Challenging liberal assumptions

Alan Roebuck continues his meditations, which he has developed in previous articles at VFR, on how traditionalists can wage intellectual war against the dominant liberalism:

The conservative movement has focused more on winning political contests than on winning the war of ideas. As a result, liberalism is increasing its dominance as the Unofficial State Religion, the system of thought that serves as the basis for all important government decisions and provides most people with their basic understanding of reality.

Therefore we conservatives need to aim at winning the war of ideas. Specifically, we need to identify the fundamental errors of liberalism, prove them to be errors, and state the conservative truths that correct these errors. Our message should be: “We conservatives know how things really are, the liberals don’t, and here’s why.” This will catch the attention of a postmodern, truth-denying world.

We need to change minds. The main impediment to a person’s changing his mind is his intellectual presuppositions. Conservative apologists therefore need to do something that they rarely do now: concentrate on the presuppositions of liberalism. For example, when speaking of Darwinism, we should ask, Is naturalism true? When discussing multiculturalism, we should ask, Why is “diversity” good? When discussing homosexuality, we should ask, How do you know that homosexual conduct is morally acceptable? These and other questions that go to underlying presuppositions are the weak points of liberalism, partly because few people can even identify their own presuppositions, and partly because liberalism cannot defend its presuppositions with the usual liberal intellectual apparatus.

Furthermore, most people do not create their basic convictions by carefully examining and judging the various competing worldviews. Instead, especially when it comes to the most fundamental issues, they believe what is told them by the authorities they trust. The highest and mostly widely-believed authorities right now in America are teachers, professors and journalists. Therefore conservative apologetics must aim for changing the minds of society’s highest leaders or, equivalently, placing people with the right beliefs in the positions of highest authority. Individual persuasion is not enough.

One key to doing this is to win the allegiance of the bright and talented young people who will be tomorrow’s leaders. Many young people, especially the intelligent, recognize that the Zeitgeist, like the proverbial emperor, has no clothes, and if they hear good and true ideas, they will gratefully believe them.

The importance of emotions must also be recognized. Through the arts, liberalism encourages people to see liberal ideas as beautiful, and conservative ideas as ugly. But on the most fundamental level the arts respond to the ruling ideas of the day, not vice versa.

Therefore, we cannot hope to create an artistic establishment that supports conservative truths without at least beginning to win the war of ideas.

One of the best ways to change minds is to create an artificial situation where people find it acceptable to consider adopting new ideas. One such situation is the classroom, another is public debate. People in these situations are more willing to be persuaded, partly because of the unusual nature of the situation itself, and partly because the teacher or debater is regarded as a credentialed expert, which makes it easier for his hearers to accept new ideas.

Debating is therefore the most practical strategy for conservatives right now. Debate can easily be initiated by posting detailed, philosophically coherent challenges to liberalism on websites or in magazines, and inviting liberals to respond. (Remember that most conservative polemics today do not identify, let alone challenge, the fundamental presuppositions of liberalism.) In this way, conservatives can show that they have a superior understanding of reality, and that they are not afraid of mixing it up with the best arguments that liberalism can offer.

A conservative apologist also needs some sort of credential, because credentials increase one’s credibility. People resist being intellectually led by people whom they regard as being on their own level. But if the speaker has credentials, John Q. Public finds it psychologically easier to change his thinking in response to what the speaker says.

One way to gain credibility would be to implement Lawrence Auster’s proposal for an “Institute for the Study of Liberal Society.”

- end of initial entry -

Dimitri K. writes:

My experience is that in order to persuade people you don’t need either credentials or special arrangements. Instead, you must believe what you are saying and know it deeply. And people will understand it. Now in the Age of the Internet everyone can try to spread his ideas, and if we are failing to do it, nobody is to blame except ourselves.

P.S. I browse the Internet and don’t see too many philosophers around. Most conservatives repeat someone else’s phrases, or say nonsence. I would even suggest a conservative heresy—that liberals dominate because currently they are stronger intellectually. Let’s hope this situation will change.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 04, 2007 05:08 PM | Send

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