An Example of the Motte and Bailey Doctrine

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

Related Post Roulette

65 Responses

  1. North says:

    One word: Theism.

    There is no way to disprove the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent, omniscient creator being who exists outside of time.
    There are an assortment of theological and philosophical arguments in favor of the existence of such an entity.
    The sum of human history has involved a strong belief in such a power.
    If one accepts/embraces the possibility of such a being logic/philosophy suggests certain behaviors that are primarily non-material such as loving one’s fellow human being and being respectful of and reverent for the whole of creation.

    This being definitely exists.
    His name is: *insert preferred monotheistic deity name here*
    This beings will is clearly known.
    This beings will is clearly recorded in the text of *insert preferred religious text here*
    This being is intensely interested in every aspect of your life.
    This being is especially interested in every aspect of your sexual life.
    This being expects you to submit to the will of *insert preferred group of elderly religious (usually male) authorities here*

    Actually the Bailey on that one is hugemungous.Report

  2. Michael Drew says:

    I would add a corollary to the doctrine as laid out there that I imagine the author has in mind and may mention elsewhere: not only do you go back to advancing the bailey statements, but when attacked for them you initially act as if critiques of the bailey statements are actually attacks on the motte statements that were only recently you claimed were the limits of what you were defending. (As opposed to again actually adjusting what you are arguing back to the motte and acting that way about it, pretending once again that you were only ever protecting the motte.) That is, until it’s made clear again you’re back on the bailey, whereupon you actually do retreat back to defending the motte, pretending there was in fact never any bailey). I.e., you basically never acknowledge making any of these moves. Maybe that’s implied. But the point is that, at all times, the tone of your response is calibrated for how you would respond to an attack on the motte, except maybe when initially challenged.

    It seems like it’s obviously done all the time on many subjects, but none come to mind right now.Report

  3. zic says:

    First of all, the people I heard questioning ethanol were environmentalists; most particularly, people who do environmental and permaculture work in Central America. It does, however, take time for information to percolate through, and I believe there was a significant pushback against Republican members of Congress who wanted to remove the tax subsidies given to farmer’s who grew corn for ethanol production.

    So ideological doctrine does change; it just takes time; and there’s always vested stake holders and rent seekers seeking to maintain the doctrine.

    I have a slightly different take here; it’s that we’ve for far too long done cultural change as crisis reaction instead of future planning; I find this to have been particularly true of he left, and becoming truer and truer of the right. It’s about what need squeals in the loudest pain. It’s tedious, too. It’s all that junk email I got, threatening doom and gloom and begging for money to spend in the election. (It did not inspire me to give; either. It inspired me to tune out.)

    So we can’t plan for climate change, for instance, until after it’s already a crisis.

    And if you don’t have a crises, you have to manufacture one to maintain your funding; you need to be at war to maintain excitement amongst your supporters. I can’t tell you how much this sickens me.

    I reported on Maine’s paper industry. I did it because I grew up on one of the most polluted rivers in the land, and it was Maine’s (and New Hampshire’s) paper industry that polluted that river. I was their worst freakin’ critic possible. And when I really, really dug in; I found that the spreaders of propaganda were often the environmentalists sworn to uphold the river I so loved in it’s cleaned-up state; the river that I did not have a Tom Sawyer childhood upon because of pollution. (It was like living next to a massive, open, flowing cesspit, truth be told; no boating or fishing here, thank you.) Now I’m not saying the paper industry were saints, either. But the environmental groups? They’d readily feed misleading information to the public (in the paper industry instance, accusing mills of ‘wanting more room to pollute,’ when the opted to run below discharge limits, which is pretty standard water-purification protocol, and demanding limits be lowered to where the mills were running on good days). And nobody ever questioned it. Except me. and the mill workers and reps I spoke with, who the press ignored.

    So please don’t go too far down the road of saying liberals don’t question their own side. They do; it takes time, and doctrine changes. But this stuff is also complicated; and liberals (and conservatives) also pick symbols to represent whole hosts of stuff too complex for any given individual to grasp, no? Is this a bad thing?Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      Just to be clear: I’m the evidence of liberals questioning in that tidbit; I questioned. I spoke with editors and other reporters at the time, and they began questioning, too. And that frisking is a good thing; good for the environmental groups, I believe. I also see liberal critiques of the Obama administration all the time.

      So I guess I’m saying that 1) we tend to call people to the motte when there’s not really a need, like the boy who cried wolf, and 2) we don’t do enough planning for the good care and maintenance of the bonne until we get to the motte.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to zic says:

      For what it’s worth, this was a fantastic comment, @zic . And I think I’m going to steal this:

      I have a slightly different take here; it’s that we’ve for far too long done cultural change as crisis reaction instead of future planning;

      What’s interesting is that you seem to think this problem is more engrained in the left than the right. That seems to be a function of the fact that you had to confront it head-on with respect to the left, but I think you’re underestimating the extent to which this is a deeply engrained problem on the right. Based on the circles The Wife and I used to travel in, I can say with certainty that “crisis reaction” has been the bread and butter of conservative activism for a very, very long time, and to an extent that I don’t think was the case on the left until perhaps the last couple of years.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

      So we can’t plan for climate change, for instance, until after it’s already a crisis.

      If I haven’t pointed it out to you before, Anthony Downs’ explanation of the Issue-Attention cycle is relevant to this. It won’t exactly make you feel more optimistic, though.Report

  4. Patrick says:

    The end result is that anyone who opposes any of the views, even questionable ones sitting in the bailey, can be branded an anti-science denialist.

    It probably doesn’t help much that there is a fairly broad coalition of anti-science denialists on this topic, and the folks that oppose any of those views are also very often the folks who either support or are a member of the anti-science denialist group, they share common language, etc. On this topic.

    We can switch to GMOs if you prefer a lefty iteration.

    Put another way, you can invert the motte and bailey example by assuming the outside view rather than the inside.

    The actual science guys would like everyone to believe

    Global temperatures are rising.
    Greenhouse gases lead to increased temperatures.
    Greenhouse gases emitted by humans have led to measurable increases in temperature beyond what would have occurred without any humans.

    That’s their bailey, not their motte. But typically when they bring this up, over the hill comes a horde of the anti-science guys raping and pillaging, and they have to retreat to the motte, which in this case is “you’re a bunch of anti-science denialists”, which is… actually usually not inaccurate.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Patrick says:

      Point. Counterpoint:

      That link is fascinating to me, not least because it fits in really well with my longstanding theories about political coalitions and how they tend to mistake intra-coalition compromises for principles.

      In this case, what we have is the “motte” of climate scientists and environmental activists. This is, for them, honest-to-God principle – the earth is warming, we caused it, the consequences of that are going to be severe, and we need to prevent it from happening to forestall or prevent those consequences.

