Monday, April 09, 2018

On Kevin

I have the urge to weigh in on the Kevin Williamson matter.  First, I should note that it's no wonder I get confused about who is who in American commentary, when the editor of The Atlantic is Jeffrey Goldberg and Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review.

As most readers would likely know, Williamson has long written diatribes at National Review, sometimes amusingly, and he is a strong "never Trumper", which means I don't disagree with every word he has ever written.  But I did note over the last couple of years that his comments on Obama and Chelsea Clinton were ridiculously over the top:  his supporters claim he can argue powerfully, but I reckon he's often a conservative troll more than anything else.  

So anyway, Jeffrey Goldberg hired him briefly for The Altantic, using the "diversity of opinion" justification, only to sack him a few weeks later when he realised that Williamson had suggested/proposed that women who had an abortion should be treated as murderers, and suffer capital punishment for it - hanging, he has quipped, on more than one occasion.

Williamson's tendency to rhetorical exaggeration no doubt means his anti-abortion (or rather, anti-women who have abortions)  musings shouldn't be a complete surprise.   Certainly, that's what his supporters want us to believe.   Jonah Goldberg says he was "sardonically" suggesting that such women be hanged.   I had to double check the meaning of that ("characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering: a sardonic grin") and I'm not sure it's apt.  His not so subtle view is apparently that he is generally against capital punishment, so of course he wouldn't argue that American women should hang for abortion, but... Well, here, you read the summary of his more nuanced (ha) view in an article in The Atlantic (Jeffrey Goldberg is a pretty fair editor!) arguing against his sacking:
My own reaction is informed by an interview Williamson gave at Hillsdale College where he was asked by a student if he really argued that all women who have abortions ought to be hanged.
He called that an “intellectually dishonest” accounting of his deliberately provocative viewpoint. “I am generally against capital punishment, I am generally against abortion, I am always against ex-post facto punishment and always against lynching,” he said.

Cathy Young, who is especially clear-eyed about the uncertainty around Williamson’s exact position, probes all the nuances for those so inclined, but as best I can tell, his position is this: if he were writing the laws, abortion would be treated as homicide but homicides would not be punished by death; whereas in places where the law did punish homicide by death, he’d nevertheless favor charging abortions as homicides.

Does he want to execute women who have abortions? No. Would he charge them with homicide even knowing that the state would kill them were they convicted? Yes.
Well, that helps, I say sardonically.   (It doesn't really.)

Here's my take on the whole matter:

*  Goldberg, Jeffrey, was wrong to hire him in the first place due to the high "troll" content of much of Williamson's writing on all issues.   

*  Goldberg, Jonah, is wrong to carry on about him being a "thought criminal".   Take another example and see how Goldberg would run with it - if Williamson had argued (as some in the American conservative Right would still agree) that homosexuality is against the laws of nature and God's laws, and a seriously Christian society should feel fully justified in executing recalcitrant men practising sodomy with other men in the same way that they carry out executions for other capital offences.  You know, provided that everyone knew it was against State law, and the men had plenty of warning but still insisted on carrying on that practice.  

Would Goldberg (Jonah) have then run with "of course that's a logical argument - not a popular one, and he was being deliberately provocative when saying he has no problem with Islamic or Christian states treating sexual morality really seriously by throwing gays off buildings.   Why should The Atlantic condemn him for such a "thought crime"?"  

And might I point out here that Williamson would almost certainly here have a stronger case from a historical perspective - sodomy was a capital offence for three to four centuries in England;  there appears to have been no similar period of consistent dire punishment for women procuring their own abortion in the West in the same period.  (Have a look at the Wikipedia entries here and here, but also this article, the accuracy of which I would not necessarily vouch for.)

So, Williamson is suggesting a more extreme position than anyone in the West has for centuries, and we're just supposed to say oh - we shouldn't expect a liberal leaning publication to sack him for his thoughts?   Get out of here.  

*  It's not a free speech issue - he's free to spout off about this back at any publication that will have him.

*  It is the Right which has moved away from the centre on all sorts of issues, from gun control to their profoundly anti-science attitude on climate change,  not to mention their shrug of the shoulders endorsement of patently authoritarian chants at Trump rallies and the "who really cares?" attitude to his non-disclosure of his personal finances and Russian interference in his election.   No, the Left and the "old" centre does not have to give them respect for their new, nutty and dangerous views and excuse making for things conservatives of only 30 years ago would have found repulsive.   


not trampis said...

Why do read such nonsense.

Get a life!

Steve said...

Homer, are you being impolite to me?

not trampis said...


Just suggesting you alter your reading habits