Form Versus Substance -- A Response to Eugene:
In his post below, Eugene asks why I am speechless in reaction to Hewitt's use of the Party Discipline argument, which, as Eugene notes, is an old type of argument. The reason is that I am reacting to the substance of Hewitt's position, not its form. I'm not surprised by the logical structure of the argument, but by the chain of causal relationships that Hewitt strings together. Eugene may be right that some readers of Hewitt's blog believe in that chain -- it's hard to tell, as no one has made this particular argument until Hewitt did this morning -- but I'm not sure why that makes the argument any less remarkable.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Form Versus Substance -- A Response to Eugene:
  2. Party Discipline:
  3. The Miers/WMD Connection:
james23 (mail):
One wonders if HH actually believes this argument; several other, different and less apocalyptic arguments preceded this one, over at

Anyway, Bush certainly doesn't need a win on Miers to continue fighting terror. Nor, to do so, does he need to avoid a loss on Miers. Whatever happens to Miers, Bush is the Pres. until Jan 2009, and its clear he's going to pursue the war on terror, no matter what heat he takes from anyone.

Anyway, if Bush and Hewitt want conservatives to stop screaming, they should stop poking conservatives with sharp sticks.
10.15.2005 6:37pm
roger (mail):
I think the key to this whole line of discussion lies in the excerpt that Mahan Atma quoted in the first thread on this topic ... Is there really & truly ANYONE even the most ardent Bush supporter who actually believes that:

"If there are Republican gains in the congress in 2006 and a Republican is elected in 2008, Islamic violence in Iraq and elsewhere will grind to a halt."

That is the core of the substance that I would expect to shock the conscience of any reader ... and for which I can see no lifeline connecting Hewitt to the real world.
10.15.2005 7:00pm
DonBoy (mail) (www):
Hewitt hasn't even made the argument, really; a more accurate (than Eugene's "A-B-C") summary of what he actually said is:

-- Weakening the GOP would be very bad.
-- It would be very bad if there were a WMD attack on America.
-- Miers being defeated will weaken the GOP.
-- Therefore: shut up!

Such arguments, after all, are more effective when they're implied, as a premise of the discussion, rather than defended.

And let me remark that only a week ago this entire blog and its commenters celebrated the emigration of the Volokh family from Russia. I hope it won't be taken as presumptuous to point out that among the reasons this was good for that family was because it's better to live in a country where disagreements of domestic policy escalate immediately into accusations of treason. That's why Hewitt is appalling.
10.15.2005 7:04pm
DonBoy (mail) (www):
DON'T escalate immediately into treason. Well, that sure killed that flourish.
10.15.2005 7:05pm
M (mail):
Hewitt, recall, had a recent book on why your life "depends" on "crushing the democrats in every election". So, this is largely par for the course for him. He's fairly obviously more than a bit unhinged. There's quite a bit of evidence for this so it surprises me that anyone is surprised to see it, almost as much as it surprises me that anyone who wants to be taken seriously has anything to do with him.
10.15.2005 7:39pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Strangely, I think Eugene's explanation provides the reason why Hewitt's argument leaves people speechless. To refute Hewitt's conclusion one would need to address the three premises:

Is the Republican party better on points A, B, and/or C? ( Bear in mind, the point "A" seemed to be the hypothetical idea that Hilary might run for and win the nomination for President. I'm not a big fan of Hilary, but hey, maybe the Democrats wouldn't nominate he in 2008. Plus, for all I know, the Republicans could nominate someone even worse!)

Would a defeat on D weaken the party's ability to accomplish A, B and/ or C? (Heck, the defeat might strengthen the party. Maybe they'd pick a better candidate in 2008! That person would be so clearly superior to the hypothetically invincible Hilary they'd win. Who knows?)

Does one agree that D is not really all that important. (Gosh, what if who sits on the Supreme court does matter, and she turns out to be wretched? )

Perhaps Orin sees flaws in every single premise set forth by Hewitt. And, after all, Hugh set forward his three premises as simple claims. He didn't provide any evidence they were true.

Not knowing where to even begin to criticize a conclusion based on bald premises may leave a person speechless.

It is true, that true believers might be swayed by Hewitt's article. That's why demagoguery works.
10.15.2005 7:59pm
Whenever Eugene strays from his classic stance of jurisprudential libertarianism to a defense of political conservatism, he abandons his strength in argumentation in favor of speculation and high school hypotheticals (Think his "how can a man be called a traitor? Let me count the ways" and defense of the Republican stance on homosexuality).

Whereas, especially on First Amendment issues (generally, skipping over the treason debacle), he is almost violently empirical; on his GOP defenses his burden of proof is simply what an unnamed hypothetical nonexpert might think in a given situation. Unburdened of the weight of expertise, Volokh finds that he can wander much further afield with the shield of never saiying anything substantive enough to be disproven.

