As quote from Hannah More’s Village Politics indicates, nothing in this world is perfect and this dialogue is no exception, full of logical fallacies that diminish More’s anti-revolution argument. Written as a counter to the pro-revolutionary Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, More was attempting to dissuade the “wild impressions of liberty and equality” that were becoming popular among “the lower order of people” (Pearson, 153). More, a devoted conservative, greatly opposed Paine’s ideas and had hopes that her dialogue would contribute to the condemnation of revolutionary tendencies among lower classes and “preach sobriety” to the upper ones.
While it certainly did the job when it was first released in 1792, distributed by the government by the thousands and often circulated for free by churchmen, gentry and aristocrats, when looked at from a modern standpoint, the faulty reasoning used throughout the piece causes the overall persuasion to fall flat. More’s propagandic piece lacks real conviction as it is simply an argument rife with logical fallacies that ultimately leads to one-dimensional characters and a lackluster counterplea to the “wild impressions of liberty and equality” that the French Revolution had inspired.
Village Politics is a narrative that presents a debate between two protagonists: Jack Anvil, the Blacksmith who is a firm supporter of England’s current political order and Tom Hod, the Mason, who after reading The Rights of Man has deduced that he wants “freedom and happiness, the same as they have got in France” (Pearson, 154). More wrote the piece to appeal to the working class, using common language and addressing it to “all the Mechanics, Journeymen and Day Labourers” and instead of publishing it under her own name, she attached a pseudonym: “Will Chip, A Country Carpenter,” for it to appear that much more relatable. It’s difficult to even call the piece a “debate” though, as Jack does most of the talking and Tom clearly has minimal knowledge about the beliefs presented in this so-called “precious book” that supposedly turned his world upside down (Pearson, 153).
This effectively makes the dialogue run in circles, and the logical fallacies that are present throughout the piece contribute to that, turning the piece into one of confusion and ignorance for a modern reader. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a fallacy is “a deceptive or misleading argument; an instance of unsound or defective reasoning; liable to be misleading” (Oxford English Dictionary). The logical fallacies that can be found in Village Politics are used in this way to make More’s argument appear better than it really is, deceiving readers the same way Jack attempts to deceive Tom.
The two characters Jack and Tom are central to the narrative but through the straw-man fallacy both become one-dimensional and ineffective in dictating their arguments. The straw-man fallacy is an exaggeration or misrepresentation of someone’s argument, in order to make it easier to present your own position as the rational one. Tom is presented as a complete simpleton, providing the weakest arguments possible while opposite is Jack, who is depicted as the more reasonable and clever one with the sole purpose of pointing out just how foolish Tom is.
In the beginning of the dialogue, Tom is sharing his desires for “liberty” and “a new constitution,” to which Jack responds: “Why I thought thou hadst been a desperate healthy fellow. Send for the doctor then” (Pearson, 154). These opening remarks illustrate just how simple and overly eager Tom is. He doesn’t know specifically what he wants, just that The Rights of Man advocated for these vague concepts of “liberty” and “equality,” and he’s decided that he’s “very unhappy, and very miserable” from missing out on them (Pearson, 153). He even calls it “good luck” that he had the chance to read the book, illustrating how he has no concept of how important The Rights of Man really are, and making any future argument he will say about the book later in the dialogue already obsolete.
This opening also demonstrates how easy it’s going to be for Jack to insult and take advantage of Tom; Jack makes the mocking comment about Tom needing a doctor and Tom takes him seriously, replying that he doesn’t need one for any illness. This all works to foreshadow Tom’s straw-man traits and set up his tendency to provide the weakest argument that Jack will always have a rebuttal to.
Throughout the rest of the dialogue, the men are established even more as one-dimensional characters that More simply used as mouth pieces. Tom continued to spearhead his narrow-minded ideas of liberal freedom, throwing out exuberant comments such as, “Down with the jails… all men should be free” (Pearson, 154). This argument has little to no logic behind it, which was exactly More’s point and allows for Jack to easily dismiss this notion with a lengthy response describing how “a few rogues in prison keep the rest in order” (Pearson 154).
Later in the dialogue, Jack is continuing to press a flustered Tom with verbose and exaggerated claims on why they must remain loyal to England’s monarchy and Tom, like a naive child, responds that he wants what “the French have got … in this world” (Pearson 158). For a modern reader, this is reminiscent of a childlike temper tantrum; Tom wailing that he wants what the French have got and he wants it now. This is yet more proof that this can’t be considered a “debate,” because Tom has not provided a single worthy argument and every claim he’s made, Jack has mocked and defeated with his seemingly more rational and “right” answers. So for a modern reader, Tom reads only as a fool and Jack as the all-knowing “champion” of England, with little else to differentiate them as characters.
Along with ineffective characters making it hard for a modern reader to be convinced of More’s argument, the logical fallacy known as the slippery slope is also a problematic tactic used throughout the dialogue. One of the reasons it was so easy for Jack to dismiss all of Tom’s arguments was because of this fallacy, which avoids engaging with the issues at hand and instead shifts attention to extreme hypotheticals, appealing to emotions and maximizing fear. Jack utilizes this tactic from beginning to end, attempting to scare Tom, which is representative of More trying to scare the working class who were considering the idea of a revolution. Jack’s take on the French Revolution is that it is absolutely the worst predicament that could ever happen to a country, and if it were to happen to England, life as they know it would be over.
