A NONFICTION BOOK BY O.G. ROSE
Belonging Again (Part 9)
Does Tolerance or Humility Better Favor Mechanisms of Knowledge Acquisition?
In regard to modernity, Conyers wrote that ‘[t]he question [now is] how [do] we achieve authentic toleration without merely shifting to another political perspective from which a new kind of intolerance becomes acceptable.’¹ If one didn’t know better, one would be forgiven to think this sentence comes out of Rauch’s book. ‘A very dangerous principle is now being established as a social right,’ Rauch warns, ‘Thou shalt not hurt others with words.’² In the early nineties, long before The Atlantic began publishing articles about the loss of free speech on college campuses — see “The Chilling Effect of Fear at America’s Colleges” by Jonathan R. Cole or “The New Intolerance of Student Activism” by Conor Friedersdorf — the brilliant Jonathan Rauch saw what approached. Rauch warned that soon the pursuit of truth on college campuses would be threatened by efforts to combat bigotry, social justice, and diversity. Rauch does not dispute the goodness of justice and diversity: his concern is what he predicted would be the means by which those ends were achieved and how those means would unintentionally threaten free speech. Rauch admonished that ‘the old principle of the Inquisition is being revived: people who hold wrong and hurtful opinions should be punished for the good of society.’³
Conyers shared Rauch’s concerns and argued toward the end of The Long Truce that this kind of “just censorship” was a direct result of the doctrine of tolerance over the doctrine of humility. Conyers thought this kind of inquisition was to be expected in a society that was more concerned about “acting” than “contemplating,” with “changing the world” versus “understanding the world.” After all, what role does free speech play in a society where all we should do is tolerate as opposed to learn from one another? If anything, free speech would seem to only preserve systems of oppression and waste time (so that people can vent and feel heard — small benefits in the eyes of justice), so it makes sense that free speech and the like would be opposed. Also, as the State grows, there can be a feeling that thinking, philosophizing, and free exchange waste time and potentially lets other people seize power and reshape the world under our feet while we’re busy trying to understand the world (and by the time we do understand it, the people in power have just changed it again). If while we were engaged in free speech, for example, Nazis seized control, free speech contributed to evil. And why do we need to worry about free speech if all that ultimately matters is what the State says (seeing as the State has ultimate authority)? We don’t need space for free exchange; we just need to make sure the State says what the right things — yes?
Conyers claimed that ‘what is characteristic of modernity [is] the shift from the intellect (as a means of understanding the world) to the will (as a means of changing the world).’⁴ In line with the thought of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, will is the prime focus of modernity to Conyers — the will to be who you want to be, to do what you want to do, to become who you want to become, to exercise your will over and against other wills — and ‘the logic of this shift from intellect to will is that we place action and the will to action in a position prior to intellect.’⁵ This shift in mind, we can begin to understand why freedom of speech is under such extreme threat today in the way that Rauch admonishes — why there has been a shift from asking the question “What is justice?” to the movement of “doing justice,” from “What is good?” to “doing good.” Please do not mistake Conyers as saying action isn’t necessary: his concern is the primacy of action over thinking, as opposed to the primacy of thinking before acting. Conyers believed people should ‘come to understand in order to act.’⁶ Without an emphasis on thinking, there is no “checks and balances,” and when this is lost in a society with an ever-growing State that those acting on behalf of justice can tap into and use (and who must necessarily think it is right and just to use), authoritarian tyranny becomes increasingly likely.
‘A no-offense society is a no-knowledge society,’ Rauch warns, and so for him the university that is focused on assuring that students aren’t offended — like the nation committed to the same — is the society unintentionally dedicated to losing knowledge.⁷ If Conyers is correct that true tolerance is humility, and humility requires truth to unify different groups, a “no knowledge” society is precisely the society that cannot experience true tolerance, even if it is “no knowledge” unintentionally and precisely for the purpose of being tolerant. For Rauch, ‘[w]e must take collective action to check prejudice and bigotry, [but] that is all’.⁸ Rauch is deeply concerned about a society that believes words are a form of violence no different than a punch to the face, especially considering that the very process by which knowledge is gained — liberal science — is inherently hurtful; it forces people to test what they believe and find out if it is true or not. ‘To advance knowledge,’ Rauch wrote, ‘we must all sometimes suffer. Worse than that, we must inflict suffering on others.’⁹ A society that stops all suffering in the name of tolerance is a society that won’t advance knowledge, and ironically, if Rauch is correct that ‘[l]iberal science has brought peace,’ that society — which spreads tolerance in the name of peace — will lack serenity.¹⁰
Kindly Inquisitors is a book I believe everyone should read, and here I only wish to touch on the arguments that are much better articulated by Rauch himself in his own work. What I want to focus on is the irony that tolerance, if it opposes liberal science, will be a threat to peace, and yet tolerance, backed by the State, overrides local communities and local authorities precisely for the sake of peace, justice, and preventing “the banality of evil” from manifesting. To avoid this irony, tolerance must not oppose liberal science, but is that possible? Perhaps — I won’t claim here that it isn’t — but it should be noted that it will at the very least come in conflict with liberal science, in the same way that it will inevitably come in conflict with local communities that hold beliefs the State opposes. This is because liberal science doesn’t tolerant beliefs that cannot be translated into knowledge. ‘The truth is that liberal science insists absolutely on freedom of belief and speech, but freedom of knowledge it rejects absolutely.’¹¹ People and their beliefs will be hurt by liberal science: they won’t be tolerated at all. This will lead to conflicts that must occur; tragically, they are the only way knowledge advances. My point is that the doctrine of tolerance and the method of liberal science must necessarily clash (as I think is evident across Western Civilization), as it is inevitable that tolerance conflicts with local authority and community (perhaps leading to backlashes, like Trump victory and Brexit). The doctrine that helps State expansion, which leads to a reduction of the likelihood of Bonhoeffer/Hitler, “the banality of evil,” and WWIII, also seems to be the doctrine that increases the likelihood of instability and conflict within a given nation.
¹Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 226.
²Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 4.
³Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 6.
⁴Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 173.
⁵Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 174.
⁶Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 173.
⁷Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 126.
⁸Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 144.
⁹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 19.
¹⁰Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 77.
¹¹Rauch, Jonathan. Kindly Inquisitors. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback Edition, 1994: 13.