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Post Churchill's "Demerits"; on Ad Hominem Arguments
Created by John Eipper on 07/30/12 7:23 PM

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Churchill's "Demerits"; on Ad Hominem Arguments (Istvan Simon, USA, 07/30/12 7:23 pm)

Alain de Benoist wrote on 29 July:

"I have a great admiration for General de Gaulle. In my opinion, he was the greatest French statesmen of the 20th century, and he is still considered as such by most French people from the Right as well as from the Left. I especially admire his foreign policy, which I consider to be still an example for continental European peoples.

"Like Churchill, De Gaulle was not a saint, but he was certainly not an "Anglophobe," contrarily to what Nigel Jones and Istvan Simon said. In England and the US, where Francophobia is rampant (today it is even easier to buy a machine gun in the US than to buy French foie gras in California!), the will to be independent of the Anglosphere, or simply to be an ally without being a vassal, is sufficient to be considered an "Anglophobe." Though hundreds of books have been published about de Gaulle and Gaullism, I am afraid that a country where such an incredible idiot like Mitt Romney can seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency, will never be able to understand who and what General de Gaulle was.

"Bottom line: Istvan Simon wrote on 28 July: 'If Alain would be just a tad more humble, he might learn that there are important things that one learn in competitive sports.' Once again, a very strange argument (and an unWAIS attack ad hominem). Did I ever say that competitive sports are useless, or uninteresting? [...] Moreover, I do not accept lessons of 'humility' given by Istvan Simon, who has certainly great qualities, but is anything but humble himself."

(Istvan Simon): Alain is entitled to think that I am perhaps even less humble than he is. For contrary to Alain, I do not consider that remark about my supposed lack of humility as a personal attack on me, much less as being un-WAIS and ad hominem, as he accuses me of doing.

I have to insist that my argument was not ad hominem. It was a valid criticism of Alain's opinions, not his person, opinions which exhibit a consistent pattern of anti-American statements, which he has made so often on this Forum. I would have made exactly the same criticism of anyone that engaged in the same pattern of argument as Alain has. Therefore, it follows logically that what I said was not ad hominem, but was directed at the arguments that he was advancing.

I don't want to belabor the point, but here is an excellent discussion of what ad hominem is:


Now in his last sentence of the second paragraph of Alain's words that I quoted above, he confirms once again, what I just said above.

I may even agree with Alain about the qualities or (lack of) of Mitt Romney. But his comment goes well beyond an appraisal of an American politician, and is the essence of the difference between Alain de Benoist and myself. In this sentence, as in so many others that he has written in this Forum, Alain is profoundly disrespectful of not just Mitt Romney, but the United States and its people more generally.

Alain is entitled to any opinion whatsoever, about any subject, including the United States and its people. But this privilege is not his alone.

We Americans may perhaps not be as sophisticated or as learned as Alain is. But we are not simpletons, and Alain is not entitled to make such a disrespectful comment about the United States as a whole and our customs and institutions. I, as an American citizen, feel insulted by such a disrespectful comment, even if I were to agree with him about the intellectual abilities of Mitt Romney in particular. We are also entitled to our opinions, and we are allowed to respond. Alain is not above criticism nor immune from criticism in this forum. Nor is such criticism necessarily un-WAIS or ad hominem.

JE comments: I have published Istvan Simon's note verbatim, as he asked me to do.  At this point, I hope we can all calm down and remember that nobody agrees with everything posted on WAIS.  Alain de Benoist is a harsh critic of US institutions, especially our political ones.  But there is space for this type of discourse on WAIS, just as there is room for harsh criticism of the records of other nations--France, Iran, Israel, Russia, Germany...and why not Colombia?  I just ask that we keep our criticism as civil as possible--and let's redouble our efforts to avoid insulting other WAISers.

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  • Romney and De Gaulle (Herbert Abrams, 07/31/12 4:47 AM)
    I have a strong feeling that we are witnessing the extraordinary marriage of an "incredible idiot," in Alain's characterization of Romney, to the quintessential pomposity of an egocentric hero in Gilbert and Sullivan, as some might view De Gaulle. What is truly exciting is that the two best men at the wedding are both models of modesty and humility. Where else but in the august company of WAIS would such a triumphant combination be possible?

    I continue to have the highest regard for Istvan Simon and Alain de Benoist, and am fully persuaded of the accuracy of the designation of Romney. Only he could get the Prime Minister of England to put the City of the Great Salt Lake in acid perspective. But I'm afraid his comment was Ad Lakinem, a matter which we should probably call to the Queen's attention.

    All the best, and keep up your continually illuminating comments.

    JE comments: I'm always honored to hear from Herb Abrams, and if "continually illuminating comments" is a reference to my humble editing efforts, I'm doubly honored.

