by Cameron Dominy, TFF Summer Intern Charleston Southern University
Modern American Liberalism has essentially been constructed out of the teachings of two English, Enlightenment Era political philosophers. Both Jeremy Bentham and his pupil, John Stuart Mill, contributed substantially to the ideological base that created contemporary progressive thought. Within the community of the intellectual left, both men’s accomplishments are revered, their books studied, and their paradigms supposedly replicated. The mass of the American liberals however, have moved so far away from the contentions of Bentham and Mill that realistically, it is difficult to see any significant connection between the two sets of ideals. While modern liberals claim to still believe that truth and morality are essentially relative, and largely found in the cumulative good of society, they have lost the crucial, intellectual openness required for the creation of these philosophies. American liberalism's assertion regarding humanity's core goodness, coupled with it’s seething distaste for open intellectualism, has warped it beyond all recognition from what it once was. It is a debilitated shell of its former self.
Supposedly still at the center of the modern liberal paradigm is the belief that morality, and consequently truth, are relative. Morality, in the mind of the modern liberal, is loosely based in pleasure, as well as overall societal good. As summarized by Bentham himself, “There is no taste which deserves the epithet good, unless it be the taste for such employments which, to the pleasure actually produced by them, conjoin some contingent or future utility: there is no taste which deserves to be characterized as bad, unless it be a taste for some occupation which has mischievous tendency.” Paired with this thought, there was always a following understanding of the necessity to scrutinize what society deemed as truthful and beneficial. No topic was beyond reproach for the true liberal, nothing was unexaminable. Mill even contended that this debate was essential in the liberal society. In his masterpiece On Liberty, he assured that when topics are argued, “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Yet today in America, the cries of “bigotry” from our own political left seek to drown out thoughtful discussion. Constant insistence that debate has ended attempts to fervently silence opposition. We, as a society, have landed rather far from the wide open mental roots of philosophical liberalism. And why is that? Have left leaning citizens simply gained power too quickly to be bothered by it, or do they honestly not understand the implications of these actions? The unfortunate reality is that many Liberal Americans have divorced themselves entirely from the traditional liberal paradigm. They have unknowingly acquired a belief in their own absolute truth, and as a consequence can no longer insist upon internal good of humankind.
As mentioned before, a main facet of a philosophically liberal society is the ability to question all ideas, all structures, and all established norms. Idealy, the American liberal would welcome scrutinous debate of the Obergefell v Hodges decision, and even encourage opposition to discuss the issue in the public square. The exact opposite, however, is what has unfolded over the last few weeks throughout our nation, and it is chipping away at the liberal paradigm one instance at a time. The contention that the other side cannot disagree with you, and the marginalization of those who do, not only destroys Mill’s understanding of how society discerns for itself what is correct, but ultimately cements the modern liberal belief in their own absolute truth. If right and wrong were still understood by modern liberals as largely relative, there would be absolutely no issue with discussion of court decisions, no matter how “hot button” the topic. But to insist that one side be the only group allowed to voice their opinion, and that the other must be ostracized, is to claim that the side allowed to speak must be the truth. The only way a true philosophical liberal can justify merely one portion of a debate being heard is a complete admission of the absolute, infinite truth being spoken by the other side. To quiet your opposition is to insist that you must be wholly, totally, and entirely correct your standing; a contention that Bentham and Mill roll over in their graves at. American liberals have embraced the conservative concept of absolute truth. The fact that it is their truth makes the assertion no different.
Consequently, the contradictory nature of the “truth is subjective, and humans are generally good” paradigm is easily visible through these fairly hypocritical actions. Logically, if you believe that truth is subjective, and simply based upon the societal understanding of pleasure, then your ultimate, verifiable truth is the recognition of that supposed fact. It naturally follows that all actions that assert this ultimate truth of subjectiveness are intrinsically right, and all actions do the opposite are obviously wrong. In short, because the morality is based in subjectivity, one can only define what is correct as what promotes the idea of subjective truth. As stated previously, what has been established over the past few weeks is that the modern American liberal has been spending a great deal of time and energy attempting to shut down discussion, which, from the perspective of the liberal paradigm, is an insistence on their truth being the absolute truth. To intentionally end debate is therefore asserting that truth is not subjective, which ironically is the exact opposite of the only verifiable “good”, as explained in liberal philosophy. Closing off discussion is the ultimate sin, if you will, in direct contradiction to the “right” of subjective truth. This makes the actions of certain Liberal Americans essentially the one thing that can be insisted upon as “wrong” by their own definition, and yet there is a continual assertion of the good of humanity despite their personal “wrongdoing.”
To continue, one of two scenarios must be the case. Either the Liberals who don’t follow their own understanding of right and wrong are “bad” and the rest of humanity is “good” at their core, just as progressives insist in their paradigm. Or, all of humanity is intrinsically bad, it isn’t just those who don’t adhere to their own definition of right and wrong. I have no wish to pin the sins of humanity on Liberal America, so my understanding is that the second scenario is the more fitting of the two.
As the recent landmark Supreme Court decisions have poured in, we have watched an intentional, purposeful attempt to end debate of controversial issues. On a deeper level though, there has been an absolute destruction of the traditional liberal paradigm. The contradictory actions of the masses are beginning to stick out. Liberals, take note: your philosophy is being butchered by your own ranks.