Argumenta ad lapidem (and more)

  1. Unguarded and untrained
  2. Enemy of the people
  3. Not how reality works
  4. Why have you changed your minds?
  5. An Originalist on the Supreme Court?
  6. What do the new Nationalist want?
  7. Questioning the question
  8. Argumenta ad lapidem


One measure of the impoverishment of the moral imagination in the rising generation is their inability to recognize, make, or to use metaphors …

Facts are things whose meaning belongs to their use and whose use requires relatively little interpretation. We are living in a culture in which metaphor is discarded for the so-called “facts.” We train minds to catch these “facts” much as one breaks in a baseball glove. Meanwhile, the imagination is neglected and is left unguarded and untrained.

(Vigen Guroian)


The Enlightenment project gave us the modern world, but it has always had weaknesses. First, Enlightenment figures perpetually tell themselves that religion is dead (it isn’t) and that race is dead (it isn’t), and so they are always surprised by events. Second, it is thin on meaning. It treats people as bland rational egoists and tends to produce governments run by soulless technocrats. Third, Enlightenment governance fails from time to time.

Today’s anti-Enlightenment movements don’t think truth is to be found through skeptical inquiry and debate. They think wisdom and virtue are found in the instincts of the plain people, deep in the mystical core of the nation’s or race’s group consciousness.

Today’s anti-Enlightenment movements believe less in calm persuasion and evidence-based inquiry than in purity of will. They try to win debates through blunt force and silencing unacceptable speech.

They don’t see history as a gradual march toward cooperation. They see history as cataclysmic cycles — a zero-sum endeavor marked by conflict. Nations trying to screw other nations, races inherently trying to oppress other races.

These movements are hostile to rules-based systems, multilateral organizations, the messy compromises of democratic politics and what Steve Bannon calls the “administrative state.” They prefer the direct rule by one strongman who is the embodiment of the will of the people.

When Trump calls the media the “enemy of the people” he is going after the system of conversation, debate and inquiry that is the foundation for the entire Enlightenment project.

(David Brooks) Amen to that. President Trump does not argue or persuade; he asserts, and insults if one demurs.


Like many philosophies that can be derived entirely from an airport bookstore, this one has an element of truth. The beneficiaries of the liberal international order have not paid sufficient attention to the human costs of rapid economic change. (Just as the critics of internationalism have not paid sufficient attention to the nearly 1 billion people who have left extreme poverty during the past two decades.)

(Michael Gerson, who, it just occurred to me, is too je ne sais quoi ever to be called “Mike.”)

I don’t like America being the “world’s policeman” or “the indispensable nation” — it too often sounds hubristic rather than matter-of-fact — so I probably should call the rest of Gerson’s argument “fake news” and spend all my time in “isolationist” internet echo chambers.

But I won’t. That’s not how reality works.


Shortly after the election, I wrote that the president-elect would do well to remember that his election represented not so much a “Yes” to him, as a “No” to what preceded him.  Perhaps I overstated the point, because some did say “Yes” to him.

In particular, many Evangelicals viewed him as anointed by God.

For this, Evangelicals have been charged with inconsistency, because in past elections they made much of the importance of moral character in candidates for public office.  This time, although they rightly noticed Mrs. Clinton’s odious vices, they treated Mr. Trump’s as unimportant.

In former days they cared more about the moral influence of a bad ruler on the people than about whether he did things the people wanted done.

A question for Evangelicals:  Why have you changed your minds?

(J. Budziszewski)


[Neil] Gorsuch, then, is … the sort of judge the Religious Right wants. At least, he’s the kind of judge the Religious Right says they want. After their treatment of Judge William Pryor, it’s unclear what they’re actually looking for.

Pryor, like Gorsuch, is a federal appeals court judge, and was an early front-runner for nomination to the Supreme Court. But he eventually fell out of favor among the Religious Right. Those of you who know anything about Judge Pryor know how insane that past sentence sounds.

Judge Pryor is as staunch an originalist as Gorsuch. He may also be the most openly conservative judge on the court of appeals. During his confirmation hearing for the appeals court, he said that Roe v. Wade was the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” He is also open about the fact that he once changed his family’s travel plans so a trip to Disney World didn’t overlap with Disney’s annual “Gay Day.”

It’s hard to emphasize this enough: Judges don’t say things like that. Especially when they have a realistic chance at the Supreme Court.

But the Religious Right still turned against him.The reasons why are telling. When Pryor was the Attorney General of Alabama, he brought disciplinary proceedings against Roy Moore, a justice on the Alabama Supreme Court, for openly defying a federal court order. This should be uncontroversial: Pryor was merely doing his legal duty. But the federal order required Moore to remove a Ten Commandments display from his courthouse.

Pryor’s actions should have been a victory for textualism and principle: He followed the law even though he disagreed with it. To the Religious Right, though, it was anathema. They were furious that Pryor would punish a judge who was supposedly standing up for America’s Christian heritage.

Conservatives also criticized a couple decisions he joined while on the court of appeals. The most significant was Glenn v. Brumby, a case from 2011. A biological male was fired from his job after he started presenting as a woman. The issue before the court was “whether discriminating against someone on the basis of his or her gender non-conformity constitutes sex-based discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause.” Citing the “near-total uniformity” of other courts of appeal, the court ruled that it did.

