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Note On Comments

Lately there’s been a noticeable decline in the tone of our usually civil and interesting comments section. That’s partly because many of the recent posts have been dealing with controversial subjects (like circumcision and the relationship of religion to character), but it’s also because of among some posters towards a drift towards more ad hominem attacks and needling little digs designed to anger and provoke other readers.

In the spirit of Grandmother Mead’s dining room table, the spirit that governs the comments section on this site, I’ve asked everyone who shares the job of editing comments to take a harder line. Comments that are unnecessarily critical of the intellectual capabilities, personal and emotional traits or the writing abilities of other participants in the conversation are not welcome. Disagreement does not require or excuse rudeness.

Comments that we deem offensive or rude will, at our discretion, be either edited or suppressed. Those who wish to start flame wars are welcome to do so elsewhere.

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  • BillH


  • Luke Lea

    Ok, I will try to be more polite, assuming I am among the guilty. I really do value civility.

  • Joseph Elsener

    I am a subscriber and I have recently become somewhat distressed by the tone of many of the comments. I have actually never left a comment until now but I have very much enjoyed reading them in the past in part because of the lack of vitriol that is unfortunately the norm for expression at many other sites. I cherish the intelligent, thoughtful and polite exchange of ideas that I am used to on this site.

    Keep up the good work and thanks for being here.

  • thibaud

    Some readers come here because they’re curious to learn more about what is meant by “Jacksonian” politics – and also because, in his media appearances and writings for respectable publications, Dr. Jekyll-Mead shows himself to be a charming, witty, self-deprecatory and insightful voice.

    But Via Meadia too often follows a very different template, with a totally different voice – call it Mr Hyde-Mead.

    The Hyde-Mead template usually begins with a screaming headline about the “death” of this or that presumed rival to Jacksonian, Christian, starve-the-state politics. The body of the post is full of smirks ‘n’ sneers against ideological opponents revealed to be stupid, wicked, and arrogant. These are liberally slathered in link bait terms aimed at readers drawn from across the right-wing US internet audience (helpfully funneled on occasion by RealClearPolitics). The link bait – “Blue social model,” for ex. – serves as what Orwell called a “shortcut from thought,” empty phrasing that dumbs down the discussion.

    Hordes of resentful commenters then arrive at VM, ready to rumble, their Jacksonian backs up, shotguns loaded and cocked for any sighting of liberal secular statists.

    This isn’t unique to VM. Perhaps the political blog format inevitably leads toward tribalism, smirks ‘n’ sneers, toward the first straw being the last straw. Maybe it’s just as bad with mommy blogs, car blogs, sports blogs, women’s shoe blogs.

    And sure, that’s part of the fun. VM might well be a lot less interesting if it weren’t delivering daily insults at people grouped with Byzantine hippodrome labels such as “blues” and “greens” (is Hyde-Mead a “white” or a “red”?).

    No doubt his screaming headlines about the “death” of this or the “horrors” of that are at least partly tongue in cheek. But if a civil tone is really important, then it would help if Dr. Jekyll-Mead were seen more consistently around these parts.

    For example, while New York Times may not hew to your Jacksonian-Christian view of life, the repeated charges of unprofessionalism that Hyde-Mead levels against so many intelligent, professional, scrupulous NYT journalists are rarely grounded in reality.

    The issues of poor governance in America, especially at the state and local level, are not partisan or “blue” issues. In any case, the ineptitude and corruption that characterizes US government at the local and state level undermines the Jacksonian case for decentralization and devolution of power.

    Perhaps VM could be split into two blog channels, sort of like a nightclub that has a dinner jacket, respectable crowd upstairs and raunchy anything-goes acts downstairs?

