The listener is told that unpleasant consequences will follow if they do not agree with the advocate. In other words: “Agree with me, or else.” The old adage, “walk softly and carry a big stick”, also comes to mind. (This form of argument is also known as argumentum ad baculum. “Baculum” is Latin for “stick”.)
An argument always attempts to prove that the conclusion is worth of belief. Trustworthy arguments do this by providing clear and reasonable support for the conclusion. They rely solely on the power of reason. Whenever an argument relies on any other type of power to support its conclusion, it commits the fallacy of appeal to force. The most obvious sort of force is the physical threat of violence. The argument distracts us from a critical review and evaluation of its premises and conclusion by putting us into a defensive position.Stratton, Critical Thinking for College Students, p. 169.
“Adverse criticism of the utility companies advertises the entire community as a poor place in which to live and tends to retard its growth. Our company certainly would want to withdraw its business from such a community. Now, you wouldn’t want that to happen to your fair city, would you?” (Walton, Scare Tactics, p. 35.)
“Mr. Jones, we like only intelligent men in our organization; if you do not want to lose your job, then I suggest that you show a little intelligence by taking part in civic activities — e.g., by supporting my brother’s campaign for election to the school committee.” (Sahakian, Ideas of the Great Philosophers, p. 17.)
“Professor Karmy, my father is visiting the campus this week and he would like to meet you. He will be busy on Tuesday, since he’s spending the day playing golf with the College President, his old roommate. And on Wednesday he is meeting with the Endowment Office, where he plans to give a $100,000 check to the college. You should meet with Dad on Monday and assure him that I will be getting an ‘A’ in this class. It will probably make your life a lot easier.”Stratton, Critical Thinking for College Students, p. 169.
“On the international scale, the argumentum ad baculum means war or the threat of war. An amusing though at the same time frightening example of ad baculum reasoning at the international level is told in Harry Hopkins’ account of the ‘Big Three’ meeting at Yalta toward the end of World War II. Churchill is reported to have told the others that the Pope had suggested that such-and-such a course of action should be followed. And Stalin is supposed to have indicated his disagreement by asking, ‘And how many divisions did you say the Pope had available for combat duty?'” (Walton, Scare Tactics, p. 43.) Here, Stalin assumes the fallacy by discounting an argument because it is not accompanied by force.
In Bill Maher’s and Larry Charles’ film, Religulous, Maher makes some criticizes the faith of those at a truckers’ chapel. One of the truckers present shakes his fist and says, “anyone who criticizes my Lord…”.
“Hello gentlemen, ladies. My name is Little Danny Pocket. I won´t take much of your time. Please excuse my tiny crutch. It is the only way I can get around these days. Ow. You see, my father worked for a newspaper in my native country of Denmark. His newspaper showed an image of Muhammed and two days later terrorists suicide-bombed his building. I was in the lobby when it happened. First one terrorist suicide bomber, then dozens more. They just kept coming. Suicide-bombers running into the building and blowing up one after another. They were like Mexican jumping beans. I just won’t like to see people here in your studio getting hurt, you know. That would be, of course, your responsibility.” (Cartman in Parker & Stone, “Cartoon Wars Part II“, Southpark, Episode 10.4, 2006.) Cartman starts with what seems an appeal to pity but that quickly becomes a threat as a part of his argument that Family Guy should be canceled.
In The Godfather, Don Corleone, after a family member aspiring to be an actor gushes about being rejected for a role, promises, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” When the “Hollywood bigshot” does refuse, he wakes up with a decapitated horse head beside him in bed, and, not surprisingly, “changes his mind”.
Identify the threat and the proposition and argue that the threat is unrelated to the truth or falsity of the proposition.