[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
The modern left seems to love a particular breed of ad hominem. You cite to them the words and philosophy of Jefferson, Madison, etc. and they say “oh, those were just dead rich white men,” or better yet, “they were rich, dead, racist white slaveholders” and think that means you should dismiss what these people had to say out of hand. I particularly enjoy it when that argument is deployed in opposition to following the original constitution and in favor of the Supreme Court just making sh-t up, because then you are shifting from being ruled by rich dead white men, to being ruled by a group that is old, rich, mainly white and still mostly male. Progress!
I am not saying that background is completely irrelevant. Indeed, the fact that Jefferson was a slaveholder is sometimes relevant in determining what he meant. There are those who hold to this day that the phrase “all men are created equal” actually meant “all white men are created equal” on the theory that Jefferson clearly didn’t mean his slaves because then he would be a hypocrite. Mind you, I think the most obvious answer given the evidence is, yes, Jefferson was a hypocrite, but that doesn’t make it unfair or wrong to look at the fact he owned slaves and wonder what he really meant. So I am not arguing against that sort of thing. What I am railing against here is the smug belief that this should shallowly and immediately disqualify them from having anything worthwhile to say.
So I had to chuckle when I saw this impulse reduced to absurdity in this New York Times story on the libraries created by the Occupy movement, with this hilarious line:
The librarians have eschewed the Dewey Decimal System, concerned by historical accounts that portray Melvil Dewey, its inventor, as a racist and misogynist.
Right, because Dewey organized his system as follows. First was “History.” Then there was “Irish (Drunken Bastards).” And then there was “Jews (Who Control the World).” And it just got worse from there…
Joking aside, the thing with the Dewey system is that it’s sort of like the issue of which side of the road you drive on. In England they drive on the left; in America, we drive on the right. There is no great moral reason to drive on one side or the other, as long as everyone in a given jurisdiction does the same thing. If there is anything specifically offensive in the Dewey system–the use of racial slurs, for instance–I have no objection to fixing it, but to throw out the whole thing just because you are concerned he was (allegedly) a pig when I see no obvious reason to think is piggishness affected anything is just stupid and close-minded.
And, I might add, it is strategically dumb for a movement that seems to be attracting a lot of anti-Semites.
Update: By the way, what would happen if those Occupy Wall Street types learned that Guy Fawkes was a pro-Catholic theocrat and that Che was just plain racist?
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]