When NRO’s Jim Manzi criticized the chapter in Mark Levin’ s book Tyranny and Liberty dealing with climate change, his direct criticism was based on how poorly the chapter was written and how poorly arguments debunking global warming were, well, argued:
But when I waded into the first couple of chapters, I found that — while I had a lot of sympathy for many of its basic points — it seemed to all but ignore the most obvious counter-arguments that could be raised to any of its assertions. This sounds to me like a pretty good plain English meaning of epistemic closure. The problem with this, of course, is that unwillingness to confront the strongest evidence or arguments contrary to our own beliefs normally means we fail to learn quickly, and therefore persist in correctable error.
I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying — global warming — in order to see how it treated a controversy in which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.
It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times — not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.
Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statists (capitalization in the original) to seize more power. It reads like a bunch of pasted-together quotes and stories based on some quick Google searches by somebody who knows very little about the topic, and can’t be bothered to learn. After pages devoted to talking about prior global cooling fears, and some ridiculous or cynical comments by advocates for emissions restrictions (and one quote from Richard Lindzen, a very serious climate scientist who disputes the estimated magnitude of the greenhouse effect, but not its existence)
But Mark Levin is hardly a barroom philosopher. He holds a BA from Temple University where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude and graduated from Temple Law School. He served in various agencies of the federal government during the Reagan Administration. Is Manzi claiming that Levin, a legal scholar, is incapable of putting together a coherent argument?
Or perhaps he is directing his fire at the person who really wrote the book? [Ed note: Levin actually wrote his own book.]
It would not be surprising if Tyranny and Liberty was part of the great tradition of major works of non-fiction with a politician’s or celebrities name pasted on it that happened to be written by somebody other than the author. The book Conscience of a Conservative was written by L. Brent Bozell but Barry Goldwater got the author’s title and the work helped fuel his political career. It also did something else. It sales proved there was a market for political books written by conservatives. At first this market was dominated by small, very small, self-made publishing companies. Victor Publishing, which put out Conscience, was basically a dummy corporation with printing press in Shepherdsville, Kentucky that put out trade publications. The 1964 Presidential campaign was the apex of such publishing with three books: A Choice Not an Echo by Phillys Schlafly was published by Pere Marquette Press; None Dare Call It Treason by John Stormer was published by Liberty Bell Press and A Texan Looks at Lyndon by historian J. Evetts Haley published by the author’s own Palo Dural Press, which was located on his own 11,000 acre ranch in the Texas panhandle. Collectively these works sold over 17 million copies. Much of these were bulk purchases that sympathetic companies and businessmen used as a tax write-off. But many millions were also bought by individuals who showed again this market was big and profitable.
In time, big publishing houses, now a part of international media conglomerates, discovered this market and catered to it accordingly. In time as well, it wasn’t just politicians or famous statesmen who either wrote or got their names on books. As the conservative establishment grew, a whole galaxy of writers, talk show hosts, pundits and the like now were receiving book contracts to sell to this market. Even little kids got in on the act. Indeed, Manzi’s target may not be Levin at all but at Conservative Inc., the machine that puts out book after book and markets them to a base that by now have collections of such material that could rival the Library of Congress if they bought every single publication that a Newsmax or GOPUSA email promotes:
“There are many reasons to write a book. One view is that a book is just another consumer product, and if people want to buy jalapeno-and-oyster flavored ice cream, then companies will sell it to them. If the point of Liberty and Tyranny was to sell a lot of copies, it was obviously an excellent book. Further, despite what intellectuals will often claim, most people (including me) don’t really want their assumptions challenged most of the time (e.g., the most intense readers of automobile ads are people who have just bought the advertised car, because they want to validate their already-made decision). I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help you form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.”
Or better yet: a mass produced item for a mass produced ideology.