Blogs > Liberty and Power > Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

Oct 3, 2006 9:40 am

Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

Andrew J. Coulson, the director of the Cato Institutes's Center for Educational Freedom, wrote a fine book, Market Education: The Untold Story. In it, he presents a careful fact-based case arguing for the superiority of private over governmental schools. In the tradition of Karl Popper, he offers a thesis that is"falsifiable" e.g. it is subject to testing and thus can, at least in theory, be proven wrong through a counterargument.

Sadly, this kind of Popperian rigor is entirely absent when Coulson turns to the Iraq War. Coulson has decided that he simply will not allow critics to use the mounting violence in Iraq to falsify the pro-war point of view. In Coulson's non-Popperian world, the rising tide of violence really means nothing at all:

Part of the argument for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was that a beachhead for freedom and democracy in a Muslim Middle Eastern nation would, in the long term, weaken militant Islamism and promote peace. It was never suggested that the process of trying to create that beachhead would itself make anyone safer — no more than it was suggested that Americans would be safer during our participation in WW II.

Hence, it is fatuous to argue that a current rise in terrorist recruitment proves that toppling Saddam was a bad idea. Efforts to create a free and democratic Iraq are ongoing — the war is still in progress.

Note that none of this is to say that freedom and democracy are sure (or even likely) to take root in Iraq. Critics are welcome to argue that we and freedom-loving Iraqis will ultimately lose there, and be worse off if we do. But can we please treat logic and common sense as non-combatants, and stop assaulting them with fallacious arguments such as the one described above?

Had Coulson taken a similar"don't confuse me with the facts" approach when writing Market Education, he would never have found a publisher. As always, Matt Barganier nails it:

That is, what has actually happened since the war began doesn’t matter, because what war supporters said would happen could theoretically still happen – kind of; we may have to accept defeat in the scavenger hunt and cakewalk events – as long as we keep trying to make it happen. Plus watch Saving Private Ryan.

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David T. Beito - 10/3/2006

Help me, then. Is there is any measure of violence that would falsify the pro-war position? an opponent of the war, I will readily admit that evidence of decreased violence would provide one measure that would falsify the antiwar position. If Coulson could show that violence has declined, I would concede that it strengthens his case and weakens mine.

Thomas Firey - 10/3/2006

You fundamentally misunderstand Coulson's argument. His post does not disallow "critics to use the mounting violence in Iraq to falsify the pro-war point of view."

It's easy to misinterpret Coulson's point, especially if his post is read through an ideological lense (either pro- or anti-war). But, though I'm not sure if Coulson's right, his point is worth pondering. If would be worthwhile for you to go back and reread it.