      The problem is that “preventing it from happening” entails political activism, and more importantly coalition building. That means building common cause with people for whom the need to fight climate change is less important than other goals, but which can be achieved under the general umbrella of fighting climate change. In this case, building such a coalition meant attracting anti-nuclear activists, anti-capitalists, wildlife conservationists, producers of existing energy-efficient technologies, etc. Most of these groups already existed roughly on the political left, particularly in this country.

      As importantly, though, addressing climate change without stepping on the toes of important elements of that coalition is certainly possible, but severely limits the tools at your disposal. These tools become, in effect, the bailey – the stuff that isn’t terribly defensible for purposes of the core principles of fighting climate change, but that you need to maintain your political coalition.

      And insisting on a particular set of tools to address your problem is a guaranteed way of turning people who were ambivalent or even potential allies into outright enemies.

      To carry the motte-and-bailey analogy past its breaking point, the climate scientists wind up being like a lord who has to hire knights, soldiers, and workers to live in the bailey in order to defend the motte and farm the bailey. Those hired hands – especially the knights – will have their own interests, though, and aren’t always going to be happy just getting a cut of whatever the lord earns from the castle. They may want some land of their own or for the lord’s blacksmith to build them better weaponry to settle an old score with the guys the lord didn’t choose, etc., etc. And this is going to be true no matter who the lord welcomes into his bailey.

      So while the lord needs to bring people in to protect himself from raiders and to get any level of production out of the bailey above subsistence levels, doing so is also pretty much guaranteed to make him a bunch of enemies who don’t so much care about killing him as they care about killing the people he’s invited to live and work in his bailey.

      When he inevitably gets attacked as a result, he’s got to let his knights retreat with him into the motte, which means that those new enemies aren’t going to stop at the bailey – they’re going to go after the motte as well, even if they really don’t have much of a problem with the lord himself.

      I guess what I’m saying is that quite a few of the people who are anti-science climate skeptics aren’t skeptics because they hate science but instead because that’s the only way they can think of to block the solutions being demanded by the other elements of the climate scientists’ coalition.

      But the sides didn’t necessarily need to be aligned in this specific manner – after all, it wasn’t very long ago that Republicans were as or more likely to be environmentalists as Democrats, labor unions were one of the biggest obstacles to environmental protection, and the centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union was creating a lot of the world’s worst pollution.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I guess what I’m saying is that quite a few of the people who are anti-science climate skeptics aren’t skeptics because they hate science but instead because that’s the only way they can think of to block the solutions being demanded by the other elements of the climate scientists’ coalition.

        I don’t really have much in the way of an argument against this response, since I think it’s broadly accurate.

        But the sides didn’t necessarily need to be aligned in this specific manner – after all, it wasn’t very long ago that Republicans were as or more likely to be environmentalists as Democrats

        And I think this is also part and parcel of the problem. In fact, I think this is actually the core of this particular problem, because post-1993, the GOP has gone into reactionary mode, and has decided that environmentalism is by its very nature incompatible with the party, and they’ve driven out anybody who doesn’t agree.

        This is the opening line of the Republican Party’s platform on America’s Natural Resources:

        We are the party of sustainable jobs and economic growth – through American energy, agriculture, and environmental policy.

        Everything… everything comes within the context of sustainable jobs and economic growth. The entire section is depressing.

        “We will end the EPA’s war on coal and encourage the increased safe development in all regions of the nation’s coal resources, the jobs it produces, and the affordable, reliable energy that it provides for America. Further, we oppose any and all cap and trade legislation.”

        The section on oil talks about ANWR and offshore drilling, in spite of the current glut of oil. The section on the Keystone pipeline talks about jobs, and not at all about acknowledging potential environmental impacts.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I love this comment!Report

      • @mark-thompson ‘s comment here is just brilliant. The increased bundling of priors required to be on board with “battling climate change” is daunting for people not otherwise inclined to sign on to these policies. It’s ridiculously easier to believe in the importance of combating climate change when it mostly involves doing things you would like to do with or without climate change, which is how the discussion has largely been framed. So denying the reality of climate change is easier for one set of people than it is for others.

        (All of this is especially true when you consider how we come by these views. It’s not because one side has independently evaluated all of the evidence and come to a scientific conclusion while the other side has not. It’s not because one side is utterly ignorant of science at large than the other side – outside of a couple of issues, there’s no real correlation between scientific knowledge and red vs blue. It’s because people are believing, or not believing, what they’re told by the experts. The ability to believe or disbelieve is going to track with a lot of priors. People – even liberals, I think – tend to lend less credibility to people who are telling them things that are inconvenient to what they would like to see done.)Report

      • “We will end the EPA’s war on coal…”

        As I’ve noted in the past, the EPA is largely just a tool in this; a bunch of red states are getting their butts kicked by blue states and the federal courts, who are using the EPA as a tool. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule started out under the Bush administration, Obama’s EPA just kept at it (under court order) and put together something the SCOTUS would accept. CO2 regulation of mobile sources was Massachusetts, a bunch of blue states winning in the SCOTUS and forcing the EPA to act. Given Massachusetts, the statute requiring regulation of fixed sources is real clear, as the SCOTUS noted in Utility Air Regulatory Group. The courts had to force the EPA to work on a rule for coal ash, due next month. In the meantime, things are happening at the state level: North Carolina is requiring major work on most of the coal ash ponds in the state, and other states are likely to follow. The new mercury rule started under Clinton, and when the Bush administration attempted to kill it, the courts blocked them.

        I mention regularly that I think CJ Roberts doesn’t want “his” court to go down in history as being behind the curve on certain issues. I think that’s the case here.Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Bear in mind: coalition building is a multi-stage process. Part of the coalition is the US Military (with the Navy in particular complicit in working on fusion reactors).

        But you can easily do R&D without needing to clue the rest of the coalition in. (Hell, the Navy said “we’re looking into better submarine power sources” — which, while true, wasn’t the real or only intent of the research.)Report

      • Kim in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Betcha I could get even DrunkDuck and wardsmith to agree not to bail out Miami…Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Patrick says:

      @mark-thompson @will-truman

      What’s the particular set of tools that climate activists have been limited to by their coalition? What potentially truly effective tools for fighting climate change have they been forced to forswear in order to tend to the coalition they chose, that prevented the coalition from including different members (in particular conservatives)?

      I think we should keep this to a discussion of attempts to mitigate the actual phenomenon of climate change. I think the point doesn’t hold as well if we say that what they’ve had to forswear is a complete strategy shift from avoiding major change altogether to trying to mitigate or simply prepare for the effects of inevitable change. I don;t think it’s fair to say that resistance to that shift primarily lies in the coalition effect you’re talking about. Core climate activists were not going to be flexible on that point without a major fight even before any coalition expansion.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Michael Drew says:

        “What’s the particular set of tools that climate activists have been limited to by their coalition? ”

        No nuclear power.

