Individual Certainty, Constitutional Doubt

A reader helps:

Toward the end of your fisking of Goldberg, you start to make a point that I think may be worth emphasizing: that one can be what we might call individually certain, but still be content, or even prefer, to live under a set of institutions (or, more broadly, a metaphysics) that do not have that same certainty. It seems that your critics enjoy making arguments of the "What, isn't Sullivan certain the sky is blue?" variety. You are certain, as far as I can tell, that, e.g., torturing is wrong, Bush is incompetent, God loves you, etc. Goldberg, Hewitt, et al., can needle you all day long on those, but ultimately, that's just a head fake.

As I understand it, your point is not that one must be doubtful in all aspects of life. The point is that one can be certain of some things while listening to others, respecting their views, and understanding that they may be equally certain - and, indeed, may even be equally right (or at least equally safe from being proved wrong). And that the risk that democratic institutions are built to contain is the risk that certain people impose their certainty on those, well, less certain. In other words, I won't impose my certainty on you, if you won't impose yours on me. Instead, we face each other, argue, deliberate, compromise, and learn to be tolerant (and, in politics, vote). And I'll win some, and you'll win some, and that's OK - more than OK, it's probably better than either of us could have come up with on our own. I'm surprised that this is so hard for your critics to grasp.

Me too. But I may not have expressed it as simply as this reader to whom I'm grateful.