  • John Barker

    I hope the editors at the Economist read this post.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I would like to nominate thibaud for the boot. I have just been skipping over his rants, as I have found them to be just his leftist opinions without any text evidence, historical example, or research to support them. His going on and on about Jacksonians in the comment above is a case in point, he makes reference to all sorts of things, but never once provides any real world examples. And quite frankly his attacks on Jacksonians I take personally as I identify with the Jacksonian school of foreign policy thinking as defined by Mead, and use it to identify myself and my point of view in the comments.

    Anyone want to second me?

    The search for Truth requires arguments based in reality, with facts, figures, and scientific evidence where ever possible. Arguments based on assumed position, credentialed authority, or “everybody knows” are less than useless as such spewing wastes everyone’s time.

  • Jamespetrelli

    Would it not be in keeping with this post’s request for civility and cessation of ad hominem attacks to suggest that the 4th poster is a NYT columnist? 😛

  • John Burke

    A good way to guard against incivility is to require commenters to post with their own names (as I always do). A simple resource is to enable the use of Facebook accounts for comments as a growing number of blogs and sites already do. Few people want their names attached to nasty stuff, but on blogs such as Powerline, there is still plenty of rousing discussion.

  • ms

    I’ve always found WRM to be centrist, sensible and not particularly conservative. Rather, he seems to me to be seeking for solutions and answers wherever they may be. In short, VM seems like one of the few places where the search is on for truth about controversial issues and a way forward.

    What I most appreciate here at VM is that it gives me some hope for the future at a time when things seem to be collapsing around our ears. As for the charge of sneering–I think there is a vast difference between sneering and offering a reasoned argument, though one you may not agree with. Sneering is what Bill Maher does, and it is vile. WRM is a gentleman and a scholar. His Grandmother Mead seems to have taught him, no doubt in a kindly way, that sneering is not civil. I appreciate that and the intelligent and insightful comments of WRM and many of my fellow posters.

  • Jim.


    Seconded. [further comments on the fitness or lack of it of individual posters are banned. Momma Mead had a “talking against” jar on her kitchen table and any person who started “talking against” another member of the group had to pay a fine. We don’t have a fine system here but we do have an edit button, and in the spirit of these two great matriarchs, we are using it.]

  • Pincher Martin

    Civility is overrated. Many of the most civil posters here at Via Meadia are also among the dullest. They could use the occasional verbal lashing to jolt them out of their mental complacency. As Oscar Wilde said, ““[Their] argument doesn’t deserve the compliment of rational debate”

    Think of so many of the great and important thinkers and writers of Western Civilization. Was Voltaire civil? How about Rousseau? What about Jonathan Swift? Was he civil? When Luther nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, was he worried about being civil?

    Move ahead a few centuries to an American milieu. Do we read H.L. Mencken today for his civil approach to political discourse? Or Gore Vidal and Bill Buckley’s essays because they highlight the way was we should treat our political opponents? Does Paul Krugman today have such a wide following because of his civility?

    Of course not. Krugman has merely taken to heart the words of his idol John Maynard Keynes, who once said, “Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking.” Even Jacques Barzan, in his book From Dawn to Decadance identifies slashing invective as an important feature in the literature of Western Civilization and pooh-poohs the notion that rational discussion between opponents has ever been the norm or the model.

    Political discourse is never so useful — or so much fun — than when the proper targets are being skewered and humiliated. So I’m sorry to heard that Via Meadia has decided to turn the site over to the fawning acolytes and dull fanboys. In your puritanical desire to scrub out even the “needling little digs”, you should remember Mencken’s quote: “One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.”

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Pincher Martin: There is a difference between sharp, witty and clear polemics and nasty ad hominem attacks. Be as brilliant and polemical as you like on these pages, but make it about arguments, ideas and facts, not about the morality, personality type, ethnic or religious background, or the character of your debating opponents. If that doesn’t work for you, I’m sorry, but long experience on the internet shows that without some kind of boundaries being established, the quality of debate tends to go down, not up. It’s possible that the relative anonymity of the medium is part of that, but in any case there is nothing wrong with dazzling wit and effervescent repartee on the site.