        No mitigation strategies (that is, nobody interested in discussing how we might deal with the effects rather than trying to prevent them).

        Focus on the First World, and on regulations appropriate for First World industry (carbon credits)Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’m interested. Discuss how to save Miami or Phoenix, your choice.
        Dykes are an automatic disqualification on Miami, btw (that’s porous limestone beneath).Report

      • Nukes seem a fair rejoinder on the surface. But regardless of the coalition that was built, the nuclear route would be utterly fraught. The anti-nuke movement was in many ways the precursor to the climate movement – I’m guessing it’s basically the same people at the very core. And even if that’s wrong, the anti-nukes were totally established before climate activism ever came on the scene, and rather than being marginalized, basically won their fight. For a nascent climate movement to start its life trying to lead with a pro-nuke agenda, which basically doesn’t have a constiuency in modern America, would be like poking a tiger you just let loose in your baby’s nursery. Infanticide. If that’s the thrust of Mark’s critique, I don’t really see much reason to give it a lot of consideration. There are choices and then there are realities. I’d be (still) interested in knowing if this is the solution that Mark and Will have in mind as being excluded by the coalition path that was taken. If so and it’s the only/main one, to me the argument ends up being a nothingburger in this case, formally appealing as it may be.

        Your mitigation point shows you didn’t actually read all of my comment. That’s a different degree of solution shift whose difficulty never would have been dependent on who was in the coalition. The core climate activists would have, and do, resist that move. That certainly affects who’s in the coalition, but that’s the dog wagging the tail, not the tail wagging the dog in the sense Mark is talking about (the coalition defining the substantively acceptable).

        And given this last, there’s no solution: that focuses on the First World. OTOH, defining the problem as not a problem that needs to be addressed with prevention, but can be adjusted to with accommodative changes (because effects in the First World will be manageable as opposed to the effects) …is just a continuation of the shift to accommodative strategies that I don;t think should be part of this discussion.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Michael Drew says:

        That’s an interesting response, because what I’m hearing is “yes, those are things we can’t accept, but it’s due to the basic nature of the movement rather than anything brought in by coalition”.

        It’s a self-defeating response, though, because what you’re saying here is that the movement started as antinuclear and then changed its mission to climate change–but that they’re still antinuclear. Which, well, why can’t that change too?Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

        o’course it can change.
        You care — You fix it.

        Seriously, these things take people actually advertising, and changing minds.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’m guessing that it’s a lot of the same folks. I’m not basically saying that the movement started as the anti-nukes, but guessing that a lot of the people at the center of each are the same people (could be wong about that). But I do think that a lot of the people at the center of the climate movement are and were themselves anti nukes, so it’s functionally the same thing. So right, my point is very much that that isn’t a function of the coalition that was built. It might not be core to the idea of being anti-climate change, and might be worth interrogating those at the core why they aren’t themselves more open to nukes. But the point is that it’s internal to the core.

        I could be wrong about that, too though, and anti-nuke is a function of not wanting to alienate anti-nukes. But in that case my point is, there’s no viable path of a climate movement coming out the 80s and building through the 90s (as it was seeking to do) that alienated the anti-nukes. They’re a big deal part of the environmental movement at that time. You don’t build a climate movement that alienates most of the environmental movement. In which Mark & Will’s point is formally correct but a nothingburger as far as critiquing coalition strategy.

        I wasn’t at any time arguing whether anyone should or should’t think that nukes should or should;t be X percent of the solution to the greenhouse effect. People in the climate change movement should address that on the merits. But if(!) their responses are shaped by a need to not piss half their number off rather than what they really think, I don;t think there was ever any way around that.Report

      • The nature of the movement is what it is due to the composition of the coalition. Fear of alienating a particular component playing a role in the setting the agenda melds pretty nicely with what Mark is talking about, even if the ordering is a tad ambiguous.

        It may be true that without the environmentalists, and their anti-nuke beliefs, there would be no anti-CC movement (or it would be a lot smaller than it is). That’s a tactical question (“Is it better or not that anti-CC and anti-nuke comprise of so many of the same people – or did at the outset?”).

        But it’s still flies pretty closely to what Mark is talking about. When this clan was enlisted (even if “was enlisted” is followed by “and took over”), these opposing clans lined up on the other side.

        Theoretically, the anti-CC actually started with some scientists looking at the data and saying “Uh oh.” That the first and biggest clan to join the army waved a Green banner and opposed nuclear energy doesn’t change the coalitional aspect of how this plays out.

        There are actually big voices in the anti-CC movement that favor nuclear energy. James Hansen is one of the biggest. That this is not embraced by the movement at large is a product of the coalition.Report

      • So can we confirm that nuclear is what we’re talking about here, or did you and Mark have other ideas about forgone solutions?

        If yes, then it’s always possible that those original scientists were anti-nuke. But it doesn’t really matter because this analysis only begins to apply once someone has taken up the cause and is considering how to build a movement. It matters for the argument if they were themselves anti-nuke. And it matters for the realistic implications of the argument if there was no viable way to a significant movement that would have alienated the anti-nuke movement. It becomes a so what? situation. Eventually embracing nukes would have had to become about phasing out coal. Was there a conservative movement that was going to embrace that that was waiting to step in in place of the existing environmental movement?

        Also, that there are voices today still inside the movement calling for nukes as an option shows that, in fact, the coalitional choices may not have been as determinative of the bounds of the acceptable as this thesis suggests. Eventually, the coalition may be able to juggle its priorities, or even convince factions that they priorities are OBE, that conflicting priorities have to take precedence. I think Mark’s theory of competing interest groups in coalition doesn’t account enough for dynamism of prioritieswithin factions in the context of coalitions. I would say it’s almost a certainty that today everyone in the CC movement who was once first and foremost anti-nuke has had to soften that position in light of the greater threat. But they might never never have been in the coalition – there might never have been a durable one – if they had been alienated in the 80s and 90s by trying to form a collation around particular solutions. The broader concern is the stronger one to build the coalition around. Pro-environment (which has due to events crystallized for the moment into fighting climate change) > pro- or anti-nukes. (I also think it strains credulity to believe that the nuke issue or specific things like that are what kept the conservative movement at large from becoming a durable part of an environmental coalition. That they were ever likely to is to me a fantasy.)Report

      • But they might never never have been in the coalition – there might never have been a durable one – if they had been alienated in the 80s and 90s by trying to form a collation around particular solutions.

        Isn’t that exactly what Mark’s talking about?