For example, in the linked post, his argument consists of:
it/makes (sense)
the same/applies
Hugh/is arguing
some Democrats/could argue
they/would suggest
both/strike (me)
you/may want
one/won't be (persuaded)
one/can focus
one/not worry
one/may well choose
I/take (it)
Hugh's argument/may well be

It's gorgeous: a full defense with two questions, an imperative, the wishy-washy "may" and "seems," more hypothetical and more indefinite second and third person than you can shake a stick at (you, some Democrats, they, you, one, one, one, and one), and not a single defense of the factual content of the statement he's supposedly defending, or a single assertion of falsity on behalf of those he's found attacking it.

With all this (intentional?) vagueness on his part, it is no surprise at all that Volokh becomes puzzled when people respond poorly to his assertions that, among 256 million Americans, some must feel the same way as the imaginary characters (all those "one[s]") with which he peppers his GOP defenses, and which make up the sum total of his persuasive apparatus in his posts.
10.15.2005 8:00pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Hewitt is a shill, so I am not surprised to find this argument from him. Eugene, on the other hand, is usually more thoughtful. The problem is that he falls into the classic intellectual trap. There is something very wrong with his (well, actually, Hewitt's) assumptions. I'm surprised that he did not take them to their logical conclusion and rejected Hewitt's arguments out of hand.

The argument that the success of Party X in elections is better for the country than the success of Party Y is based on the kind of fatalism that led otherwise reasonable Germans to expect Hitler to solve their problems while completely ignoring the darker side of his party. Before someone jumps on me for bringing out the Nazi analogy, let me say outright that I am not comparing NSDP to Republicans (at least, not here) or vice versa. I am comparing the intellectual rationalization that Germans used to vote for the Nazi's in the 1930s to the kind of argument that comes from shills like Hewitt and that Eugene seems to support as ordinary "party discipline".

We should no more vote against Republicans because of the Miers nomination than we should for them because of the perception (and it is nothing more than perception, since the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction, at the moment) that election of Republicans is better for the conduct of war on terrorism. We can certainly prioritize, but we should never look at a single alleged outcome as the basis for such decisions.

Party discipline is a fancy dance around the problem of toying with totalitarianism. Soviet Communists had party discipline as well. Look where it got them.
10.15.2005 8:32pm
frankcross (mail):
I think the biggest problem of this whole discussion is that you and Eugene are taking this guy seriously.
10.15.2005 10:00pm
dk35 (mail):
First of all, I salute dunno's comment above. I have been trying to critique Eugene's political commentary for months now, but I readily admit that I could never have been as eloquent and cogent as dunno. Finally, it has been revealed that the emperor has no clothes.

As far as Orin is concerned, I still can't believe he sees anything new in Hewitt's comments. Republican leaders have been overtly accusing those who don't agree with them of treason ever since 9/11. We have seen it in Congress, on the television, and by Eugene on his blog (remember his "j'accuse" commentary on Michael Moore and others). Why, oh why, can this latest incarnation be a suprise to anyone? If Orin is really as naive or uninformed on this topic, can we trust his judgment on others? To end on a positive note, though, I'll hope that Orin may now see the Republican leadership for what they really are, and embrace more enlightened positions in future.
10.15.2005 10:19pm
"unhinged". . . "completely gone off the deep end". . . "demagoguery". . ."shill". . ."hack". . ."odious behavior". . . "complete and utter moron". . "not. .intellectually honest". . ."likely to defend a Bush sponsored mandatory baby eating law"

That's a little sample of what I've gleaned from the comments on the last few posts. (Note --I very much appreciate that Eugene's posts have not used any of this kind of language.)

This is argument?! No,friends, it's called ad hominem. Whatever the weaknesses of Hewitt's position (and they are certainly there), he does not "argue" by attacking the character of anyone who happens to disagree with him.

So, hack away at his logical fallacies. Point out the facts that he has wrong. Show ways in which the scenario he paints is unlikely (not how if it happens "it will be Bush's fault" since the point here is not Bush's mistake, but how we should respond to it).

In other words, contest the ARGUMENT, not the man's character (or your caricature of it).

I've seen some ridiculous logic and overreation by BOTH sides in this little internecine squabble, but the one thing that tops them all is the barage of personal attacks. Perhaps I've been reading the wrong blogs, but it looks to me like most of that has come from the anti-Miers' side... those who I hear and hope honestly believe "it's a matter of principle". But where are the "principles" in lobbing grenades at someone who disagrees with you?

As for Hewitt, remember that he is trying to take a PRAGMATIC approach -- what will work. There may be principled reasons to oppose his approach (as well as grounds for disputing 'what will or won't work'), but simply to assert that ANY pragmatic approach is UN-principled (or that the person advancing it in himself principled) is not an argument.
10.15.2005 10:50pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
As for Hewitt, remember that he is trying to take a PRAGMATIC approach -- what will work.

