Sunday, August 2, 2015

Illiberal Liberalism

Or, "Why the Totalitarians of Thought are Blind to Their Own Illiberalism and Why Their Tactics Will Cultivate an Increasing Atmosphere of Violence Which is the Very Problem They Purport to Avoid."

George Will describes the campus atmosphere of in which suppression of free inquiry and open expression is the norm...fostered by both faculty and students but apparently a trait practiced more openly on behalf of liberalism, (ironically).

Combox replies as usual are useless and demoralizing...consisting only of either disagreement based on ad hominem or denial that suppression is problematic. Lord have mercy if we actually have to consider the issue. The reader is trained to obsfucate first.

However I think Will's article doesn't go quite far enough...it superficially blames the left, yet neglects to reach the substance of the problem. It is merely an anecdotal commentary that comes off as moralistic to the people he would seek to correct.

The problem is philosophical...and it is a philosophical error that is taught..explicitly. We have here a problem of education.
Starttford Caldecott  once observed that the "widespread belief that there is no objective truth no 'true' way of considering the world and its history, only a pluralityof subjective points of view, each view being of equal value and deserving equal respect. Of course, there are limits to the views that can be given respect, and these limits are supposed to exclude any perspective that might give rise to violent behavior, (such as Nazism or [extreme] Islamism). Ironically, since our society has given up the notion of objective truth, these undesirable opinions cannot be engaged rationally. Instead they must simply be suppressed with more or less subtle violence - violence that often feeds grievances of the suppressed community."

I remember a professor in college glibly remarking that "they don't pay me to come up with answers here, just questions." My thought was, and still is, "fair enough I suppose, but where in the world can a man go if he wants some answers? Apparently, not most American colleges." It is a fine thing to develop a question well. Answers are only as good as the question asked. However, it is an entirely different sort of totalitarianism to pronounce or even infer that there are no answers as seems to be the dictate of (il)Liberalism. Suppressing the wrong kind of questions or the wrong kind of question leads to a natural frustration at best. At worst, as Caldecott shows, it can actually perpetuate the very violence or restriction of freedoms that our present Liberalism now fears.  We have warped the objective and the subjective and there is a logic that follows. In making the subjective an absolute we still cannot avoid the realization of an actual objective end. The result is that rather than accomplishing some open and free perpetual subjectivism we bring about an absolute end in which force and not freedom presides.

The antidote to the sort of suppression is not more suppression but the truth revealed in love. Clearly, we cannot merely reply by trying to shout down or shut down those who would oppose our ideas.

Enter Thomas Aquinas and the Summa. The question under consideration is, "Well what if I'm wrong, what exactly are the implications?" Thomas will first exhaustively present the best possible opposing argument for his own position. As Joseph Sobran once wrote, Aquinas "isn’t merely charitable to his opponents; he is always on his opponent’s side.That is, he wants to confront opposing arguments at their best, even if he has to reformulate them himself and make them purer, stronger, and more precise than their advocates have done. Aquinas has the rare quality of wanting to know all that can possibly be said for the other side. He understands that you can’t find good answers without good questions. The human mind needs both."

In a sense Thomas shows us that we oppose the enemies of truth and their ideas by befriending them. This is no sly act of espionage. This is simple a desire to be found in... what is. 

What is needed is the both/and of Catholic truth, (the word "catholic" simply means universal after all). The antidote of radical subjectivism is not an equal and opposite force of radical objectivism. We must see the problem of suppressed inquiry in its entirety as a privation of both good questions and good answers. We must respond by asking better question and not being satisfied with insufficient answers. 

George Will observes the problem on college campuses. He fails to notice that its logic follows a trajectory of ever increasing use of force. Violence begets violence. Only genuine love of truth can break through. 

  


2 comments:

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