  • Art Deco

    I had a number of years ago a post where I supervised a small corps of temporary workers, all collegian. I had a co-worker who had chronic small disciplinary problems with her set. One reason was her response to offenses was to send sprightly advisories to the whole crew via e-mail, which confounded her better employees. She needed to have non-sprightly conversations with the offenders, one by one. The same applies here.

  • Jim.

    Professor Mead,

    Please enlighten me as to how the recently-deleted comment was less polite and less mild in tone than the undeleted — indeed, completely unedited — comment in this very thread.

    If it’s a higher tone you’re trying to set, there are better ways to do it than cutting even-tempered posts while passing over vicious ones.

  • Jim.

    Professor Mead,

    It’s very noble of you to exempt comments against yourself from the “talking against” rule, but again, I’d like to suggest that improving the tone of this blog will require attention to comments whose tone is objectionable according to the ground rules you’ve laid out in this post.

    Please use your powers of editing more evenhandedly.

  • Pincher Martin

    It’s your site, and you’re allowed to police it any way you like. My opinion be damned. But I can personally vouch that you were not exactly a light hand at moderating the comments section before this recent announcement and for what I thought were very light pokes. So I feel a chill at knowing you will be stepping up the censorship in the name of civility.

    The slippery slope has two sides. Many academics’ blogs on the web enforce a rigid party line. The physicist Steve Hsu once complained that Brad Delong deleted a post of his on genetics. Paul Krugman has to make a post every month or two defending his policy on the comments section at his blog.

    And surely you know that few targets of the “sharp, witty, and clear polemics” have protested any less vociferously because of the elevated literary nature of the attack on them or been any less devastated by it. It’s painful having our errors — sometimes our gross and inexcusable errors — pointed out and laughed at. It’s even more painful when it’s done by someone who knows what they’re talking about. And the pain is intensified even more if you are a proud, intelligent, and scholarly man who simply made a bad mistake. It’s very easy and understandable in such circumstances to simply wipe away the post because you don’t like the tone.

  • CGood

    Thank you Mr. Mead.

    I do enjoy reading your columns very much, and as with other commenters here I do not view you as being particularly conservative or liberal.

    I do on occasion read the comments section for your articles, I’ve found some very good commentary & links from those comments.

    Some other sites I frequent have also had to start implementing more active policing of the comments section, for similar reasons. Those sites seem to have been pleased with the results of their efforts, I hope that is the case for Via Meadia as well.

  • BillH

    #4 thibaud – I think Prof. Mead’s intent is to be provocative so as to provoke his readers into giving some thought to what he says, and then elaborating on it. You might want to give some thought to this possibility.

  • thibaud

    Mr Mead wisely counsels: “…make it about arguments, ideas and facts, not about the morality, personality type, ethnic or religious background, or the character of your debating opponents.”

    Examples of the latter tendency:
    “[Friend of] Centralization!!!”
    “Bashi bazouk! Iconoclast! Ectomorph!”

    And here’s an example of the former tendency – see the civil, informed and polite dispute between commenters J___ (# 10, #16, #19) and T____ (#6, #17, #20) on this thread:

    More like this, please.

  • Paul Z

    In order to improve readability of the comment section can replies be placed below and indented to the right of the comment? I found that discussions are easier to follow in that format.

  • Kris

    I have no problem with stricter enforcement of civility rules, but you’ll have to work hard at being consistent. I doubt there is anything that will infuriate a commenter more than being the victim of uneven standards. (The need for consistency includes the argument made by Jim@15.)

    thibaud@19: “Leftist!” et al are unsatisfactory as standalone arguments, but surely you don’t claim that the terms are insulting in themselves. As opposed to, say, “libbetrarian nutjobs”.

    Paul@20: The nested format is indeed more convenient for a one-time read, but it is much more inconvenient for the active participants.

