Some of our present day politicians have accustomed us to the unedifying practice of unmeasured and unrestrained public abuse. Such elegant and descriptive terms as “stinking skunk,” “lousy rat,” “yelping hyena” and “fascist beast” are choice and characteristic examples. The result, of course, is the degradation of our public life. “It must distress all who are concerned with the preservation of ordinary decencies and customary civilities,” writes the Dean of Melbourne, Dr. S. Barton Babbage, “that the language of Parliament should so often be the language of the gutter, and that vituperation and abuse should so often be regarded as a substitute for reasoned argument and debate.” The observation is relevant far beyond its British concern.
Today refutation is no part of controversy and discussion. It is no longer necessary to prove how a man is wrong: it is sufficient to explain why he is wrong. This is a game which Freudians and Marxians delight to play. For example, the Freudian will tell you that your thoughts are “psychologically tainted.” The Marxist will tell you that your thoughts are “ideologically tainted,” and that you only think freedom a good thing because you are one of the bourgeoisie (C. S. Lewis, “Bulverism” in the Socratic Digest, June 1944, p. 16). In this game you assume that your opponent is wrong—without further discussion—and then you distract his attention by explaining why he is wrong. You do not examine your opponent’s matter; you examine his motives; you substitute abuse for argument.
There is an amusing description of this process in an article by C. S. Lewis.
In the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism. Some day I am going ...1
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