When No True Scotsman Isn’t a Fallacy


“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

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One of the most disappointing lessons of 2016 has been the realization that there are not nearly as many conservatives in America as I had assumed. If you had asked me what percentage of the country was conservative in 2014, I would have guessed somewhere just north of 40%. It may be a trick of my new found pessimism, but today I would be happy to discover conservatives make up a double digit percentage of America.

How could that be, you might ask, since the latest Gallup poll found 39% of Americans call themselves conservatives compared to only 19% who identify as liberal? Allow me to clarify: I am concerned the percentage of actual, real life conservatives is in the single digits. Conservatives would not actively support some of the policies many people who claim that title have backed.

This is the point when someone brings up the No True Scotsman fallacy. If you are unaware, the No True Scotsman fallacy is a means by which partisans try to redefine a group to exclude undesirable associations. The typical example has a Scotsman reading about a violent crime in England and declaring that no Scotsman would do such a horrible thing. When the next day’s newspaper carries a story of a Scotsman committing an even more violent crime, he assures himself that his original assessment was correct, because no true Scotsman would do that.

This is all well and good when it comes to immutable characteristics such as nationality. Your race does not determine your actions or beliefs. But ideology is an entirely different matter. Conservatism is an ideology, so calling yourself a conservative is declaring adherence to that ideology. Anyone in this free country of ours can call themselves whatever they please. But if they show disloyalty to their stated conservative ideology, it is reasonable to declare they are not true conservatives.

It is not conservative to use the government’s power to pick industrial winners and losers, a la the recent Carrier deal.

It is not conservative to threaten increased tariffs if businesses do not act as the government wishes.

It is not conservative to say only one man can solve the nation’s problems.

It is not conservative to employ the power of the government to confiscate private property for the personal use of others.

It is not conservative to attempt to suppress free speech by urging violence against protesters.

It is not conservative to impose religious tests.

It is not conservative to threaten press freedoms for their criticism of politicians.

It is not conservative to propose a trillion dollar stimulus package.

It is not conservative to support socialized medicine.

It is not conservative to praise dictators for their “strength” when they brutally suppress political opposition by murdering peaceful protesters.

It is not conservative to do or say much of what Trump has done or said.

It is not conservative to afford Trump the general support often provided to Republicans. Conservatives should praise Trump when he is right; oppose him when he is wrong. But Trump is not one of us.