Thanks to our flawed educational ventures, rational argument is almost unknown to us
Sep 17, 2013
|President Putin: Flummoxed by his argument, his foes attacked him personally.|
It is hard to deny that Russian President Vladimir Putin hit a home run last week, in appealing directly to the American people through an op-ed piece in the New York Times not to launch a missile attack on Syria. Some conservative commentators said he made his case resoundingly. Liberals, while deploring it, had to concede that it was exceedingly well written. But what made it well written was the fact it was well reasoned.
Rational argument has almost disappeared from Western political discussion, principally because it has almost disappeared from Western education. We are enjoined not to think but to feel. The White House rationale for a missile attack on Syria, for instance, consisted almost entirely of videos of children who suffered and died from nerve-gas. Heart rending they certainly were, but the prevention of further attacks will not depend on what we feel, but on what we think, and what in consequence we do. Putin knows this, and so at one time did we. That’s why his line of reasoning came to many as such a refreshing, even startling, change.
His article sets out four propositions:
1. The reason there has been no world war since 1945 lies in the veto power within the United Nations Security Council which assures that the council can only act unanimously.
2. The U.N. charter puts legal limitations on the right of any single power to start a war.
3. An American attack on Syria would not meet those conditions.
4. Hence an attack of Syria without Security Council approval would be illegal and possibly trigger a world war. Therefore, Americans, please dissuade your government from doing this.
If you can’t beat the argument, beat the man
The liberal response has consisted almost wholly in a personal attack on Putin himself. Who, after all, was he to talk about rights and morality? Look at his record. All of which may be emotionally understandable, but did nothing whatever to refute his central contentions. It was the old argumentum ad hominem – if you can’t defeat a man’s argument, attack the man himself instead.
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