There is a word for it in political philosophy. Now, what is it?.. Let me think...

AHA! Fascist!
10.15.2005 11:07pm
dk35 (mail):
I think that the "ad hominem" discussion is off the mark here. When people like Hewitt and Volokh call people treasonous simply for expressing opinions different from their own, they are simply wrong. There is, after all, a difference between right and wrong sometimes, and these are examples thereof.
10.16.2005 12:22am
Calling Volokh's analysis of various topics high schoolish on his own blog takes chutzpa.
10.16.2005 12:32am
Don't you know, Harriet will be another Potter Stewart. Conservatives should rejoice!
10.16.2005 1:07am
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
>Mr. Turgidson: Hugh Hewitt a "Fascist"? You surely must be kidding, or else you surely must not understand what that word actually means and has meant through our history. You ought to be careful in your humor, sir, because some people might think you are serious, or else fabulously, embarrassingly, stunningly, fall-down-laughingly misinformed. If my father, who fought real Fascists in WWII, thought you were serious in making a statement like that, I'm pretty sure he'd take a poke at you; and I, of course, would be honor-bound to serve as his second. So it's good you're merely having us all on, but please be careful, sir.

Hugh's arguments with respect to potential consequences of the intra-Right debate over the Miers nomination are consistent with his writings elsewhere -- for example his recent book "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat." And it's been the basis for his arguments in the past, for example, to explain why he wouldn't join those who were seeking to unseat Sen. Specter for a more conservative Republican. Oversimplified somewhat: Hugh believes in the two-party system; that there are only two teams, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just kidding themselves, and that you never, ever root against your own team. It's an argument for always looking at the "big picture," but it risks getting into "butterfly effect" cause-and-effect debates that can become distracting, and I think that's perhaps what's happened here.

I personally differ both from (a) those who insist that Republicans and/or conservatives have a "duty" to support the President on this nomination, and/or there will be catastrophic consequences if they don't, and (b) those who insist that this is all about the President stabbing his base in the back and breaking his promises to nominate someone with a circuit judge/law review paper trail like Scalia's (which he actually never promised in those terms, but whatever). I believe that it's a mistake for either side in this debate to try to guilt trip the other. The stakes on their own -- a multi-year seat on the Court -- are simply too large for us to engage in the luxury of such self-absorbed squabbling, and the long-term consequences to Court and country outweigh any pro or con consequences to Party and movement. So I choose to refrain from making those arguments, and instead to focus on what I believe to be underappreciated or misreported facts about the nominee, plus arguments that I believe may and should be rationally inferred from those facts, plus arguments about the nature of Supreme Court slots generally. Oh boy, that still leaves plenty of room for spirited (but good faith, respectful) discussion, huh?

But calling any of the participants in this debate "Fascist"? Naw, that's a trip to a bloody nose in person, or obscurity in blog comments. You might as well put up flashing neon sign, alternating with red neon saying "IDIOT" and green neon saying "TASTELESS." It's not useful.
10.16.2005 2:58am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
The stakes on their own -- a multi-year seat on the Court -- are simply too large for us to engage in the luxury of such self-absorbed squabbling, and the long-term consequences to Court and country outweigh any pro or con consequences to Party and movement.

Name-calling aside, this is the most rational statement I've seen on the subject recently. The stakes are, indeed, too large. However, the issue is not self-absorbed squabbling and the future of the Republican Party, the conservative movement or the War on Terror. The only issue here is the future of this country. And, as much as current crop of Republican leadership would like to believe otherwise, the direction of its policies will shift over the next several administrations both to the Left and to the Right (hopefully, only in that order).

My point should have been very clear. Demanding party discipline over a question of conscience--even where some may think that the rationale for breaking rank may be wrong--is unthinkable. When it comes from a group that claims to hold the moral high ground and the keys to the "free world" this is outright dangerous and indeed smacks of fascism. If you have any doubts, try to read some of Mussolini's statements on the subject.

Then consider how Stalin and his henchmen took control of Russia. They did not twist anyone's arms--at first. They declared that their actions always demanded party unity. The difference was that if you broke the ranks and were not a part of a rather substantial minority, you were shot. If the minority was indeed sizeable, you were shot later (as was the case in the "Bukharin faction"). But, in all cases, this was set up as a debate with the official position always winning--by the end of the arguments, by acclamation. Does this sound familiar? Do we need to get to the "shot" part to recognize the similarity?

