Over the past several months, as the general public has become more aware of the dangers of critical race theory (CRT), proponents of CRT have pulled back from strong positions that they have maintained over the past ten years. Where they had been advocating strongly for CRT, they now have retreated to weaker, more easily defensible positions – even denying that they had ever advocated for CRT in the first place.
This “being strong when unquestioned” and then wholly disowning any claims to the strong position by retreating to a weaker position is referred to as the Motte and Bailey rhetorical strategy or the Motte and Bailey fallacy. It is a type of strategic equivocation between an easily defended but unrepresentative claim and an indefensible but representative and desired claim.
As described at Dr. James Lindsay’s New Discourses:
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.
The Motte and Bailey fallacy is normally accompanied by gaslighting: manipulating someone by making them doubt their sanity or cognitive ability to understand the issues at play. By using the rhetorical techniques of the motte and bailey and gaslighting together in the course of an ongoing controversy, the manipulator is able to create the fog of doubt in the mind of their adversary.
In this in-depth discussion, Dr. James Lindsay explains how the Motte and Bailey position has been skillfully used by politicians, politicians, pastors and corporate CEOs as they seek to shift our civilization to the far left.
Previous episodes of Changing Tides may be viewed here.