        Nuclear was the tangible that came to my mind, yes. But there are a lot of less tangible things. That the banner was picked up primarily by environmentalists with other priorities has, in my view, influenced a significant degree of the approach. Away from nuclear, but also mitigation projects and towards a laundry list of things that were already supported, likely to be, or needed to be for future members.

        For me (I can’t speak for Mark), it may be less “They oppose this because members of their coalition hate it” and more “They have focused on these things, because the coalition was already amenable to supporting it (whether global warming was a thing or not). So the focus has largely been on public transportation, urbanization/density, and a lot of other things that can fit under this banner. Each of things things having built in opponents and skeptics.

        So even if the movement actually rhetorically accepted nuclear, there would still be the question of “Do we focus on that, or do we focus on these other things?” The movement isn’t even that far along on this*, but the composition of the coalition matters the degree to which banners are flown. Attracting new people, by opposing Keystone under the Climate Change tent, or convincing urban-dwellers “Your lifestyle isn’t going to have to change as much as others'” or by soft-pedaling the actual degree of the challenge altogether, to me falls as much under “coalitions” as “principle.”… all of which coming with their own set of opposing clans.

        * – Hansen and some others aside – notably, most of them seeming to be from the scientific side of things, leading me to be skeptical of the scientists-were-probably-anti-nuke theory, though I certainly can’t prove it. Intuitively, at least, it strikes me as more as activist catnip than scientist catnip. (And, I should add, this actually isn’t out of love for science or scientists, as they do have their own catnip, just an observation.)Report

      • @michael-drew I’m not saying that they necessarily had to be full-on pro-nuclear so much as I’m saying that they’ve had to largely take nuclear off the table entirely and align with expressly and vehemently anti-nuclear forces. I’m not saying this is a mistake, either – rather I’m saying that whatever coalition they build is inherently going to limit their options in some manner.
        @jim-heffman gives several other examples that I think are appropriate, if less strong.

        A really strong example is the apathy towards research and development/technological solutions combined with a very strong preference for subsidization of existing technologies. Here is an example of the apathy of which I speak to research and development of technological solutions:

        Producers of existing lower emissions products and sources are indubitably a powerful element within the coalition – and understandably so. But that means that they’re going to make it difficult for the coalition to support R&D into gamechanging new technologies that would make those producers obsolete.

        Another example would be treating Keystone XL as a global warming issue rather than purely as an issue of wildlife conservation. There doesn’t seem to be much hard evidence that the pipeline would meaningfully cause an increase in tar sands oil production – that production’s been increasing regardless. It’s just being transported by rail instead, which is more dangerous in many ways and obviously requires emissions from the trains (though admittedly a trivial amount in the grand scheme of global warming). But it doesn’t involve a significant new construction project so from a wildlife conservation standpoint it makes sense to prefer it – just not much from a global warming perspective.

        I don’t think it’s the case either that “core” climate activists under any set of circumstances would have opposed mitigation efforts, at least not if we’re defining “core” activists as roughly meaning “climate scientists.” That might not have been something they’d be willing to throw a lot of effort into supporting, but it’s also not something that they necessarily need to oppose either (and honestly, I suspect that most such scientists, if pushed, would be pretty neurtral on such measures even as things stand, but that’s very much my point- climate change is an umbrella for various not always unified interests). Simply put, I don’t see why they’d refuse to align with someone who wanted to include a strong push for mitigation efforts along with emissions reduction efforts.

        Opposition to research and development of some potential climate engineering projects is quite possibly another example. While it’s doubtful whether such projects could solve the problem entirely, there’s really no reason from a pure “concern about global warming” perspective to oppose them out of hand.

        And I do think that the coalition could have developed differently, even as it would have wound up with similar problems under almost any circumstance. A timely alliance with the nuclear industry would have been potentially quite powerful if combined with other alliances. But when the global warming science and activism really started to take root, nuclear power was in especially bad shape globally from a political standpoint.

        Under some situations, it could have found itself allied with the American Right more generally under the auspices of anti-Communism (you’ll find that an overwhelmingly high percentage of the cities with the most polluted air in the world are in Communist or formerly Communist countries). Similarly, it is not difficult to envision a situation in which climate activism was linked tightly to American Right fears about dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Etc., etc.

        And again, this isn’t to blame climate scientists/pure climate activists – any conceivable coalition is going to suffer from limitations on the tools available. It’s only to show how political realities can limit available tools and alienate otherwise potential allies, or at least antagonize potential neutrals.Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

        it’s not that physicists weren’t against nukes…
        They were against nuclear WEAPONS (see the doomsday clock).Report

      • The claim was that the coalitional choices (and again, we should care only to the extent there were viable alternatives) “severely limit[] the tools at your disposal.” Not that they cause the emphases among those tools to shift slightly to please members of the coalition. The major foci of CC activism have been carbon pricing and clean energy. Public transportation, changed land use practices, etc. have been pretty marginal. They might even have been included for the reasons you’re talking about, but I don’t think that demonstrates that Mark’s claim is right. I do think that the people have been attracted to the movement have been attracted to it i many cases because of (a relative lack of) solution aversion (though in many cases I think some people just aren;t thinking through what carbon pricing would mean for them), or even solution consonance with their own life choices in the case of an urbanization agenda (again, whose place in the CC activism agenda is quite marginal). That’s the point the article was making. But it doesn’t follow that that agenda was determined by coalitions, or, if it was, there was any way around that.

        Maybe Mark’s view is that a one-person movement of someone who is both anti-nuke and wants to prevent ACC is a coalition of people 1) who are anti-nuke and 2) who want to prevent climate change. I don’t think that’s right. That’s a guy who wants to fight climate change but not with more nukes. I think those are the guys who started the CC movement, and their anti-nukiness was not a result of coalition politics. But even if it was, I don;t think they had the option of not building it that way. We haven’t evn discussed the issue that when you’re building a movement, you generally don’t turn people away. ou certainly don;t tun away the first, biggest faction that comes to you saying, “We’re completely with you, we just have this one prior commitment” (if that’s even what happened, which I dispute).Report

      • Mark,

        I’m not really seeing the case for the coalitional causes behind these stratagems. You seem to be assuming that incumbent clean energy producers are causing the movement not to be receptive to fusion. Again, I think nukes are a bit of a special case (though one that at one level may demonstrate your case, just in my view making it arguing or the inevitable). The idea of fusion ought not to carry the radioactive taint of fission, but I’m guessing for many, it does. But if that’s true throughout the movement I’m not sure it’s a coalitional issue. Moreover, the issue with fusion seems more to just be a judgement that it’s come too late.

