|St. Lawrence Institute|
for the Advancement of Learning
Welcome to the 14th edition of Discourse. In this issue we are pleased to welcome two new writers to our circle: Brian Anderson, of the American Enterprise Institute, and Ian Mason, editor of a new Canadian quarterly, Gravitas. We hope to hear more from them both in the future. Based upon feedback received from our last issue, I know that many readers will also be pleased to see the full version of Hayek's "The Intellectuals & Socialism" reproduced herein. Our many thanks to the University of Chicago Law Review for their gracious permission to do so.
Readers will remember that the last issue of Discourse focused on different aspects of the problem confronting society in the realm of education policy. This present volume does not focus on a single policy issue, but it has a common theme running through it nonetheless, namely the challenge to free thought facing Western Civilization. The battle to establish the freedom to speak our minds and hold to our own convictions has been long and often bloody. Through the ages, various forms of control have been practised, ranging from simple press censorship to attempts at total thought control by the state. While no two cases are precisely the same, the ultimate aim was decidedly similar: the establishment or preservation of a monopoly on the way people see the world, thereby limiting the options available from which to choose in ordering society. While this was often done with the most laudable public purposes in mind, the bottom line in each case was power. The ends to which this power would be put are not important to the present discussion: personal gain or simply intellectual hubris -- believing that one knew what was best for everyone else in society -- have both been major motives for these actions.
In this century, two major political systems sharing this attitude have been seen. And while both Fascism and Communism have been defeated, this underlying philosophical value which supported them still remains, often unchallenged, somtimes even unrecognized for what it is. Perhaps the best prophet of this state of affairs was George Orwell in his novel, 1984. As he later explained to one of his critics:
My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.
It was this grave concern that led Orwell to write 1984, choosing to use his devastatingly satiric pen to point out the very real dangers which faced our civilization. Orwell believed that the society portrayed in 1984 could evolve in Western Civilization; that a world controlled by the "Thought Police," employing weapons such as "Thoughtcrime" and "Double Think," was possible; and that the degradation of language into politicized "New Speak" was likely. 1984 was not simply a satire on the England of 1948 (as some then claimed), but was a nightmare-like spectre which Orwell saw drawing near.
And pondering the modern University alone, one realizes just accurate his predictions were: activists have become the modern equivalent of Thought Police; Professors are cautious about engaging in certain areas of research hoping to thereby avoid accusations of Thoughtcrime by these self-appointed Protectors of Public Morals; and students are coerced into expressing themselves in the New Speak of the times. While not as dramatic nor as effective, similarities can be noted in the world outside of the University, in the actions and policies of the special interest groups which make up the "Politically Correct Movement."
While most readers are probably familiar with the PC Movement, many may not be familiar with its roots in the Deconstructionist ideas of Jacques Derrida et al, and of the influence of the philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidegger upon Deconstructionism. What started as a simple theory of language has spread to many other fields, developing along the way a fundamental concept that all human relations are based upon power (with aggressors and victims in each case) not free association, and that the language we use reflects these relationships. Thus, the importance placed upon "politically correct language" -- the modern counterpart to New Speak -- by the PC Movement, language designed, so its adherents claim, to change the power balance in society to a more "equal" one.
While all this may sound highly abstract and theoretical, it has had very practical implications for civil society. If all relationships are based upon power, then logically one should strive for the maximum amount of power for one's self and friends. If societal values are simply tools used by the ruling class to impose control on the populace, then to the cognoscenti no absolutes exist, and all is permitted. Above all, if language represents dominance in the civil state, one must be ruthless in efforts to eliminate all opposition to one's views. At this point, the reader will start to recognize the theoretical basis for the ideas advocated by this polite, modern form of fascism.
In calling attention to the problems posed by the attitudes represented by the PC Movement and others like it, Discourse is not breaking new ground. Many voices have been raised against these attitudes in the past, and we trust will continue to do so in the future. And yet we trust that this issue will provide fruitful ground for contemplation of the problem. The essay by Hayek is a seminal study of how ideas grow in society in general, and of how Socialist values have come to replace Classical Liberal values in particular. It is perhaps relevant to note here that Deconstructionism and its political offshoots -- like Marxism before it -- view society as composed of collectivities or groups. If one believes that a free society can only be based upon the recognition of the centrality of the Individual in both theory and practice, then Hayek's insights into what must be done to reverse the process is particularly of interest to those wishing to take some form of concrete action themselves.
In his reflections on James Q. Wilson's book, The Moral Sense, Brian Anderson reminds us that the nihilistic relativism advocated by the Deconstructionists and their modern PC followers is dead wrong, and that the animal, man, is innately moral. While there may not be a universal set of fixed rules that one may point to, there are a series of dispositions -- sympathy, fairness, self-control, duty, -- that appear in all known forms of human society, leading to the conclusion that some form of moral code has been important for the evolution of civil society, and is probably vital to its preservation as well. While the particular values of Western Judeo-Christian culture may not be necessarily universal nor perfect, hedonistic relativism is not an adequate replacement.
By juxtaposing Hellenic civilization with the modern world, Ian Mason provides a timely reminder of what cultural and moral relativism can lead to. The inherent tribalism of the whole PC movement, its removal of the centrality of the individual in society and its replacement with the "group" to which one belongs, threatens the very fabric which holds civil society together. Formerly, the various mediating institutions in society -- family, school, neighbourhood, church -- created a web of interconnectivity which tied individuals to one another, thereby providing a type of glue which kept everything together and allowed for peaceful coexistence. By adopting a position which states that all relations are based upon power, and that effectively no win-win form of free association can exist, they posit a society of never ending conflict amongst increasingly isolated tribes, a sort of madly spinning merry-go-round which will destroy itself with its own centrifugal force.
This issue of Discourse concludes with selected passages from John Milton's The Areopagitica. They remind us that the battles we are engaged in today are not new, and have in fact been waged many times in the past. The intolerance spread by fanatics is a danger which must be constantly guarded against, whether these are Puritans wishing to control the press for religious reasons or more modern fanatics wishing to dictate views for political ones. I can find no better words to end this introduction to Discourse 14 than Milton's own:
Give me the freedom to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.
Sid Parkinson, Editor, Discourse