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Nicholas Capaldi: The Collapse of Free Societies

Posted on 06 December 2018

Guest post by Nicholas Capaldi, c0-author of Liberty and Equality in Political Economy

Nicholas Capaldi is Legendre-Soulé Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University, New Orleans. He also serves as Director of the National Center for Business Ethics.

Starting in the 1960s, intellectuals (including most journalists) began accepting the view that all perception is interpretation and then that everything is a matter of interpretation (post-modernism, deconstruction).

It was pointless or obtuseness to ask if that view was true.  

There is no way of avoiding some framework.  We were told that there was always bias, that even the idea of being balanced reflected an interpretive bias.

In itself, this is a profound but relatively harmless insight.

All it requires is that we be aware of our presuppositions.

We can challenge our framework, we can amend our framework, even surrender our framework, but what we cannot do is pretend that we do not have a framework.

We can envisage a society in which there is a plurality of substantive frameworks but in which each and every one of these extant frameworks has within it the resources to agree to the procedural norm of being tolerant of other frameworks.

This shared procedural norm is reflected in how religious toleration was possible (articulated by Milton and Locke and later secularized by J.S. Mill).

That is the society we thought we had in the Anglo-American world (civil association).  There was a whole host of other supplementary procedural norms for conversing in such a society.

All of this changed with the cultural triumph of scientism.

In the scientistic framework, there is one correct or objective framework.  There is also, therefore, a scientific explanation for other pre-scientific frameworks and why people cling to them.

At first glance, this might not appear threatening.

Once we all agree on the scientific facts there will be intellectual and social harmony, and it is the responsibility of universities to discover and teach these facts and the responsibility of the journalists to bring them to the attention of the larger public.

Unfortunately, it did not work out that way.

Some of the professors and even some of the journalists (otherwise bright and articulate) did not go along.

Clearly some people resisted education.

Social scientists then explained why even some intellectuals and journalists could not be educated – they had a really deformed previous framework (racists, homophobic, etc.).

Education and debate did not work with these recalcitrant individuals.  They were not only wrong but they were spreading mischief – specifically the wrong public policy positions.

What these deplorables needed was therapy and correcting. 

Changing a framework was akin to a religious experience or revelation. Debating with them was counter-productive because it gave the false impression that there might be something legitimate about their thinking.

Education had to be indoctrination; anyone who disagreed had to be silenced for the public good.

What should such university-trained journalists do?

First, they should all speak with one voice (the one they heard from the professors). Second, it is their public duty to warn the public that advocates of certain policies were both wrong and dangerous.  They could not do this by debating and refuting the arguments – (a) refutation only works when we share the same framework and, (b) debate gives the appearance of legitimacy to the wholly misguided.

What happens when the deplorable part of the public (the part that does not take The New Yorker Magazine as gospel)     elects people who advocate the wrong policies?

What if they are named—TRUMP?

Again, there cannot be debate or refutation.  First, we must attack the policies by showing the underlying motives of those who advocate such policies (French intellectuals and journalists think reading Marx and Freud are good practice for this) – we do not debate the merits or reasons, rather we identify and attack the motives.

What if even this does not work?

Then, we must fabricate a Platonic-type myth about why the deplorably elected advocates are part of a vast conspiracy.

The public lives in the “cave.”

It is the responsibility of the elite (The Grand Globalist Elite) to fabricate a myth for the supposed public good.

All of this, believe it or not, is based intellectually on the framework of scientism.

It showed up first in sociological positivism, then legal positivism, then legislative positivism, and finally in educational positivism.

What we are witnessing today and particularly in the present Paris disorders is the collapse of four free societies.

Free societies depend upon a long cultural and intellectual history but are subject to both external and internal threats.

In the UK and in France (and to some degree in the US) what we are witnessing is (a) the loss of institutional memory, (b) the substitution of theory and technocracy for knowledge of historical practice, and, (c) the indifference and blindness of financial/political/cultural elites to economic malfunction.

This can all be traced back to the prevailing educational predicament outlined above, which now infests teaching, journalism, the professions and culture.

Free societies need to exercise a judicious policy on the great disparities of wealth and on the question of truth.

If they do not they eventually fail.

 

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