My Philosophy Bookshelf(top)

It is a regular habit, even among people who should know better, to call a person an insulting name rather than answering that person’s argument for a position. Terms such as “hater,” “racist,” or “sexist” are tossed out carelessly by the radical left to attack those who hold positions with which the left disagrees. Given the damage such false labels can cause, the radical left should avoid slandering people. But since it lacks clear argumentation for its positions it resorts to slander and insults in an attempt to bully conservatives into capitulating. This is especially true on social issues such as abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and sexual ethics.

In behaving this way the radical left is behaving like a character in Plato’s REPUBLIC, a young Sophist named Thrasymachus. The context is a discussion over the nature of justice. Thrasymachus believes justice is simply power–the power of the strong over the weak, and that whatever the strong calls “justice” really is justice. When Thrasymachus enters the conversation, he behaves consistently with his principles, approaching Socrates and his party aggressively, engaging in name-calling, and making it difficult for Socrates to get a word in edgewise. Socrates corrected Thrasymachus on his bullying, though Thrasymachus never yielded to Socrates or changed his own position.

Both radical-Marxist influenced academics and hot-headed “lay radicals” share Thrasymachus’ view of justice–that justice is a matter of power. They tend to interpret power in terms of identity politics, focusing on the power of selected races, classes, gender, and sexual orientation. The rest of us, according to the radicals, had better go along or else. While these Marxists might not go as far as Mao’s “revolution at the barrel of a gun,” they have no problem ruining careers or reputations with spurious charges. Often this tactic does not work, but when it does, the results can be disastrous. I know personally of a faculty member who was fired for defending, at a faculty meeting, the teaching of Western culture. Thankfully, things worked out for him–he got another job and compensation for violation of academic freedom–but he should not have been fired in the first place. I have heard of several other conservative academics–and these are not raving Fundamentalists–who were fired because of the “political incorrectness” of their conservative positions. This is the politics of the bully, of the sad soul who has no self-esteem and no support for what he believes, so he lashes out at those he perceives to be weaker. The people I know personally who have those tendencies differ little personality-wise from dogmatic Fundamentalists of the Christian or Muslim stripe.

The problem is not only with the slander and harm that those who follow Thrasymachus’ methods cause. Another problem is that such individuals destroy the opportunity for rational discourse, an imperative in a democratic society. There is an irony here–in the name of liberalism and democracy they attack both by their actions. They are the true weak people–too weak to be able to argue for their positions reasonably. Like all bullies, they are cowards. Those who oppose them must stop them in their tracks before they cause harm instead of doing damage-control after a person has been harmed. Just as a child needs to stand up to a bully threatening to beat him up, conservatives and true liberals should stand against the followers of Thrasymachus when they threaten freedom, academic and otherwise.