Ben Burgis and Richard Wolff on the Importance of Argument

Ben Burgis and Richard Wolff on the Importance of Argument


BURGIS: A lot of people in the political right
have, in a very cynical bad faith way I think, co-opted the language of arguments
and logic (and even the phrase “logic facts and reason”, you know which they
used sort of as a mantra). And a lot of people who are on our side have learned to respond to that by kind of rolling their eyes,
and you know ,and being very dismissive which i think is understandable but I
also think it’s a missed opportunity. So what I try to do in the book is both
urge people who share my leftist and socialist commitments to
spend more time showing exactly what’s wrong with these right-wing arguments,
and also to make more explicit arguments for our positions; for
everything from from social equality to workers control of the means of
production.
WOLFF: Well, you know you’re a philosophy professor so in a way you
study philosophy but you also try to teach it to young people going to the
University there in Atlanta. Tell me a little bit about why this problem, that
you tried to address in the book, why did it arise? What has happened in the
perhaps in the so-called culture wars here in the United States that have made
people perhaps distant from or cynical about argument.
BURGIS: So, I think that part of it, you know, is that over the course of the last few
decades of those culture wars, people have sometimes rightly right
become suspicious that people arguing for other positions or just being biased
by their circumstances, they can’t see you know the perspective that
other people are coming from. That’s not entirely wrong, right? But I also think
that there’s an element of it which has to do with what I think of as the
pathologies of powerlessness. That it’s been so long since the left (especially a
socialists left) has been anywhere near the levers of real power especially here,
that often times people sort of prefer to sort of signal that their
their moral commitment to left goals than to really worry that much about
persuading people who aren’t on board and doing the things that they would have
to make our goals attractive to people and and to try to actually win.
So, I think that once you take seriously the idea that I
think is more on the table now (because of certainly the
Bernie Sanders campaign other things like that) that large numbers
of Americans actually are on board with these things, that we could win,
then I think you have to really start thinking about, well, not everybody can be persuaded but how can we persuade the people who
can be persuaded? And that’s what the that’s what the book tries to
do, to try to say all right, all of these arguments
that people make against our positions, if we never get around to showing
exactly what’s wrong with them that makes it look to people who might be
sitting on the fence as if maybe we just don’t have good responses to these. And I
don’t think we need to do that. I think we have excellent responses and we
should make them.
WOLFF: Very interesting. I want to draw out one point.
Would it be fair to say the following, your argument but in different
words, that the American left kind of resigned itself over time to being a
marginalized group and so in upset, or anger, or resignation, or some combination
gave up the constant effort to persuade and that are now thinking that (because
obviously people are open to it) it’s now time to get back to it?
BURGIS: I think that’s absolutely right. I think that between the
the long decline of the labor movement, the exile of even the mildest
Social Democrats from political power, all too often
people got used to just thinking of this as a matter of expressing moral
commitments. That we’re going to hold our protest signs and denounce
things and that’s about all we can do. And I think that you start to hear, like
sometimes people on the Left will say things like “Oh, it’s not my job to
explain such-and-such to you”, right? Well, actually if you want to win, if you
want to persuade people, if you have political goals that you take
seriously in real life if it’s precisely your job to try to
explain things to people. And instead of saying “Well, if you were a better person
you would already get it,” which is often the implication and I
think that’s a really unhelpful kind of moralism, we should be really
using every tool at our disposal to try to persuade the people that can be
persuaded and try to build power. WOLFF: And you mean it literally, it’s everybody’s
job. There aren’t experts whose job it is to make the arguments. It’s
necessary for everybody in his or her mind to frame it and phrase it as it
makes sense in their lives BURGIS: Absolutely, yes.

6 Comments on "Ben Burgis and Richard Wolff on the Importance of Argument"


  1. IN WHAT COUNTRY HAS SOCIALISM WORKED? IF ALL OTHER GOT IT WRONG, WHY WOULD YOUR VEIW OF SOCIALISM WORK?

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  2. US politicians are so occupied with war through out the world to fill up their pockets that they don't give a damn what happens to their citizens. The last three decades US lawmakers spend trillions of dollars just to killed millions of innocence civilian just to enrich warmongers but the poor become poorer and the homeless remain homeless. This is what american politicians wants because they will remain in power.

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  3. I love how the US online radical left is converging to build consensus. More, please!

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