« Veterans Day: A Centenary Remembrance of the "War to End All Wars" | Main | de Grom is de Best! »

Learning How to Defend Ideas, Dialectically Speaking

On Ryan Neugebauer's Facebook thread today, I offered these observations, after making a few tongue-in-cheek remarks about Ryan's proposal to write a book called "A Case Against Myself." At first, I observed:

Sounds a little schizo to me; what would the thesis be?

Ryan replied: "Basically, I would argue against everything I stand for in it. Become my best opponent." To which I responded:

Now that's what I call taking the "dialectical" very seriously. If Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist, could do an album called "Conversations with Myself" (where he basically overdubbed and recorded solos off of his own accompaniment), you could write a book called "Conversations with Myself" (just understand that some folks chuckled at Bill's title, with tongue-in-cheek, calling it "Playing with Myself." ;) )

I added:

On a more serious note, what you say is, of course, of the utmost importance. There is no greater deed in the clash of ideas than to truly understand not only your opponents' perspectives (because there are often multiple conflicting perspectives, and given your generally libertarian outlook, that means, at least in matters of politics, opposition from both the left and the right)---but to grasp your own perspective more fully, more comprehensively.
This also means truly understanding the best, rather than the weakest, arguments that your opponents offer. Perhaps it was fortuitous that my own mentor was Bertell Ollman, an internationally known Marxist scholar. But it is a credit to him that he was among the very first scholars of any kind who truly encouraged me to continue my exploration of libertarianism in my scholarly work. Ironically, he was a Volker fellow early in his academic life, who worked with Hayek at the University of Chicago; he later befriended Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio in the Peace and Freedom Party, in their mutual opposition to the Vietnam War.
So his respect for libertarians was profound. But without him, I would never have been truly exposed to dialectical method, which I champion in my works (especially in the "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism---all books for which he provided high-profile back-cover blurbs).
One of the things that was always a part of his courses, and a part of the grade you would ultimately earn, was to keep a daily intellectual diary, centering on what we were discussing in class, or what texts we were required to read, evaluate and critique that particular day or week. I read not only virtually all of Marx's work under his guidance---but also some of the best secondary literature in defense of Marx's work, including Ollman's own books, such as Alienation and Dialectical Investigations, but also Scott Meikle's Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx and Carol Gould's Marx's Social Ontology, all of which revealed a serious Aristotelian aspect to dialectics. Which was no accident since even Hegel himself called Aristotle the "fountainhead" of dialectical inquiry. It was by engaging with these works by folks with whom I did not wholly agree politically, that I was able to mount (what I believed to be) more effective arguments in opposition to them. But in doing so, I also took away from their work some very powerful arguments in favor of a dialectical approach to social inquiry, which I adopted in my own defense of a "dialectical libertarianism."
You don't want to learn how to oppose the weakest arguments that your intellectual opponents have to offer; you want to seriously engage the best of their traditions. You do no service to the intellectual integrity of the ideas you oppose or the intellectual integrity of your own developing body of ideas by going after fallacious "straw man" arguments that are not truly representative of what your critics are saying.
So, to make a long story short: Despite my tongue-in-cheek responses above, this is an extremely helpful exercise that you propose, which can only help you, in the long-run, to develop the best, and most intellectually honest, presentation of the ideas that you ultimately support and defend.