I was discussing politics with an elderly relative in my life and they mentioned that a thing that was occurring in the modern day was socialism. Without getting into the specifics of the claim I asked this person to define socialism and the only definition they were willing to provide is that socialism is what Joe Biden wants.

Obviously this is not a proper definition of socialism; it could even be argued that it's an incorrect definition, but more pointedly it feels like appeal-to-authority but inverted.

I feel no inclination to debate this individual further, but it did get me thinking, is appeal-to-authority bidirectional? The obvious appeal to authority example is

I as a person look up to and says I should do , I believe I should do it because someone famous said I should.

Is the inversion of the form

I as a person dislike and wants says I should do , I believe I should avoid that thing at all costs because I dislike

Also an appeal to authority, or is that a different fallacy?

  • Seems reasonable to me. The appeal is to the authority as an anchor of the claim, not to whether it is desirable or undesirable. I tried to talk with an older person about 'socialism' (I'm nearly 60) and didn't get very far because they got so upset. Historical trauma or something.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:04

3 Answers 3


This is a combination of an Ad Hominem fallacy, and a self-imposed Strawman Fallacy.

This can cut one of two ways.

Either they dislike Joe Biden personally, then disagree with everything they say and believe what he says to be "socialism", or...

They dislike socialism, or what they believe socialism to be, and believe Joe Biden is a socialist, and so have issues with Joe Biden on account of this perceived incorrectness.

I'm not personally a socialist. But this doesn't seem like a particularly strong way of viewing the world. Politics, man.

  • Politics doesn't seem like a particularly strong way of viewing the world, in general. Along with religion, sports, culture...
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:05
  • I mean, I'm Catholic so I'm on board with religion personally. I think folks can get lost in partisanship. It's currently election time here in the UK and it's already getting miserable. Heated conversations in the office are never fun, heh. Commented Jun 5 at 11:53
  • Right. Would you allow a convicted felon to be PM? We decided to see if that is possible here in the US.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 5 at 18:07
  • 1
    Yeah, it's exciting times in US politics. I don't really get involved in politics. I used to be very politically involved. I generally see all the options as bad in some way, and don't have faith that my vote counts for anything. Commented Jun 7 at 14:44

You shouldn't cling too much on to this naming your fallacies idea. In the end all the fallacies are just non sequitur (does not follow) as in "The conclusion that you present does not follow from the premises". So it's not really surprising that you can apply lots of these named fallacies to lots of contexts. It's probably more of a situation of the "law of the instrument"

"I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding."

So yes you can see that as an anti-authority in the sense of:

Appeal to Authority: It's true because X said it.
Appeal to Anti-Authority: It's false because X said it.

Actual problem: Unless person X and their speech act are directly connected to the fact, the fact would be true or false regardless of what anybody says about them and people can lie or be wrong. So person X saying something does usually not causally imply a fact. It does not follow from Person X saying something, that this something indeed is true/false/happening.

The other problem is that this argument is sooooooo vague and sooooooo ambiguous that it's very easy to do that.

Like you could also call it an argumentum ad hominem, because he shoots the messenger rather than the message. Like the policies aren't bad because of their own merit but because Joe Biden proposed them.

It's also likely bidirectional or circular, like in "things are bad because Joe Biden did them", "Joe Biden did them so they are bad".

It's also a straw man argument and or an equivocation as his use of "socialism" reads more like a synonym for "bad, stupid, dangerous" rather than anything specific and as Biden isn't really running on "socialism" it's a misattribution.

And you could go on an on. Naming fallacies can provide a shortcut by presenting an abstract analog that people are more likely to realize is fallacious, but it's not the end all be all. It's much more important to realize what's wrong and in that case you don't have to resort to checking a list of named fallacies to see what fits.

The actual problem and the reason why a whole bunch of them fit, is because the "argument", for the lack of a better word, is sooooooooooooo .... oooooo .... bad. So essentially the conversation is:

A: Things are bad
B: What do you mean by bad
A: The things Joe Biden wants.

