Dichotomies are not always fallacious

Continuing the examination of “good arguments,” I thought I’d consider David Brook’s recent seeming attempt to provide reasons in favor of John Bolton’s nomination, “Loudly, with a Big Stick (Source: NYT 04/14/05).

What is refreshing in Brooks’ column, is that he at least attempts to present an argument for his conclusion that does not depend on the simple fallacies that we spend our time identifying. This doesn’t mean, of course, that his conclusion is true. But at least he is playing the game of arguing for his conclusion. He is at least offering hsi readers an attempt at justifying his opinion.

Brooks begins by his usual dichotomous clarification:

> The Bolton controversy isn’t about whether we believe in the U.N. mission. It’s about which U.N. mission we believe in.

>From the start, the U.N. has had two rival missions. Some people saw it as a place where sovereign nations could work together to solve problems. But other people saw it as the beginnings of a world government.

We harp often on Brooks’ indulgence of the false dichotomy, but it is worth remembering that there is nothing wrong with beginning by distinguishing two senses of a particular word or claim. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates argues that good rhetoricians begins by defining their subject matter, before they try to argue for a particular view, and if all defintion occurs through negation–we should expect some dichotomies here.

And, Brooks’ dichotomy seems reasonable on the surface of it. But in fact Brooks uses this initial dichotomy to intorduce a third alternative–global governance–which has replaced one of the initial terms:

>the federalist idea has been replaced by a squishier but equally pervasive concept: the dream of “global governance.”

>They know we’re not close to a global version of the European superstate. So they are content to champion creeping institutions like the International Criminal Court. They treat U.N. General Assembly resolutions as an emerging body of international law. They seek to foment a social atmosphere in which positions taken by multilateral organizations are deemed to have more “legitimacy” than positions taken by democratic nations.

Brook’s conclusion is that John Bolton is a good candidate to argue against this “global governance” model of the UN which Brooks claims “we” will never accepts for five reason:

>1. it is undemocratic. It is impossible to set up legitimate global authorities because there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust.

>2. we will never accept global governance because it inevitably devolves into corruption.

>3. because we love our Constitution and will never grant any other law supremacy over it. . .We think our Constitution is superior to the sloppy authority granted to, say, the International Criminal Court.

>4. Fourth, we understand that these mushy international organizations liberate the barbaric and handcuff the civilized. Bodies like the U.N. can toss hapless resolutions at the Milosevics, the Saddams or the butchers of Darfur, but they can do nothing to restrain them.

>5. all the grand talk about international norms is often just a cover for opposing the global elite’s bêtes noires of the moment – usually the U.S. or Israel.

We might contest whether these reasons should be advanced for a conclusion that states a prediction (“we will not. . .”) or a claim normative conclusion (“we should not. . .”), but what is remarkable is that there are reasons advanced clearly for the conclusion that allows Brooks to justify his support of Bolton–and all of this without his usual tricks!

Again we might still reasonably disagree with Brooks and his argument, but we can now enter into that reasonable conversation, something that our op-ed writers in their ideological zeal usually avoid.