Is debate possible in liberal society?

Jeff in England returns to a favorite subject of his: the difficulty of getting the most prominent prophets against Islamization to discuss the issue seriously—meaning, to discuss Muslim immigration. He writes:

Melanie Phillips is an excellent communicator of her views but NOT a thinker or real debater of issues. Part of that dumbed down thing I talked about a ways back. There are very few old school debaters coming through on any side of the political spectrum. You’re one of the few exceptions. People like Spencer and Melanie and so many others are media communicators who love to hear the sound of their own voice and take any serious criticism personally. They have a lot to offer but they are also. very limited. I am trying to think of modern day debaters of note. Who would you rate? And past ones?

LA replies:

Debate along with many other aspects of our culture has died. It has to be brought back. It is the lifeblood of what we are. Remember Aristotle’s definition of politics: men freely discussing together what is the good. A society without debate is a society without politics, it’s a society in which words are used to win people over, but that’s not the same as debate and persuasion, which is aimed at winning people’s rational consent as to what is good and true, which in turn requires that people believe that there is such a thing as the good and the true. This is why Plato attacked the sophists of Athens. The sophists were the political consultants of their time, they taught politicians how to say the things that would win popular favor and get them elected.

If debate is to return, there must be a recognition that debate is essential, that we’ve lost the tradition of debate, and that we need to take positive steps to bring it back.

That raises a more fundamental question: is debate even possible in an advanced liberal society? For there to be debate, and hence politics (as opposed to manipulation via words), there must be freedom of speech. But we already know that the essence of advanced liberalism is that it excludes vast sectors of reality from being talked about, because those sectors of reality are substantive, and liberalism must ban discussion of substantive realities—e.g., man, woman, marriage, religion, race, culture—because substantive realities involve differences and inequality, while liberalism (which at its core turns out to be far more radical than Marxism) insists that difference and equality are wrong and must be eliminated to achieve an equal humanity. To discuss immigration freely, for example, or race and crime, or the real consequences of illegitimacy, or why certain groups are always behind educationally, or why democratization of Muslim societies seems to result in the opposite of what we hope for, or what are the requirements of viable nationhood, would require that the speakers step outside liberalism. And that may partly explain why even among the smart “conservative” spokesmen, there is no ability to debate, since they also accept the overall liberalism which prohibits discussion of substantive realities. Thus to hold real debate in modern society would already be a revolutionary act against the prevailing liberalism.

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Tim W. writes:

You’re definitely on to something when you note that real debate is impossible in a liberal society. The president of Harvard University found that out when feminists and other leftists forced him to grovel for merely suggesting that genetic factors might be one possible reason for male dominance in math, physics, and other such disciplines.

Evidence of the suppression of debate is all around us. One need only look at the various diversity training seminars, or the censorship of inconvenient statistics by the media.

Liberals are responsible for this situation, but what I find equally appalling is the willingness of most conservatives to go along with it. Mainstream conservatives seem to take is a given that liberals should be allowed to set the parameters of debate, and even to control the language used when there is a debate.

Take the commonly used terms “pro-choice” and “homophobia” as examples. Both are terms coined by the left to restrict, or even to completely cut off, debate on certain topics.

The term “pro-choice” wasn’t invented by abortion supporters to clarify things. Rather, it was invented to evade discussing the very topic at hand. It changes the subject from whether abortion is good or evil to a debate about an abstract concept (choice) that could apply to virtually anything. Imagine if the National Rifle Association demanded to be called “pro-choice” rather than being called the gun lobby, which is the usual media term for them. They’d be laughed out of Washington, even though the NRA has never suggested that taxpayers should have to buy guns for the poor, or that minors should be able to buy guns without parental consent, or that gun control advocates should be thrown into jail as RICO criminals Yet “pro-choice” is the universally accepted term for abortion advocates, even among conservatives. Even supposedly far right commentators such as Rush Limbaugh are always very careful to refer to Planned Parenthood as a “pro-choice” organization. By accepting that term, they’ve lost the argument from the very beginning.

“Homophobia” is another liberal term accepted by conservatives as legitimate. The purpose of the term is to avoid discussing whether or not homosexuality is normal, or makes any positive contributions to our society. Liberals can’t possibly win that debate. So they created a term implying that anyone who opposes the homosexual agenda has something psychologically wrong with them. Conservatives now use that term as if it has a legitimate purpose. On the rare occasion that there’s any debate at all over an issue such as same-sex “marriage”, the conservative in the debate has to preface his remarks with “I’m not a homophobe, but….” He must repeat over and over throughout the debate that he hates “homophobia”. And thus he loses the debate in the long run by conceding to the other side that his own position is psychologically warped.

One wonders how long it will be before opposition to the homosexual agenda is declared to be a form of insanity.

LA replies:

I don’t agree that “pro-choice” kills debate. “Pro-choice” is a polite euphemism for pro-abortion, and everyone knows what is being discussed. In fact, abortion is one of the few issues on which conservatives have consistently taken a stand. However, taking a stand is not what I mean by debate.

“Homophobia” is more mischievous, and Tim is correct that is classifies any non-PC view as a mental disorder.

However, while phrases like “homophobia” certainly make debate impossible, when I speak of the prohibition on debate I’m not speaking of something that blatant. For example, grassroots conservative organizations do not use demonizing phrases like homophobia or racist. Yet they also suppress debate. They will not go any where near a real discussion of, say, Hispanic/Mexican immigration, because to suggest there is anything problematic about such immigration is to say that race and ethnicity matter, which to them is not just wrong but completely off the table. They don’t use words like “racist” to suppress the debate, they just stay away from anything having to do with race.

My point is this: attacking the most blatant, leftist techniques of debate suppression, while necessary, does not get at the core of the problem, since it’s not just the PC left that suppresses debate. It is the whole of our society that suppresses debate.

Further, once a society becomes extremely diverse as ours has done, such suppression of debate follows virtually automatically. If you have almost no Muslims or no Mexicans in your country, then you are free to discuss what you think about Muslims and Mexicans and whether you want to let them in your country as immigrants. But once you’ve let millions of them in, even to discuss the desirability of more such immigration is to attack the worth of the Mexicans and Muslims who are already here. This hang-up silences virtually everyone. This is why, if we are effectively to argue against current policies, whether in immigration or other areas, we must ourselves stand on separate ground from the current liberal order so that we will not be intimidated by it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 17, 2007 06:12 AM | Send

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