When certain conservatives attack academics a stock tactic is to accuse professors of being Marxists. It is also common for certain conservatives to accuse critics of capitalism of being Marxists (or Marxist-Socialist). In many cases these accusations are a rhetorical tactic—accusing professors and critics of being Marxists is to signal to a specific audience that these are bad people and should be disliked. The tactic is also often used in an ad hominem attack:
Premise 1: Person A makes claim C.
Premise 2: A is a Marxist.
Conclusion: C is false.
I like to use silly math examples to show that a fallacy is a fallacy—if the logic was good, then it could be used to refute basic mathematical truths. This shows that the logic is clearly bad. For example:
Premise 1: Karl claims that 2+2=4.
Premise 2: Karl is a Marxist.
Conclusion: 2+2 does not equal 4.
The power of the ad hominem is clearly not from the logic, but from the dislike the target audience feels towards the subject of the attack. Those who dislike Marxism will tend to let that dislike sway them so that they reject a claim made by someone accused of being a Marxist. Just as a person who loathes conservatives will illogically reject a claim made by a conservative simply because of their dislike of the conservative. As such, even if I were an envious Marxist, this would not refute any claims I have made, nor would it undercut any of my arguments. As always, claims and arguments stand or fall on their own merits.
Since Marxism is an ideology it is certainly fair to raise concerns that a Marxist would have ideological biases. But it would also be fair to point out that a capitalist would also have ideological biases. As would anyone who has an ideology or philosophical commitment. As such, while Marxists can be accused of bias, the same also applies to anyone who has any ideology that impacts their views. This is why such biases need to be considered when assessing a person’s credibility on a matter. For example, you would be wise to be critical of accepting the claim “capitalism must fail” from a famous Marxist just because they said it. Likewise, you would be wise to be critical of accepting the claim “capitalism is the best” from a famous capitalist just because they said it. But, as always, either claim must stand or fall on its own merits. As such, if I were a Marxist, you would be wise to be critical of how my bias might impact my claims—but accusing me of being a Marxist would not refute any claim I have made nor undercut any of my arguments. The same would apply if I were a devout capitalist.
Most people do not identify as Marxists, so the ad hominem attack is often preceded by the accusation that the person’s secret/real ideology is Marxism. If the target denies they are a Marxist, a common tactic is to assert that is just what a secret Marxist would say. Secret Ideology (or Real Ideology) is a rhetorical technique in which a person accuses another of having a secret, typically bad, ideology such as Marxism or fascism. The accuser often claims a special insight or understanding into the mind of the accused—which is why they somehow know the person’s secret ideology. While primarily a rhetorical device (and hence not an argument) it can also be cast as a fallacy:
Premise 1: Person A asserts that person B has a secret/real ideology.
Conclusion: B has that secret/real ideology.
The error occurs when A fails to provide adequate evidence in support of their claim that the other person has a secret/real ideology. This is not to say that “evidence” will never be provided; but what is offered fails to support their claim. For example, the “evidence” of being a Marxist might be that the person has been critical of the excesses of capitalism while not endorsing any definitive tenets of Marxism. But the accuser somehow “knows” that the accused is secretly a Marxist—apparently through some exceptional epistemic abilities. While the high point of accusations of Marxism was during the Cold War, it has returned to being in vogue—anyone who is critical of capitalism or works in higher education might find themselves accused of being secret Marxists.
The defense against this technique is objectively assess whether adequate evidence exists for the accusation of the secret/real ideology. If not, the claim should not be accepted. It must also be remembered that even if a person has a (bad or good) ideology, this is irrelevant to the truth of their claims and the quality of their arguments. In the next essay I will take a brief look at Marxism and show why I am not a Marxist.
Dude. This is like the fourth time you’ve asked this question. Judging from the responses, the answer seems to be, to a reasonable degree, “Yes”. The next question is, do you accept this answer? If not, why did you ask in the first place?
The tactic is also often used in an ad hominem attack:
Premise 1: Person A makes claim C.
Premise 2: A is a Marxist.
Conclusion: C is false.
Mike, can you provide even a single example of this ad hominem in the wild?
TJ, you’re folding in on yourself. Your argument here is precisely an example of what Mike (who is of course a Marxist) is talking about.
But seriously. These are questions with very subjective, judgement-based answers. It’s what’s been going on here for fucking ages now. How many times must Mike dodge the issue, redefine the meaning of words, use obvious sophistry, question begging, and any number of similar fallacy-based logic arguments before you begin to hold him to some root level of philosophical honesty? Without an establishment of what would constitute a fact, a mutual understanding of the meaning of words, etc. how in God’s name can there be any fruitful discussion? Though I say I must give Mike props for finally using the term ad hominem in its proper context and not, as he usually does, taking any slight, pejorative, or derogatory opinion as an ad hominem. Though I suppose using ad hominem properly once in a while has no bearing on claims of legitimacy of past or future misuse of the term. Sigh…never mind.
But returning to your specific question here…Do you not expect Mike to be able to come up with such? The fringes of any political philosophy, legitimate or otherwise, contain people stating the most absurd arguments and conclusions.
Hold on, hold on, hold on! This just in, can’t link directly to it regardless of what it says there, but apparently Bernie Sanders is a communist. I know. I had to sit down for a minute myself. You know, it’s hard to believe what with all the attention he has garnered over the years and especially as the (sometime) front runner for the D’s waaaay back in 2016. But apparently it’s true. The Washington Post says so. You know, Democracy Dies In Darkness and all that. Gee, if someone like Bernie Sanders could be a communist, it makes one wonder who else could possibly be one? Inquiring minds…
I literally do not care at all about wage gaps. I only care about how much someone makes if they carry on about the poor, and much the system is screwing the poor, while banking 20 million for a horrible movie and promoting socialism while attending Hollywood banquets. There’s opportunity oozing out of America. It’s there for everyone. The single most effective way to make my situation better is by making myself better and by choosing more wisely. Could I live in a society in which the external would become more important to me than my internal personal responsibility? Yes, North Korea and Iran come to mind. There is no system that makes people happy. The bigger the system, generally, the more unhappy they become. Self-actualization doesn’t come from comfort without struggle. It comes as at the end of a race, when we cross the finish line. We need to feel tired at the end of a quest, but not hopeless. Humans are meant to pursue, solve, struggle. The second we find solutions we WANT more problems. as such a moderately chaotic system such as is present in the United States is optimal. Systems analysts know this: too much order means no evolution. Too much chaos is entropy. There’s simply too much to learn and pursue right in front me to be jealous or concerning that someone is making too much cash.
That said: jail all the corrupt politicians.
Michael LaBossiere says
This site seems to use some bad software to translate my posts to another language and then back into English. Weird; why not just steal the text as is?
It’s not necessarily bad translation software. Even the best available translation software will create those strange effects. I have once or twice seen similar effects on YouTube subtitles that are automatically created.
Perhaps the owner of the site is not a native English speaker, has an idea of providing translations into multiple languages, and is setting up a process accordingly? The site does this with most, but not all, of its recent entries.
The Internet throws up many strange things.