    Argumentation ad lakinem--I like that one. We Michiganders resent the usurpation of "Great" by those upstart Utahns when characterizing their lake, which is tiny by comparison.  So how about this ad lakinem insult:  "Hey Salties:  we've got five of 'em, plus a Gordon Lightfoot song, and they're all as fresh as can be!"

    (I know, only four of the Great Lakes actually touch the shores of Michigan.)

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  • On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism (Alain de Benoist, France 08/01/12 3:29 AM)

    Istvan Simon (30 July) wrote that, as an American, he felt himself "insulted" because I said (29 July) that "a country where such an incredible idiot like Mitt Romney can seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency, will never be able to understand who and what General de Gaulle was."

    If this is true, Istvan deserve my most sincere apologies. I did not want to insult him, nor any other individual American. My sentence was probably quickly written and could be judged excessive, but there was no intent to insult anyone. Personally, I would not feel myself insulted by somebody who would say, for instance, that he cannot have a great idea of a country which elected Nicolas Sarkozy for president. I would rather smile--and agree with him or her. It may be that I do not identify myself with my own country as much as Istvan identifies with his own.

    Istvan is right to say that I often criticize the US, but I do not think that my criticism can be interpreted as an attack ad hominem. Related to a country, such expression makes no sense. Istvan writes that I am "not entitled to make disrespectful comments about the United States as a whole and our customs and institutions." Really? Why not ? It seems to me that many WAISers are used to bashing other countries and cultures while thinking that America is exceptional. In what sense? Why should America "respected" more than any other country? For me, criticism of the US is as legitimate as criticism of France, Germany, China, Russia, Iran, Israel or any other country. I disagree with American politics for political and geopolitical reasons. I disagree with what is frequently called American "ideology" for philosophical reasons. These reasons correspond to my opinions and can in turn be criticized as well. Here Istvan is also quite right, when he says that "Alain is not above criticism nor immune from criticism in this forum." This is true for me, for Istvan, and for any WAISer too.

    My criticism is never directed against the American people as such, and should not taken as such. I have many American friends, and I am proud of their friendship. I hope they are proud of mine. Moreover, I am allergic to any kind of phobia. To criticize the US does not make me an "Americanophobe." To the contrary, I have also said clearly and more than once that there many things which I like very much in America. I certainly would not like to live in America, but I am not particularly pleased to live in France either. If I had the possibility, I would like very much to live elsewhere.

    Disagreements are not only unavoidable, but (in my opinion) necessary on WAIS. As for myself, I would not be interested in a forum where people chat only about cars, sports, tourism, music, Olympic games, the articles and books they are so proud to have published (something I never do--though, for Istvan I am not "humble" enough!) and so on. There are other places for that. And I have no time for that. I am rather interested in a forum where people can exchange opposite opinions and present contradictory information. I think it is a pity that many WAISers express opinions which seem to reflect only what they have seen on mainstream TV channels or read in big newspapers. I wonder how many of them have alternative sources of information. I like disagreement, because it is only disagreement that can teach something to us.

    Except me and a few others*, there is not much criticism of the US on WAIS. This is after all quite normal as WAIS is US-based, while most WAISers are close to America through different ways or channels. In my opinion, this is a supplementary reason for dissent. It is no mystery that the US is today criticized strongly throughout the world. To interpret this criticism as "anti-Americanism" is too easy, because such a term does not mean much. It would be much more interesting to discuss the reasons for this criticism, and to try to understand that these views are not to be explained just by stupidity, stubbornness, envy, jealousy, madness or perversity. A good exercise could be to say what each of us dislike in his/her own country.

    One of the differences between Europe and America seems to me (I may be wrong) that the differences between Americans are mainly of socio-economic nature (level of incomes, wealth, etc.), while in Europe there are also very big political, philosophical and ideological differences. Being in favor of Romney or in favor of Obama makes no real difference; it's just a question of petty politics and petty journalism. The vast majority of Americans do not question the Constitution, the American system, the Founding Fathers, capitalism, the commercial way of life, etc. In a way, it is an strong advantage for the cohesion of the social body. It also explains the extraordinary stability and continuity of the American political system. In Europe, due probably to a much longer history, such a consensus just does not exist. Considering more than 2,000 or 3,000 years of history, there are a multitude of historical and political references which continue to deeply divide the opinions. When French people speak about France, for instance, some of them think to the Ancient Regime, others to the French Revolution, some to Jean Jaurès and the Commune, others to Clovis and Joan of Arc, etc.

    I would like to stress also that I am often in complete disagreement with Istvan (though not always), but I always I read his posts with much interest because they always bring something to think about. This is not so common, unfortunately.

