“Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a “third” ideology).
V.I. Lenin, ‘What Is To Be Done?’: “The Spontaneity of the Masses and the Consciousness of the Social-Democrats” (1901)
‘There can be no talk of an independent ideology’ says Lenin. This is a telling admission about how totalitarians treat the exchange of ideas – not as a competition (with debate and discussion) but rather as a hierarchy of ideas. The ideas of those with political, religious, economic or military power then trump the views of others.
Leftist Totalitarians deal with competing ideas by labelling them. For Lenin those arguing or debating with Socialist ideas were ‘Bourgeois’ or ‘Reactionary’- automatically discounted and devalued as offering a serious alternative. No rebuttal needed. Nazis and other Rightist Totalitarians did (and do) the same – competing ideas are ‘Jewish’ , ‘Un-German’ or ‘Leftist’ and similarly bombed, burned or banned.
In theological debate epithets such as ‘heretic’, ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘liberal’ are launched at opponents like cruise missiles. They produce little in the way of light but certainly generate heat. Ironically these can also be claimed as badges of honour by those labelled, confirming their positions in their own mind by adding a sense of either martyrdom or strengthening of their ‘brand’.
Labelling concepts or ideas is a powerful way of attacking them when you don’t have the power to get rid of them in any other way. In debates with some liberal thinkers ‘Truth’ is often seen as a particularly tempting target. This is because any strong conception of an objective truth outside of ourselves demands people justify their position logically and coherently. Thus writer and thinker Brian McLaren talk about ‘metanarratives’ when discussing ‘truth’ and its uses and abuses. In this system of thought things are seen as no longer ‘true’, they are part of a metanarrative -to be deconstructed and critiqued for political, cultural and historical context. Others use words like ‘abstract truth’: like the introductory booklet to an Emergent Church Seminar:
“Truth—This time will not be a dry, theoretical discourse on abstract truth, but an engagement with the meaning and function of truth in our world” (italics mine)
Adding the word ‘Abstract’ or ‘Propositional’ to make what are talking about into ‘Propositional Truth’ or talking about ‘true truth’ is yet another way of relativizing it. Another way around the idea of a truth to which we are all answerable, to is to talk about ‘objectivity’ and how this is so difficult because there are so many points of view. Tony Jones argues for this:
What Fish says is that objectivity is unattainable. In his excellent book, Is There a Text in this Class?, Fish argues that truth comes to be known in and among and on the basis of “the authority of interpretive communities.” We are subjective human beings, trapped in our own skins and inevitably influenced by the communities in which we find ourselves. And isn’t this what the church is, or at least should be: an authoritative community of interpretation?
Truth left to the whims of the ‘interpretative community’ takes us back to where we began. The reality of this is that, as with any community (as Martin Luther found out) powerful sections of that community can decide what the dominate ideology is. One of the most famous philosophers of the 20th Century, Martin Heidegger, himself believed in the ‘interpretive community’, taking what was happening in Germany in the 1930’s as what the collective consciousness of the community were working out regarding truth and national destiny:
“For what is healthy and what is sick, every people and age gives itself its own law, according to the inner greatness and extension of its existence [seines Daseins]. Now the German people [Volk] are in the process of rediscovering their own essence [sein eigenes Wesen] and making themselves worthy of their great destiny. Adolf Hitler, our great Führer and chancellor, created, through the National Socialist revolution [nationalsozialistische Revolution], a new state by which the people will assure itself anew of the duration and continuity of its history“
Martin Heidegger, address to the Freiburg Institute of Pathological Anatomy, August 1933
Martin Heidegger continues to be a major influence on Western philosophy, although many have conveniently forgotten his national socialist history. They have also forgotten the historical lesson of this cultured and clever man – truth is too valuable a commodity to be relativized, redefined or left to some vague ‘interpretative community’ where the powerful and ruthless can hold sway. When the Nazis took over Germany in the 1930s Philosophers like Heidegger welcomed them and there were too few ‘truth holders’ to make them accountable for their lies.
Truth can be difficult, complex and exasperating, but she is justified by all her children. Solzhenitsyn, with his years wrestling in the Gulag, has earned the last word:
“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes… we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.”