To theorize is human

To my dismay, lots of commenters to my recent post on the left and right’s underlying differences in political theory want to cast all talk of political theory into the flames as nothing more than empty posturing and demagoguery.  Greginak says “[t]he real world is where theories go to die.”  BlaiseP, a bit more charitably, says:

Theory explains. That’s all it does.

Yes!  Theory explains. Explanations separate reasoned action from arbitrary action. Arbitrary action is bad. Thus, theory is good. If we cannot agree on that much, we lack the necessary ingredients for debate. 

Stillwater, offering interesting points elsewhere, also misunderstands the nature and purpose of theory when he says:

[C]onservative theory reduces to an enumeration of the political beliefs they currently hold. There’s no theory there.

At a fundamental level, yes, there must be some presuppositional beliefs about the world and human nature in order to begin to have a theory. I discuss a few of the conservative presuppositions elsewhere in the comments, such as a moral right to one’s property. Theory takes us from presuppositional beliefs to establishing a reasoned approach to the specific, individualized applications and decisions in practical life. That gets to be a messy business, but I submit we need to give an account for how we go about it, else we’re just going by our stomachs. And I don’t know that there’s a way to choose winners among stomachs.

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at


  1. I work in a profession where people do a lot of theorizing, so I’m probably biased. But it does seem to be a natural human activity. I think the important thing is just to keep in mind the old saying about not mistaking the moon for the finger pointing at it.

  2. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
    — Sherlock Holmes

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