The old rhetorical gambit called argumentum ad hominem is most often deployed by advocates for a shaky proposition. If Smith has a better case for his position, such that the preponderance of the evidence and the logic it supports appear to have won the day, his adversary Jones will be powerfully tempted to “attack the messenger.” Jones’s hope is that delegitimizing Smith personally will undermine Smith’s arguments, leaving Jones alone on the field. It’s an old technique, well known to those who study argumentative and rhetorical methods. Nor is it always fallacious.
Many years ago, I wrote about two prongs of this method as used by the Left. At the time, those essays seemed sufficient. Today, no longer. The Left has “branched out” to other rationales for dismissing or silencing the Right. John Hinderaker cites one below:
Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, warns that migration fears could send political shockwaves across Europe.
Borrell, 76, a Spanish Socialist and former foreign minister, was referring to the fact that illegal immigration has hit its highest level since Europe’s last migration crisis in 2016, which drove a political backlash including contributing to Brexit. It comes at a time when Europe is braced for terror attacks linked to Hamas and a resurgent Islamist threat in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.
He suggested that “fear in the face of the unknown and uncertainty generates a hormone that calls for a security response’, he said, theorising that populism has an irrational biological basis. “We will enter a survival mode based on fear and that may promote the ascent, or strengthening, of the extreme right,” he said.
Conservatism as mental illness, a favorite trope of the left. But why is it “irrational” to oppose mass illegal immigration, or to want to prevent terror attacks?
Why indeed? That answer, of course, is that those fears are perfectly rational. Europeans don’t want to be victimized by savages, nor do they want their nations to be “transformed” by the savages’ “culture.” But the Left, which has orchestrated the mass invasion of Europe by savages from Africa and the Middle East, doesn’t want to hear it. More, the media barons of Europe, who are as wholly owned by the European left as American media moguls are by the American Left, want their readers to feel ashamed of fearing the invaders.
The old tropes of “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “Islamophobia” have been overused. They’ve lost their punch as ordinary people have noticed that those invading and abusing them are overwhelmingly black, Muslims, and violent. No sane, emotionally healthy man will view a declaration such as this as “something we just have to get used to.” So the argumentum must be “tuned.” The new melody is “irrational fear.”
If Jones can convince Smith that he’s being “irrational,” Smith might back off. If Jones can convince the audience listening to their exchange that Smith is “overreacting,” he might manage to carry the day. It certainly sounds less harsh than “Smith is either stupid or evil,” especially since the statistics are all on Smith’s side.
No one wants to be thought “irrational,” or – God forbid – “hysterical.” It takes a fair degree of self-confidence to withstand those attacks. A lot of people lack that asset, and thus can be cowed by the “irrational” label. But the willingness to stand one’s ground, confident that the facts are exactly as he perceives them, is a winning posture:
If you’re secure in your possession of the facts, take confidence from them. Stand firm on them. It took me decades before I could do so in the face of massed disapproval from others. Here are the results.
Be not afraid…of rhetorical gambits that attack your rationality, that is. Feel free to fear and resent invaders who threaten your safety and that of your loved ones. That’s perfectly rational.