Amazon customers are hilariously baffled by Stefan Molyneux’s newly published “The Art of The Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand.”
olyneux’s writing career was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
The register of its burial was signed by publishers, professors, critics, and, well, just about 99.999% of the reading public.
Old Molyneux’s career was as dead as a door-nail. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate…”
-Apologies to Charles Dickens.
Today, if you mention to Molyneux’s temporary band of rabid fans (Molyneux’s fans are always temporary) that all of his works are self-published, they’ll immediately shout “There’s nothing wrong with that!”
And they’re right. Self-publishing is great for writers who appeal to a limited or niche market. Or church cookbooks. Or 55-year-old insurance salesmen suddenly “bit by the writing bug.”
But that was never Molyneux’s plan. For years, he desperately yearned for a legitimate publisher to show an interest in him. He attended the Humber School of Writing. He spent years crafting short stories, screenplays, and novels. He spent even more years developing his philosophic masterworks.
Niche market? Stefan never tires of telling everyone just how broad his appeal is. Why, the Freedomain Radio enterprise is “The Largest Philosophy Conversation in the World”! And since there are tons of legitimately published books on philosophy out there, you’d think the host of the largest conversation ever would have his name on a few of them.
Make no mistake, Molyneux is aching to follow in the footsteps of Ayn Rand—to have his artfully crafted inspirations capture the hearts and minds of millions. But, as he has bitterly complained, no publisher saw his brilliance; only unoriginal ideas expressed in turgid prose. He was also rejected by academia. Like old Jacob Marley, Molyneux’s writing career was dead as a door-nail.
And so he was forced to turn away from lovers of fiction or philosophy to embrace an entirely new audience—the gullible.
Until recently, Molyneux’s self-proclaimed masterwork was Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof for Secular Ethics. (Commonly called UPB.) Molyneux fans defend it fervently (though few have read it). However, in the real world outside of the Freedomain Radio crowd, the book was critically hammered so mercilessly that publicly criticizing it any further actually makes you feel a little bad inside, perhaps the same way you’d feel after bullying the mentally challenged.
And that was even before an actual philosopher—David Gordon of The Mises institute—gave the book a devastating analysis. Gordon’s pronouncement: “[Molyneux] fails, and fails miserably. His arguments are often preposterously bad.” At the end of the review, Gordon reached the following conclusion, which wounded Molyneux more than most people realize: “Despite the impression I have so far given, Molyneux is by no means stupid: quite the contrary. Therein, I suggest, lies the source of the problems of his book. Because of his facile intelligence, he thinks that he has a talent for philosophical argument and need not undertake the hard labor of learning how such arguments are constructed. Unfortunately for him and his book, he is mistaken.”
The shame of the facile mind
Gordon’s assessment is so on point, it applies perfectly not only to UPB but also to Molyneux’s newest work: The Art of The Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand.
Few understand how the charge of having “facile intelligence” insulted and infuriated Molyneux. Stefan wants his followers to believe that his mind has been rigorously developed through years of concentrated scholarship, exacting logical analysis and, yes, hard labor.
Gordon was suggesting something else, and Molyneux got it. A facile mind can take a few facts, a few inventions, and a glib delivery to create the illusion of erudition. It’s the skill of snake-oil salesmen, hustlers, and religious hucksters. It’s the exact opposite of what Molyneux presents himself as and, of course, exactly what he is.
And that, gentle readers, takes us to The Art of the Argument.
Molyneux loves to write click-bait titles, if you haven’t already guessed that from the thousands of videos that he’s littered on YouTube. In fact, titles are his very best writing. In the old days, he made audio podcasts with 90 or more minutes of unfocused rambling and then give it a title that sounded great but was barely related to the contents.
Perhaps he was hoping that he could make a few more bucks from his uncritical followers but then something unexpected and magical happened…
But titling this new volume The Art of the Argument turned out to be a bit of mistake. Perhaps Molyneux was simply hoping that he could make a few more bucks from his uncritical followers but then something unexpected and magical happened. You see, since abandoning all of his earlier principles to become a darling of the alt-right/white nationalist/men’s rights crowd, he’s become a bit of a YouTube personality. And he gave his book a title that would boldly place it smack dab in a tradition of writing on logic and rhetoric—scholarly works, often with similar titles—that stretches back for centuries.
And that’s when the fun began. Because of Molyneux’s notoriety and the book’s title, actual professors and educated students of logic stumbled in and either bought the Kindle edition, got it free on Kindle unlimited, or read Part One with Amazon’s “Read it now” feature.
Understandably, they were stunned or befuddled or both.
Like Gordon, they suddenly realized they were dealing with an author who literally had no background in his self-proclaimed area of “expertise.” A philosopher who makes up his own terms because he never learned the language of philosophy and invents his own definitions for existing terms because his arrogant and, yes, facile mind presumes he’ll get it right. (He doesn’t).
And so, interspersed among Molyneux’s fans who give the unread book five-star reviews simply because they’re voting for their hero are dozens of confused one-star reviews like this:
As an instructor of logic for over 20 years. at many universities around the world, I have seen just about every logic and critical thinking text around. When I came across this book, I was concerned (because it is self-published, and the author does not have the requisite experience/track record one would expect from the author of such a text). But, I figured I’d give it a chance (as a good logician should). I am sorry to say that this book is one of the least edifying texts on these topics that I have had the displeasure to read. It is loaded with basic misunderstandings and confusions, and yet it is written in an over-confident and often strident tone. If you’re in the market for a logic/critical thinking text, do not waste your time on this one. There are plenty of freely available resources written by qualified people to be found on the internet these days.
Even more fun, each of these reviews is immediately attacked by comments from Molyneux fans, who admonish the reviewers by reminding them that their reviews “aren’t an argument.” (That’s a mantra Molyneux has taught his followers, who use it with the over-earnestness of first-week students in the first semester of Logic 101.) It’s no doubt that the knowledgeable reviewers wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into.
Pretty hilarious stuff.
Some longer reviews have started to pop up on the Web, and they’re just as much fun. The consistent theme isn’t on the order of “there is something here in Chapter 3 that I take exception to,” but more like “I can’t believe an entire book was written by someone who knows nothing about the subject.” Here’s a sampling:
– A (Tiny!) Bit More on Molyneux (follow-up by above author)
My suggestion to Mr. Molyneux is to return to incomprehensible titles like Universally Preferable Behavior for now. But take heart. Charles Dickens didn’t have a formal education and he managed to find publishers. There’s always hope.
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