First, I was apparently unclear on principles and pragmatism. To me, a principle is something you stand by regardless of whether it benefits you or your “side”. If you truly believe women are temperamentally unfit to vote and you stand by that even if allowing them to vote would benefit you or your side, you are acting in a principled fashion. You’re a jerk but you’re a principled jerk. If, however, you believe women are temperamentally unfit to vote when their voting disadvantages you or your side but believe the opposite when their voting advantages you or your side, you are not acting on principle. “Pragmatic” was John Derbyshire’s word for his stance; I would have done better to use “opportunistic”. So a Democrat who states that he absolutely supports women’s suffrage because they lean Democratic is no more principled than a Republican who opposes women’s suffrage because they lean Democratic. To extend this to its logical conclusion, it will be interesting to see if anyone in Grim’s discussion comes up with principles for limiting the franchise that would eliminate him or herself from the pool of acceptable voters.
I do not, in fact, oppose any and all limits to the franchise. For example, I specifically referred to “non-felonious Americans” in one of my diatribes. The franchise is already limited by excluding - to greater or lesser degree - those who have committed a felony and I agree with that limitation (although I am not firmly decided on whether felons who have served their time should be able to vote).
It is this very agreement on my part that creates the danger for me in participating in this type of discussion. It would be remarkably easy for me to start with the premise that preventing felons from voting is reasonable and move to the argument that if I am content to take the vote away from those who chose not to obey our laws, why should I not go further and take the vote away from those who choose to engage in other activities I find objectionable? And, beyond that, to grant the vote only to those who engage in activities I find desirable? And to slide into what seems the only possible answer: “Well, okay, I guess it’s pretty much the same thing. So why not?”
Logic, especially logic that walks me from one innocuous step to another, is hard for me to resist even if my ultimate destination is no place I would have gone if I’d seen my destination beforehand. My beliefs about right and wrong don’t stand a chance against it.
Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely disillusioned, that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr. Bhaer soon joined her, looking rather out of his element, and presently several of the philosophers, each mounted on his hobby, came ambling up to hold an intellectual tournament in the recess. The conversations were miles beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms, and the only thing `evolved from her inner consciousness' was a bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before, that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful, came over her as she listened with a sense of being turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday.
She looked round to see how the Professor liked it, and found him looking at her with the grimest expression she had ever seen him wear. He shook his head and beckoned her to come away, but she was fascinated just then by the freedom of Speculative Philosophy, and kept her seat, trying to find out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after they had annihilated all the old beliefs.
Now, Mr. Bhaer was a diffident man and slow to offer his own opinions, not because they were unsettled, but too sincere and earnest to be lightly spoken. As he glanced from Jo to several other young people, attracted by the brilliancy of the philosophic pyrotechnics, he knit his brows and longed to speak, fearing that some inflammable young soul would be led astray by the rockets, to find when the display was over that they had only an empty stick or a scorched hand.
He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth--an eloquence which made his broken English musical and his plain face beautiful. He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well, but he didn't know when he was beaten and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo. The old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again, and when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.
(From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)