        On mitigation, I don’t think that the core activists oppose reasonable mitigation efforts, either, or necessarily would have. I do think the movement has not wrongly concluded that to focus much on talk about mitigation of effects is defeatist on the question of emissions and climate change itself, however and may harm that part of the effort. (I may be making mistake even conceding this is the position at this point, for that matter.) I do think that calculation was very likely in any event. For myself I think that that cost should be accepted, that mitigation needs to be part of the discussion. But I’m not clear how that is a coalition-driven calculation. It looks to me like that’s just the decision that’s been made by the core of the group according to its own tactical calculations. What coalition member is pushing them toward that conclusion if it’s not their own inclination?

        On this, “Opposition to research and development of some potential climate engineering projects is quite possibly another example.” I would need to see a citation. And obviously it would have to reflect the consensus of th emolument, not a dissenting opinion. The movement would have to oppose such research.

        On alternative coalition histories, I don’t know what to say. I mean, “A timely alliance with the nuclear industry would have been potentially quite powerful if combined with other alliances. But when the global warming science and activism really started to take root, nuclear power was in especially bad shape globally from a political standpoint.” That’s a big but there, and it existed for reasons. If everything ha been different, everything could have been different. Even so, I have a hard time envisioning a situation in which the American right is in alliance with a central part of the American left, environmentalists, in an attempt to limit carbon emissions because the smog over Eastern European and Asian capitals was so thick that it presented a strategic opportunity to rub the Commies’ noses in a failure of their system.

        Pardon me, but I just don’t see it. If this was going to happen, it was going to be something of a left/right thing. Environmentalism mostly resided on the left, and conservatism was in large part reactionism against whatever the left was into. And nukes did in fact have – earn – that bad name just as the import of fossil fuel dependency was coming into focus. That did have some effects on the tactical aims of the movement, but you’re not convincing that it could have realistically been different.Report

      • @michael-drew I don’t think it’s quite right to say that this is an issue of coalitional “choices.” I don’t think there’s necessarily a unified conscious effort to prefer one potential ally over another. There’s perhaps a resource allocation choice at some point as to what other groups to first attempt to appeal to and recruit – you want groups that are likely to be persuaded and that aren’t going to result in more doors being closed than opened (ie, you’re not going to spend much energy trying to recruit nuke advocates in 1987, but you might in 1970), but you’re not consciously trying to exclude any group, either. It so happened that at the time there were certain groups that were easier “gets” than others.

        But for the most part there doesn’t even need to be a “recruitment” decision. Instead, it could be as simple as “this group realized it had some common interests with us and joined up.”

        And it’s also not that the makeup of the coalition directly dictates individual preferences or advocacy. It’s that it reduces, but does not eliminate, the intramovement influence of those for whom climate change is far and away the top priority as people for whom it is a secondary or coequal priority gain influence; more importantly, it forces the movement as a whole to take a firm position on issues where it otherwise might be neutral or ambivalent.

        Maybe Mark’s view is that a one-person movement of someone who is both anti-nuke and wants to prevent ACC is a coalition of people 1) who are anti-nuke and 2) who want to prevent climate change. I don’t think that’s right. That’s a guy who wants to fight climate change but not with more nukes.

        That of course wouldn’t be a coalition. In your example, more importantly, this person isn’t prioritizing climate change – climate change is secondary to his anti-nuke beliefs. To me, that’s someone who is first and foremost an anti-nuke advocate rather than a climate change activist. He might be someone who is an early supporter of climate change activism, but if he’s bringing the nuke issue into his climate change advocacy, he’s more latching on to an existing movement than creating one.Report

      • Some of what you’re saying I think I’ve expressed something similar to:

        when you’re building a movement, you generally don’t turn people away. You certainly don’t turn away the first, biggest faction that comes to you saying, “We’re completely with you, we just have this one prior commitment” (if that’s even what happened, which I dispute).

        …so any disagreement may be dissipating. I have been saying that potentially my point is that this is a nothing burger of a point in this example even if it is formally right (i.e., even if certain tactical decisions such as nukes, were determined by the coalition path), since I don’t see other viable ways the coalition building could have gone given the timing of win tho issue arose.

        But I do also have some doubt that the nuke question was a coalitional development. Take our notional one-man movement. The whole point of him being a one-man movement was to suggest that it’s possible that he could have been the first guy. It’s possible that this movement always had individuals at its core that came to it with anti-nuke as their first, deepest priority, but that climate change was also clearly enough a threat they felt they wanted to start a movement around it. I think the timing makes that a unite plausible possibility. So then the movement would not have been “a movement to stop climate change,” it wold have been “a movement to stop climate change without reverting to nuclear energy.” Only once the relative scale of the threats became clear might one of these individuals started to reevaluate this ordering. It might then become a movement to stop climate change – or it might. But whether those individuals at the core ever come around to supporting nukes is a matter of conscience for them – they wouldn’t have been forced not to by having aligned with anti-nuke activists. (They always were the anti-nuke activists.) In fact, they potentially(!) weakened their movement by electing not to align with the nuke industry out of principle!

        This is possible. Whether it is what happened makes a difference for whether that movement is an example of what you are talking about.Report

      • @michael-drew I don’t buy that one who truly prioritizes climate change above all else must of necessity insist on reduced energy usage mandates, prefer subsidies for solar and wind power over subsidies for research into new renewable technologies, etc., etc. You, I think, are on board with that.

        I also think that there are many individuals within the movement who hold different views on these topics. So far as I can tell, however – and maybe I’m wrong – those views are largely ignored within the movement.

        Think of it this way, though: I think it’s safe to say that the movement as a whole, just as any movement, has to push for specific solutions for it to have any relevance. But for any given problem there are going to be a pretty wide array of partial, temporary, and complete solutions, at least to the extent you solely focus on that problem. And since this movement at least nominally exists solely to address the issue of climate change, it should not matter to that movement at the outset what solutions it pushes.

        How then does it figure out what remedies to push, and how does it gain support for its overarching goals? That’s what I’m concerned with figuring out, and that’s what my theory seeks to explain. In my theory, the core interest group looks around at potential and actual fellow travelers and finds solutions that are mutually beneficial, or at least initially appear to be so, and/or ways that their problems overlap. I just don’t see much in the way of an alternative theory.

        …That only gets me part of the way, but I need to get offline, so let me just address your other two points real quick:

        1. You’re assuming that the constituencies that make up “right” and “left” are also static, but of course they’re not – in some countries, ruralia is on the political left, here it is on the right; in some countries the big cosmopolitan cities are fairly conservative, but here they are decidedly on the left. Here in NJ, until the last 15 years, environmentalism was often more associated with the Right than the Left, with Tom Kean and Christie Whitman. Some of the biggest fights over environmental policy in the ’80s and ’90s were between Henry Waxman and John Dingell – environmentalists and labor unions are definitively NOT natural allies, nor are environmentalists and social conservatives, especially 2nd Amendment types, natural enemies. And of course, Barry Goldwater himself seems to have had a fair number of positions that would have made him likely to be highly concerned with climate change.

