Reverse Mussolini fallacy

Volokh, Eugene VOLOKH at
Sun Mar 28 21:54:17 PST 2004

I'm not deeply attached to the Pledge, with or without "under God"; among other things, I really have nothing but the wildest guess about whether it actually works or not in its intended goal of inculcating love of one's country (and of course I know even less about what sort of love it inculcates).

But I do want to suggest that one ought not fall into the "reverse Mussolini fallacy" -- the view that because Mussolini made the trains run on time, it's bad for the trains to run on time.  It may be the case that some dictatorships had pledges of allegiance, and it may be the case that few democracies do; I don't know enough about other countries' practices to speak to that.  (My understanding is that the British do have a tradition of pledges of allegiance to the King or the Queen, in the form of various "God Save the Queen" stuff and the like, but I know very little about the details.)  But that tells us little, I think, about whether pledges of allegiance are good or bad.  

I can cheerfully agree that pledging allegiance to the Race is bad, as is pledging allegiance to the Nazi Party or the Communist Party or to a government run by either.  That hardly resolves the question whether pledging allegiance to America, or a program of such pledges at the start of each school day, is good or bad.

Of course, many posts on this subject have indeed dealt with that latter question, and I much appreciate them.  I also don't want to condemn comparative analysis generally; if there was substantial evidence that pledges of allegiance really led to harm, or that absence of pledges led to good, that would be pretty useful.  But the simple "Nazis did it and fellow democracies don't do it" argument isn't much of an argument for what we should have in America -- just as the argument that "the Communists also banned religious symbols from public places, and many of our fellow democracies have less separationist church-state jurisprudence than we do" doesn't tell us much about what Establishment Clause we should have in America.


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