Via Media Matters, another great day for the Washington Post. Defender of the Catholic faith, Bill Donahue writes:
There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom; sexual libertines seek to upend the cultural order by attacking religion; artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity; Hollywood relentlessly insults people of faith; activist left-wing legal groups try to scrub society free of the public expression of religion; elements in the Democratic party demonstrate an animus against Catholicism; and secular-minded malcontents within Catholicism and Protestantism seek to sabotage their religion from the inside.
Now I wonder, sure there are a few secular nihilists who might fit this description, but I think Donahue has knowingly exaggerated their importance. Now there are lots of people who are "secular" or who would insist on a "secular" (or at least non-sectarian) approach to governing, but that does not mean they are "nihilists." So I wonder, is this a straw man of the weak man variety, an ad hominem of the abusive variety, or some kind of blend, a straw hominem. Could it perhaps be a hollow hominem?
One thought on “Straw hominem”
I like the ‘straw hominem’ phrase, as it captures both the abuse and the distortion of Donahue’s (ahem) argument. A few observations about Donahue, then a theoretical question.
First, note that Donahue either restricts his criticism to (or extends the description of all his adversaries as) those who are out to ‘sabotage’ America. One question, of course, is whether there are non-sabateur nihilist-secularists or there are non-secularist and religious sabateurs… (Casey, you’re right about the numbers and their significance, but I wonder about whether there are really secularists who think they can destroy America by destroying religion. Perhaps a case for hollow man, yes?) Regardless, Donahue is after a very specific group — people who want to destroy America by destroying religion. Now, by the way, nobody I know of has been more of a public clown on behalf of religion than Donahue– is he one of those people who are out to “sabotage religion from the inside”? Well, even if he’s not out to do it, he’s certainly doing one heckuva job making religion look like the hobby for lunatics.
Second, the theoretical issue, which is the overlap between straw man and ad hominem abusive arguments. The general problem with straw man is the distortion of the dialectical situation with casting opponents of a preferred view as having either stupid arguments or generally stupid views (it’s an instantiation of what R.Talisse and I are working on, which we’re calling generally the ‘no reasonable alternatives’ fallacy). When the straw man is erected or(selected, with weak man, or constructed, for hollow man), the implication is that this is a representative instantiation not only of the general frame of argument from the opposition, but the best they can do. Consequently, it functions as a general characterization (a starkly negative one) of those who hold opposing views. In turn, not only are the arguments of opponents mis-represented, but they themselves, if the straw/weak/hollow man argument is successful, must labor under an onus of presumed incompetence. They, then, function as the antecedents of ad hominem abusive arguments to come.
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