        2. On mitigation/adaptation (the latter of which is probably the better word) and technological solutions – I see things like this, and the vitriol involved and it’s hard for me to believe that the issue is just that the movement would rather spend resources elsewhere instead of being outright hostile on the whole to such attempts:

        Things like that tell me that there’s more going on here than concern about climate change. A lot more.Report

      • I missed your 5:28 comment. Yes, it’s possible we’re converging here – my point isn’t that coalitions are chosen, just that they’re more historical accident rather than ideologically pre-ordained. In some regards, maybe it is a nothing burger of a point in this case (though I hope not since it’s a theory I’ve been developing since my senior year of college), but at minimum I think it’s useful as a way of checking our assumptions about why we seem to believe what we believe and, as importantly, our assumptions about why people on the “other side” seem to believe what they believe. It’s also, I think, useful as a tool for understanding how to maximize political goals and as a caution against activists who would tie their fortunes too tightly to a single coalition.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’m not arguing that your theory is generally wrong. I’m just interrogating this application of it.

        We’re talking about America here. If Tom Kean, Christie Whitman, and Barry Goldwater had all ended up in primary alliance with an environmental movement concerned with lowering carbon emissions, they’d all have been effectively placed in the left if not far-left bin of American politics.

        The link is pretty much what I had in mind as to where the movement might be on adaptation – a little stronger, maybe, than the consensus now (it’s five years old so you would expect it to be more strident on the point – the argument for adaptation gets stronger as the date gets later and that’s an obvious point so you would expect early responses to it to be particularly strident). But moreover, I don’t see what’s evidently coalition-membership-influenced about it.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:


        Just to be clear, I keep saying it might be a nothing burger in this case because I think it’s a big deal if there were not functional alternatives. It’s still an insightful point that who’s in your coalition limits your options for strategy and I by no means mean to challenge the basic idea.

        Go attend to your business. Enjoyed the chat as always.Report

  5. LWA says:

    Its also true that the counter to initiatives by environmentalists is its own form of baily, i.e., the current status quo of our production and consumption of goods and resources is sustainable indefinitely.

    No one actually says those words, but I can’t think of a single proposal for increased sustainability that isn’t met with howls of outrage and hostility and vigorous defense of the status quo.Report

  6. Doctor Jay says:

    I think that what this motte-and-bailey stuff addresses is people’s unwillingness to actually make their case. This may be due to fatigue – they have made the argument so much that they don’t want to make it again. It may be due to ignorance – they don’t really know how to address the counter arguments.

    But some of the items that you have put in the bailey are really very close to the motte. That’s the stuff where the models predict things like the melting of the polar ice cap, desalinization of the ocean and the cessation of the Gulf Stream. Those things will have major, major consequences for millions, if not billions of human beings. But they are in models, which aren’t empirical. So they can be dismissed, if you feel like it, by saying, “that’s just one model”.

    The northern ice cap is melting- we’ve had ships navigate the Northwest Passage for commercial purposes this summer. The ocean is desalinating. The Gulf Stream is showing signs of changing or abating.

    I find that pretty alarming.

    The claims you mention about non-viability – the non-viability of carbon capture, or geoengineering, etc. have more to do with a perception of bad faith on the part of parties putting forward those arguments. I think it’s very unlikely that we will solve this problem by doing nothing and letting some scientists figure out some whiz-bang thing. There is no way out of this thing that isn’t going to hurt.

    I’d like a cap-and-trade bill to pass. If that had happened, I’d be a lot more interested in carbon capture or geoengineering. But as it stands, it just seems like a distraction, a wish fulfillment. I’m not really interested in debating their merits, though, without some concrete evidence (like, you know, a bill) of good faith on the other side.Report

  7. LTL FTC says:

    The #1 example of motte and bailey has to be “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

    Look around online feminist spaces and see what gets your feminist card revoked. Capitalism, insufficient devotion to the nebulous concept of intersectionality, failing to mention that “some men can have babies too” in discussions of pregnancy, etc…Report

    • Will Truman in reply to LTL FTC says:

      Yeah, this one is definitely a moving target. Do you believe that women should – to the maximum extent possible – have available to them all of the opportunities that are available to men? Congratulations, you’re a feminist! Wait, you don’t believe in socialized health care? You’re not a feminist.

      To be fair, the card is not necessarily granted and taken away by the same people. Which I think is the case with a lot of these discussions. Some people are in the Motte, and some in the Bailey, and the invaders don’t always know which is which.Report

      • LTL FTC in reply to Will Truman says:

        I agree that it’s not always the same people in the motte and on the bailey, but I believe the point is that you can reserve the right to be both depending in your goals. Rarely do your dealings with feminists (or environmentalists, or libertarians, or what have you) involve only one person.

        The post got me thinking a bit, so I did some searching and after about a minute and a half, I found this:

        TL;DR: Your feminist card is hereby revoked if you believe in capitalism or vote Republican because reasons. More often, you’ll see it framed as “Why X is a feminist issue,” with X being the minimum wage, campaign finance reform or the pothole at the end of the street.

        Honestly, I don’t think environmentalists suffer from this to the same extent as the social justice crowd. There are people who want carbon taxes, people who believe hard emissions caps on factories, power plants or cars are the only way to reduce GHGs and those who want to smash capitalism to save the environment. The latter, you will find, think that smashing capitalism is the solution to everything and discuss climate change when it is the topic du jour.

        I’ve dealt with a lot of environmentalists of varying levels of radicalism, and the suspicion towards the sequestration or geoengineering advocates is based on cultural touchstones and a general suspicion of free lunches. Anything that allows the local coal-roller or steel mill to keep at it guilt-free must be both morally hazardous and a slight-of-hand trick. After all, you’d look mighty silly biking in the snow and forgoing meat if all you had to do was build a big enough CO2-sucking contraption. That’s why I don’t think it’s as much of a motte-and-bailey as the culture war arguments the doctrine was originally written to describe.Report

      • the card is not necessarily granted and taken away by the same people. Which I think is the case with a lot of these discussions.

        As I reflected in another thread, yes. This.

        Also, I agree that M&B is a doctrine that 5th-wave feminism (or whatever – internet & Twitter feminism) employs. Around the topic of consent, assault, & rape as well, which can make that discussion essentially not a safe one for men to have. And around contraception. And…Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        So let me get this straight: does this whole subthread mean that by doing something that appeases the keepers of the bailey once, you should have unfettered access to the motte hereafter?

        This whole subthread reeks of “people who challenge status-quo are unreliable because they keep moving the target by pointing out other stuff that challenges the status quo.”

        Because the goals of feminism and environmentalism are not just to change this specific policy, so much as to change the information we consider in developing policy. And I’ve never, ever seen any feminist issuing cards; that’s like suggesting the NRA actually issues cards to verify your manhood.

