One of the prerogatives of publishing First Amendment News is that I am free to express an editorial opinion from time to time. Thus the one that follows . . . along with some news items, of course. — RKLC
One fact has come into bold relief following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia: Ours is a more a marketplace of ideologies than one of ideas. Let me say it again: Ours is a marketplace of ideologies. In this marketplace ideas do not count for much unless they can be tapped to further some political or religious ideology. So, too, facts are of no moment if they conflict with ideology. Even the constitutional process of governing can be put on hold if it cannot be squared with ideology. And the noble pursuit of truth must take a back seat to ideology. In all of this, conservatives and liberals alike push their respective ideologies into the marketplace. We are, after all, at war — a culture war (or a “kulturkampf” as Justice Scalia tagged in in Romer v. Evans).
→ I D E O L O G Y ←
Say goodbye to John Milton and his claims in Areopagitica (1644): “And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
Farewell to Harold Laski’s hope expressed in Authority in the Modern State (1919): It “is in the clash of ideas that we shall find the means of truth. There is no other safeguard of progress.”
Au revoir to Holmes’s dissent in Abrams: “when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.”
And adios to the “marketplace of ideas,” the one coined by Justice William O. Douglas in his concurrence in United States v. Rumely (1953): “Like the publishers of newspapers, magazines, or books, this publisher bids for the minds of men in the market place of ideas.”
Bunk, all bunk! And why? The answer is because too often we no longer trade in ideas when they conflict with our ideologies; too frequently we no longer concern ourselves with having our thoughts accepted in the competition of the market if those thoughts cannot serve our ideologies; and who, pray tell, gives a Holmesian hoot about truth when it cannot be squared with our ideologies?
Politicians make up facts; they deny truths; they evade tough questions; and they now say anything, no matter how bizarre or hypocritical, to appeal to our ideologies. While Supreme Court Justices are not yet entirely in that league, time and again their rulings in controversial cases cut along ideological lines. In that clash, ideas have value only insofar as they advance this or that ideological end.
So scrap the old Enlightenment ideal; forget the quest for Truth; discard all that Meiklejohnian idealism about free speech and an informed electorate; chuck all that aspirational Brennan-talk about the importance of the “unfettered interchange of ideas” as a way of “bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people”; and dump all that highfalutin free speech theory preached from the pulpits of the legal academy.
Can we speak frankly? Can we talk openly about what we all know privately? Can we bring some realism into the room? If so, perhaps we will stop conflating ideas with ideologies.
Dogmatism is ideology’s calling card. Where ideology reigns supreme, an open mind poses a clear and present danger to its stability. There is no trade in ideas with ideologues, there is only the demand that all opposing views surrender to the preferred creed.
Ideology is akin to groupthink, which is to say it does not involve individual thought. It is more a reaction than a reason, more influenced by opinion than fact, and more beholden to outcomes than premises. An idea is a thought whereas ideology is an orientation. The two are very different. Whereas an idea can be tested, an ideology cannot, if only because its measure is not truth. Ideology cares not about science or logic or history or facts unless they are harnessed in its name. I D E O L O G Y trumps all.
My fear: The idea of our faith in ideas has passed. We have abdicated; we have moved on; today we trade in the marketplace of ideologies — the very place where ideas go to die.
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