On Biographies: Robert Service’s Trotsky Again (and Some Tangential Remarks on “Principle of Charity” and Related Nonsense)

I mentioned Robert Service’s new biography of Trotsky before. I haven’t bought it or read it yet, mainly because I don’t have time and I’m waiting for something like summer or a prolonged debilitating decease disease to read some books I’ve set aside. But also because I’ve read some mixed reviews of the book’s intention and style. Here‘s the review of it by David North that raises a number of larger issues.

The review begins with a different story, a reaction to the now class three-volume biography of Trotsky by Deutscher:

In 1955 James Burnham, the intellectual godfather of modern American neo-conservatism, reviewed The Prophet Armed,the first volume of Isaac Deutscher’s monumental biography of Leon [Lev Davidovich] Trotsky. Fifteen years had passed since Burnham had resigned from the Fourth International at the climax of a political struggle in which he had crossed polemical swords with Leon Trotsky. It had been a difficult experience for Burnham, who felt somewhat overmatched in this political and literary contest.

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Do It Right: Ad Hominem Attacks

This morning’s lesson is how to do our favorite ad hominem attacks right – here’s a “scientific” way from Scientific American:

Although ad hominem arguments have long been considered errors in reasoning, a recent analysis suggests that this is not always the case. In his new book, Media Argumentation: Dialectic, Persuasion, and Rhetoric, University of Winnipeg philosopher Douglas Walton proposes that fallacies such as the ad hominem are better understood as perversions or corruptions of perfectly good arguments. Regarding the ad hominem, Walton contends that although such attacks are usually fallacious, they can be legitimate when a character critique is directly or indirect­ly related to the point being articulated. Read the whole story.