“Opposing this understanding is modern philosophy which attempts to create a wedge between truth and freedom, as if the demands and limitations that the truth imposes on us as moral human beings somehow limits genuine freedom. Truth does not limit genuine freedom, but it does limit license. For instance, one does not have the “freedom” to murder or steal. Why? Because, principally, doing so is against the truth of the dignity of the human person. No sensible person would argue that genuine freedom has been limited by this truth. In point of fact, we see that legitimate limitation or restriction is required in order for freedom to respect the truth and retain its own value and meaning. If there is no constraint, there is anarchy and a breakdown of civil order. Indeed, any system of justice which seeks to depose the truth can only be described, more or less, as a dictatorship. Seeking to impose arbitrary and artificial criteria to settle conflict in society only leads to more societal conflict since it is not grounded in what is natural to the human being. As history has shown us time and time again, especially in the preceding century, any philosophy which is foreign to the natural moral order is eventually overthrown but only through much pain, suffering and bloodshed. All of these manufactured and arbitrary philosophies, in one sense or another, are also “dictatorships of relativism”. When the line of truth is blurred or outright denied by immoral and vain philosophies or relativism, freedom is blotted out with unspeakable crimes against humanity.”
The Dictatorship of Relativism
by John Pacheco
Although freedom can be a principle good and a human right, it is not, strictly speaking, an end in itself. It is rather a means to an end. Freedom itself, unconstrained by a moral underpinning, is really only a morally neutral ideal. Isolated from context, it is not an inherent human right because, for something to be a genuine human right, it must be foundationally true. The so-called “freedom”, therefore, to seek something which is objectively false cannot be a genuine freedom. Why, for instance, do we have laws which prohibit tort defamation? We have such laws because we value the truth over slander; we value a person’s good reputation over those who would presume to have the “freedom” to slander someone. Even today in our culture, which does not recognize an objective truth in morality, there is still a sense that one does not have the legal freedom to lie if it means real harm has been perpetrated on someone. Without the truth, which is the ultimate end of freedom and its guarantor, freedom can quickly turn into license. The definition of license, of course, is uninhibited freedom without any objective frame of moral reference. A so-called “freedom”, therefore, that builds on a foundation of an objective error or a falsehood, cannot be a human right since error has no rights.
Genuine freedom, on the other hand, is not without a floor or a ceiling; it is not without a boundary; it is not without a restraint. Free speech absolutists who refuse to acknowledge that a moral restraint is required for the right functioning of society are the same people who refuse to recognize the cliff at the end of the road as they step on the gas. But if it is true that genuine freedom can only come by seeking the truth, how does this ideal work in a world which might not know what the truth is? And more importantly, does not this principle open the door for State sponsored censorship where a bureaucrat will decide what is true and therefore what is a freedom and what is not?
To help answer this question, let us return to the previous example about tort defamation. Why do both sides of the current free speech-human rights debate agree on this issue – that one is not free to slander someone else’s reputation? The answer is that they both recognize that in such a situation, the truth can be known: either the person was slandered or he was not. But what about an issue like homosexuality? How do both sides approach this issue? The libertarian free speech side says that a person should be able to exercise his free speech, regardless of its truthfulness. Incredibly, the truth of that speech is relegated to a footnote while the mere exercise of the speech is given a perverted prominence. The human rights bureaucrat, on the other hand, will say that speaking badly against homosexuality tramples on the feelings of homosexuals and therefore should not be permitted. Neither side, however, really cares too much about the truth of the matter. Humans Rights legislation even goes so far as to deny truth as a defense. For such legislation, what is paramount is punishing politically correct emotions, not seeking after the truth. The positions of both sides have the same approach to the truth, regardless of the socio-political matter under discussion. The proponent of free speech will insist on the absolute right to his views, however false they may be, while the human rights campaigner will demand the right to censor politically incorrect opinion, even if it is true. And so while both sides might be diametrically opposed on the question if it is a civil right to cause offense, they are agreed that the truth is not, strictly speaking, required even if they admit an objective truth exists in the first place.
