below essay, written as a letter to me, Alan R. proposes that liberalism can only be defeated by demonstrating to liberals that their liberal beliefs are false. He writes:
You wrote the following in your VFR entry “Another American murdered by an illegal alien”:
Therefore, if we traditionalists are to be truly serious, our primary task is not only to criticize the liberal order, as I for example am always doing, since even the most astute criticism will not wean liberals from their liberalism, but to build up the understandings and the institutions that can replace the liberal order after it has come to an end and has thus been decisively discredited-discredited in the eyes of the liberals themselves.The task of traditionalists has much in common with Christian apologetics. The analogy is deep: in both cases, the apologist is trying to convince people to reject a false religion. Therefore the objective is exceedingly hard to reach, because a person’s religion contains his beliefs about the most fundamental and important issues, and therefore he will not give it up without enormous resistance.
Ultimately, we cannot succeed in our effort to restore a properly ordered society without persuading people that our view is correct. Of course, “force” plays a role, because every ruling regime needs to enforce its dictates and ensure that most people at least go along with its beliefs. But traditionalists currently have no power, and even a police state needs to make an effort to persuade, because no regime can rule without the consent of the governed.
Truth is paramount in the battle of ideas. Our two chief enemies are vulnerable to attacks that emphasize truth: contemporary liberalism endorses postmodernism and relativism, with their despair over the possibility of man’s knowing truth. And Islam never claimed that you should believe it because of the evidence: Mohammad offered no confirming miracles, and it takes a very great stretch to see him as the fulfillment of any Old Testament prophecy. Islam proselytizes by force, and by a display of strength that impresses some, but not by persuasion.
But all men operate by what they believe to be true, despite the claims of some that they are uninterested in truth. Even the most corrupt cynic believes that cynicism is “true” in a manner of speaking: He believes cynicism is the attitude most warranted by the facts of reality, that is, by what is true.
Therefore we can use the insights of the rich traditions of Christian apologetics and evangelism to help us persuade.
An example is the presuppositional apologetics, developed in depth by Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) theologians starting in the early Twentieth Century. Presuppositionalism’s key insight is that you cannot convince people simply by giving evidence that supports your religion. Their false religion is an entire worldview, i.e., a comprehensive system of thought that has something to say about all aspects of reality. Therefore, those with a false worldview will not draw the correct conclusions from the evidence, and will often misinterpret the evidence itself. What is needed is a direct attack on their worldview, which can be done by showing them that their basic presuppositions cannot account for the facts of reality. And since reality has the characteristics that it does, it follows that their worldview must be false. And you have to attack them at what they believe to be their strong point, because being forced to surrender on a peripheral point will not shake them.
Furthermore, you often have to press people to declare what they believe. This is especially important when discussing “religion and politics,” because non-Christians and liberals generally have only a vague idea of their own fundamental beliefs. You have to get them to clarify their position before you can really engage them intellectually.
Many presuppositionalists also say that whereas the Christian ought to respond to a sincerely interested unbeliever by giving reasons to believe, a hostile unbeliever ought to be sternly rebuked. This follows the example of Christ himself, who responded to open hostility with harsh (but accurate) words stating clearly that his opponent was in the wrong, and why.
We also have to acknowledge differences between Christian and traditionalist apologetics. One big difference is that Christian apologetics is chiefly interested in promoting belief in the teachings of the Bible, but the traditionalist apologist can point to no authoritative text. This is not an insuperable obstacle; the early Christian evangelists had no complete New Testament to point men to, but it does show the value of having a clearly articulated, relatively authoritative manifesto of traditional conservatism.
There is a need for a book (perhaps to be written by you), it could be called “Liberalism for Dummies.” I hate to give a serious work such a frivolous title; but otherwise, it’s perfect: like the actual “Dummies” books, it would lay out the basics. And there’s a double entendre: liberalism is “for dummies.” Such a manifesto/textbook would do our side an immense good, intended for John Q. Public (the John Q. Public who’s willing to study hard, that is), not just the eggheads like us, that lays out the details of liberalism and the arguments for why it is dangerous. I see this book as especially important for young people, who need to be properly instructed in how the world operates.