  • Hoyticus

    How can thibaud be a leftist? I’ve never once seen any of his comments endorsing collectivism or state control over the factors of production. Honestly anytime someone says that markets may not actually be self-regulating perfect wealth creating engines Jacksonian Libertarian just calls them leftists.

    The only reason I come to visit the virtual Mead manor is to check in on my favorite classical liberal. His analysis of the shale boom and his analysis of some of the problems with our Progressive Era bureaucracy are some of his most incisive.

    However, as Prof. Mead noted, some of the most contentious comment threads start up over religion. Mead often calls even mild criticism of Mormonism or other “revealed” religions “bigotry” which I find somewhat dishonest.

  • Luke Lea

    “The physicist Steve Hsu once complained that Brad Delong deleted a post of his on genetics. ”

    Delong only threatened to ban me when, on the subject of Nafta, I said his idea of liberalism was “let’s you and him share.” I thought that was pretty big of him to let my dig stand.

  • Ed

    Simply follow the first rule of the internet, “Don’t feed the Trolls”. They may hang around for a day or two but eventurally, without the attention they crave, they go away and the adults are left to carry on their conversation. Note above the violations of this rule even on this set of comments, responses to an obvious troll trap. Just ignore them.

  • Gary L

    Excellent post – civility is crucial. Hopefully, I have offended none, and I apologize if I have done so.

    And speaking of comments, is there any way that the industrious horde of minions employed at VM could arrange for us to view our comments before they are posted? I’ve several times had glaring typos or – more seriously – broken links, which could have been easily corrected with an “edit” button.

  • Nilton

    I’m a subscriber from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Mead’s decision. Pretty ugly comments, some of them bordering on racism (and I’m pretty conservative, “politically speaking”!), in the comments section à propos the immigration issue.
    Big fan of Professor Mead’s temperance!

  • Kansas Scott

    I think commentators forget how poorly sarcasm, snark and anger translate when read by people who have no idea who you are or anything about you other than the few words in front of them.

    I believe most do not intend to offend but it’s hard to be clever when your readers have no back story and no sense of your intent. Your words are just a skeleton without flesh and that can be jarring.

    The reality is that Mr. Mead has far more license because we know who he is and we have read his body of work. Even a regular poster here is just an odd name for whom we have to create their motivations.

    I’ve learned this the hard way by trying to be clever and realizing how others have taken it. It’s actually simple when you think about it. We come here to read Mead.

  • Jim.


    Your magnanimity in #19 makes for a refreshing change. Yes, more please.

  • Swearjar

    Speaking from Down Under, I totally support Professor Mead’s approach to editing incoming comments.

    For the record, I’ve found the Professor’s posts very well informed, balanced and appear to have been crafted with great care not to be polemical. That’s an artform in this day and age. The majority of comments here are collegiate if not always in agreement. That’s fine, and as it should be. If that is boring for some, I’m sad to hear that, but there are plenty of other sites that allow you to ‘fill your boots’, as they say.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Clearly Professor Meade is a member of The Eastern Intellectual Establishment (as, I confess, am I) and just as clearly he has gone right off the reservation. Oh, he still quotes the New York Times, but he is constantly questioning ‘The Orthodoxy’ aka ‘The Blue Model.’ But give the guy a break: I’m also quite certain he doesn’t drive a Hummer or get about the Bard campus in a Stetson. With due regard for Kansas Scott above, I hope my attempt at irony is not entirely nullified by the anonymity of the Internet.

  • Jim.


    If you’ve never encountered a post of Mead’s that is polemical, either you haven’t been here very long (and you’re missing half the fun) or your standards for polemic are truly frightening.

  • ms

    As long as you’re editing comments, go ahead and edit out my typos–there always seem to be one or two I didn’t notice. Thankyou.

  • Swearjar

    @Jim (31)

    *laugh* oh, my standards of polemical are pretty frightening!! I used to read Daily Kos once upon a time. But thanks!

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