… By joining Glenn, Pryor may have gotten his originalism wrong. This led some on the Religious Right to speculate that Pryor, the man who rearranged his vacation to avoid Disney’s “Gay Day,” was secretly in the tank for the LGBT agenda …

If Pryor had used a faulty method to get a conservative answer, would he have drawn the ire of conservative think tanks? Doubtful. Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association expressed the opinion of many on the Religious Right: “Pryor may be 90 percent good on his decisions, but that is not good enough. We need someone who will be just like Scalia, 100 percent, in terms of their judicial philosophy.”

It’s hard to read this as promoting anything other than consequentialism. They want a judge who will rule their way, period. A good judge is one who bends the law to get the conservative answer 100 percent of the time.

(Matt Mellema and Ian Speir, Do Evangelicals Actually Want an Originalist on the Supreme Court?) I endorse this piece, at least after one casual reading, 100%.

I’ll even add an observation. The “First Amendment Defense Act,” beloved of the putative leaders of the Religious Right, underinclusively “[p]rohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Those are my convictions, but if you really believe in first amendment religious freedom for them as well as us, that Act should protect any person who believes or acts in accordance with any religious belief or moral conviction about marriage or sexual relations.

I keep throwing down that gauntlet, but nobody on the Religious Right thus far has picked it up so far as I can tell.


The new nationalism in Europe and America is no longer rising. It has risen.

But what does this new nationalism stand for? What do the new nationalists who voted for Brexit and Donald Trump actually want? Up until now, they have been defined more by what and who they’re against than by some motivating vision of what kind of world or nation they wish to create, or the kind of people they want to serve and be. And if they don’t soon define what they stand for, these new nationalists could go down in history as just a severe irritant to the global order of the last three decades rather than as a living alternative to it.

We know they want to restrict immigration and preserve the nation-state. We know they want to restore sovereignty in the name of democratic legitimacy. But it’s often confusing what much of this means in practice …

The very promising debut of American Affairs contains some of the sharpest criticism of the post-1989 Western governing ideology around. But this pro-Trump journal is so far very short on prescriptions.

Is the new nationalism for cultivating national particularity? Does it believe that strong independent nation-states make us more peaceful? Is it for preserving the 20th century form of secularism and feminism from encroachment by radical Islam? …

Or is the new nationalism for restoring a Christian identity and ethos to the West? …

(Michael Brendan Dougherty) I’ve copied and pasted enough to give you a taste. If intrigued, read the whole thing. (That’s almost always true of what I post, by the way.)


Keen observation, this:

It was not that long ago that former President George W. Bush assured us that he had seen into Mr. Putin’s soul and all was right with the world. No one raised any concern about Mr. Putin’s “killer instincts” directly with Mr. Bush. Even more recently, former President Obama and his sidekick former Secretary of State Clinton engaged in a “reset” with Putin and were broadly applauded in the mainstream media for their efforts. Again, no one bothered to ask Mr. Obama if he thought Mr. Putin a killer.

… Have other presidents been asked about other political leaders who might have been killers? Well, yes, provided they are known and sworn enemies: Fidel Castro, the various ayatollahs, Manuel Noriega, and so on. But has any president ever been asked this question about any other leader with whom the U.S. is striving to maintain a working relationship? The list of possible candidates is legion, but here are a few: Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung? Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran? Ronald Reagan and Ferdinand Marcos? Bill Clinton and any and all of the Saudis? The plain answer is no. Until now no one had dared to ask a sitting president whether the leader of a major country with whom we are not at war and with whom we are seeking to maintain cordial relations is a killer.

(Joseph Mussomeli, questioning the question “Is Vladimir Putin a killer?“)


I don’t know how many times I’ve encountered the argumentum ad lapidem, but I never knew a name for it:

[C]able news host Tucker Carlson was discussing the issue of transgender bathroom usage with senior Democratic National Committee advisor Zac Petkanas … Mr. Petkanas made the categorical statement, “A person’s gender identity determines a person’s gender, period.” Mr. Carlson then took extended the logic of this proposition to a necessary conclusion, asking whether he could simply declare himself a woman and thereby be eligible to play on a collegiate women’s field hockey team or apply to a federal program for women starting small businesses. Mr. Petkanas attempted to dismiss the argument by saying, “That’s silly, that’s not what we’re talking about.” It is telling that Mr. Petkanas did not introduce an additional principle to distinguish between the two cases, to say, “No, of course not, here’s the difference between the two.” He does not give a reason why the two are different; he simply asserts that it is so, and quickly moves to deflect, seeing how devastating the point is to his position. This is solid argumentation, whereas Mr. Petkanas, by calling the point “silly,” uses the ad lapidem fallacy to try to side-step the point.

Carlson was using a valid reductio ad absurdum. Petkanas was dodging its force.

[UPDATE: On further reflection, Petakanas was not merely dodging Carlson. He wanted to focus on schools asking for a safe harbor Potty Policy that would protect them from Title IX actions from the feds or “vulnerable” (i.e., litigious) students. What best serves the true and long-term interests of kids with gender dysphoria is a question for another day.]

The entire “progress” toward same-sex marriage is littered with argumenta ad lapidem, largely about how polygamy and other forms of polyamory are “silly” scare tactics.

They weren’t. The ink isn’t dry on Obergefell, but the literature insisting that polygamy is the next logical and inevitable implications is now confidently appearing. And if you don’t know what marriage is, and any boundary to marriage is intolerable discrimination against some vice or perversion, they’ve got a point.

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.