One instance where he takes this stance over the top is when he describes to Tom what would happen if the “nonsensical equality was to take place.” He describes how if everyone was given the same amount of land, everyone would then be “equally busy raising potatoes for [their own] family” and thus there would be no one left to do any other jobs and society would fall apart. There’d be no blacksmith to fix any broken spade, no clothier to make new clothes or shoemaker to make shoes and even no doctors for when they got sick, for they would all “be digging too” (Pearson, 155).
This is an extreme hypothetical of what could happen, because equality does not mean everyone would have the same job but that everyone would have the same opportunities to obtain whatever job they want, live wherever they want, and so on. Jack’s blatant hyperbole would not be taken seriously by a modern reader, but one of the times would surely be frightened by the possibilities he set before them. In doing this, More is taking the attention away from the actual issues that Paine brought up on why a revolution would actually be beneficial and forcing readers to only reflect on the worst case scenario.
More herself said that Village Politics was “as vulgar as heart could wish,” and her use of logical fallacies such as the slippery slope certainly contributed (Pearson, 153). Jack again appeals to readers emotions and avoids engaging with the issues at hand when he declares that if a revolution were to take place, there would be “no hospitals, no charity-schools, no sunday-schools, where so many hundred thousand poor souls learn to read the word of God” because there would be no one to pay for them and “equality can’t afford it” (Pearson, 158).
These are all places that working class people used and visited often, so More is appealing to that knowledge by having Jack state that these would be the things they would lose if they supported a revolution. But there is no proof for this extreme hypothetical that Jack presents; he doesn’t provide examples of how this happened in France, and while the dramatic way in which he presents this argument worked in convincing Tom, it would not work on a modern reader showing how the overall counterplea was uninspiring and lacked conviction.
One final fallacy that can be found in Village Politics that disrupts the anti-revolutionary message More was attempting to get across is the complex notion of ambiguity which instead just plants ideas of confusion for a modern reader. Ambiguous language uses double meanings and inexactness to mislead and misrepresent the truth of an argument. This tactic, like to the previous one, is once again used by Jack throughout the piece, in order to confuse Tom and the working class and convince them against supporting a revolution.
About halfway through the debate, Jack suddenly brings up a fable that his daughter brought home from school, called the Belly and the Limbs. It tells the story of the hands and feet of a body who decided they would not “work any longer to feed this lazy belly, who sits in state like a lord” or “tire [themselves] to carry him about” (Pearson, 156). The hands and feet, Jack insinuates, are meant to represent the levellers and republicans of England, with the belly serving as their righteous government but by turning the conversation towards a children’s story, Jack does little else but cause more confusion for the reader.
In the end, Jack describes how the hands, feet and other body parts “suffered so much for want of their old nourishment, that they fell sick, pined away, and wou’d have died, if they had not come to their senses” (Pearson, 156). Jack uses the double meaning behind all the words in the story to convince Tom of the negative impacts a revolution would have on himself and also how the “levellers and republicans” work in tandem with the government to run a successful country, which is misrepresentative of the argument they were having in the first place.
Despite More’s claims that she used “common” and “simple” language that the working classes were known to use, a modern reader will find more ambiguous language throughout the piece than anything else, which contributes to an ironic tone. In the section of the dialogue where Tom beings to ask Jack straightforward questions, it may seem like Jack is finally responding with short and concise answers but in reality, the succinct answers he gives only work to make readers even more confused, especially after hearing Jack go on and on in the previous pages. Tom asks, “And what dost thou take a Democrat to be,” to which Jack responds, “One who likes to be governed by a thousand tyrants, and yet can’t bear a king” (Pearson, 159).
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “democrat” during the French Revolution era was “a republican opponent of the aristocracy in the French Revolution; or more generally, an advocate or supporter of a republican form of government” (Oxford English Dictionary). The ambiguous language that Jack uses to describe the term is nowhere close to its actual meaning, pointing out his ignorance and More’s “vulgar heart” to a modern reader. When Tom asks what it is to be an enlightened person, Jacks responds that it means to “put out the light of the gospel, confound right and wrong, and grope about in pitch darkness” (Pearson, 159). This statement is full of irony, because Jack takes the word “enlightened” and describes the opposite.
“Enlightened” means to have “greater knowledge, understanding, or insight” or to show “a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook,” but Jack uses language that makes it seem as if an enlightened person is a mess of confusion, constantly in the metaphorical and physical dark (Oxford English Dictionary). All this ironic and double-meaning ridden language works to sway Tom away from the ideals of the French Revolution, and by using the fallacy of ambiguity, More presents contradictory interpretations in the dialogue, leading to an overall confusing and desperate counterplea to Paine’s much stronger argument.
Village Politics is one of the many propagandic pieces to come out of the French Revolution, but unlike many of the other pieces, Hannah More’s dialogue lacks real persuasion for a modern reader in part because of the logical fallacies that are riddled throughout the pages. Jack and Tom are presented as one-dimensional characters through the straw-man fallacy, and readers could almost picture Tom as an actual straw-man, planted in a field with Jack standing before him, presenting his arguments.