    Bottom line: Mitt Romney said recently, while he was in Israel, that he would be ready to support a unilateral military Israeli aggression against Iran. This is for me a confirmation that he is politically an idiot (and this has nothing to do with what one can think about the Iranian regime. I'm just consider here the consequences of such an intervention).

    * I think particularly of Jon Kofas, who seems to have disappeared from WAIS some time ago. Where are you, Jon, when we would need your comments about what is going on now in Greece?

    JE comments:  Disagreement is the lifeblood of WAIS, as Ronald Hilton said so many times.  This is one of the reasons he intentionally assembled a group of correspondents who represent so many nations and political views.

    I think Alain de Benoist's proposal is a healthy one:  what do you dislike about your own country, and why?  I'm going to think about this assignment throughout the day.  Now, I must leave for the conference.  I present a paper in a little over an hour.

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    • On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism (Istvan Simon, USA 08/02/12 6:21 PM)
      I thank Alain de Benoist (1 August) for his frank post about these issues. I have no personal animosity towards Alain and I do not think he has any personal animosity towards me. But I want to remind Alain of a few things, regarding the United States and its people.

      I am an American citizen. But I was not born in this country, as Alain knows. I was born in Hungary, and raised in Brazil. It was only as an adult that I ever came to the United States. I love all three countries with which I am associated. And actually, I also love Britain, where my first son was born. He was born in Cambridge, England, where I spent an entire year in 1983.

      I love Hungary, where I was born and where I lived the first 10 years of my life. I love Brazil, which received us generously, and where I grew up. I love Britain, because I perceive certain qualities in the British which can be found no place else. But no country I love more than I love the United States.

      Since Alain dislikes the United States, for geopolitical and other reasons, it must be hard for Alain to understand why I would love so much a country that he dislikes. So I will try to answer this question that Alain did not ask.

      I love the United States, first of all, because it is the best country I have ever lived in. This has nothing at all to do with American exceptionalism, or anything of the sort. I do not think that the United States is exceptional in the sense of those who coined that term. So Alain and I are of the same mind on that particular issue.

      But I will tell Alain and the rest of WAIS a little true story, that happened just a few weeks ago. It illuminates just one little reason why I love this country. There are many many others.

      I applied for Social Security benefits a couple of weeks ago. I went to the Social Security office nearby, in Hayward, California. There I was interviewed by a Ms. Florez, who took my statement. Ms. Florez asked me a number of questions about what is relevant to the law, for my Social Security payments to be started. At the end of the interview, Ms Florez showed me what she had entered in her computer. She asked me if it was true. I said yes. I started receiving my Social Security check about 4 weeks later.

      While I was being interviewed, there was another gentleman being interviewed at the next table, so I could hear everything he was saying and being asked. The other gentleman it seems, had applied for disability benefits. He said that he could stand just for a few minutes without pain. They asked him, can he cook? He said only things like Campbell's Soup. He was asked, what he enjoyed doing when he wanted to relax. He said he enjoyed playing a little basketball.

      Form what I overheard, I thought that maybe the disability of this gentleman was not genuine. I can't guarantee it, after all I know nothing about him, but I thought if he can only cook Campbell's Soup, because otherwise his neck hurts, how can he play basketball to relax? Yet he was not shouted at; the Social Security employee wrote into his computer all the answers he was giving, and he was treated with the same respect as I myself was being treated.

      I cannot imagine this happening in Hungary, or Brazil. Maybe in England, it could also happen. Certainly not in Russia. Certainly not in China. This is one little reason why I love this country more than I love Hungary or Brazil.

      I was not insulted because Alain made a disrespectful comment about Mitt Romney. I was insulted, because he then generalized that to the entire United States, saying that a country where such an imbecile could run for President, could never understand the greatness of De Gaulle. It is this last part, that I found profoundly offensive. I accept Alain's apology and that no insult was intended.

      I do not think that Alain ever said anything ad hominem in this Forum. I never accused him of that. Of course, Mitt Romney might say that calling him an idiot was kind of an ad hominem. If my questioning of Alain's humility was ad hominem, then certainly his answer pointing out my lack of humility, was also. Or, if he now accepts that what I had written was not ad hominem, I already acknowledged in my previous post, that I did not consider his questioning of my humility ad hominem either.

      Alain asks why he can't criticize the United States. My answer is that he can criticize it all he wants. I did not object to his criticisms of the United States, some of which is true, and some of which is a perfectly legitimate and valid criticism. What I object to is not one particular criticism, but a pattern where so far as I can tell, Alain never said anything positive about the United States in the 8 years that I have been reading and participating in this Forum. He says:

      "To the contrary, I have also said clearly and more than once that there many things which I like very much in America."

