Creating a Windbreak

Part of maintaining an ideological cadre is sheltering it from the destructive criticism to which every ideology is vulnerable. One way to do that is to make anyone leveling such criticism out to be such an idiot that they aren't even worth reading. For instance, Geoffrey Plauche recently posted the following:

"Another irony: someone..."

"Someone"? To Plauche, I am apparently he-who-must-not-be-named: he periodically references something I have just written without naming me or linking to my post.

"enamored of Voegelin recently attempted to use a Hayek quote to argue, in effect, that liberals/libertarians are no different than statists, "

This is a favorite netwit tactic: When someone makes a comparison between A and B, the netwit comes back with: "So, you think A is the same as B!"
Me: Dogs are like porpoises in that they nurse their young.
Netwit: So you think dogs are no different than porpoises?!
Well... NO. That's why I compared them:  because, while they are different, they share certain things in common. I would not bother comparing a dog with itself: there would be nothing to say. You'd think an Aristotelean scholar would be comfortable with such ideas.

And look at the post Plauche is failing to reference: What in there could even remotely be taken to read "libertarians are no different than statists"? What the post claims is that there is a certain error, which Hayek called "constructivist rationalism," which one may commit, regardless of whether one is a libertarian, a liberal, a socialist, a conservative, or whatever. But the fact that all of these political persuasions are capable of committing the same error certainly does not make them all the same! Humans and flies can both fail to notice danger in their environment, but does pointing that out mean that I think humans are "no different than" flies? Anyone who would suggest that it does is either an idiot or intellectually dishonest... and Plauche is no idiot.

"which he then followed up with an argument-from-authority-cum-non-sequitur invocation of the charge of Manichean gnosticism by means of a Voegelin quote."

This would, indeed, have been a very bad argument by me... if it had been an argument.

"(Argument by quotation really should be an official variation on the argument from authority, applied to people who tend to 'argue' by quoting assertions from people they consider wise authority figures while providing little or no supporting argument of their own or directly addressing counterarguments.)"

Apparently, Plauche's world is all arguments all the time, so anything you post is an argument. "Look at that terrible argument Callahan posted in the top right corner of his page! Why all it is is a photo of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. What kind of an argument does he think that is?!"

Sometimes... no, most often... I post things just because I find them interesting. They aren't an "argument" for anything at all. Now, the quote itself my be part of an argument found in its source... but if you want to engage that argument, dig up the source!

But how much nicer for your cause if you can cast someone who posts an interesting quotation now and then as an idiot who doesn't know what an argument is!


  1. Just to be clear, Gene, you are saying the following was *not* an argument against the way libertarians currently handle themselves?


    This is a very good point. Libertarians might consider that it applies every bit as much on the attempt to force free trade or unregulated labor markets on society as it does to force collectivized agriculture on society. Traditional institutions such as guilds, poor laws, and limits on trade also grew from the free efforts of millions of individuals. And the destructive impulse present in classical liberalism has the same historical roots as that present in socialism.

  2. Bob, Plauche was talking about the Voegelin quote I used and making fun of it as an argument: "which he then followed up with an argument-from-authority-cum-non-sequitur invocation of the charge of Manichean gnosticism by means of a Voegelin quote."

    So, you have to understand the way he is using "argument," which is the way philosophers do. In that sense, if someone says, "Gene is a nutjob: stay away from him," where you might be tempted to say, "He's arguing against hanging around with Gene!" a philosopher will say, "But he offered no argument: that was mere assertion."

    It's in that sense that Plauche can say my quote was a type of argument from authority. And as I responded, that's only true if I thought I was making an argument (in that philosophical sense). And I didn't think so.

    Or, to put it another way: I would never send that blog post as part of a paper to a philosophy journal. I would need to ACTUALLY argue from my point about existing political arrangements to the Voegelin quote, which I don't do at all. That's what Plauche was ridiculing. But it's as misplaced as saying of Nietzsche, "That dope didn't even offer any arguments; just a bunch of aphorisms, like 'God is dead.'" That is only relevant if Nietzsche mistakenly presented his aphorisms thinking they were arguments. Which he didn't.


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