The “True Conservative” Fallacy
In a 1975 book, British philosopher Anthony Flew described the No True Scotsman fallacy. It is a very common fallacy, especially in political discussion. It goes like this:
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”
See the trick? When someone confronts Hamish with a counterexample he doesn’t like, he simply changes his definition of a “true Scotsman” to exclude it. This way, he always “wins” the argument while avoiding critical examination of the truth or falsehood of his claim.
The same thing happens when people use phrases such as “true conservative” (with deliberate emphasis on true). A person may argue that Candidate A is a “true conservative,” while Candidate B is a phony conservative or even a RINO. Or that no “true conservative” can hold Position X on a given issue.
Arguing with such people invariably proves to be a waste of time and energy. No matter what points you make, they will – like Hamish – simply change their definition of true conservative to shield their point of view. And see what gets lost? Any discussion on the merits of Candidate A or Position X, regardless of who is ultimately right.
Incidentally, the left tries to do this to us all the time, only they are usually much nastier about it. They call you a “racist” or right wing extremist if you oppose Obama’s wealth redistribution schemes. Or a “warmonger” if you supported the Iraq war. Or “selfish” or “greedy” if you want to keep more of your own income. And so on. The left knows that they will lose on the merits, so they hope to intimidate you into not making the arguments in the first place. If you proceed anyway, they then demonize you with these terms.
When our side does it too, especially to each other, it lowers us and strengthens Obama and the left. So, those of you who think or argue in terms of “true conservatives,” please stop. Just “conservative.” Or not. And be prepared to make your case either way. Win because you are right, not because you are taking the “true conservative” position as you decide to define (or redefine) it.