In one sense, both sides are seeking to preserve two goods. But when the truth is removed from the primary objective of both goods, then serious tensions begin to arise and society begins to feel the pain. Unfortunately, for us, the debate thusfar has been framed within a legal fiction which seeks to find a political solution instead of a moral and substantial one. The challenge is not to choose either freedom or the common good. This is a false alternative. The solution is not to pick “either/or” but to realize “both/and”. The current debate is framed in such a way to pose freedom against the common good; to force us to choose one over the other. Why? Because the truth as the end objective is not admitted and so we must settle for one of the two legal fictions. The very mortar that sustains the two pillars of civilization (genuine freedom and authentic common good) is the truth, and its recognition can transform the question from either/or to both/and.
A culture that does not recognize a basic, objective truth will soon descend into two camps who support amoral solutions to the problems of conflict. That is essentially what has transpired in the recent human rights interrogations against Canadians. One side expects to have the “right” to offend while the other side believes in the “right” to not be offended. This may be a simple caricature of the debate, but I submit, it is not too far off from the substance of the issue. If we examine the substance of this debate, therefore, we see, quite clearly, that it revolves around this idea of “offense” – either giving it or taking it.
The current human rights industry, for instance, will essentially find someone guilty if he has breached the offensiveness barometer of one of the designated OAGs (Officially Aggrieved Groups). But “offense” in and of itself cannot be used as a means of adjucating disputes. Otherwise, we arrive at the situation we have now in Canada where our citizens are pronounced “guilty” of having politically incorrect emotions about politically protected groups or ideas and forced to pay vast sums in legal costs and compensation to the aggrieved party. The Human Rights apparatchik has basically reduced the standard of adjudicating disputes from an objective standard to a subjective, arbitrary one. At the philosophical heart of this whole fraudulent system is an assent to a poisonous relativism which Pope Benedict has pardoxically called the “dictatorship of relativism” which threatens to unleash the personal or group bias of those who administer “justice” from any due process or traditional judicial safeguards, and thereby erect a veiled totalitarianism which operates within a decaying democratic system. While this may seem to be an advantageous and agreeable situation for those who now hold the power or wear the ideological crown, thrones can change quickly and those who once sat on the prince’s throne can become the paupers the day after the next election. Once the totalitarian influence has been accepted in principle, sounding the benefits of freedom rings rather hollow, especially if it is coming from a ruling elite which has been subsequently deposed. After all, communities who have experienced the liberal jackboot for years are likely not going to pass up the chance to try on the jackboot themselves and do some squeezing when the time presents itself. That’s just human nature. In the shoe store of totalitarianism, after all, one size fits all.
The Human Rights Industry as it currently exists in Canada operates within the philosophical view of relativism. Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, writing shortly after Pope Benedict’s homily at John Paul II’s funeral, described relativism as “nothing more or less than the deconstruction of all objectivity in our perceptions of reality. Accordingly, there is no real, objective and historical truth, only those notions which each special proponent offers as his own idea of truth.” We know this because grounds on which it bases its decisions are manufactured rights with little or no association with the objective moral order or even natural law itself. That is why this poisonous philosophy not only infects the nation’s star chambers but also the highest levels of our legal system. That’s why the Attorney General’s Office can say:
40. The nature of the remedies that may be imposed under s. 54 have also informed the Supreme Court’s analysis of why truth is not a defence to a complaint under s. 13 of the CHRA. (Source)
Can you imagine running a society on a principle where truth was not a required prerequisite in adjudicating between disputes? Whether that’s in a criminal court, a civil court, a political forum, in family relations or social relations – indeed in every day life, truth is something so basic and fundamental that its abandonment can only lead a society into complete and utter ruin. In fact, the implications of jettisoning the truth for adjudicating disputes shows a very ominous sign for our country. If the truth is no longer the means by which we try to convince our opponents of the validity of our position, then there really is no more need of debate either. The whole idea of discussion and debate is that both sides attempt to get at the truth of an issue. But if searching for that truth has been removed as a necessity, then debate itself has ended too, and so, for that matter, has the need for free speech. What good is free speech if you cannot debate? And what is the point of debate if truth is no longer a requirement for a decision?
