Monday, April 16, 2007

A Guardian Frontal Assault on the Left's Cherished Philosophy of Relativism?

News Flash: The top eight circles of Hell are under a severe winter weather warning and ice is now forming in the ninth and last circle of Hell as temperatures continue to plummet. Earlier today, a person identifying himself as a spokesman for Satan contacted the Weather Channel and is reported to have asked "W-W-W-hat the hell is g-g-g-oing on up there?"

I never thought that I'd see this one. The UK newspaper The Guardian, often an excellent news source for factual reporting but whose editorial position occupies the very far left of the very far left, invited Julian Baggini, founder and the editor of the Philosophers' Magazine, to take pot shots at relativism and multiculturalism in their opinion pages. And Mr. Baggini does not disappoint, laying the blame on leftist academics and intellectuals for spreading this vacuous philogophy that has the UK and the rest of Europe in its terminal embrace.

I don't usually consider either the Ministry of Defence or the Vatican to be prescient founts of wisdom. But when two such different oracles issue remarkably similar warnings, you have to take notice. Earlier this week it was revealed in this newspaper how the MoD believes that "the trend towards moral relativism and increasingly pragmatic values" was causing more and more people to seek "more rigid belief systems, including religious orthodoxy and doctrinaire political ideologies, such as popularism and Marxism". Flash back to 2004 and you find Pope John Paul II encouraging the then Cardinal Ratzinger to challenge a world "marked by both a widespread relativism and the tendency to a facile pragmaticism" by boldly proclaiming the truth of the church. Ratzinger has been preaching about the dangers of relativism ever since.

Put the two together and you have a worrying prognosis. The clash of civilisations is happening not between Islam and the west, as we are often led to believe, but between pragmatic relativism and dogmatic certainty. On this analysis, it is easy to see liberal democracy not as the crowning achievement of civilisation but a manifestation of a laissez-faire, morally bankrupt modernity. "Relativism appears to be the philosophical foundation of democracy," said Ratzinger in 1996. "Democracy in fact is supposedly built on the basis that no one can presume to know the true way."

It is no surprise that both the MoD and the Pope believe that the beneficiaries of this polarisation will be those offering certitude, since belief in something is almost always preferable to belief in nothing. As Walter put it in the film The Big Lebowski: "Say what you like about the tenets of national socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

How did we get to this dismal Hobson's choice? The finger of blame has to be pointed largely at academics and intellectuals who have been so keen to debunk popular notions of truth that they have created a culture in which the middle ground between shoulder-shrugging relativism and dogmatic fundamentalism has been vacated.

. . . They owe us an apology for failing to either see themselves, or make it clear to others, that in the everyday world we can and must distinguish truth and falsity, right and wrong, even if on close examination these terms do not mean what we thought they did. Science may not be God-like in its objectivity, but it is not just another myth. Moral values must be questioned, but if discrimination against women, homosexuals or ethnic minorities is wrong here, then it is wrong anywhere else in the world. Truth may not be the simple phenomenon we assume it to be, but falsehoods must be challenged.

Unless we can make a convincing case that the choice is not between relativism or dogmatism, more and more people will reject the former and embrace the latter. When they do, those who helped create the impression that modern, secular rationality leaves everything up for grabs in the marketplace of belief will have to take their share of the blame.

Do read the entire article here. This essay comports near perfectly with the one by Victor David Hanson that I posted here.

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