The two most important objectives of the book are: one, to show just what liberalism is and two, to convince the skeptics that liberalism really is false, and a threat. To show what liberalism is, you must start with concrete examples, and examples that are well-known, so that people will experience “the shock of recognition.” Almost as important for objective one is to convince the skeptics that there really is such a thing as liberalism. Liberalism’s main weapon is defensive: it claims to be just “recognizing the way things obviously are,” rather than a definite, logically organized, comprehensive way of thinking.
Liberalism must be shown to be false. And, concerning any one of the specific propositions of liberalism, whenever you show “X is false” you show that “non-X is true.” In this way, you assert the specific propositions of conservatism, and so this treatise on liberalism is really a treatise on traditionalist conservatism, that is, a proper understanding of how society operates.
You said that we cannot wean liberals of their liberalism. Sure we can, at least for the vast majority of liberalism’s supporters, who really are quasi-liberals. There are many people, especially young people, who are as I was: liberals only because they have not yet encountered a thoughtful conservatism, and who are therefore capable of being evangelized.
To prove to the skeptic (and the thoughtful young person) that “liberalism” exists as an organized body of thought, imagine the following “thought experiment”: We have a list of 20 specific, currently controversial, political issues. e.g., Should society formally recognize same-sex marriage? Should abortion continue to be unlimited? Should minorities continue to receive preferences? And so on.
Each of these issues has two clearly defined sides, one of which is obviously called “conservative,” and the other of which is obviously called “liberal.” For example, no honest person would call “Society should formally recognize same-sex marriage” the conservative position.
Next, imagine we are interviewing someone, and he has taken the liberal position on the first six issues.
Here’s the key question: What is the probability that he will also take the liberal position on most or all of the next six issues?
Clearly, the probability is very high. But why? Because there is such a thing as liberalism, and somebody who takes the liberal position on the first six issues is probably someone who subscribes wholly or mostly to liberalism. If liberalism is just “seeing things for what they are,” then we would expect an individual’s positions on these 20 issues to be distributed randomly.
I don’t claim that this is an irresistible argument. But through it, anyone who is a potential ally of ours can start to see the importance of systematic thinking, and the foolishness of dismissing conceptual thought.
The above argument is important because many of our potential allies have not yet recognized that liberalism is an organized threat. They see a profusion of (seemingly) isolated puzzles and outrages, but they lack understanding of the nature of the threat. Most such people are thoughtful by nature, and so they need to be provided with ideas and reasons with which they can resist the arguments of the other side. Picture a young person who has been indoctrinated in liberalism, but who senses that something is not right with it. As was the case with me, he is confused by the liberals’ anti-conservative propaganda, and so he is skeptical about his emerging conservatism. If he is to become an effective conservative, the first need of any such person is to conquer his own skepticism; in studying apologetics, one’s first order of business is to convert the skeptic within.
- end of initial entry -
James N. writes:
Good read, with some good points by your correspondent. Getting liberals to realize that they are choosing positions which are false BECAUSE they are using a systematic “theology” which is also false is a valuable technique.
And, by the way, the failure of Bush and his cabinet on Iraq results directly from their false (liberal) beliefs, and it’s easy to show that no “solution” can be derived without either giving up those beliefs or by an unprincipled exception.
However, I question whether your correspondent’s statement “Liberalism must be shown to be false. And whenever you show “X is false” you show that “non-X is true.” is correct.
That X is false does not at all mean that all non-X is true. That Islam is false does not make Hinduism true, for a trivial example. Perhaps your correspondent could re-work that statement.
For example, Ayn Rand (no, I am not an objectivist, and, yes, there were things about her which were deplorable) is famous for saying that the statement “A is A” refutes liberalism. That’s really true. It means that there are things which exist independent of your feelings and desires, things which in fact contravene your feelings and desires, to which your will must bend.
With my kids, I always use “water is wet”. But there are many others.
Anyway, great essay to start the day. Thanks.
Alan R. has modified the paragraph in response to James’s criticism.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 22, 2006 01:11 AM | Send