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Feature Story April 1, 2004
Punish the Pundits!
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 5
For some reason, America's neocons imagine themselves as the champions of logical argument. This is odd, since most of them -- and I speak as a longtime teacher of argumentative writing -- woudn't know an enthymeme from an anthem, as their painful attempts at dialectical critique rarely fail to demonstrate.

Hurd's misuse of Aristotelian argumentative technique is even trashier than most, relying on invented "premises" (which aren't actually "premises" at all, but never mind) invented by Hurd but supposedly representing the views of a straw-man opponent. It's the sort of thing that would get you thrown out of a high-schoool debate tournament, if not dragged out of the room and pummeled by a rain of soft, sweaty nerd-fists. But it was good enough to help drag America a few centimeters closer to the Iraqi quagmire. Here, then, is the sort of logic that got us into this mess. Hurd starts by introducing the straw-man opposing view:

"'You can't go changing regimes just because you don't like them!' So claims a caller on a talk radio show, regarding whether or not President Bush should ever topple Saddam Hussein.

"This claim is wrong. It's based on numerous faulty premises, such as:

"Faulty Premise # 1: There's no difference between a democratic republic and a total dictatorship.

"Of course there is. It's better, both politically and economically, to live in the United States than to live under a dictatorship like Iraq. People who insist the U.S. should not be so 'arrogant' as to attack a dictator evade the obvious difference between freedom and dictatorship. One is better, and one is worse. One deserves to live, and one doesn't. If you disagree, then try living under a dictatorship for a decade or two."

Even after decades of marking first-year students' attempts at argument, I get a shock reading this. It's not easy to cram so much savagery and intellectual confusion into a few sentences, but Hurd manages it. His first move is a classic: shift the ground from whether it would be a smart move to invade Iraq to the question of whether we like ourselves better than we like them. Not surprisingly, it turns out we do indeed prefer ourselves, or, as Hurd puts it, "It's live in the US than to live under a dictatorship like Iraq." With a certain reptilian cunning, he moves quickly from the question of preference to "attack," as if believing that the US is a nicer place to live than Iraq necessarily leads to the conclusion that the US should attack Iraq. Any decent high-school debater would point out that one of the things which most Americans consider "better" about their country is the fact that it did not, once upon a time, feel obliged to invade every country to which it felt superior.

Hurd's conclusion is bestially simple, and deserves to be called "fascist" in the strictest sense: "One [country -- ours] deserves to live, and one [theirs] doesn't."

After that stunning line, his "love it or leave it" conclusion seems almost moderate: "If you disagree, then try living under a dictatorship for a decade or two."

Of the three nominees, Hurd is the clear winner for sheer brutal stupidity, but the pedant in me wants to condemn him more sternly for the caricature of Aristotelian argument he and his kind have imposed on American discourse. The University of Chicago has a lot to answer for, not least for producing the raving, self-righteous ex-colleague who singlehandedly drove me from an otherwise pleasant sinecure in a New Zealand university -- but when I contemplate the employment of noble forms for employment as sordid as Hurd's, I feel a deeper loathing for that nest of middlebrow martinets.

I leave the question of punishment to you, reader: what consequence does logic require us to impose on Hurd? What antique avenger from the vast and dire realm of the Better and the Worse should be sent after him?

Third nominee: Angelo Codevilla

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