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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

From the Department of Needlessly Inflammatory Comparisons, Volokh.com Division

Comes now a post by Volokh conspirator Dave Kopel, which begins:

In 1924, after Lenin's death, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union introduced the concept of " socialism in one country." Recognizing that the hoped-for Communist revolutions elsewhere in Europe would not take place, the Soviet Communists set about building their version of "socialism," and then adding other nations to their "socialist" sphere of hegemony whenever possible. Today, many international gun prohibition advocates have recognized that, even though world-wide gun prohibition is not achievable in the near future, gun prohibition can be advanced in individual nations.

This is shocking news, of course:  Modern gun control proponents want to work incrementally.  This is outrageous because the Communist Party also once worked incrementally.  Such (shocking!) similarity is apparently more than enough justification for tying together these two entities -- one of which invokes strong negative connotations -- within the same paragraph.

The comparison is gratuitous.  There is no discussion of the merits of Communist incrementalist strategy or of any partcular similarities between Communist incrementalist strategies and gun-control incrementalist strategies.  There is no mention of the numerous relevant disparities between the groups.  Perhaps most importantly, there is no hint at all that every political group on the face of the planet uses incrementalist strategies at various times.  This is the equivalent of saying "Lenin used pen and paper, and so does Handgun Control, Inc."  It's an incredibly irresponsible comparison, and frankly, I'm surprised that Eugene Volokh, who is normally a stickler for fair argument standards, is putting up with it.  My guess is that he simply didn't notice it.

Eugene, of course, is well-known for his use of "substitute in another party's name" hypotheticals to illustrate unfair arguments.  I can't claim the same dexterity with the form that Eugene regularly displays, but I think that even my own less agile attempt at this kind of adaptation makes clear the extent of the problem:

When he was in charge of Fascist Italy, Musolini used to meet with his followers and rile them up.  This was an important Fascist tactic.  Today, the NRA meets with its members and riles them up. 

Is that really a fair comparison? 

And if not, then what on earth are Lenin and the Communist Party doing at the beginning of Kopel's post?

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on May 25, 2005 at 10:19 PM in Deliberation and voices | Permalink


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Kaimi, I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not...I still don't think it's a valid comparison.

Posted by: Jeff V. | May 26, 2005 11:22:10 AM


Dave Kopel responds in an update to the post. He adds some further context, for why he thinks the comparison is apt:

"There are useful comparisons between the idea of socialisn in one country and gun prohibition in one country; both involve quantum changes in social conditions in one nation, accomplished notwithstanding the significant risk that conditions in other countries could defeat the attempted change. That said, I should also state the obvious: the supporters of the international gun prohibition movement are a very diverse lot."

This update assuages, to a large degree, my previous concerns about gratuitously inflammatory comparisons. We can still disagree with Kopel on the merits of the comparison, of course. But he has answered my original critique -- why are two unrelated parties being lumped together? -- by providing a colorable argument for how the two groups may be similar.

Again, this isn't to endorse Kopel's argument on the merits (I still disagree on some of the specifics of Kopel's comparison). But with the update, Kopel's post clearly moves out of the "gratuitously inflammatory comparison" department and into the much less problematic "people who I disagree with on the merits" department.

Thank you for the clarification, Dave.

Posted by: Kaimi | May 26, 2005 10:48:50 AM

And, to be very direct about it, Kopel is a gun nut. This is far from the most ridiculous thing he's posted there.

"Nocitur a sociis."

Posted by: Latin quipmeister | May 26, 2005 10:19:08 AM

Honestly, this has bothered me too. The Volokoh conspiracy is a great blog, but sometimes it can degenerate into liberal-bashing, and I think this greatly detracts from the blog's intellectual merit.

Posted by: Jeff V. | May 26, 2005 8:22:32 AM

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