Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Relativism (continued)


John Lloyd ( "Fundamentalist Differences", FT Magazine, 30 Apr) notes that 'the independent news media [...] cannot live in other than a relativist world. If they give up relativism - the clash of opinions, the sway to and fro of democratic sentiment, the right to tear down authority - they give up their independence and their freedom.'   Commenting on the fact that there were no questions at the end of a meeting the new pope had with journalists, he says, 'After all, what questions could there be, when all is known?' 

What of Leo Strauss, reputed father of the neo-conservatives, and his critique of  'relativism'? Daniel Tanguay gives some details of his relations with Zionism (in French, extracts here. This was also reviewed by the NYRB - subscription only, I have not read this.) Paul Wolfowitz (and Richard Perle and William Kristol) was taught in the 1960's by Allan Bloom, a disciple of  Strauss, according to one French account. There they would have learnt that the Enlightenment (les Lumières)
ont produit de manière quasi nécessaire l'historicisme et le relativisme, c'est-à-dire le refus d'admettre l'existence d'un Bien supérieur... le relativisme a eu pour conséquence extrême la théorie de la convergence entre les Etats-Unis et l'Union soviétique, très en vogue dans les années 1960-1970. Elle aboutissait à reconnaître à la limite une équivalence morale entre la démocratie américaine et le communisme soviétique. Or, pour Leo Strauss, il existe des bons et des mauvais régimes;
(Alain Frachon et Daniel Vernet 'Le stratège et le philosophe', Le Monde, 15.04.03)
As noted previously, 'moral equivalence' is in itself a form of absolutism: from the pacifist doctrine of Alex Comfort that Orwell was combatting in the essay cited - that violence is absolutely wrong always - through to its cynical perversion by the likes of Galloway.

'Relativism' is a term used more to confuse than clarify - for the Church to make a veiled attack on the values of the Enlightenment (religious toleration and so on) and the freedom of expression and democracy that it eventually accepted in the 20th century.

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