Whenever criticizing political ideologies you will eventually come to a point where you’ll need to review real-world examples. Throughout history countries all over the world have developed differently. We see this in the evolution of their cultures, worldviews, and especially politics. The wide breadth of political ideologies can truly be overwhelming. The amount that have been thought up and/or implemented gives us tons of data that can be used in a debate. We have the entire development of countries and their history at our fingertips to see the results of certain ideologies in action. Well, unless that makes someone sad, then it wasn’t really that ideology.
Most commonly you might have heard this as “That wasn’t real socialism; the workers didn’t own everything!” or “that wasn’t real communism; it was state capitalism!”. Perhaps you might have even heard the less common “That wasn’t real capitalism, that was corporatism!” Today on Bad Arguments we’ll be diving into why this is a terrible counter-argument to criticism.
The “Not real X” argument makes quite a few mistakes. For starters, it falls under the informal fallacy known as an Appeal to Purity. This is more commonly referred to as the No True Scotsman fallacy. This fallacy is a defense against counterexamples or counterarguments by either finding one aspect that excludes the example or by claiming that the example is invalid because of a theoretically “pure” version of the idea doesn’t match the example. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you said “Anarchists would never use state services” and I said, “I’m an anarchist and I have a library card.” You would be committing a fallacy if you said: “You’re not a true anarchist then.” This is a fallacy because it attempts to use an ad hoc claim to counter the counter-argument to another claim. Put another way it changes the subject of the claim to exclude the counterargument rather than actually refuting anything.
Now you might be thinking to yourself “that doesn’t apply though because I’m working with the actual definition of the term; I changed nothing.” This leads to another issue with the argument. A common fallacy is something known as an Appeal to Definition fallacy. It can be a weird one, but I will explain why it applies and is a fallacy. An Appeal to Definition fallacy is defining something purely by the dictionary/textbook example of it. This can lead to fallacious thinking/arguing because of the limitations it places on the conversation. A dictionary reflects an abbreviated definition of a term applicable to the time of it’s writing according to the author at the time. Marriage was once defined as “The holy union between a man and woman.” The meaning and use of the word evolved over time. As such, holding ourselves to a previous dictionary definition makes little sense, as does waiting for the word to be updated to validate our arguments.
With an argument such as “That wasn’t real communism/socialism/capitalism/insert ism here” the failure usually lies in those dictionary definitions. Was it dictionary communism in the U.S.S.R.? No, because there was still a state. Was it still a form of communism? Yes, as seen in its stances, actions, messaging, and overall goals of the political body. Was it dictionary socialism in Venezuela? No, because the workers didn’t own the means of production. Was it still a form of socialism? Yes because every single other action was related to the goals of the socialist movement. Is it dictionary capitalism in the U.S.A? No, because the government interferes in trade through tax and regulation. Is it still a form of capitalism? Yes because the market and property are primarily owned privately.
The last mistake made with this argument is in the subdivision. Like the Appeal to Purity above, the attempt to exclude something as “real” because it might fit better to call it a subschool of the same school of thought is redundant, and frankly, pedantic. This also can come back to harm your later arguments as by invalidating an example for its negatives also invalidates it for its positives. You can say that the U.S.A. is corporatist rather than capitalist, but then you can’t really use any of the advances that came from the U.S.A. as positive examples for your cause.
This Bad Argument is the political equivalent of plugging your ears and screaming until opposition goes away. Standing for something that has been implemented, whether in the form you’d prefer or not, includes acknowledging the negatives that may come with it. Anything less would be utopianism. Well, maybe not real Utopianism.
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