Political Thought in an Age of Conformity

Political Thought in an Age of Conformity
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Ours is an age of intellectual conformity. Perhaps this is true to some extent of all ages, as humans are herding animals, but in our age there are unusual pressures on us to conform to an ideology and to prevent us from having a philosophy.

A philosophy is a way of thinking about the world; it is adopted in freedom, with foundations that transcend our time and place. An ideology is the creation of some class of persons, or their intellectual servants, that aims to restrict expression and to direct our thoughts toward particular ends and conclusions. The goal of philosophy is open-ended: to find truth and make coherent sense of the world around us. The goal of an ideology is to permit some group of persons to acquire or preserve power. Philosophers, who love wisdom because they lack it, assume that we do not have all the answers yet, and the way to find answers is to clarify our thinking. We try to do this by reflecting critically on experience and comparing our ideas to see whether they are mutually consistent. Ideologues already know all the answers. They may pretend their answers are systematically proven or based on science but in practice they accept many mutually contradictory propositions and ignore many empirical realities, because not to do so would undermine their power. They may, for example, believe their power is benevolent, or will someday be benevolent, while in practice it causes immense suffering to those they rule and chiefly benefits themselves.

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