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When Ideology Is More Important Than Truth

How liberal democracy has come to resemble communism in forbidding freedom of speech and inquiry

More from philosopher Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon In Democracyin which the Polish Catholic academic, an anti-communist dissident, explores the similarities between communism and liberal democracy:

The liberal-democratic man, especially if he is an intellectual or an artist, is very reluctant to learn, but, at the same time, all too eager to teach. This trait of his character is in a way understandable once we remember that his nature was considerably impoverished by his turning back on standards of classical and Christian anthropology. He lost, or rather, as his apologists would have put it, was relieved of the intellectual instruments — deemed unnecessary — that would enable him to describe the inadequacy of his existence and to articulate a sense of want. He is, as Ortega once put it, a self-satisfied individual, not in the sense that he occasionally fails to feel his misery, or to be haunted by a fear of death, a disgust of meaninglessness, a fatigue of the mystification that, as he begins to realize more and more acutely, surrounds him, but because he assumes and never has the slightest doubt that he is in possession of the entirety of the human experience. Looking around, he finds hardly anything that would put this conviction into question and a lot that gives it — practically each day and with each development – a strong corroboration.

On life under communist ideology:

The ubiquitous ideology in the communist and liberal-democratic societies drag people farther and farther from reality. One of the most unpleasant aspects of living under communism was an awareness that we were always surrounded by nonreality, i.e., artifacts fabricated by the propaganda machine, whose aim was to prevent us from seeing reality as it was.

Oftentimes it was a fraud or simply a suppression of information about, for example, the state of the economy, or who murdered whom at Katyn, or what the fraternal Parties agreed on during the summit. But it was something more sinister than that. The entire atmosphere was sultry, because we could not free ourselves from a feeling that we were living among phantoms in the world of illusion, or rather of delusion.

After communism ended in Poland, Prof. Legutko found that:

Very quickly the world became hidden under a new ideological shell and the people became hostage to another version of the Newspeak but with similar ideological mystifications. Obligatory rituals of loyalty and condemnations were revived, this time with a different object of worship and a different enemy.

The new commissars of the language appeared and were given powerful prerogatives, and just as before, mediocrities assumed their self-proclaimed authority to track down ideological apostasy and condemn the unorthodox — all, of course, for the glory of the new system and the good of the new man. Media — more refined than under communism — performed a similar function: standing at the forefront of the great transformation leading to a better world and spreading the corruption of the language to the entire social organism and all its cells.

… Practically everyone felt coerced not only to take the right side, but to reassert his partisanship by surrendering to all the necessary language rituals without any critical thought or disarming doubt. The person accused of a reactionary attitude under communism could not effectively defend himself because once the accusation was made it disallowed any objection. Even the best counterargument to the effect that the charge was ill-stated, and that being a reactionary does not mean that one is necessarily wrong just as being a progressive does not mean that one is necessarily right, only sank the accused person deeper. Any such argument was a confirmation of his belonging to the reactionary camp, which was clearly reprehensible if not downright criminal. The only option that the defendant had was to admit his own guilt and submit a self-criticism as self-downgrading as possible, but even that did not have to be accepted. If the defendant had the right to answer the charges in public — and of course hd did not — the immediate result was an avalanche of well-orchestrated condemnations and mass protests where the indignant engineers, workers, and writers shredded the insolent reactionary into pieces.

Legutko says it’s the same way under contemporary liberal-democracy on the subject of homosexuality. If you’re smart, he says, and you have anything critical to say about homosexuality or the gay rights movement, you had better begin by condemning homophobia and praising the gay rights movement, and you had better serve up your criticism wrapped in “the rhetoric of tolerance, human rights,” etc.

The characteristic feature of both societies — communist and liberal democratic — was that a lot of things simply could not be discussed because they were unquestionably bad or unquestionably good. Discussing them was tantamount to casting doubts on something whose value had been unequivocally determined. … The language discipline is the first test for loyalty to the orthodoxy just as the neglect of this discipline is the beginning of all evil.

Trust me, if you are a conservative, you need to buy Prof. Legutko’s book. It’s powerful. These passages brought to mind philosopher Edward Feser’s discussion of the recent controversy in the Midwest Society of Christian Philosophers. As I wrote yesterday, Richard Swinburne, one of the most important Christian philosophers on the planet, delivered at their recent meeting a lecture in which he criticized homosexuality. Notre Dame philosopher Michael Rea, the president of the group, issued this public apology:

I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne’s keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As President of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward.

Edward Feser comes out swinging hard in defense of Swinburne’s right to say what was on his mind. Excerpts:

Fourth, Rea says that because he is “committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community,” he is “consequently… committed to the values of diversity and inclusion.”  Well, fine.  So what’s the problem, exactly?  “Diversity and inclusion” in the context of “the intellectual life of [a] philosophical community” surely entails that a “diversity” of opinions and arguments be “included” in the discussion.  Now, Swinburne’s view is unpopular these days.  It is often not “included” in philosophical discussions of sexual morality, discussions which tend not to be “diverse” but instead are dominated by liberal views.  Hence having Swinburne present the views he did is precisely a way of advancing the cause of “diversity and inclusion.”  Yet Rea treats it as if it were the opposite.  Why?

Fifth, Rea speaks about the SCP having “fallen short” of the ideals of diversity and inclusion and of his resolve to “strive for them going forward.”  Well, what does that entail exactly?  Evidently he thinks that letting Swinburne say what he did amounts to having “fallen short.”  So is Rea saying that, “going forward,” he will work to make sure that views like Swinburne’s are no longer expressed at SCP meetings, or at least in SCP keynote addresses?  How would preventing views from being expressed amount to the furthering of “diversity and inclusion”?  And how would that square with the free and open debate that philosophy is supposed to be all about?


What this is really about, says Feser, is “making public dissent from liberal conventional wisdom on sexuality practically difficult or impossible.” And:

What does all this have to do with Rea and Swinburne?  Just this.  Sophistries and ruthless political pressure tactics of the sort just described succeed only when people let them succeed – when they let themselves be intimidated, when they acquiesce in the shaming and shunning of those who express unpopular views, when they enable the delegitimization of such views by treating them as something embarrassing, something to apologize for, something “hurtful,” etc.

This, it seems to me, is what Rea has done in the case of Swinburne.  Given current cultural circumstances, Rea’s statement amounts to what philosophers call a Gricean implicature – it “sends a message,” as it were — to the effect that the SCP agrees that views like Swinburne’s really are disreputable and deserving of special censure, something to be quarantined and set apart from the ideas and arguments that respectable philosophers, including Christian philosophers, should normally be discussing.

That is unjust and damaging to philosophy itself, not merely to Swinburne.  It is especially unjust and damaging to younger academic philosophers – grad students, untenured professors, and so forth – who are bound to be deterred from the free and scholarly investigation of unpopular ideas and arguments.  If even the Society of Christian Philosophers is willing to participate in the public humiliation even of someone of the eminence, scholarly achievement, and gentlemanly temperament of Richard Swinburne, then why should any young and vulnerable scholar trust his fellow academic philosophers to “have his back” when questions of academic freedom arise?  Why should he believe they are sincere in their purported commitment to reason over sophistry?

Read Feser’s whole commentary.  This is the world that conservatives, especially conservative Christians, are now living in. It is not going to get better anytime soon. We had better prepare to fight and to be courageous, and we had better be prepared to lose without violating our consciences or capitulating to the intellectual bullies. If you think this is only going to stop in academia, you’re very, very wrong.