        So if you keep finding yourself challenged, perhaps it’s because you’re being challenged to assess with other criteria as a habit, not just as a one-off.Report

      • I don’t really follow any of that, @zic, except to say that enough people get called misogynists, or rape-apologist, or “cool with rape culture,” or the like on the internets that it’s clear when a card has been revoked.Report

      • …Or sexist. How could I forget that one? I will say that I’ve never gotten the “If you’re not for socialized health care you’re sexist” line. But it’s clearly been implied that if I wasn;t for the contraception mandate I would be. (Good thing I am!) I dunno, maybe that’s just their motte, and that’s all there is to that.Report

      • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

        Well, I could get behind suggesting that’s not cool. Or I could argue BSDI, and point out the on-line threats women receive.

        But what got me here wasn’t BSDI, but failure to recognize that changing cultural norms takes time; someone may recognize and understand a new norm in one application and fail to see it in another; and when that cultural norm’s changing holds the key to half the populations’ ability to have equal participation, it’s not about revoking your card, it’s about helping people move toward better recognition of the barriers some, may, without intending to, be supporting. I get that some feminists are jackasses, too. And I get that when the conversation gets bitter, human tendency is to project the worst behaviors on the whole class.

        I’m not about to go suggest all men are jackasses because one many sexually molested me and stalked me. Yet that’s what I hear here: some women call certain things bad names, so how can I possibly navigate this fraught situation?Report

      • Well, BS certainly do DI, so you’re welcome to go there.

        And I understand that many feminists believe they’re for some intents and purposes essentially in a war and are going to do what they feel they need to do. And I get that. But what happens in war is ugly and sometimes people choose to describe it. You gotta deal with that.

        (Nothing that at least I’m talking about here is motivated by having in mind as an example something I’ve seen you say here, btw, @zic. IMO you are 99 times out of a hundred the model of restraint on the topics you care about. But it might be better if we chose not to discuss further particular leading ladies of the feminist internet by name.)Report

      • I’ve found myself pretty indifferent to whether or not I, as a person, am a feminist or not. I believe I meet the basic definition, which is that women should be afforded the opportunities available to men to the greatest extent possible. But I honestly don’t carry or tout the label or its cousin (“ally”) because it does seem to assume that I take positions that I don’t. And if that means that people think I am actually opposed to women having opportunities… there’s not much I can do about different priors.

        I don’t have a particular problem with feminism being defined broadly (“Women should have the same opportunities as men, whenever possible.”) or narrowly (insert more “extreme” variation here). But the signals as to which is the case have been sufficiently mixed that while I continue to try to figure out what is right and what is fair, the “with us or against us” aspect is less important to me than it used to be.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Will Truman says:

        “I don’t have a particular problem with feminism being defined broadly”


    • Chris in reply to LTL FTC says:

      I think you’ve actually demonstrated part of the problem with the motte and bailey model. Feminism is a whole hell of a lot of things, which is why some of the most bitter arguments about feminism occur among feminists (porn, anyone?). So the basic notion of feminism is quite simple: women should be treated as the equal of men in societal insitutions, be they political, economic, social, or whathaveyou. How this plays out, and how we get there, is where the quibbling begins, again, even among feminists. So treating this basic conception of feminism as the motte, and the rest the bailey, loses sight of what’s actually going on. It isn’t just the motte, it’s also the bailey, it’s just that there are a bunch of different bailey’s, and even a bunch of different motte’s.

      Of course, white guys find this frustrating, obviously, given how much they talk about it like it’s the worst thing that’s happened ever in the history of civilization.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, this might be a more fundamental problem for the concept than I even thought. Which I think is what @zic is getting at.

        It’s not that it’s wrong in saying that people do that, but the problem is that when we talk about what people do in the warmarketplace of ideas, often we want to ascribe that behavior to a group because it’s not that powerful a point you’ve made if you’ve taken just one person down a peg. But the doctrine seems to fall apart when you try to apply it to a group.Report

      • LTL FTC in reply to Chris says:

        To tie this back to the original topic, there is a lot more room in environmentalism to discuss means and ends. When the carbon capture types run afoul of many mainstream environmentalists, it’s an issue of bad faith. In other words, they are concerned that they might let someone retreat to the bailey who will then burn it down from the inside.

        Contrast this to online feminism, in which there is recognition that the label itself has value and the long motte-level list of beliefs you must ascribe to is a sort of larger progressive wish list, a price for getting your label approved by the sort of people who approve these sorts of things. But when this is challenged as little more than a wish list of unrelated lefty policies (many of which I ascribe to, FWIW), back to the bailey we go!

        I realize this is a cynical view of things. Feminists have means-and-ends conversations all the time, many of which are in good faith. However, the most potent weapon in any argument, internally or externally, is revocation of the feminist card. Look at the debates over intersectionality and how “white feminism” is used as a pejorative term doing it wrong, like “RINO” is used in conservative circles. The racial motte surrounding the feminist bailey is one of the main battlegrounds within feminism today.

        With regard to the porn wars, it doesn’t fit in so cleanly, perhaps because there appears to have been a clear winner – porn. It is my (admittedly limited) understanding of the feminist porn wars that sex-positive feminist did not so much defeat the anti-porn crowd as replaced them after a period of time following their defeat by the indifference of the wider culture. How that fits into motte-and-bailey, I can’t really articulate right now. But I’ll think about it.Report

  8. Damon says:

    OK, so I’m going to get on my high horse and add a comment WAY the hell off topic but highly relevant, because Scott Alexander doesn’t know WTF he’s talking about.

    “medieval castle…there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich.” WRONG! Christ there are so many errors in this:

    “A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade.” There would likely be a blacksmith, barracks, stables, maybe an armory or such inside the bailey. But you wouldn’t do “most of your economic activity in the bailey and retreat to the motte when attacked”. The bailey is the FIRST line of defense. You fall back to the keep, on the motte, when the bailey walls are breached.
    The only real economically productive land in medieval times was agricultural land. Enough land to feed the lord and all his vassals and the peasants. That AIN’T FITTING INTO A Bailey! See the attached link: The land a lord owned, in toto, was a fief or manor, and the agricultural land was outside the defensive fortifications.

    When I recover sufficiently from this idiot’s ignorance, maybe I’ll comment on the actual substance of the thread.Report

    • North in reply to Damon says:

      So word substitute Keep and Fief in for Motte and Bailey and proceed.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Damon says:

      While this is all true, I don’t think it alters the analogy, and calling the bailey “economically productive” is at least plausibly useful shorthand for what it was actually used for. In some ways, I think the full description of the bailey strengthens the analogy – if you look at my comment above, you’ll see that I explicitly relied on the full description of the bailey to extend the analogy a bit.

