How different really is "rational compassion" from "compassionate conservatism?" I don't have an answer to that, I'm hoping the Review Corner author does.
The idea that empathy or compassion could ever leave our legislation or jurisprudence is impossible to envision. Given that, I'll take compassion over empathy any day.
Well, I'll defend "rational compassion." So that's a start.
Pointy-headed Yale man (with all due respect to Thurston J. Howell, III) does an important job here. "Empathy" has pretty well morphed into a synonym for "good" these days. He both corrals it into its specific meaning of experiencing another's feelings -- and documents why this may not really be good.
I ran out of space / reader attention for more examples, but one I should not have omitted was the psychopath. If you're really good at getting into others' heads, you might be a sweet angel, but you are just as likely to be a manipulator or con man.
Another great example is the doctor delivering a bad diagnosis or friend comforting one in a state of panic. In both cases, one of the participants should be calm and measured to provide stability.
He is writing to an audience for whom this is a brand new idea: "Huh? Empathy can be bad?" Reason, he is saying, provides ultimately greater compassion than empathy. I think that's defensible. "Compassionate Conservatism," sigh, is difficult to defend. I'm sure some high-powered focus group rated it highly once, but it never calmed anybody biased against conservatism nor failed to offend one biased towards it.