      I dispute this. I cannot recall a single post in which Alain said something positive about the United States.

      Alain asked what each of us does not like about our country. I will answer. But in turn I ask him a long enough post, in as much detail as he has done over the years with his critical remarks, what he loves about the United States.

      I recall one day in 1983, sitting in Béla Bollobás's home, in Cambridge, England, where my first wife and I had been invited for dinner. Béla Bollobás is a world-famous mathematician, and also a wonderful friend of mine. His wife Gabriella, (Gabi), is a talented sculptor. I love both of them as dear friends.

      Rudolf Halin, a German mathematician, had also been invited, and he was also at the dinner table. There were also a couple of other guests. The conversation turned to comments about various mathematicians. Gabi, who has a wonderful sunny and kind personality, was saying about somebody, I do not recall who the person was, how wonderful they were. She described several people in these glowing terms. This irritated Rudolf Halin, who then folded his napkin several times, until it was a tiny little triangle, and said to Gabriella (Gabi) in a dour irritated tone, in his heavily accented English: "Wonderful, wonderful! Write down on this little piece of paper, all the names of the people that you do not like."

      I am sorry for my reaction, because I found this so funny that I burst out in laughter. But I was also embarrassed by my laughter, because it put poor Gabi, the hostess of our dinner, in a non-complimentary light, and I love Gabi. Halin had been certainly rude to say something like that to the person hosting his dinner.

      I leave the relationship of this little true humorous tale to this post unsaid.

      JE comments:  This is only tangential to Istvan Simon's post, but I must ask him:  why have there been so many outstanding Hungarian mathematicians?  Bollobás, Kemeny, Erdos, Simon--and these are just the names that come to the top of my head.  (I may have asked Istvan this question years ago, but it bears repeating.)

      Bollobás's "Erdos number," by the way, is 1.

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      • Why Are There So Many Hungarian Mathematicians? (Istvan Simon, USA 08/03/12 5:35 PM)
        JE asked on 2 August why I think there are so many exceptional Hungarian mathematicians. The answer is easy.

        But first I want to add a few names to his list: Szemeredi, Lovasz, Ajtai, Komlos, Babai, Posa, Sos-Turan, Tarjan (Nevalina Prize), Renyi, Polya, Szego, Rado, Halmos, von Neumann, Egervary, Konig, Menger, Fejer, Turan, etc. John was kind to include me on this list, or he may have meant my brother Imre, who would deserve the honor better than me--I certainly do not belong in such august company.

        John mentions that Bollobas's Erdos number is 1, but he may just as well have said that mine is 2 (because I wrote several papers with Bela). Szemeredi appears first in the list of the still-alive mathematicians, because he is certainly the best of the crop. Tarjan signed my PhD thesis. Erdos has said on many occasions that Szemeredi should have received the Fields Medal, and I agree. He is a genius. (I met Szemeredi, by the way, in 1973 or 1974, if memory serves me right, when he spent about six months at Stanford.)

        There are two reasons for this fabulous list of first-rate mathematicians that this tiny country has produced. The first reason was Erdos. He nurtured talent. As soon as he became aware of a budding genius, a prodigy, he would visit the child's home, and ask him some mathematical questions to test him. He would encourage them, as they grew older, and propose problems to them that were genuine research results, if solved. So all the younger ones, in the above list, were to some extent Erdos's "children." The other reason for Hungary's success is a little high school publication in Hungary, called Matematikai Lapok (Meaning Mathematical Pages), where challenging problems are published, and from Middle School on, kids are encouraged to solve these problems, and send in their solutions, and receive a prize if they solved more problems than others over a year. All the Hungarians still alive, with the exception of Tarjan, who grew up in the United States, are graduates of the Matematikai Lapok problems.

        JE comments: I hope Istvan will forgive me for removing the diacritical marks in the Hungarian--it makes for a cleaner, if less accurate, posting.

        I never knew about Erdos's monumental contribution to nurturing mathematical talent.  He is a titan, to be sure.  But might there be something to my own theory, that since Hungarian is such a frighteningly difficult language, it prepares the brain for solving complex math problems?

        (Istvan:  I'm no mathematician, but since I've commented many of your WAIS posts, doesn't this give me an Erdos number of...3?)

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    • On Ad Hominem Arguments and Anti-Americanism (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/02/12 6:47 PM)
      Amen to Alain de Benoist's post of 1 August.

      WAIS is not the Rotary Club.

      JE comments: Yes, we are not the Rotary Club, but allow me to put a good word in for the Rotarians. They provided a modest college scholarship for yours truly many years ago, and they continue to sponsor international study experiences for thousands of young people.  The Rotary Club may not be WAIS, but it is nurturing WAISers of the future!

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