Some moron here will undoubtedly claim here that I am a lefty, commie, pinko, ultra-liberal or some such creature for questioning the New World Order. He'd be wrong. I am questioning what is going on precisely because the Right represented by the Republican leadership more and more represents everything that I find absolutely reprehensible about the organized Left. They demand abrogation of conscience, complete message unity and unquestioned acceptance of their sycophant friends and cronies. They carry a message of hate and try to destroy anyone who disagrees with them--no matter what the reason for that disagreement. If your father would indeed recognizes fascism when he sees it, the misdeeds in Washington should make him at least squirm. There is only one way to get around this discomfort and that is to turn a blind eye to their shenannigans in the name of "party unity". However, doing so would mean either joining the movement or offering it tacit support.

Yes, my comment on Hugh Hewitt was meant as sarcasm (I would not exactly call it a joke). It was meant as a direct response to someone calling his position "PRAGMATIC". "Pragmatic", in this context, means "utilitarian", and it is not a giant leap from utilitarian to fascist. But it is not Hewitt who should be identified a fascist.

The number of crony appointments, criminal investigations and impending indictments all around Washington should be raising red flags within the Republican Party. It's time to cleanse, cast off the over-reaching and criminal element and start afresh. Some costs are just too high. And supporting this administration has just reached that particular treshhold--yes, conservatives want to win the political argument (and the elections) but not at any cost. Once we've abandoned the restraints, we are on the way to totalitarianism.

I should say, however, that this goes, in part, for both sides of the Miers debate. The only arguments in support or opposition to her candidacy that I would accept would be based on her qualifications, and, by my yardstick, they are sorely lacking. I would also consider some reasons stated for her appointment to be not in her favor--a religious test being one. If indeed the White House has been arguing that conservatives should adopt Miers as their own because she is an Evangelical Christian, then they've thrown away the Constitution. Her religion should not have--in any shape or form--come into the nomination equation. Her religion should make no difference--for or against--in the process. She could have been a Satanist and still qualify by other criteria (provided that her religion would not interfere with her constitutionally mandated duties).

Judicial philosophy is quite another matter, but how can we argue about the judicial philosophy of someone who has not been a judge and has never been in a situation where she could have taken an official (not a private) position on an issue?

The United States was the first nation in the world to have completely abandoned religious tests in politics. Although the Netherlands have proscribed religious tests for citizenship and local government earlier, they held the held the religious test for the central government--at least formally--into the 1800s. We should not revert over two hundred years of history. We should not institute religious tests under the pretext of morality, especially when being preached about morality by some rather immoral characters.

The idea of the Supreme Court is about the Law first and the People second. It is not about ideology or popularity. Moving ideologues or religious zealots to the Court (two sides of the same coin, really) amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game. If you are honest and honorable, you don't change the rules just because you don't like the potential or very real outcome. You only change the rules when they are unfair. What is happening right now is exactly the opposite.
10.16.2005 5:10am
Eliza (mail):
Hugh's loading his blunderbuss with anything he can get his hands on these days. I expect to see the kitchen sink flying past at any moment.
10.16.2005 12:44pm
erp (mail):
A very smart person I know defined a fascist as a non-Bolshevik socialist. Anybody have a better definition?
10.16.2005 3:36pm
JosephSlater (mail):

I know you're just baiting -- well, I seriously hope you are -- because that defintion is about as silly as defining "fascist" as "non-anti-semetic Republican." "Socialism" in Europe has an entirely different history and philosphy than Bolshevism (Second International vs. Third International) and Sweden and the British Labour Party don't push Bolshevism. For that matter, Bolshevism and Fascism, while both miserable, brutal totalitarian systems, are distinghishable in important ways also.

But you knew that. I hope.
10.16.2005 4:16pm
erp (mail):

Sorry, I was in a hurry when I typed in my previous comment. Here's what I meant to type, a fascist is an anti-Bolshevik socialist, so if that makes a difference to you, and you'd like to revise and extend your remarks, please go ahead.

Responding to your comment: Actually, I don't know that. Why don't you explain it to me.

Where did I say socialism and Bolshevism are indistinguishable? Of course they're distinguishable. One gets/got its marching orders from Moscow and the other didn't/doesn't.

Neither Sweden nor the UK are socialist states. They are more properly called welfare states as private property and relatively free trade is permitted.
10.16.2005 6:49pm
JosephSlater (mail):

I've made my share of typos too, so let's see if we can sort this out.

My comments make sense (I think) as a reaction to your original phrasing ("fascist = non-bolshevik socialist"), which sounds a lot like "fascist = socialist (of the European, not Russian kind.)." That's what I was reacting too. But you didn't really mean that, as you later corrected yourself to say "a fascist is an anti-Bolshevik socialist." I now take your quote to be a parody (or maybe not such a parody) of what Russian Communists would say about European socialists who weren't "left" enough for Communist tastes.

If that's what you meant, it's a good line. If that's not what you meant, I may be irreparably confused.
10.17.2005 1:47am