The reason why truth has been demoted in cases before the nation’s Star Chambers, of course, is because the very notion of truth being a universal and binding mechanism has been undermined and rejected. If, as Relativism holds, truth is only personal and private with no claims on everyone, everywhere, and everytime, then as the saying goes, “what’s true for you, may not be true for me”. And, if that’s the case, then the whole idea of truth being the ultimate instrument of adjudication becomes meaningless. Truth simple becomes another criteria among many to choose from in making a decision. In fact, it even becomes meaningless because everyone’s “truth” (like multiculturalism) is equally valid where critique and discrimination are not permitted. It is therefore no surprise that an objective truth and the principle means of arriving at it (i.e. discrimination) are both held in the same contempt by our modern culture. If there is a truth, you need to distinguish and set it apart from false claims, but you can only do that through debate, critique, and yes, (oh the horror!) discrimination. In seeking therefore to find a criteria for adjudicating disputes now that the truth has been deposed from its rightful central role, it is not difficult to see how arbitrary and reckless the star chambers have become. If truth is not a defense, as our Attorney General insists, then it is not required as an “offense” either. In this arena, a society is therefore reduced to being the plaything of capricious “judges” who base their arbitrary decisions on arbitrary judicial principles. And if that’s the case, we are reduced to what Pope Benedict calls the “dictatorship of relativism”.
Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. (Source)
This paradoxical phrase “dictatorship of relativism” is highly significant. It sounds somewhat strange, though. How can something which does not seek to impose the “truth” be a “dictatorship”. If “everything goes”, then isn’t that the opposite of a dictatorship?
No, it’s not.
Whether a society bases its means of adjudication on some objective norm like “the truth” or a subjective one like “relativism”, the reality in human interaction is that there will be conflict which needs to be settled. So the question is not, “do we impose?” (as is commonly argued by the Left), but rather “what do we impose”? The recent star chamber fiascos across this country certainly highlight that reality. As we’ve painfully learned, truth is no defense (or offense, for that matter). But if truth can’t used, then something else must be, otherwise our society would quickly devolve into anarchy. In other words, the “imposition” of rules is going to happen one way or another. The only question is: what moral or amoral paradigm will be used? That’s where the whole idea of a dictatorship of relativism comes into play. Something is a dictatorship when it seeks to impose something which does not respect authentic freedom and which posits things about human nature which are untrue. Imposition of some law or principle does not necessarily make it a dictatorship. A society must have imposition of laws, after all, in order to allow it to function. Therefore, the distinguishing element in determining whether something is a dictatorship rests with its truthfulness. There is no such thing therefore as a “dictatorship of truth” because truth in inherently and intricately tied to authentic freedom. A healthy respect for the truth means a harmonious and truly just society where competing goods like freedom of speech and the common good are not set in opposition to one another but are both acknowledged for their contributions to civilization. It provides the boundary to keep out the horrors of human sin which destroys a culture.
Opposing this understanding is modern philosophy which attempts to create a wedge between truth and freedom, as if the demands and limitations that the truth imposes on us as moral human beings somehow limits genuine freedom. Truth does not limit genuine freedom, but it does limit license. For instance, one does not have the “freedom” to murder or steal. Why? Because, principally, doing so is against the truth of the dignity of the human person. No sensible person would argue that genuine freedom has been limited by this truth. In point of fact, we see that legitimate limitation or restriction is required in order for freedom to respect the truth and retain its own value and meaning. If there is no constraint, there is anarchy and a breakdown of civil order. Indeed, any system of justice which seeks to depose the truth can only be described, more or less, as a dictatorship. Seeking to impose arbitrary and artificial criteria to settle conflict in society only leads to more societal conflict since it is not grounded in what is natural to the human being. As history has shown us time and time again, especially in the preceding century, any philosophy which is foreign to the natural moral order is eventually overthrown but only through much pain, suffering and bloodshed. All of these manufactured and arbitrary philosophies, in one sense or another, are also “dictatorships of relativism”. When the line of truth is blurred or outright denied by immoral and vain philosophies or relativism, freedom is blotted out with unspeakable crimes against humanity.
In his monumental encyclical letter, Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”), John Paul II masterfully summarizes the plight of the modern misconception of freedom and its relation to the truth. Here are some excerpts from his letter which highlight some of the points discussed above:
32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.
