The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy


Ilya Somin describes it and gives an example:

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.

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.


Somin, in an addendum to his post, says that my response, which he quotes in full, “exemplifies the very fallacy the post [his post] criticizes.” He continues:

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 not problem with constitutionally dubious 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.

There is no doubt that some libertarians and conservatives are guilty of a reverse-Mussolini fallacy, as described by Somin. But he seems to have missed my main point, probably because I didn’t make it clearly enough.

I certainly said nothing to indicate that “the Confederacy is somehow good.” What I said was that “the Confederacy stands for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.” I should have made it clear that the Confederacy stands for (symbolizes) hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government because it represents a course of action (secession) with which many libertarians and conservatives sympathize, given the unconstitutional power wielded by today’s central government. I did not mean to say — and did not say — that the Confederacy itself stood for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.

Nor did I say — or mean to say — that the hatred of PC leftists for the Confederacy is unjustified, to the extent that it is legitimate. But it is a facile hatred, on a par with hating Hitler and Stalin. I give little credence to facile hatred when it is directed at a symbol of resistance to the very kind of government that PC leftists admire.

Further, it seems to me that PC leftists deliberately commit a logical fallacy when they make the following claim (as many of them do): Libertarians and conservatives want a government that is as limited in its power as, say, the government of the late 1800s; therefore, those libertarians and conservatives want to revert to the racial and sexual oppression that was rampant in that era.

Logical fallacies abound. But I didn’t commit one in my original post.


To make explicit a point that is implicit in what I’ve said, admiration for what the Confederacy symbolizes — becoming free of an unconstitutionally powerful central government — is animated by hatred of that government. I very much doubt that admiration for what the Confederacy symbolizes has anything to do with the views of PC leftists.

As for my own view of the Confederacy:

1. I believe that secession was (and is) legal (see this, for example). But that doesn’t absolve the Confederacy of its sins …

2. The defeat of the Confederacy was salutary because it meant the end of slavery in the United States.

If some libertarians and conservatives actually admire the Confederacy, I am confident that they are in the vast minority among libertarians and conservatives. (I dismiss pro-Confederacy-Stars-and-Bars-waving yahoos, who no more deserve to be called “conservative” than today’s leftists deserve to be called “liberal.”)


I should add that when it comes to secession, Somin and I seem to agree about the importance of separating legality (which is one issue) from cause (which is a separate ssue). (See the first section of this post.) Further, on the whole, I have bee favorably impressed by Somin’s writings at The Volokh Conspiracy. (See also this, this, and this.)