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Out of duty, perhaps

I dunno, it’s like I feel some weird obligation or something. Saith Professor Reynolds: “essentially a pro-democracy, anti-dictator — and hence pro-war — student organization…”

It’s kind of hard to tell, since that’s a pretty terse argument, but I think that’s a fallacy of composition — he’s pro-war, as a consequence of his anti-dictator and pro-democracy stance, so everyone who’s anti-dictator and pro-democracy must therefore be pro-war. But since he doesn’t lay out the steps, preferring to just leap to the conclusion, one can’t be sure.


  1. Prof. Pseudonym Prof. Pseudonym

    Bryant —

    The missing steps in the argument are easy to fill in. I’m sure you could do it, but I will indulge you. Here it is in a nutshell.

    1) The US is currently at war. The enemies (and there are several) are loosely united under the banner of Islamofascism. Osama is more Islamo-, and Saddam is more -fascism, but their goal (and the goal of their allies) is the same: the destruction of the United States. (No, this is not making the mistake of identifying all of Islam with Islamofascism.)

    2) In a world war (and this is a world war), everyone has to choose sides. Choosing to be silent is tacitly favoring the expected victor. Choosing to be loudly anti-war is tacitly favoring the expected loser.

    3) The United States is the expected victor.

    Intermediary conclusion (*): Those who are loudly anti-war are (at the least) tacitly on the side of the Islamofascists, and against the United States.

    We only need one more premise to establish Prof. Reynolds’ conclusion, to wit:

    4) The United States is a democracy, and is a force for democracy in the world, while the Islamofascists are led by dictators, and are a force for dictatorship in the world.

    Draw the conclusion from (*) and (4). Q.E.D.

  2. The fallacy of composition is saying “this pro-democracy, anti-dictator organization is pro-war, therefore all such organizations are pro-war.” The professor seems to be explicitly stating (without evidence or argument) that any pro-democracy, anti-dictator organization must necessarily be pro-war. The premises in the previous comment construct a well-formed argument (with premises which are fairly easy to attack, but as you implied – if those premises aren’t made explicit, it’s hard to shoot them down – not that it wouldn’t be fun.

    But just by way of example, here’s an alternate premise that satisfies the argument – the only way to combat dictatorship is through armed conflict. Thus, anti-dictator -> pro-war.

    Oh, and strictly speaking, there’s a premise taken for granted in 4), above – that military losses make forces for democracy less effective, or abstracted somewhat – that waging war is an effective means of acting as a force for democracy. An alternate set of premises that could fill the gap would be that destruction of a force for democracy always impedes the march of democracy, and that the opposition in question have the ability to effect the destruction of the United States. (an important consideration when one incinerates a nominally religious organization near Waco, for instance.) Or a third alternative, in my opinion the easiest to question – that any attempt to destroy a force for democracy in some way diminishes that force’s capacity. (this last alternative exposes another gap in the premises above – would it be a world war if the United States were not waging war? This gap can be closed by simply adding to the implicit definition of “world war” that it includes cases where only one side of the conflict is actively participating. Or by defining “restricting the civil liberties of ones own citizens in a nominal attempt to not get blowed up” as waging war.)

    In summary, and contrary to a meta-premise of the above comment – it is probably never worthwhile to construct an argument for someone else if all you’re planning to do is knock it down.

  3. I’d have said something pithy and intelligent but Kodi said it all for me. Thanks!

    Oh, OK, I will say one thing. I don’t think it’s self-evident that the United States will win a long term war against terrorism. I also don’t think that’s a good thing. As I’ve written before at length, the march of technology inevitably aids terrorists in such a way as to bring the cost of terror down to the individual level, which makes it exceedingly difficult to win that war. I worry about this a lot.

  4. Prof. Pseudonym Prof. Pseudonym

    Kodi grants that the argument I sketched above is valid (he says “well-formed”), and Bryant does not demur. The question, then, is whether or not it is sound — i.e., are all the premises true? If so, one would have to accept Reynolds’ conclusion.

