Over the past several days we’ve revisited some of Jean Bethke Elshtain’s many fine contributions to First Things. One of her more personal articles is this 1991 reflection on the time a child-rearing expert visited her high school—and what that experience revealed about the ongoing battle between tradition and scientific expertise. Here’s part of her conclusion:
It is a mistake, often a mistake for which real people in real situations pay the price, too readily to equate the rhythms of intellectual life with the rhythms of social and political life. It is far easier to seize and abandon epistemological positions, or take categorical positions—to reject this and to embrace that—in intellectual affairs than in dealing with the thick matter of actual lived life. When we don’t attend to local knowledge and lived experience, our politics grows eerily abstract and impositional. We begin to assume that because we have arrived at this position or that as a result of oh-so-careful argument, our views must in some sense come closer to the “truth” than positions not similarly thought out or tested through argument.