Rebellion and Liberal Conscience
by Michael Jacques (e-mail: MJacques@liberator.net) [January 4th, 2003]
Arthur Schopenhauer, the 19th century philosopher, said that “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Examples of such truths are all too easy to find. Many of them that we are aware of originate in conservative politics and especially the Church, specifically in Western society.
Reflecting upon Schopenhauer’s quote, I immediately think of two instances upon which the bulk of Western society failed miserably in the handling of the truth; the first is an intellectual failing in relation to science. Galileo’s ideas about the universe at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution were first dismissed as being impossible. Upon review, however, the priests and aristocrats feared the worldview that Galileo’s universe was beginning to force upon them.
“All new truths come in some form of rebellion, but it is the conscience of the liberal, who must fight for what he feels is self-evident, that assures that those truths can be accessed by society even if it is a society that can exist only in the future.”
The metaphysics proposed by Plato and Aristotle established a hierarchical worldview that allowed for human beings to structure their societies in the same fashion, based on power, order, and control. With the new science, such security was gone. Galileo, like so many others, was processed by the machine: placed under house arrest until the end of his life, he received a formal apology from the Catholic Church only in the past decade, hundreds of years after his death. The Inquisition, views on the Holocaust and evolution, and the Salem witch trials are all examples of religion’s repression and insistence on stupidity.
The United States, for the record, is the main perpetrator of another historical genocide of truth. (I do not intend to discredit particularly the policies of the United States, I merely tend to demonstrate that in our flag-waving nation mistakes have been and will be made.) The practice of slavery, which lasted in our country for hundreds of years, remained unquestioned until the 18th century. Abolition, like the heliocentric view, seemed impossible, but after years of death and “violent opposition” the freedom of all men began to seem justifiable. The new answers, it seems, are never easier than the old.
Such a void in the mind of the public and its government is so frequently the effect of poor education, uncritical thinking, and a complete lack of creativity. (These, of course, are intimately related.) Education is a cure for these ills, but it is also the responsibility of the educated to fight for the freedom of ideas and new truths. Historically, liberals have survived on the fringes of society while working to reform and improve its conditions. We are resisted by so many because a majority of people are impossibly afraid of what change could mean for them. The fight is likely never to end.
Just this year, when he sued over the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, Michael Newdow fought for a truth that he finds self-evident, that religion has no place in public life and political rhetoric. While the founders of our country may have felt somewhat the truth of this sentiment, our contemporary America does not. The 9th Circuit’s ruling was immediately dismissed by politicians of both parties, many of them with college degrees and supposedly tolerant, as plainly ridiculous.
Unlike the majority of my fellow Americans, I don’t feel that allegiance requires that I’m a monotheist. The issue of God has been questioned by many thinkers, as were the old science and slavery, but it has yet to be opposed violently. While I hope the struggle remains free, nonviolent, and intellectual, it is my sincerest hope that the fight for the rights of atheists will be fought soon in this country and abroad. All new truths come in some form of rebellion, but it is the conscience of the liberal, who must fight for what he feels is self-evident, that assures that those truths can be accessed by society even if it is a society that can exist only in the future.
Resources and Avenues for Further Study
Stanford Encyclopedea: Liberal Philosophy Google News Search: Pledge of Allegiance
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