There is a rhetorical strategy called the “motte and bailey” that is getting increasingly famous lately. This is because it is one of the central tools of the Critical Social Justice movement. In that strategy, named after a kind of castle, a highly defensible “motte” position, like “we just want to treat people more fairly,” is maintained while also pushing a more radical “bailey” position, like “we need to radically remake our school systems so that no one can fail.” Activists advance the bailey and, when pressed on it, retreat to the motte until scrutiny and pressure go away, at which point they return to the bailey.
In this episode of the New Discourses Podcast, your host James Lindsay explores the principle of charity in debate and dialogue in the context of the motte-and-bailey rhetorical strategy. His goal is to explain how the game of critical theories is not the same game the rest of us play in broadly liberal societies. In fact, the critical game seeks to disrupt and dismantle the liberal game and replace it with its own. Exploiting the principle of charity is one of the most common ways it can achieve this.
In this long-form, flowing discussion of the phenomenon, Lindsay breaks down several recent examples of Critical Social Justice activists playing a completely different game than our own. He then illustrates how the principle of charity is exploited by Critical Social Justice advocates, who get us to build their castle for them and then use it to advance their radical, disruptive agendas. He explains that what’s needed in answer to this insidious critical game is to use the principle of charity to steal their motte and then trenchant, informed criticism to bomb their bailey every time.