Why liberals always deny that conservatives rationally believe what they say

I just realized why liberals tend to attack every conservative position as cynical, driven by hate, a plot to “divide” the electorate, etc., etc., rather than treating it as a good-faith opinion that the liberals happen to think is a wrong opinion.

Liberals don’t believe in objective truth. They think that all opinions must be treated as equally valid, equally deserving of respect, and not to be judged. Therefore to treat a conservative opinion as an opinion among other opinions would be implicitly to validate it. It is difficult for a liberal simply to argue that an opinion is wrong, because liberals don’t believe that there is a right and wrong. Therefore, if there is an opinion that the liberals strongly dislike and want to reject utterly, they have to deny that it is an opinion. They must treat it as an act of bad faith, a ploy, a hoax, an attempt to “divide America,” or a symptom of pathology or prejudice.

Of course, there is a more conventional explanation for the liberals’ behavior, one which is not based on a denial of truth but on the fear that there is a truth. That is, if liberals granted a conservative opinion the status of an opinion, it would get a fair hearing, and might be revealed as true.

Just after I posted the above, a reader sent me an item from the New Criterion that echoes my own point. Here are some excerpts from the piece, which concerns Lewis Lapham, long-time leftist editor of the once-prestigious Harper’s:

  • Mr. Lapham has made an awesome discovery. Conservatives have ideas; moreover, they are willing to support those ideas by funding people and institutions that promote them! … Mr. Lapham doesn’t put it like that, of course. On the contrary, he treats the readers of Harper’s to page after page of breathless, hysterical prose in order to expose “the re-education program undertaken in the early 1970s by a cadre of ultraconservative and self-mythologizing millionaires bent on rescuing the country from the hideous grasp of Satanic liberalism.”

  • Conservatives, he warns, have spent $3 billion in the past thirty years promoting their ideas —well, Mr. Lapham doesn’t say “promoting their ideas,” for it is part of his gospel that conservatives don’t have ideas, only—here he quotes Lionel Trilling—“irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

  • According to Mr. Lapham, no conservative writes a book or article in order to say what he thinks is true; he does it at the behest of some nameless conservative power broker in order to advance a political interest. Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations: you might have supposed these were thoughtful contributions to important issues of the day. Not a chance of it: Mr. Lapham reveals that they are merely “expensively purchased and cleverly promoted tracts.”

We might say the same thing about the way the leftist media greeted the Swift Boat Veterans. The Swifties weren’t people who had something to say and were saying it, who might be right or wrong, honest or driven by anger into distortion. They were creatures of the GOP. But no one ever asked, how did this “creation” occur? Did the GOP go looking for people to take over and brainwash, sort of the way the North Koreans did to the Lawrence Harvey character in The Manchurian Candidate?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 20, 2004 02:51 PM | Send

That is a brilliant analysis of a puzzling pattern of political and other discourse. It immediately suggests a means of countering that response which you have been thus forewarned of. One may be prepared to reply: ‘but you don’t dare to say that it’s not true’ or ‘you wouldn’t have assurance to say that it is not right’. The liberal is then pushed into the dogmatic position which is uncomfortable for him; where he feels uncertain. “Are you quite certain of that” is almost a gratuitously cruel question to ask of such and such a liberal.

Posted by: John S Bolton on October 24, 2004 8:42 PM
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