    Let’s take the premises one at a time:

    1) The US is at war with Islamofascism. Kodi seems doubtful, suggesting that only one side (the US?) is fighting, or that if the US stopped fighting, there would be no war. It is true that wars end when one side stops fighting; that is called ‘surrender’, and typically involves submitting to the demands of the opponent. Burqas, anyone? Seriously, after 9/11, I do not see how anyone can doubt that the Islamofascists are fighting; and since Afghanistan, the US has been fighting too. Sounds like two for a tango.

    2) Everyone has to choose sides; anti-war folks are on the loser’s side. This premise was left unquestioned, as far as I can tell. So be it.

    3) The United States is the expected victor. Bryant questions this, suggesting that technology gives terrorism a long term advantage against state/army opponents. This is an interesting point, though it is largely irrelevant to the question of Iraq, which is a state with an army. (For a military analysis of the US v Iraq, see V.D. Hanson, here: .) At any rate, the long term strategy of the war on Islamofascism is to replace dictatorial mideast regimes with consensual governments, thus neutralizing the desire of the people of the region to harm the US through terrorism. That’s why Iraq is on the hit parade. Terrorism is not ultimately to be defeated on the battlefield, but at the ballot box. That’s how the US plans to win, and I do not see an argument against this.

    4) The US is a force for democracy, etc. I think this is the point on which we most thoroughly lose Kodi. Consider the following:
    (a) Kodi raises the spectres of Waco and the alleged reduction in US civil liberties post-9/11, as indicators that the US is not really such a force for democracy;
    (b) Kodi questions whether attacks on democracy actually weaken democracy;
    (c) Kodi suggests that war cannot further the cause of democracy.
    As to (a), well, nobody is perfect. But even if we granted for the sake of argument the looniest conspiracy theories about Waco, and the most alarmist claims of civil rights contractions, can anyone seriously claim that these things mean the US is not a force for democracy? Just in the current context, we have already replaced a dictatorship in Afghanistan with a rough democracy, and the Saudis are now talking about holding parliamentary elections. That is the power of the US.
    (b) strikes me as plainly incoherent. Is this some kind of Nietzschean notion that whatever does not kill us, makes us stronger? Remember, sometimes what does not kill us, maims us permanently. “To attack” is simply “to attempt to harm”. Not all attempts are successful, but if attacks were not generally harmful, they would not be attacks.
    As to (c), I get the drift. Democracy means listening to people, war is killing people, so war cuts off democracy. Contrast this abstraction with the facts of history: the American Revolution and World War II are just the most obvious examples of wars in the service of democracy, where a loss for the US (or a failure to enter the war) would have been a victory for the forces of dictatorship. Some wars are necessary. Some are even good.

    What is the upshot? Bryant is anti-war, because he is afraid we will lose. Kodi is anti-war, because he is afraid we will win. Did I get that right?

  5. Well, if you want.

    1) The US is at war with Islamofacism. Incorrect. We haven’t exactly gotten ready to invade Saudi Arabia yet. We are not at war with Pakistan. Perhaps if you defined “Islamofacism” you might have something here, but you seem to be using it in the same vague ill-defined sense as the average warblogger. More on this at point 3.

    2) Everyone doesn’t have to choose sides in a world war. And even if they did, you’ve got the usual huge blind spot here. It is possible to be anti-this war without being anti-war in general. In fact, it’s even possible to be specifically against the way Bush is prosecuting this war while still being in favor of deposing Saddam. The assertion that one must be in favor of Bush’s methods or one is against war of all kinds is ludicrous.

    3) Again, you seem to be defining Islamofacism in whatever way is most convenient. In order to justify the war on Iraq, you have to bring it under the banner of Islamofacism — but then you say my point is irrelevant to the question of Iraq. Well, is the war on Iraq part of a greater war (in which case you can use Islamofacism as part of the justification) or not?

    Further, the argument that terrorism can be defeated at the ballot box is hopelessly naive. Tim McVeigh and the Unabomber were Americans, with the right to vote. It did not cause either of them to give up on terrorism. Democracy is not some magic balm.