As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.
These different notions are at the origin of currents of thought which posit a radical opposition between moral law and conscience, and between nature and freedom.
34. “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”. The question of morality, to which Christ provides the answer, cannot prescind from the issue of freedom. Indeed, it considers that issue central, for there can be no morality without freedom: “It is only in freedom that man can turn to what is good”. But what sort of freedom? The Council, considering our contemporaries who “highly regard” freedom and “assiduously pursue” it, but who “often cultivate it in wrong ways as a licence to do anything they please, even evil”, speaks of “genuine” freedom: “Genuine freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man. For God willed to leave man “in the power of his own counsel” (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God”. Although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully put it: “Conscience has rights because it has duties”.
Certain tendencies in contemporary moral theology, under the influence of the currents of subjectivism and individualism just mentioned, involve novel interpretations of the relationship of freedom to the moral law, human nature and conscience, and propose novel criteria for the moral evaluation of acts. Despite their variety, these tendencies are at one in lessening or even denying the dependence of freedom on truth.
42. Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity. This is clearly stated by the Council: “Human dignity requires man to act through conscious and free choice, as motivated and prompted personally from within, and not through blind internal impulse or merely external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when he frees himself from all subservience to his feelings, and in a free choice of the good, pursues his own end by effectively and assiduously marshalling the appropriate means”.
84. The fundamental question which the moral theories mentioned above pose in a particularly forceful way is that of the relationship of man’s freedom to God’s law; it is ultimately the question of the relationship between freedom and truth.
According to Christian faith and the Church’s teaching, “only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to do the Truth”.
A comparison between the Church’s teaching and today’s social and cultural situation immediately makes clear the urgent need for the Church herself to develop an intense pastoral effort precisely with regard to this fundamental question. “This essential bond between Truth, the Good and Freedom has been largely lost sight of by present-day culture. As a result, helping man to rediscover it represents nowadays one of the specific requirements of the Church’s mission, for the salvation of the world. Pilate’s question: “What is truth” reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going. Hence we not infrequently witness the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self-destruction. According to some, it appears that one no longer need acknowledge the enduring absoluteness of any moral value. All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person; the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life. Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil. This relativism becomes, in the field of theology, a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with the moral law. Concrete situations are unfavourably contrasted with the precepts of the moral law, nor is it any longer maintained that, when all is said and done, the law of God is always the one true good of man”.
And so we see, quite clearly, that freedom – yes, even freedom of speech – is not something to be pursued for its own end, but rather only as a means to an end which is the good, the truth….God. Speech does indeed lead to incredible destruction. The destructive ideologies of Nazism and Communism of the past century did not spread through osmosis. They spread through speech. It is not credible for us as freespeechers to say, therefore, that speech does not have the potential for incredible evil. It does. However, it is not the ‘free speech’ per se that is the problem but the corruption of the moral sense which uses free speech to advance its terror. To blame free speech for the problems of “hatred” is not much different than the liberal socialist who thinks by “banning guns” he is going to be successful in banning the crime that comes along with it. Such a moral reduction, of course, is really an abdication of courage in facing the real problem which is the corruption of society’s moral fabric. Laws banning guns and free speech seek to wrongly address the form instead of the substance of the problem. The reason why liberals are quick to jump to legislating against guns and free speech is that it’s comparatively easier to ban both (or put severe restrictions thereon) instead of dealing with why conflict is happening in the first place. In the case of violent gun crime, for instance, no liberal wants to say that family breakdown and a fatherless society are major causes of such crime because his recent divorce has helped precipitate the situation. But he would much rather avoid personal culpability, wave his hands in the air, and whelp about the need for more laws to “protect society from guns”. It never occurs to him that the problem with the drunk driver is not the car but the drunk himself.
At the end of the day, neither freedom nor an appeal to the common good will save our civilization if both of these ideals are devoid of the search and moral adherence to the truth. In itself, free speech and measures to restrict it via the common good are neutral ideals in themselves which have the capacity to redeem but also to destroy. Truth alone, not cheap legal fictions, will save us in the end. And the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can stop wasting time talking past one another with our legal fictions, get on with genuinely searching for the truth, and build up society once again.