Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
Some students at Providence College today occupied the Provost's Office protesting the blog writings of one of the professors at PC. The professor, Anthony Esolen, has written some blog posts for Crisis magazine in which he laments cultural diversity and defends "the Truth of the Catholic Church."
I am addressing this issue in this blog for two reasons: first, because tolerance is the foundation of discovering the truth and, second, because one needs to show how intolerable views that are simply wrong, as Tony Esolen's are, ought to be treated--that is, logically and passionately.
In 1965, Herbert Marcuse contributed an essay to the volume "A Critique of Pure Tolerance," in which he argues that the Left ought not tolerate various views, especially fascist views. His argument is that the administered society represses the reasoning powers of citizens. Further, as Alex Callinicos notes, Marcuse does not trust in the ability of everyday citizens to think for themselves.
Alasdair MacIntyre's response is critical: either we trust in people's thinking ability or we end up being totalitarian like Stalin, who imposed a particular regime upon people. Grounded in Marxian theory, MacIntyre emphasizes Marx's point that the revolution must be brought about by the proletariat.
Our good friend, Paulo Freire, stresses the same point. A revolution that is imposed by leaders on the people does not liberate. Rather, it recreates the forms of oppression.
Liberation requires tolerance, tolerance based in trust. Further, to eliminate someone from debate, to prevent them from engaging in conversation, is to, not only silence them, but to silence ourselves. J. S. Mill has the best insight on this point: none of us have the whole truth, and even those who believe mostly false things have some element of the truth. Esolen should appreciate this point because it comes from St. Augustine.
Of course, in denouncing cultural diversity, Tony Esolen is merely trying to silence others. He does so by pretending that others have nothing valuable to share with us that the "West" does not already have, by contending that TRUTH comes from the Roman Catholic Church and cannot be doubted, and by various slights of hand, shadows, and mirrors. And might I add, very, very bad theology.
Let's take one example of Esolen's reasoning:
That is, supposing that the people of a tribe in the interior of Brazil are compelled to accept cultural diversity for its own sake, rather than merely adopting and adapting this or that beneficent feature of another culture (something that people have always done), will that not mean that their own culture must eventually vanish, or be reduced to the superficialities of food and dress?
Any one who has studied indigenous people know that the problem they face is exactly the opposite of what Esolen presents. Esolen believes the problem for them is cultural diversity. In fact, the fear is that someone will ask them to "adapt this or that beneficent feature from another culture": oil, for instance, or agriculture, which would destroy their way of life. Cultural diversity means trying to understand the values of the other culture and learn from them what truth they have.
Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?
Here, we see once more a confusion, really a twisting of words. For Esolen, diversity means surrender to homogeneity.
One should be mindful of this mind trick: it's exactly the same kind of mind trick that politicians pull--or try to pull--over people all the time. "We are pro-life," but we won't fund health care for pregnant women or provide food for babies. "We are pro-choice," but we won't address the fundamental inequality that makes women think they have to get an abortion.
I worked at a Roman Catholic seminary for seven years, and one of the marvelous things about it was its celebration of cultural diversity. We all joined with the Hispanic community to celebrate our Lady of Guadalupe, not white-washed "universally," but as Hispanic people celebrate it. Diversity leads exactly to that.
See, the reason Esolen is able to use mind-tricks is because he fails to define his terms. He wants to use them this way and that way so as to confuse the reader to his real purposes.
Thus, when Esolen writes the following, he is merely trying to "white-wash" China.
Granted that God redeems not only individuals but peoples, so that, for example, China in the arms of the Church will be more truly China than she was before, does not this diversity presuppose the distinction of cultures one from another?
The Church can only make China more truly China if it first accepts China. Esolen's argument is the reverse: only by accepting the Church does China become truly a distinct culture.
But to be more logical, I expect the students--as well as the editors and readers of Crisis--to be able to pick out such oxymoronic sentences as the following:
It remains to be seen how far they will go towards dismantling the most culturally diverse program at Providence College, our program in the Development of Western Civilization.
How can something be culturally diverse if in fact what it is teaching is one culture viz., Western Culture?
Socrates did not tell the Athenians not to listen to other people. Rather, he said, question them. And then he went around and he showed them how to question the cultural guardians of the day.
An education from Providence College should--and does, from the evidence I've seen, including student occupations of administrative offices--prepare students to question just as Socrates did. For that, we must have tolerance, because without it, it is much too easy for one to become totalitarian in the name of "truth" and "diversity."
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.