    4) US foreign policy is designed to further US interests. Sometimes that involves instilling democracy. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the US is a force for democracy, and sometimes it isn’t. C.f. Turkey; we are perfectly willing to encourage the Turkish military to strongarm the duly elected Islamic Turkish government if that’ll get us the bases in Turkey we need. That’s happening right now.


    And as to your conclusion, tell you what. If you take the time to read back over my blog and form a real opinion of what my stance is, I’m happy to talk about it with you. If you just want to toss off smug one-liners, I’m not very interested in bothering.

    The terse version of my stance is this: I am against the methods by which Bush is pursuing the war on Iraq because a) I believe it’s a distraction from the real issue, which is Al-Qaeda, and b) I believe that the real motivation is imperialistic. I would support a war on Iraq with UN backing. I think that the UN would be more likely to back this war if Bush wasn’t trying to turn the UN into an impotent backer of US policy.

    I begin to think I should just put that somewhere on the front page.

  6. Prof. Pseudonym Prof. Pseudonym

    QX Lensman, cool your jets. I read your archives, and you do indeed have a subtle and nuanced position, which is not well-represented by my smug one-liner. (The jury is still out on kodi, though; and it was your apparent endorsement of his post that threw me.)

    I think the point of contention may come down to this: There is a time for subtlety and nuance, and there is a time for decision. Most decision-making is, in the end, binary. War or no war? You and I do not have the choice to make of this war or that war; we have (at best) only the choice of Mr. Bush’s war, or M. Chirac’s non-war.

    I understand the desire to kibitz. But after a certain point, constructive criticism turns into obstructionism. And I also understand the desire for individuality of opinion; but in the end, under whose banner do you stand?

    Three final points:
    1) I suggest you re-read my posts. Your replies are not really on point.
    2) Blogging about politics is just fishing for trolls. There’s no cause to get huffy when the highest standards of rigor are not met.
    3) I like your gaming stuff much better than your politics. Clear ether.

  7. Thanks. I don’t know exactly what kodi’s position re: the war is, for the record.

    Blogging is, indeed, sometimes mental masturbation. The first thing I wrote here was this:

    “So one way or the other, some of the time I?m writing for other people and that fits LiveJournal pretty well. But right now, most of my impulses are directed at writing for myself. Thus, Population: One.”

    That’s still mostly true. I am gratified when people read and like what I have to say; who wouldn’t be? But this place is named Population: One for a reason. Some people will dig the politics; some people will dig the gaming. One of these days I’m gonna get deeper into the wrestling and lose whoever remains. That’s pretty much OK with me.

    Is it somewhat contradictory of me to critique what others have to say? Sure. Mea culpa. I broke my Andrew Sullivan habit, and maybe in time I’ll break my Glenn Reynolds habit. Till then, well, it’s my living room. I remind myself that I’m not really interested in being Mr. Smarter Warblogger by keeping people who I don’t respect out of my sidebar. (And keeping people I disagree with but do respect in there.)

    Clear ether, indeed.

  8. Addenda:

    Given the current situation, I’d reluctantly choose non-war. I sincerely hope the situation at the Security Council changes. I apologize if I’m misreading your points, but consider this: is it so wrong of me to object to the insinuation that I must be either anti-democracy or pro-dictator if I am against Bush’s war? Is there no room for principled opposition in the world?

    I very much hope that such is not the case.

  9. Another addenda!

    If you’re being pseudononymous because I know you and you’re concerned I might change my opinion of you, don’t worry about it. Most of my friends are more anti-war than I am; doesn’t bug me in the least, even when I think their rationales are wrong. For that matter, I get into raging arguments just about every other November about voting and anarchism, and I manage to stay on good terms with people. I think.

    If you’re pseudononymous for some other reason, ignore everything I’ve just said.

  10. I’m baffled. If my grandfather declares his sovereignty, and further declares war on every industrialized nation, and every industrialized nation ignores his declarations, have they surrendered? Has this conflict, regardless of the reactions of the industrialized nations of the world, been elevated to the status of World War?

    I was not invoking Waco to claim that the United States was not a force for democracy. My point was that not everyone who wishes or even attempts to destroy the United States is likely to succeed.

