The Genetic Fallacy: Critical Race Theory’s Indispensable Tool [Pt.1]
§ I. Whose Fallacy is it Anyway?
Whereas proponents of Critical Race Theory (hereafter, CRT) once claimed that “social justice contras”1 were ignorantly protesting CRT, they are now claiming that our criticisms are fallacious forms of genetic reasoning.2Given that this latter accusation is a tacit admission that we are not ignorant of CRT, it follows that CRT proponents are the ones who are arguing fallaciously by moving the goalposts. The fallacy of moving the goalposts is committed when a speaker/writer demands that his debate opponent meet some criterion, but changes the criterion to be met when his opponent has met his initial demand. In the case of CRT’s incompatibility with Christianity, consider the following example –
Person A – “If you want me to take your arguments against CRT seriously, then you need to prove to me that you know what you’re talking about.”
Person B – “CRT is x. It originated with y, was passed down through z, and is now held primarily by people from w.”
Person A – “That’s all well and good, but how can I take your arguments against CRT seriously when you haven’t sufficiently demonstrated a link between CRT and the possibility of it being anti-Christian?”
This example of moving the goalposts, moreover, is only one level of fallacious counter-reasoning by proponents of CRT, for we have elsewhere shown quite clearly how CRT’s philosophical underpinnings are inseparable from its use as an “analytical tool.”3 What is argued against by the CRT proponent, therefore, is a strawman. Furthermore, the accusation that opponents of CRT have committed the genetic fallacy is ironic, given that CRT’s foundational assumptions are prime examples of the genetic fallacy.
In what follows, we will demonstrate how CRT is built and thrives upon the genetic fallacy. Additionally, it will be demonstrated from Scripture itself that some forms of genetic reasoning are not fallacious and that our criticism of CRT falls under this category of valid genetic reasoning.
§ II. The Genetic Fallacy, Genealogical Analysis, & CRT
According to philosopher Frank Scalambino…
One commits the genetic fallacy (GnF) when advocating for a conclusion based solely on origin. This is a fallacy of relevance – irrelevance, really – because the origin of a claim may be irrelevant to its truth‐value. That is to say, providing an account of the genesis of a claim, its history or origin, may be informative and helpful; however, it need not determine the truth‐value of the claim. Therefore, when one draws a conclusion regarding the truth‐value of a claim based solely on the origin of the claim, then one may have committed the GnF.4
Scalambino’s explanation of the fallacy is particularly helpful, for he specifically identifies the theories of Michel Foucault and Sigmund Freud, two of CRT’s main philosophical progenitors, as utilizing the fallacy.
…Freud’s critique of religion involves tracing the genesis of religious belief for the sake of identifying a “wish” that such belief might be understood as fulfilling. That is to say, given the manner in which, when essentially helpless, children may be said to simultaneously fear parental figures while hoping for care from them, Freud identifies such a relation as the origin of later religious belief.
Though…Freud’s genetic account may successfully propagate suspicion regarding religious belief and perhaps raise reasonable doubts, it does not necessitate that religious claims are false. Hence, were one to conclude in favor of atheism on the grounds of Freud’s argument, then one would be drawing a conclusion from fallacious reasoning. Similarly, Michel Foucault’s…genealogies regarding the claims upon which various societal institutions and conventions stand may also be seen in this light. That is to say, even considering knowledge and belief as social phenomena, illuminating the history upon which a social practice has emerged does not necessitate the falsehood of the principle for which it stands…
Moreover, similar to the ability of Freud’s genetic accounts to provoke or incite suspicion, indicating the presence or absence of particular social practices among other historical periods or cultures may be helpful for illuminating different perspectives regarding current social practices;however, even convincingly showing the genesis of current social practices does not determine the truth‐value of claims that form the foundation of such practices.5
This kind of reasoning is fallacious because, as Kevin C. Klement explains,
…such things as the identity of who makes a statement, has a belief or advances an argument, and what brings him, her or them to do so are all taken to be generally irrelevant to a statement’s truth or an argument’s soundness. Whether or not a statement or belief is true is entirely a matter of its content.
