Do You Need to Take A Position?

by James Downie | March 23, 2011

[Guest post by James Downie]

As best as I can tell, the back-and-forth over Libya has gone something like this: Glenn Greenwald disagreed with John Judis, who disagreed with Matt Yglesias, who disagreed with Jon Chait, who disagreed with Andrew Sullivan, who disagreed with Leon Wieseltier, who disagreed with Ezra Klein. (Or, if you're a HuffPo headline writer, use the same order, but replace "disagree with" with "destroyed," "eviscerated," "disemboweled," "ritually sacrificed," and so forth.) It reminds me of The Onion's take on the start of World War I:

In the Libya debate, the headline would read: "Positions Declared By All," which brings me to Andrew Sullivan's response to my Monday post:

"There are so many good reasons on both sides, so many different possible outcomes, that my only sure conclusion is that I'm glad I don't have to make a decision," - James Downie, on the Libya intervention.
Wise words. But a blogger has to take a position, even if not make a decision. All I can say is that I devoutly hope that this all turns out for the best, and will eat crow if it does - and wash it down with some champers.

But why should bloggers have to take positions, especially on issues as complicated as foreign interventions? Why can't one offer opinions and observations without taking positions? Surely one can opine, for example, that the Arab League's growing dissatisfaction with the no fly zone hurts the intervention whether or not he or she supported, or opposed, or supported then but now opposes, or is unsure about the intervention. Similarly, I can comment on the race for the GOP nomination without ever taking a position on any of the candidates.

No, bloggers do not have to take positions. There is no law or principle that requires writers to say, no matter how much or how little expertise they have, "This is what should be done. This is the right thing to do."  One could argue, perhaps, that taking no position is a position in itself, but then "no position," "I don't know what to do," and "I am not too sure" are positions all too rarely taken. In the same way that everyone can give advice to friends without telling them what to do, bloggers and pundits (and commenters, for that matter) can observe and opine while leaving the positions and decisions to those actually carrying out the actions. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena," as Theodore Roosevelt said, because they are the ones who have to take positions, in order to make choices. The rest of us have the good fortune to avoid that burden. We do not need to force positions on ourselves.

UPDATE: While I was finishing this, Jon Cohn put up an excellent example of a "not too sure" post: he takes a position, but admits to being to being "not at all comfortable in [his] judgment," and instead focuses on questions about the intervention that have gone unanswered.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/85661/do-you-need-take-position