So in other words there is nothing to work with. The only information that you received is that he's dissatisfied with the situation and that he blames Joe Biden. And that alone is too ambiguous to be useful.

Like it's great for political mobilizing, like if you ask 100 people a loaded question of "don't you also think we could do better?", "Doesn't our government do a suboptimal job?", you could likely get a whole lot of people to agree with that regardless of government, direction and politics in question. Like there is always something to complain about if you look careful enough or if you are specifically directed to search for something, but while many people might agree, they might do so for very different reasons and to very different extends. So too little, too much, not enough, existential threats, minor inconveniences, half full or half empty, everything can fall under bad and "not optimal".

And maybe that's intentional, maybe in that bubble it's just their version of "small talk". Like in/after cold war times where "socialism" is "the enemy" you're probably fine not knowing what socialism is other than that it's a synonym for bad and "what the bad guys are doing". In fact knowing too well what socialism is might make you look like one. So saying something and ranting together without actually saying anything productive, might just be "small talk" or their version of "quality time with the family"...

Or they are too far gone lunatics that just present you with the most ambiguous and palatable version of their argument so that you agree first and only after building rapport and bonding you're told what you've actually been swallowing.

The things is, there is too little to work with, it could be valid, fallacious, truncated, distorted, whatever you say could be called a fallacy because you're missing their point and you might actually do that, but there's also no chance for you to address their points heads on because they didn't give you any.

So before you should get into searching the fallacies, you should make sure there is an argument in the first place. Like even a straw man argument presents a target, while if someone else is just emitting hot air, you'll have a hard time trying to land attacks with your laser focused logical arguments. Hot air just evades and reforms without feeling anything. So maybe get them to build an idea of their own, usually hot air isn't a very good construction material either.

  • 1
    I think the definition of government is: "suboptimal, but better than the alternative". It would be a punching bag even in the best country on earth. And, probably better than no government, even in the worst county on earth. "The largest room in the world is the room for improvement." People should improve things instead of criticising. "The world consists of critics, and doers."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:11

If Biden does, in fact, want socialism, is it really a fallacy? In my opinion, they were merely truncating the discussion by avoiding getting into semantics with you and giving an example. The discussions over socialism are nearly pointless because local socialism (good) is far different than national socialism (bad). Socialism works the best when all participants have a direct and meaningful relationship with each other. For humans, this is limited to about 20 individuals in a social group. Through incorporation, this would also include about 20 social groups creating a larger social group.

You can see this all the way back to Lower Paleolithic times when tribes of 20 would create larger villages of 20-30 tribes. You can see this today in corporations where a work group consists of 20 associates, and up to 20 work groups comprise a department.

For a nation to follow this pattern, you would need about 6-7 layers of groupings to accommodate 64,000,000 (20^6) to 1,280,000,000 citizens. These systems offer every individual a direct representative that they have a meaningful relationship with a chain-of-command that reaches all the way to the top. This is far superior to the current systems where one representative “represents” thousands of individuals with hundreds of different opinions.

  • 1
    Dunno I agree with your conclusion. I upvoted for para 1 — What may be fallacy for X may be truncation and avoidance for Y
    – Rushi
    Commented Jun 5 at 6:25
  • @Rushi Well, my conclusion is based on billions of examples across nature by and technology. You’d have an extremely difficult time convincing me otherwise.
    – Digcoal
    Commented Jun 5 at 9:56
  • I thought that the early 20th century socialist models had this groups on groups model, leading up to the Party at the top? I'm more concerned about the goals and methods being viable than with representation.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:17
  • 1
    @ScottRowe You prove viability through ideological segregation. Allowing each ideology the opportunity to prove their case through their own efforts rather than through government tyranny over those that disagree is how progress is made. It’s an extension of natural selection in the wild. If you subsidize bad ideas, you make it more difficult for better ideas to replace them. Representation in a properly formed society is merely to summarize the constituency’s ideals so that groups can work together on what they agree and go their separate ways where they disagree.
    – Digcoal
    Commented Jun 5 at 12:40

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