The Reverse Mussolini Fallacy and Conservative/Libertarian Reactions to PC Excesses

One of senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh’s cleverest inventions is the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy:

The Mussolini Fallacy is believing that, because Mussolini made the trains run on time (if he did), that excuses his other acts. The Reverse Mussolini Fallacy is believing that, because Mussolini made the trains run on time, making the trains run on time is bad.

People fall prey to the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy any time they make an argument to the effect that “bad people believe X, therefore X must be wrong.” The flaw in this reasoning is that bad people can still be right about some things. In the abstract, almost everyone recognizes that. But many still fall prey to the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy in practice, even if they understand its flaws in theory.

Unfortunately, the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy often crops up in conservative and libertarian reactions to PC excesses on the left. I suspect it’s an additional reason for the sympathy that some libertarians and conservatives display towards the Confederacy, especially if they do so out of ignorance. It’s easy for such people to decide that if PC leftists hate the Confederacy, that must mean that the Confederacy was actually a good thing.

Whatever you think of former “Southern Avenger” and neo-Confederate Jack Hunter, he wrote wisely when he said this:

The 20-something me would consider the 30-something me a bleeding-heart liberal. Though I still hate political correctness, I no longer find it valuable to attack PC by charging off in the opposite direction, making insensitive remarks that even if right in fact were so wrong in form. I’m not the first political pundit to use excessive hyperbole. I might be one of the few to admit being embarrassed about it. This embarrassment is particularly true concerning my own region, the South, where slavery, segregation, and institutional racism left a heavy mark.

Obviously, this issue extends to substance as well as form. PC advocates say and do many dubious things. But when it comes to slavery and the Confederacy, they have a point. More generally, it would be a serious mistake to conclude that the truth is always the opposite of whatever your most reviled political enemies happen to believe. It’s worth remembering that, if you are genuinely interested in seeking the truth – or even if you just want to avoid damaging your reputation in the way Hunter damaged his.

UPDATE: This response to my post exemplifies the very fallacy the post criticizes:

It’s not that simple.

PC leftists hate the Confederacy not only because of slavery (a hatred shared by anyone entitled to call himself a libertarian or conservative), but also because the Confederacy stands for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.

It is the idea of secession from such a government that rightly attracts many libertarians and conservatives. And it is that idea which rightly leads those libertarians and conservatives to detest PC leftists, whose anti-Confederacy stance is really a cynical defense of statism.

Even if PC leftists have dubious motives for hating the Confederacy, that does not prove that the hatred is unjustified or that the Confederacy is somehow good. Moreover, as I discuss here, the Confederates did not in fact oppose having “an unconstitutionally powerful central government.” They had no problem with constitutionally dubious assertions of federal power so long as that power was used to bolster slavery, as in the case of the Fugitive Slave Act. And they also didn’t have a principled commitment to state autonomy, as witness their efforts to coerce Kentucky and Missouri into joining the Confederacy, despite the fact that the majority of the population (including even the white population) in those states wanted to stay in the Union. Finally, as I have emphasized on several occasions (e.g. here), Confederate secession can only be considered a “rightful” exercise of popular sovereignty if you completely discount the views of the black population of the seceding states. If you count them as part of the people whose consent was required for secession, then it becomes clear that secession from the Union did not have majority support in any state in the South.

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