That’s not an argument

James Meigs shares with Commentary magazine readers an interesting take on today’s political arguments.

There is another style of argument, one that doesn’t trouble itself with pesky facts at all. British writer C.S. Lewis dubbed this style “Bulverism,” after a fictional character he called Ezekiel Bulver. He imagined Bulver as a child overhearing his mother dismiss a point made by his father with the words, “Oh you say that because you are a man.” At that point, Bulver later recalls, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of your argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet.”

Lewis conceived Bulver as a stand-in for the Freudians and Marxists of his day who dismissed their opponents’ positions by attributing them to deep-seated—even unconscious—biases. If you disagreed with a Freudian, you were “projecting” or “in denial.” Question the inevitability of socialism and you were just a victim of “false consciousness” showing how deeply you’d been brainwashed by capitalism.

If we were to drop Ezekiel Bulver into a modern-day Twitter debate, he would feel right at home. Bulverism is now the norm. Political debates have become like sumo wrestling: The goal is to knock your adversary out of the ring. Why argue with your opponents when you can muscle them clean out of the conversation? So partisans begin every argument by attacking the other side’s character and motives. According to Trump loyalists, anyone with a smidgeon of international expertise is a morally suspect “globalist.” For those on the left, having the wrong skin tone or sexual leanings is enough to deny you a seat at the table.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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