Opposition to “change” for the sake of change, and to “change” as goalless indefinite regress, which is what the vaunted “progress” really is, will likely take the name of Conservatism, the very label that Voegelin wanted not to descend on him as the sign of his political identity. Voegelin knew that words, like ideas, have consequences. Under this admonition, a number of cautionary remarks can be made about the word “Conservatism” and what it implies. For one thing, as soon as one posits Conservatism, one has created an inevitable verbal artifact – Conservatism versus Liberalism – that is structurally Manichaean. This should give pause. Manichaean, dualistic structures are a characteristic Gnostic appurtenance, which philosophers should avoid. It would be useful at this point to recall the earlier thesis that the opposition to ideological doctrine cannot be another ideological doctrine, for that would be ideological rivalry without meaning rather than engagement in debate for the sake of truth. It would be other than the dignified quest, as, to use Voegelin’s essay-title, “In Search of the Ground.”
There should be a good deal more clear articulation of the fact that the deconstructors of society have doctrines, false doctrines galore, and that we, by contrast, have an interest in truth, to the objectivity of which we remain open. Cultic doctrines kill freedom; they demand its immolation in the sacrificial flames of their causes. Truth and free will – truth and freedom – by contrast require and nourish one another. We must vigorously remind our friends and neighbors of these facts.
The liberal feigns a willingness to let anyone and everyone speak, and considers this a sign of respect for them as persons.
This logic is carried to ridiculous extremes: schoolchildren encouraged to give their opinion on the social issues of the day, and comment threads on many websites reduced to a chaotic babble of voices each trying to shout louder than the others.
We, on the other hand, can recognize that not everyone has earned the right to be heard, because we have respect for the truth.
Thus, when we meet those who -- like the "Sons of Thrasymachus" I have mentioned before -- are obviously not interested in the pursuit of truth but only in asserting and enlarging their own power, we are under no obligation to listen to them or to engage them in dialogue.
At the same time, we can and should be willing to yield the floor to what the Quakers would call our weighty friends: those who have already demonstrated their capacity for sound judgment, wisdom, and insight.
Bertonneau's essay is itself an example of the related and useful role of the curator, who helps us recognize the weighty friends among us whom we might otherwise overlook. He not only calls our attention to Voegelin and Girard, he shows us their relevance to our context and suggests how we ought to interpret them.
Whether he works in the field of philosophy, fine arts, music, etc., a good curator is a matchmaker, who introduces us to others whose works it will be most beneficial for us to study.
Finding a good curator can be almost as important to our education as finding those friends to whom he introduces us.
When I say that we have no obligation to dialogue with those who show no interest in the pursuit of truth, I do not mean to say that we should not bother to defend ourselves against their encroachments.
Bill Vallicella has a post today on the necessity for that kind of defense.
I agree with what Vallicella says, but would quibble with his closing remarks which seem to suggest that the goal is to "command the respect of [our] opponents."
I don't think that goal is achievable.
Here again, the principles of effective rhetoric apply, and one of them is correct identification of our target audience. When we defend ourselves against what Bertonneau calls "the deconstructors of society", we shouldn't think of them as our audience, because they're not likely to give us a fair hearing anyway. Our audience should be those who are still open to the truth, the undecided, and those on our side who are wavering or need to better understand what we're up against.