      The bailey was obviously not where the agriculture was performed, but the fact that it was where the lord kept his barracks, smith, and stables (not to mention other workshops and storage buildings) is hardly without economic significance – and in comparison with the motte, it was an absolute whirlwind of economic activity. The blacksmith (and other workshops) was where the lord’s military weapons were produced, yes, but also where he would have produced the farming tools, pots, knives, hunting arrows, etc. necessary for making economic use of the lord’s surrounding lands. The stables were not just for warhorses, either – the lord surely needed draught horses and riding horses as well to farm and engage other lords. Hell, even the barracks was economically vital – who else was going to keep an eye on the peasantry, protect the lands against raiders, etc.?

      The bailey was effectively the 11th century equivalent of a modern industrial/commercial park, except that without the activity taking place in it, the lord had little or no ability to generate income from his lands.

      Defensively, it was breached easily enough even though it was the first line of defense. That’s essentially how Alexander’s analogy refers to it in any event – an argument that stands in for the interlocutor’s ulterior goals and motives but that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny compared to the core “motte” arguments.Report

      • Damon in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I agree that the author’s errors don’t alter the analogy much either, but that wasn’t my point. We all, generally, understand his point. It’s just that his example is so easily recognizable as being wrong–and it’s just lazy journalism / writing.

        Here’s the part you and I disagree on. First off, the lord ain’t doing economic activity in the bailey and getting rich. It’s the amount of farm land that determines how wealthy he becomes. His source of income is the taxes and fees the peasants pay to use his grist mill, etc. plus the land that is worked for him by the peasants. ALL wealth derived from the agricultural land. Without it, there would be no need for any other actor. Even considering the activity of the bailey, the amount of economic activity taking place there is dwarfed by that taking place in agricultural land. So much so, that’d I’d argue it’s not material. It’s material to defending the manor, but not to wealth generation.Report

      • @damon My point is that it’s the activity in the bailey that makes the agricultural production valuable to the lord, what makes that agricultural production the “lord’s” economic activity, and really what turns that agricultural production into “economic” activity in any meaningful sense. The soldiers who live in the barracks don’t exist solely to defend the castle from attack – that would be pretty silly actually, since totally unexpected attacks weren’t exactly an every day occurrence. They’re also presumably the reason the serfs pay their taxes.

        The bailey presumably is also where the serfs in fact pay their rent, either by turning over a good chunk of the crops they’ve harvested, paying cash, or performing services for the lord. And the mill, if not in the bailey itself, is going to be pretty much right next to it.

        Also keep in mind that we’re specifically talking about the “lord’s” economic activity, not “economic activity at the time” in general. I mean, if I own a trademark and license it out for a fee to people who ask for my permission to do so, is everything they do with that license other than pay me my fee “my” economic activity?

        Is it an oversimplification to say that the bailey was “economically productive” in and of itself? Absolutely. But if we’re just using shorthand – and that’s really all that this is – it’s accurate enough.Report

      • Damon in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        Yeah, see that’s where we disagree. “My point is that it’s the activity in the bailey that makes the agricultural production valuable to the lord..” My point is that it’s the opposite. The only reason any activity takes place at the bailey is to protect the means of wealth production-the land. Additionally, since all economic activity at the bailey is derived from taxes (for the most part), there is no wealth generation going on in the bailey. Now, it may be true that the bailey is where the wealth of the land is transformed to from bulk ag products to more marketable products like flour, or perhaps even coinage, but not wealth isn’t generated. Hence my objection to the author’s point about “getting rich in the bailey”. I will agree, however, that in TOWNS, wealth was created. But we’re not talking about towns, we’re talking about a manor, or in other words, a fortified farm.Report

      • @damon You’re using “wealth production” as a synonym for “economic activity,” but they have two very different meanings, or at least I think you’d have to acknowledge that people can reasonably attribute very different meanings to them.

        But even if we treat them as synonymous, it doesn’t make sense to minimize the importance of the activity in the bailey. Yes, that activity means nothing without the agriculture, and in fact doesn’t even exist without it. But the agricultural activity likewise means nothing to the lord without the activity in the bailey, and indeed doesn’t even belong to the lord without that activity.

        And most importantly, the quote in the OP is explicitly concerned with the relative economic activity in the bailey as compared with the motte. I think you’re reading way too much into it by insisting that the quote is a statement that the lord needed to do nothing other than have a bailey and get rich or that he was unreliant on activity outside of the bailey. It’s a short set up to an analogy, not an article about history; there’s no reason to include details that are irrelevant to the analogy; even if those details would place the set up in a more historically accurate context, they unnecessarily distract from the point and confuse the reader.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Not all wealth is dollars. Sometimes wealth is dozens of people retweeting what you wrote. Sometimes wealth is being able to point at someone’s blog and say “kill”. Sometimes wealth is being acknowledged as One Of The Good Ones.Report

      • Damon in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I agree I should have been clearer. My point, other than pointing out that the entire analogy was poor and could have been better written, and being an example of lazy writing, was that this statement was not true.

        In the article the author said “If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich.” All the economic activity in the bailey doesn’t generate wealth, and where you said ” But the agricultural activity likewise means nothing to the lord without the activity in the bailey, and indeed doesn’t even belong to the lord without that activity.” is not correct. The Lord, by his position, has land the serfs work for him, in addition to their own allotment. The Lord either sells or eats the produce of his land.

        Now, here’s where the baily’s economic activity takes place. Taxes paid by the serfs, for using his mill in the bailey for example, come in the form of a percentage of the wheat ground, not in currency. So the economic activity is transferring ag products from the serf to the lord, which he would then eat, or sell for coin in town. However, without the bailey, the Lord still has the land the serfs work for him. All sources of wealth spring from the land. The bailey simply serves as a place to transfer some, but not all, of the lands wealth from the serfs to the Lord.

        “And most importantly, the quote in the OP is explicitly concerned with the relative economic activity in the bailey as compared with the motte.” I’d agree with you that there is more economic activity in the bailey than the keep, or motte, as the author says, because the motte is a frickin hill and the keep sits on top of it, but I digress. Since the keep was the Lord’s home, and a defensive fortification, there wasn’t much wealth creation or economic activity going on there. More economic activity was taking place in the bailey, but very little if any wealth creation was taking place. That leaves the land as the prime wealth creation and economic activity location.

        The analogy is a poor one, in terms of explaining economic activity and wealth creation, but it’s decent in explaining the political behavior. The author should have taken the time to construct a correct analogy, maybe using the Keep/bailey in an analogy of combat. Yes, I’m quibbling over what may seem minor issues, but damn it, take the time to do it right and correctly. It’s a pet peve of mine. As an aside, I find saying “clip” vs the correct term of “magazine” to be highly annoying too.Report