For some reason, Victor Davis Hanson keeps getting his drivel published by newspapers, including our dying local rag the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Mr. Hanson's by-line states that he is a "classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University," Whose motto isn't "spreading misinformation sure beats workin' for a living!" but probably should be.Here's his latest nonsense:
We should be skeptical of the new sophists
By Victor Davis Hanson
In classical Athens, public life became dominated by clever and smart-sounding sophists. These mellifluous “really wise guys” made money and gained influence by their rhetorical boasts to “prove” the most amazing “thinkery” that belied common sense.
Okay, I know you're a "classicist" which should mean that you know better than I what or whom the sophist were, but I think you're mis-characterizing them. I know people use the term "sophistry" to refer to the art of persuasion by rhetorical means, usually with the implication that the person doing the persuading is using rhetoric to make up for a lack of facts, but I don't think it's really fair to paint the original sophist with that brush. Let me see what some other experts have to say on the subject:
According to CUNY,
the Sophists turned from theoretical natural science to the rational examination of human affairs for the practical betterment of human life. This approach to life began to undermine the mythological view of the world evident in poetry with its emphasis on the involvement of anthropomorphic deities in the natural world and in human action. Divine causation was no longer the only explanation of natural phenomena and human action.
Most Sophists claimed to teach arete `excellence' in the management of one's own affairs and especially in the administration of the affairs of the city. Up to the fifth century B.C. it was the common belief that arete was inborn and that aristocratic birth alone qualified a person for politics, but Protagoras taught that arete is the result of training and not innate.
And Washington State University's website says this:
The Sophists were professional teachers who, for a fee, would undertake to teach their students how to get ahead in the world. . . To get a position of importance, especially in a democracy, one had to have oratorical skill, strength in debate, and a knowledge of law and politics; one would need to know how to manage property and maybe run the State, and know something of music, astronomy, math, physics, and so on. The Sophist equipped one to be a leading citizen, and supplied answers to help people live in a world whose reality had been somewhat undermined by the Pre-Socratics.
. . . despite all we say about the origins of the modern university in Plato and Aristotle, the modern university owes more to Sophistic principles than any other philosophical school. Perhaps the most important Sophistic idea is a brand of skepticism: human affairs, ethics and politics, do not admit of certain knowledge so that good arguments can be made on either side of an argument . This view will dominate later antiquity and modernity and the exercise of arguing on both sides of the question (called in Latin, in utrumqem partem ) is one of the principal aspects of Western education from the Roman Republic to the twentieth century.
So let's not pretend that the sophists were a bunch of fast-talking wise guys trying to put one over on everyone, OK? Not that any of this is necessarily relevant to Mr. Hanson's main thesis, but it does show that he is starting out on a foundation of disingenuousness.
We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern equivalent of Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound.
Just like the "Highly credentialed and privileged" experts of their day sounded silly when they insisted that the earth revolved around the sun, or that microscopic organisms caused illness. What exactly is the problem with "highly credentialed" people?
America is huge and diverse, but the world of our credentialed experts is quite small, warped and monotonous — circumscribed largely by the prestigious university and an office in the incestuous Washington-New York corridor.
Now that's a really strange complaint coming from a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, which is sort of an ivory tower within a tower of ivory.
There are plenty of prizes, honors and degrees among our policy setters and experts, but very little experience in running a business in Oklahoma, raising a large family in Kansas, or working on an assembly line in Michigan, a military base in Texas, a boat in Alaska or a ranch in Idaho.
And practically no experience collecting wingnut welfare to write nonsensical columns. It's good that the classicist from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University is here to stick up for the common man, unlike those guys prize-winners from those prestigious universities.
In classical sophistic fashion, rhetoric is never far from personal profit. Multimillionaire Al Gore convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he helped create.
How many climate Cassandras have well-funded research positions predicated on grants and subsidies that depend on convincing the pubic and government of impending disasters that they then can be hired to monitor and address? Are there no green antitrust laws?
Oh, Al Gore gets paid for his services, that proves that global warming is a fraud. You know, one might be tempted to point out that attacking the credibility of your opponents rather than actually trying to refute their claims is exactly the sort of sophistry that Mr. Hanson finds so objectionable.
In contrast, how many of our climate theorists run irrigated farms and energy-intensive businesses at the mercy of new regulations that emanate from distant theorizing?
Because who knows more about the difficult science of climatology than farmers and factory owners?
Are we to wonder why an angry, grass-roots tea party spread — or why it was instantly derided by our experts and technocrats as ill-informed or worse?