If there is one redeeming aspect of his character – if any at all – people seem to like that Donald Trump says what’s on his mind. People who like Trump often say that they like how he speaks. People like candor. I, too, often “think out loud,” just say what’s on my mind in the moment. But, unlike Trump, my candor can get me in trouble. Trump, it seems, is made of Teflon for many voters.
But this commentary is not about Donald Trump. It’s about thought and speech and its context in a free society.
A free society is nothing if it’s not open to thought and speech. Our founding fathers knew it. Everyone at least gives lip service to it. But a dark irony has risen in the name of free speech and thought: The quest for the “open society” leads to tyranny.
I’ve talked about this many times, usually in my rants against libertarians. I’ve argued that selfish individualism and the utilitarian focus on abstract “natural” rights leads ultimately not to freedom but to slavery. Every liberal utilitarian – in other words, libertarians – from French Revolutionaries to John Stuart Mill to Karl Popper to George Soros believes they are defending liberty by revolting against public orthodoxy and embracing an open society. Left-winger George Soros even founded a philanthropic effort called the Open Society Foundations to “help countries make the transition from communism.”
Okay, so let’s get to the heart of my point. Conservative philosopher Willmoore Kendall wrote, “How open can a society be and still remain open at all?” In other words, when does the cult of free speech and thought turn into its own public orthodoxy wherein speech really isn’t free and thoughts are prescribed for everyone?
We’re often critical of political correctness – again, this is what many people like about Donald Trump. He doesn’t seem to be politically correct. But an open society, wherein everyone can say anything at any time, has a dark underbelly. An open society transcends itself and becomes a terror to speech and thought. Though it really isn’t about speech and thought. It’s about the existence of truth and then the establishment of a new orthodoxy of truth.
Here’s an example. Salt Lake City’s new lesbian mayor, Jackie Biskupski, is understandably prideful about gay rights. During this week’s Gay Pride celebration she took to the stage, after raising the rainbow flag over City Hall, and pronounced, “This is OUR city, and this is OUR building, and WE are running this city!”
Now you might recall that the mantra of the gay rights movement centers on equality – freedom for everyone. At least that’s what we were told. In fact, if you go back in time you might recall that the gay community first asked that governments record hate crimes. They said they weren’t looking to pass laws protecting gays and lesbians. They said they just wanted to raise consciousness. Once they got hate crimes legislation, they reversed and said, no, really, we want legal protections. When asking for legal protections, such as antidiscrimination laws, they promised that they weren’t really angling for same-sex marriage. But, when they got antidiscrimination laws across the country, they reversed and said, no, really, we want same-sex marriage. All along they have said they just want one thing when they really want it all, as Mayor Biskupski points out.
And here’s where everything goes dark in this example. The gay rights movement – a movement founded on equality and individualism – now fights against any differing opinions. It will not be happy until everyone agrees, or complies, with its worldview. And this is where the open society leads to tyranny.
A public orthodoxy is that set of customs, traditions and, yes, time-tested truths that make a society what it is. Kendall writes, “Not only can society not avoid having a public orthodoxy; even when it rejects an old orthodoxy in the name of ‘enlightenment,’ ‘progress,’ ‘the pluralist society,’ ‘the open society,’ and the like, it invents, however subtly, a new orthodoxy with which to replace the old one…[Man’s] very political life demands a[n orthodoxy] that involves an at least implicit code of manners and a tacit agreement on the meaning of man within the total economy of existence. Without this political orthodoxy…the state withers; contracts lose their efficacy; the moral bond between citizens is loosened; the State opens itself to enemies from abroad; and [society] sheds the sacral character without which it cannot long endure.”
Liberal utilitarian proponents of the open society seem to oppose all public orthodoxies and then move to establish their own. On the path from the old to the new, the open society inculcates relative morals and values – if everyone is equal, so is every thought and every word. But soon we discover the dark truth. These proponents of the open society don’t really believe in equality. They simply believe what they believe and will use power to destroy anyone who believes differently.
In supporting the French Revolution, Thomas Paine eloquently argued against monarchy. Ultimately, he found how a reasonable protest against bad custom and tradition turned into a reign of terror. That is what’s going on in America today. Whether it is the crude voice of Donald Trump or the militant voice of gay rights or the stifling voice of political correctness, whatever positives exist in those voices soon become the very thing they say they oppose – tyranny over the mind and spirit of the American people.