  11. Prof. Pseudonym Prof. Pseudonym

    Bryant asks if it is possible for a (small-d) democrat to be a principled opponent of the coming war with Iraq. Let me put it this way. The argument for war (this war) rests on empirical claims (about the probability of various future outcomes, the political motivations of the US, etc), as well as on value judgments (about the value of democracy, etc). Given that, it is certainly true that you can be as pro-American and pro-democracy as you like, and yet be against this war, *if* you have particular views on the empirical issues (e.g., that the US will lose the war, or win but undermine its future position in the world, etc).

    Now, I always like to think when I am arguing with reasonable people that any disagreements we have are ultimately about the empirical issues, not the values. The value disagreements are the ones that lead to thinking your opponent is not just wrong, but sick.

    On the other hand, automatically seeing disagreements as being value disagreements is part of human nature. One reason for this is that the empirical facts usually seem as plain as day to us — we cannot imagine that people are disagreeing over *those*. And then all that that leaves is the values to argue over.

    The point, though, is that in a lot of these arguments, the facts on the ground are taken as a given. So, put it this way: If you grant me the facts as I stated them way back in my first post (that we are at war, that you have to take sides, that we stand for democracy, that we will win), and you ask — in that context — whether a democrat can take a principled stand against this war, I think the answer has to be “no”. That’s pretty obvious. So if you are a democrat, and you are against the war, and you are possessed of some modicum of logic, I can only assume that we disagree about the facts. And that’s the way I would like it to be. But settling the facts is the long and disagreeable task of history — and none of us has the time for that.

    A side point to consider in this context is whether *most* of the antiwar movement has a value disagreement or an empirical disagreement with *most* of the pro-war community. Insofar as the anti/pro split largely mirrors the left/right split, and the left/right split is a paradigm of a value disagreement, it would seem that for most in the debate, there is no alternative but to consider their opponents evil. Personally, I would argue that most of the left/right split is actually over empirical questions — but that is a topic for another day.

    P.S.: Why I am incognito. I know Bryant (though not well) from college, but my use of a pseudonym is not for fear of changing his (most-likely non-existent) opinion of me. I am a professor (without tenure) at a liberal-arts college, and if my name were publicly linked with pro-war opinions, I would probably lose my job. No joke. That’s the state of academic freedom in America.

  12. Hm. I guess I’d agree with you that given those premises, you’d have to be pro-war. I continue to disagree with some of the premises, but that’s me.

    The problem I have with Professor Reynolds is that he doesn’t acknowledge the possibility for dissent on the premises. Saying that we don’t have time to hash out the facts seems, to me, a little bit close to that stance although certainly not identical to it. President Bush obviously has time to reach a conclusion on the questions, even if it’s not as solid a conclusion as he or we might like. (I can’t see requiring the President to be perfect; that’s simply unrealistic.) Then again, he’s got access to information we don’t have. On the gripping hand, some of the statements he and Blair have made might lead us to mistrust his claims regarding that information.

    Returning to Reynolds one last time, it’s may also be unfair to require that he meticulously state his premises each time. (Am I closer to the point of your original comment now?) On review, my original post would have been fairer if I’d merely pointed out what his premises might have been and noted where I differ with them. I dislike trying to speak for others on premises, but in this case it might have been a better choice.

    I have a friend who’s deeply into non-violent communication ( I’m not yet convinced that this sort of language modification program has strong effects, which is part of why I have to agree that it’s not entirely useful to say “Hey, Prof, you gotta state your premises each time! Clearly! With hyperlinks!”

    I think in any case it’s important to hash out where one stands and what one thinks, since in a couple of years many of us will express our opinions in what is certainly the most relevant way, namely voting. We had best have time to reach a conclusion before then, else we are not fulfilling our responsibilities as members of a democracy. (Assuming we are in fact pro-democracy.) While our debate here has absolutely no relevance to what Bush will do in a month or so, it’s got all the relevance in the world to our vote.

    I think your distinction between empirical and value disagreements is spot on. That’s a great formulation of the communication gulf. Thank you (and thank you for this entire thread, btw).

    Finally, my sympathies regarding your free speech predicament.

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