Liberalism and the Cult of Personal Opinion
In talking to ordinary people who have embraced Liberalism knowingly or unknowingly, I have found a common belief. The majority seem to have embraced what I call the “cult of personal opinion.” It seems that they have an opinion on everything; an opinion that is more often than not grounded in nothing but their own minds and reinforced by the information that they have received over the television—a very poor source of information. We can contribute some of this thinking to arrogance, and I would have to admit I have found this attitude prominent among males, but I think it goes much deeper. I believe this mindset is rooted in a basic attitude that one has toward knowledge and truth
I believe that this attitude toward knowledge can be traced to the philosophy called Liberalism and two of the principles espoused by that philosophy. The first of these principles is the belief in the autonomy or self-governing of the individual. This principle basically says, that there is no authority outside of the individual that he must submit to. What does this doctrine do to the individual? It causes him to look within for knowledge instead of looking to authorities outside of himself. After all, if the truth is within, why look outside for it? It also instills in the individual a rebellious hubris spirit, which tends to cause him to rebel against anything or anyone that he views to have authority over him. This is especially evident in his attitude toward religion, schools, and government. I believe this is one of the reasons that many young males drop out of school.
Now here is the problem. All of human knowledge is both individual and corporate. All disciplines have a body of knowledge that has been built over a period of time which forms the authority of that discipline. Without this body of knowledge an individual would not have a discipline or an authority to draw on. In fact, even language must have an authority that people can appeal to as a source beyond themselves. We call that authority a dictionary.
But what happens when people begin to question all authority and the individuals became an authority unto themselves? The answer is educational anarchy or the dumbing down of the entire culture. In order for education to take place, there must be a sense of authority (respect) for the body of knowledge that is being studied and submission to that authority. In fact, a case can be made that every discipline that has accepted the Liberal doctrine of the autonomy of the individual has ended in or is on the road to anarchy. In philosophy, it has led to relativism and idealism. In science, it has led to positivism. All of these “isms” represent the denial of true knowledge and rebellion against the authority of true knowledge.
The second doctrine of Liberalism that has infected reason and learning is the doctrine of egalitarianism, which in short is the equality of all men. Before I point out how the Liberal view of this doctrine has corrupted education and learning in general, let me point out that Liberals have no grounds on which to make this claim and in the end have proven that they really do not believe it. Can Liberals rationally demonstrate from nature that all men are equal? No! So, where does this idea come from? It simply is a part of the Liberal faith that they infer as a self-evident truth. But the concept of a self-evident truth sounds more like a religious revelation than a reasonable fact. The truth is that the equality of mankind is a Christian truth that is based on the scriptural doctrine (revelation) that all men are created in the image of God, However, the Christian belief in the equality of men is much different than the liberal one. For the Christian, equality among men is their standing with God and his law.
Liberals have taken their egalitarianism (all are equal) to such an extreme that they have begun to even question parents having authority over their children. Children are now equal to parents. Link this with their questioning of authority, and what do you have? Children who question their parents’ authority and believe that they know more than their parents. But it does not stop there. Those who embrace Liberalism also question the authority of their teachers. The unpinning attitude (a Liberal one) is that children should not be required to learn anything, for this would invalidate their autonomy. They should be left to themselves to learn what they want to learn. There should be no outward force (authority) to compel them to learn. This is the educational system of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one of the fathers of Liberalism. His ideas on education are set forth in his book Emile. Like the majority of true Liberals, he believed educational institutions are a part of the bourgeois that corrupts children rather than teaching them. His disdain for traditional schools and the traditional teacher-student relationship is found in every chapter of his book. Excuse my vulgarity, but he was a nut. If you don’t believe me, listen to what one of his lovers, Sophe d’ Houdetot, said about him. “He was ugly enough to frighten me, and love did not make him more attractive. But he was a pathetic figure, and I treated him with gentleness and kindness. He was an interesting madman.” (My emphasis) It is this madman’s thinking that many Liberal educators hold as the paradigm of the modern education system. It is no wonder that our schools are failing.
But now let us return to the subject of education and equality. The doctrine of egalitarianism, when taken to the extreme, reinforces the questioning and the weakening of the authority of teachers and scholars by putting the student on an equal plane with the teacher. Not only does this diminish the authority of the teacher, but it also diminishes the authority of knowledge itself. If everyone is equal why should I listen to any man? My opinion is as good as anyone else. How many times have you heard in a discussion with people of a lesser degree of knowledge that their opinion was as good as yours? That may be true if we are talking about matters of opinion and not matters of fact. The problem is that Liberalism in its more vulgar form has led people to the place where they cannot discern matters of opinion from matters of fact. For most, everything is a matter of opinion.
If everyone is equal, the scholar’s and the teacher’s knowledge is no better than the students. In fact, maybe we should do away with the teachers altogether and call everyone students. This would surely help the students’ self-esteem and make them feel good and equal to the teacher. They could share their knowledge as equals. We would not want the student to feel inferior to the teachers. We do not want to hurt their self-esteem. Of course, we can avoid this by getting the students together and letting them pool their ignorance (knowledge) and out of ignorance and error will come true knowledge. This is the faith of Liberalism. This is why our culture is filled with “know-it-alls” that know nothing. This is the source of the cult of personal opinion, the fastest-growing religion in our culture.
But even worse is the general dumbing down that all of this is doing to our culture. If the knower is no better off than the ignorant, the question then must be raised–why study? Why study and read factual books? If there is no truth, why seek the truth? The smart thing to do is just question all knowledge and all authority. Questioning and doubting then becomes the goal of education. The perception then becomes that the educated man is not the man who knows the answers through years of study, but rather the one who doubts and raises questions the most. In philosophy, we have a name for these endless questioners and doubters. We call them deconstructionists. If they are brave enough, they may come to a point where they will begin to doubt their doubts. However, most will remain ignorant of their ignorance, for to doubt your doubts can only lead to nihilism. When you believe your doubts, you are no longer a doubter, but rather a believer with a negative faith. You must learn to doubt your doubts before you can be a true doubter. Most men don’t have the courage of doubting their doubts. Doubting your doubts is the very thing Nietzsche chivied his contemporaries for not doing. He inferred that they did not have the courage to face the conclusion of their doubting. He believed that if a man did, he would have to commit suicide or go mad. He chose the latter. Of course, there is another option, which was just too simple for Nietzsche. That is simply, to believe. To believe is to know and to know is to love knowledge and learning.