What is this about? Geert Wilders is on trial for having a crowd scant that we need less Moroccans in the Netherlands, his defence? “Saying that we need less Moroccans is not racism because being Moroccan is not a race“, see the Washington Post for example. This post is not about whether we think it is or isn’t anything. We’re concerned with the rhetoric behind these statements.
There are two rhetorical angles in Wilders’ statement. Both sides make an argumentum ad verecundiam, an appeal to authority, number 30. One side claims to have millions of people on his side, the other side claims to have the law on their side. Wilders says that millions of people think the same, so his statement is qualified and can’t simply be rejected as rhetoric without substance. It could actually be true. But this is besides the point. Those millions are not on trial, he is. It is not the millions that stand in front of a crowd and stir up the crowd to scant slogans. Even though Wilders can make a reasonable claim that it are indeed the millions who think the same, and he is merely voicing their opinion, it is he who does so and thus he is responsible for his actions. The people who brought this case to court use the same rhetorical technique as Wilders. My answer?
Answer: “Millions of people once thought that the earth was flat.”, the argumentum ad absurdum, number 15.
Just because millions of people think something doesn’t make it true. If everything that millions of people think is true, then we come with a single example to show that it leads to absurd conclusions and thereby refute the entire statement.
Saying that millions think something resonates well in front of a crowd, but is not a valid argument in court. In that sense, the statement that millions think the same, is a case of argumentum ad auditores, persuade the audience, not the opponent, number 28. Using the people as highest authority and making arguments directed to the public rather than to the experts is the favourite rhetorical technique of the populists, it is their very definition. Pitting the people against the law is a new turn in rhetoric that is also observed at the other side of the Canal, see: “Enemies of the people“.