition of international participants in the Iraq that Bush has put together? Not only is there nothing to support this pipe dream. There is pleny to contravene it. By contrast, while Bush is a plainspoken man and had little in the way of style last night, he had sound arguments to offer, based on a record to attest to it. For example:
  • Sen. Kerry had the same intelligence that the President did before the war in Iraw and voted for invasion, but then subsequently voting to withold funding for our troops. When the President pointed this out, Kerry deftly sidestepped the issue without responding to it. Smooth, but no cigar.
  • Kerry also said the President had "made a mistake" in invading Iraw but denied that our troops in Iraq are dying for a mistake. Kerry can't have it both ways. He can't say it's a mistake and not a mistake. You can't be for getting rid of Saddam Hussein when things look good and against it when times are hard. The President must speak clearly and the President must mean what he says.
  • Kerry said that the cornerstone of his plan for Iraq is to "convene a summit" and work with our allies. However, he said that those who are standing with us are not part of a "genuine coalition" and he previously called them a coalition of the "coerced and the bribed." The way to lead the coalition is not to be disdainful or dismissive of our allies. The way to lead the coalition to victory is to be clear in our thinking, grateful for their sacrifices and resolute in our determination to defeat the enemy.
  • We witnessed a glipse of the Kerry Doctrine during the debate when Kerry said America has to pass a "global test" before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. The President will continue to work with our allies and the international community, but will never submit America's national security to an international test. The President's job is not to take an international poll. The President's job is to defend America.
John Kerry's flip-flops and logical non sequiturs are a matter of public record. Yet debates today are no longer necessarily won or lost on the merits of arguments. Americans today are influenced by image and 'spin' as much, if not more, than they are influenced by discerning the logic of arguments. This also prevents them from being very discerning of the substance of a candidate's character. The greatest enemies of all that Socrates stood for in ancient Greece were sophists, clever word-smiths who could take the worst side of an argument and make it appear the better. The sophists were a bit like lawyers, interested in making money by helping people win their cases in court -- not by sound arguments in the interests of truth, but by cleverly devising logical ambiguities to get their clients what they wanted. Sophists were concerned only with appearances, not with reality. They were relativists, disdainful of any absolute principles. Similarly, Plato regarded the greatest enemies of the welfare of the body politic those smooth and sophistical politicians who came to power in a democracy by making the most outlandish promises, with no intention or means of delivering on them. Such a politician, Plato predicted in The Republic, would come to power only to become the worst imaginable tyrant. All of this suggests that our record as a nation does not bode well for the future. For a nation that could elected Bill Clinton for a second term, and mount John Kerry as a viable Democratic candidate, nearly anything is possible.

Need additional information on Kerry? Check out Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, by John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi, as well as this page.