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Argumentum Ad Governmentum

One of the most popular logical fallacies I’ve encountered has been a heavy reliance on what I’ve come to call argumentum ad governmentum.

Relying on government to fight our ideological battles for us is a shaky means of convincing others to see things our way by arguing for majority standards and controls over minority beliefs. At its worst, argumentum ad governmentum is a way of getting others to act and think the way we would like them to by using a collective force of will to persuade local and central governments to exercise force against others on our behalf.

Unfortunately, utilizing government and legislative force as a value-laden battering ram will never win over hearts and minds to a cause, no matter how noble or praiseworthy we may think it is. Valid arguments are rational, logical, coherent, and do not rely on the use of force to prove a point. When you have won an opponent over by the weight of your argument and the prowess of your deductive reasoning, you have made an ally. When you merely force them to unwillingly bend to a system that claims their best interest in your name, you have made a slave.

As the philosophy of liberty says, this technique is sophomoric, and lacks any kind of deep thinking, rhetorical ingenuity, or honest discussion. From the video: “Using governmental force to impose a vision on others is intellectual sloth and usually results in unintended, perverse consequences…achieving a free society requires courage to think, to talk, and to act.”

In Michelle Minton’s recent post recapping the events of last weekend’s D.C. Tea Party, she cites a conversation with a protester who was reluctant to allow limits on government interference in the lives of those who may not hold the same set of principles that she did. Michelle writes:

“Then I tried explaining that if she truly wanted government to stay out of her life and protect her liberty, she would have to extend the same principle to her neighbors—even if she didn’t like what they chose to do with their own lives. She wasn’t listening to me anymore though, she wasn’t interested.

The problem is, of course, that we have to be interested when government takes liberties with others’ inviolable rights, even if we don’t agree with their values. H. L. Mencken, who was a journalist, editor, and critic of 20th century American life, once remarked that “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

Judging from some of the signage regarding several of the Obama administration’s policies I saw at the Tea Party last Saturday, conservatives are learning rather painfully that argumentum ad governmentum is a two-way street: If one side of the social debate capitulates and stoops to asking the government to initiate force on their behalf, you’d better believe the other side will follow suit when they have the opportunity to do so.