If an argument is valid and has true premises, the argument is sound,regardless of the culture, class, race, gender, sexual orientation and political motives of the person advancing it, and regardless of the historical circumstances in which it is advanced.6
This is an elementary fallacy to commit, yet as noted above this kind of thinking, far from being uncommon in the history of philosophy and its cousin disciplines,7 has been the root fallacy at work in the writings of the philosophers and thinkers central to CRT’s core assumptions.
By his appropriation and transformation of Paul Rée’s genealogical method of analyzing morality8 Friedrich Nietzsche sought to demonstrate that traditional values and beliefs in religion and philosophy were not truths revealed by “N”ature or the Christian God, or any deity for that matter, but inextricably historically rooted social constructions. As Ken Gemes notes, Nietzsche thought that “all our beliefs [are] thoroughly conditioned,”9 perspectives that are irreducibly “human, all to human.” The philosophical and religious “will to truth” – whether in the realms of ethics, epistemology, or metaphysics – was viewed by the philosopher as a means of concealing a more primordial “will to power.”
Gemes explains that according to Nietzsche…
In believing we are not reporting how the world is; rather, we are prescribing a way of looking at the world, a means for furthering a particular form of life. To bring others to share one’s views is not to bring them into harmony with the pre-existing order; it is to create the very order one is allegedly describing…
While Nietzsche says that all will to truth is a will to power, in the case of his “genuine philosophers” it is a will to power that recognizes itself as such. In the case of others, for instance, Christians, it is, according to Nietzsche, a will that does not recognize itself as a will to power, preferring to hide itself with a pretense of disinterested, passive objectivity.10
Nietzsche sought to lay bare the human all to human basis for concepts and values that have been understood to be “just there” or revealed by God through by tracing the historical roots of those concepts and values.
As noted above, Freud sought to do the same in the realm of religious belief as a psychologist, and Foucault sought to do the same in his assessment of social institutions as a whole, specifically focusing in on educational and carceral institutions.11 With respect to Foucault, one of the more important sources of CRT’s foundational assumptions, Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rainbow write –
[Foucault] argues that modern power is tolerable on the condition that it masks itself – which it has done very effectively. If truth is outside of and opposed to power, then the speaker’s benefit is merely an incidental plus. But if truth and power are not external to each other, as Foucault obviously…maintains, then the speaker’s benefit and associated ploys are among the essential ways in which modern power operates. It masks itself by producing a discourse, seemingly opposed to it but really part of a larger deployment of modern power.12
Since knowledge, including moral and legal knowledge, serves to conceal other aims – namely, the aims of power – then it follows that the only way to deal with an offered philosophical, religious, ethical, or legal proposition or set of propositions is by subjecting that proposition or set of propositions to a genealogical analysis. Finding the origin of the proposition or set of propositions will result in validation or invalidation of the proposition or set of propositions.
It is this genealogical method of analysis, in psychology and history, that was brought first into Critical Legal Studies, and then into Critical Race Theory. As Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault taught, CRT maintains that belief, values, and truths are not “just there” in “N”ature or divinely revealed – either by means of direct, indirect, general, or special revelation – but are socially constructed. They are the means of exercising power. For as Farber and Sherry accurately relay, in CRT proponents “knowledge and power are…conflated.”13 Consequently, as was the case with Nietzsche and Freud and Foucault, in CRT the origin of a particular proposition or moral declamation is fundamental to judging the value of that proposition. For, they say…
…knowledge is intensely personal. Personal perspective, however, is not individual. Instead, it is based on membership in a group. Like everything else, knowledge is also political in the sense that it is a method of maintaining established hierarchies. Knowledge thus cannot be evaluated apart from the social roles—and, in particular, the race and gender—of those who claim to know.14
CRT proponents also believe that…
…that western ideas and institutions are socially constructed to serve the interests of the powerful, especially straight, white men. This leads them to attack such core concepts as truth, merit, and the rule of law…attack[ing] the concepts of reason and objective truth, condemning them as components of white male domination.15
