Once upon a time, it was quite rare to see Leftism naked; laid bare for all to see. Soviets once cloaked themselves in moral supremacy and the imperative to spread the workers’ paradise to the world. Democrats explained that poverty must be eliminated, healthcare given freely to all, and bigotry of all forms erased from the Earth. Leftism prided itself upon its perceived moral beauty. Always they progressed to the utopia, the heaven on Earth viewed as their due, since the divine was quite silly and could not possibly exist.
Leftists could not bring themselves to admit their real end goal, not publicly, and perhaps not even consciously. For some, defense of Socialism was so deep, so ardent and passionate, that one could scarcely disbelieve their sincerity. Yet even the most sincere may lie to himself.
Recently, the mask has slipped. Curled around the edges, it falls away. Beauty, fairness, diversity, and morality… these fade away, revealing the ugliness beneath. We’ve seen it often enough in their resistance to Donald Trump. On social media, we have seen the hatred, the disgust, the dismissive disdain in which they hold us. Censors run amok, removing us from any platform where they have sufficient control. We are disinvited, our accounts are banned or deleted, our employers harassed, and our names tarnished.
Today, however, the mask slips a little further. The title lays it out, though we must fisk this mess too: You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to.
Let the weight of this statement sink in. For the unspoken, but obvious, corollary is that since you do not have a right to belief, you can be compelled by force to exchange your belief for that of another. And who is to do the forcing? That’s the eternal question. Certainly the author does not imply that any Rightist will have a say in this.
Do we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe? This supposed right is often claimed as the last resort of the wilfully ignorant, the person who is cornered by evidence and mounting opinion: ‘I believe climate change is a hoax whatever anyone else says, and I have a right to believe it!’ But is there such a right?
Yes. There is. You may believe in the good and the silly, the smart and the stupid. You may believe in the true and the false. Belief is a choice, and if you do not have choice of belief, you do not have freedom. You must instead believe whatever those in power say you should believe, at the point of a gun, whether true or false.
Beliefs are factive: to believe is to take to be true. It would be absurd, as the analytic philosopher G E Moore observed in the 1940s, to say: ‘It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.’ Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant. Among likely candidates: beliefs that are sexist, racist or homophobic; the belief that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; the belief that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; the belief that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. If we find these morally wrong, we condemn not only the potential acts that spring from such beliefs, but the content of the belief itself, the act of believing it, and thus the believer.
Who is the “we” in this? Anyway, yes, a man may condemn a belief, and condemn even the believer. This does not mean the believer cannot be permitted his belief. Only when belief becomes action must we consider doing something about it. And then, we limit this to a violation of natural rights. You don’t have the right to murder me. You may wish to murder me all day. You may even believe it to be right, which most of us would find ‘repugnant.’ But until you attempt to act on this belief, that is a matter between you and God.
This is a core difference between Leftism and Rightism. Leftism believes thought must be regulated, controlled. It believes that man may be perfected by the State, by the combined ‘wisdom’ of the mob, concentrated in the hands of the very powerful. It’s profoundly sickening. And though, as I have said, every man may be permitted his belief, if there is any belief I would wish to see destroyed, it is that one. A common aphorism is that more men have been killed in the name of God than any other reason. That is a fallacy. Such that God has been used as a ‘reason’ for murder, it is most often only an excuse, a flimsy rationale for something else the murderer really wants.
And most often, that desire is for power. The power to shape belief is among the greatest.
In any complex society, one has to rely on the testimony of reliable sources, expert judgment and the best available evidence.
Who is to do the judging? The experts? The author naturally believes that his beliefs are correct, and thus he is permitted to impose them on others. Remember that Tom Nichols often makes similar claims, that because an expert is judged by his peers to be an expert, and the hoi polloi are by nature dumber and/or less experienced than said expert, they must accept the expert’s word without making a fuss or challenging him. We are not permitted to question the expert’s honesty, or competency, or his pronouncements because he is judged better than us. Stay in your place.
In exploring the varieties of religious experience, James would remind us that the ‘right to believe’ can establish a climate of religious tolerance. Those religions that define themselves by required beliefs (creeds) have engaged in repression, torture and countless wars against non-believers that can cease only with recognition of a mutual ‘right to believe’. Yet, even in this context, extremely intolerant beliefs cannot be tolerated. Rights have limits and carry responsibilities.
Tolerance of intolerance cannot be permitted? Well then, this entire article is, in effect, a form of intolerance toward beliefs deemed unfit by the author and his peers. In effect, it is naked intolerance. Should we then be forced to tolerate it? This is all circular reasoning and mental masturbation. The essence of human experience can, in my belief, be distilled down to a measure of quid pro quo. If you are willing to tolerate me, and respect my rights, I am likewise willing to do the same with you. On the other hand, if you insist that I have no right to my belief and should be forced to give it up, why should I concede your rights to your own?
Unfortunately, many people today seem to take great licence with the right to believe, flouting their responsibility. The wilful ignorance and false knowledge that are commonly defended by the assertion ‘I have a right to my belief’ do not meet James’s requirements. Consider those who believe that the lunar landings or the Sandy Hook school shooting were unreal, government-created dramas; that Barack Obama is Muslim; that the Earth is flat; or that climate change is a hoax. In such cases, the right to believe is proclaimed as a negative right; that is, its intent is to foreclose dialogue, to deflect all challenges; to enjoin others from interfering with one’s belief-commitment. The mind is closed, not open for learning. They might be ‘true believers’, but they are not believers in the truth.
Note some of the comparisons the author makes here. He places “Obama is Muslim” in the same category as denying the lunar landings took place. He places climate change skepticism in the same category as flat Earthers. That is a rhetorical sleight of hand. False equivalency. Furthermore, the point of deriding climate change ‘deniers’ is to deflect challenge, the very practice the author claims to loathe. He does not enjoy having his beliefs challenged, and he projects this dislike upon his ideological opponents.
Believing, like willing, seems fundamental to autonomy, the ultimate ground of one’s freedom. But, as Clifford also remarked: ‘No one man’s belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone.’ Beliefs shape attitudes and motives, guide choices and actions. Believing and knowing are formed within an epistemic community, which also bears their effects. There is an ethic of believing, of acquiring, sustaining, and relinquishing beliefs – and that ethic both generates and limits our right to believe. If some beliefs are false, or morally repugnant, or irresponsible, some beliefs are also dangerous. And to those, we have no right.
Ah, who decides truth of belief? An aggressive Atheist might say that I have no right to believe in God. A radical Muslim might say I have no right but to believe in Allah. Both might find the alternatives morally repugnant. Who is granted authority to determine which beliefs I might have a right to? The quote about no man’s belief being a private matter is also revealing. This is the rationale behind Orwellian surveillance schemes. The government must determine what your beliefs are, and then must punish you if they are deemed incorrect. Or, rather, deemed in opposition to whatever those in power desire.
And those beliefs are the ones that are most dangerous… to people like the author, anyway.
The mask has slipped a little more today. The salivating drive toward complete tyranny lies naked beneath.