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Therefore, Socrates is a Cat…

November 13th, 2003 · No Comments

So Instapundit‘s linking to this “communitarian defense of patriotism,” which I’m not sure is even intended seriously, since the argument turns on one highly questionable undefended premise and a really glaring fallacy of decomposition. Let’s break it down.

Step one: individuals in a democratic society bear responsibility for the actions (or failures to act) of their governments. This, as you may recall, is Osama bin Laden’s justification for killing American civilians. It’s asserted without argument. If it strikes you as plausible on face, notice that this is not the weaker claim that citizens are obligated to make a good faith effort to participate in the democratic process, vote for the best people given the information available to them, and so on. This is—and has to be for the purposes of this argument—a “strict liability” theory that looks at consequences. Bad policy enacted by the guy you voted against? Your fault. Some covert-op that only folks at the NSA knew about turns into a massive cock-up? You take your share of the blame as well.

Step two: It is the responsibility of a government to protect and to be specially concerned with the welfare of its own citizens (as opposed to an even-handed concern for the world at large). Ok. One out of three ain’t bad.

Step three: Therefore (and I use the term loosely) each of us has a responsibility to be especially concerned with the welfare of our fellow Americans, rather than with people in general. This is my favorite. If you tilt your head and put your ear to the screen, you can almost hear these lines hollering: “Hi! I’m the fallacy of composition! You may remember me from such arguments as John Stuart Mill’s justification for utilitarianism, and Gladys the Groovy Mule.” If you’re bored and have some free time, see how many invalid arguments you can construct using this obviously incorrect form of inference. I’ll get you started: Corporations have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to be profit-maximizing. Therefore, shareholders must each act as profit maximizers in their own lives.

Ok, so seriously, is this a gag? And either way, how did a fucking law professor get snookered into linking an argument this patently busted without comment?

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