Hence, “the idea of reason cannot be understood in the absence of the background knowledge about power relationships,”16 What was part and parcel of Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity, Reason, Truth, and Objectivity became part and parcel of Freud and Foucault’s critique of History, Society, Reason, Truth, and Objectivity. And it is the driving methodology of CRT. For Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, and CRT proponents the genetic fallacy is an indispensable tool.17
[To be continued in Pt.2]
1 The term “social justice contras” refers to Christian opponents of the evangelical appropriation of CRT and its attendant social justice concerns, in which the present author is included.2 Let the reader note that this is not a new tactic, but one that has been taken several years ago as well. For instance, see Smith, William H. “I Think I’ve Been Intellectually Snobbed,” The Aquila Report, https://www.theaquilareport.com/think-ive-intellectually-snobbed, April 4, 2017.3 See Diaz, Hiram R. “The AntiChristian Roots of Critical Race Theory,” InvoSpec, https://involutedgenealogies.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/the-antichristian-roots-of-critical-race-theory/; Diaz, Hiram R. “Is Critical Race Theory AntiChristian? Yes.,” Biblical Trinitarian, http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/2018/11/is-critical-race-theory-anti-christian.html.4 “Genetic Fallacy” in Bad Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Fallacies in Western Philosophy, eds. Robert Arp, Steven Barbone, and Michael Bruce (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2019), 160.5Bad Arguments, 161. (emphasis added)6 “When is Genetic Reasoning Not Fallacious?” in Argumentation: An International Journal on Reasoning 16 (2002), 385. (emphasis added)7 e.g. psychology, literary criticism, literary theory, etc.8 See Coy, David C. “Nietzsche, Hume, and the Genealogical Method,” in Nietzsche as Affirmative Thinker: Papers Presented at the Fifth Jerusalem Philosophical Encounter, ed. Yovel Yirmiyahu (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1986), 20-38.9 “Nietzsche’s Critique of Truth” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. 52, No.1 (March: 1992), 51.10Nietzsche’s Critique of Truth, 52. (emphasis added)11 Some have argued against the claim that Nietzsche and Foucault were guilty of committing the genetic fallacy, however a strong case may be made that these counter-arguments are guilty of special pleading. On this matter, see Koopman, Collin. “Two Uses of Genealogy: Michel Foucault and Bernard Williams” in Foucault’s Legacy ed. C. G. Prado (New York: Continuum, 2009), 90-108; Evans, Fred. “Genealogy and The Problem of Affirmation in Nietzsche, Foucault and Bakhtin” in Philosophy and Social Criticism Vol. 27 No. 3 (2001), 41-65; and Kleiman, Lowell. “Pashman on Freud and the Genetic Fallacy” in Southern Journal of Philosophy (Spring: 1970), 63-65.12 Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics 2nd Edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983), 130.13 Farber, Daniel A., Sherry, Suzanna. Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 31.14 ibid., 29.15 ibid., 5.16 ibid., 28.17 Regarding Foucault’s influence on CRT, Farber and Sherry further explain –
In addition to their focus on race, gender, and sexuality, the new radical multiculturalists [including the Critical Race Theorists] expanded the core ideas of CLS [i.e. Critical Legal Studies] by emphasizing the thought of French postmodernists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. This meant extending the insight that law is socially constructed into an argument that everything is socially constructed.
Although CLS was mostly interested in indeterminacy as a way of threatening law’s legitimacy, the new radicals were more concerned with how indeterminacy conceals racism and sexism. This view had its roots in another strand of CLS scholarship. Although CLS scholarship had often focused on the inevitable incoherence of legal doctrine, some critical legal scholars also suggested that indeterminacy allowed judges to combine progressive-sounding rhetoric with oppressive results. Thus, legal discourse “conceals and reinforces relations of domination.” The late Alan Freeman, for example, argued in one of the earliest CLS articles that antidiscrimination law actually undermined the cause of racial equality and legitimated discrimination…The radical multiculturalists focused on this legitimating function of law, finding confirmation in Foucault’s writings. Where some had found doctrinal incoherence, the new radicals found instead a deliberate concentration of power in the white male establishment. Law (as well as everything else) is constructed by the powerful to maintain and enhance their own power. Derrick Bell, for instance, argues that Brown v. Board of Education actually served the interests of whites at least as much as it furthered the interests of blacks. Indeed, he contends that as a general matter, “the interest of blacks in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of whites.” Radical feminist Robin West contends that our legal, political, and social cultures are “pervasively misogynist.” The radicals thus focus on the roles played by race and gender in the social construction of reality. Their mission is to expose the specific power relations that underlie legal doctrine and practice.
Beyond All Reason, 22-23. (emphasis added)
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Hiram Diaz III and originally posted at Biblical Trinitarian]