Hate Speech and the Death of Philosophy

One of the most important distinctions we can make during these troubled times is between philosophy and ideology. Philosophy is the search for truth employing the universal human faculty of reason. Therefore, philosophy is for everyone. An ideology, on the other hand, is limited to a set of ideas that does not have a universal scope. Consequently, an ideology is not for everyone, but rather for the relatively few who agree with its tenets. Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Maritain, and Gilson are philosophers. Nothing is excluded from their range of thought. Marxism, Freudianism, Darwinism, and Feminism are ideologies. Marx builds his ideology on economics, Freud on psychology, Darwin on biology, Feminism on the female sex. Each of these ideologies is lacking in breadth.

An ideology has a certain claim to respectability because it purports to improve society and culture. Nonetheless, because of its limited purview, it is inherently incompatible, even antagonistic, to philosophy. Black Lives Matter is an ideology that does not extend its concern to black lives in the womb. It joins hands with another ideology, the ideology of choice, that omits any discussion of the moral object of choice. An ideology barricades itself against dialogue with a philosophical viewpoint. In fact, it is often hostile toward philosophy. It is a defense system, not an outreach.

The notion that every human being has inalienable dignity, including the unborn, is anathema to pro-choice ideologues. To say that “white lives matter” is an affront to the BLM movement. Stating the genetic fact that a person who has transgendered is a biological male has been deemed a form of bigotry. Texas Senator Ted Cruz reports that Yale University has been advised not to admit students who believe in traditional marriage. It is increasingly evident that those who support a particular ideology are compelled to defend it at all costs.

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LGBTQ is an ideology that does not brook criticism. Its proponents are quick to vilify as homophobic anyone who regards certain sexual acts as either unnatural, disordered, immoral, or harmful. A “phobia,” of course, is an irrational fear. When a legitimate philosophical criticism is dismissed as a phobia, concurrent with that is the dismissal of philosophy as a respectable enterprise. Even worse, it is identified as “hate speech.”

The concern these days on the part of politicians to pass laws against hate speech is misguided. There are two basic reasons for the existence of hate speech. One has to do with our fallen nature. The other is the result of cultural seduction. It is utopian in the extreme to think that we can produce a world in which hatred does not exist. As Arthur Schopenhauer has said, “Hatred comes from the heart; contempt from the head; and neither feeling is quite within our control.” Hatred may be controlled through virtue, but it cannot be completely eradicated from the human heart.

We look to education for an answer. But what we find there is relativism and values clarification. The Golden Rule is set aside and the Bible is considered a form of hate speech. The kind of education that is currently practiced is more of a cause rather than a cure for hatred. What is needed is an education in virtue, especially the virtues of temperance, modesty, and patience. Nor is the politicization of morality the answer. We prefer to love the sin and hate the reformer.

A parable might set us straight. In a mythic town, a serious problem arose when car after car failed to make a treacherous curve on a hilltop. The magistrates convened to discuss whether they should put in guardrails along the curve to protect the motorists or ambulances at the foot of the hill to deal with the injured. In their wisdom, they opted for the ambulances, reasoning that it was not the fall that injured the drivers but the sudden stop. Moral education should begin at the beginning, not when things are out of control. Philosophy includes morality and expatiates on the dignity of human beings, truth, goodness, and virtue. We are not born virtuous, but neither ignoring philosophy at the outset nor punishing delinquents at the tail end will prove successful. The more politicians legislate against hate speech the more hate speech will flourish. Every ideology will inevitably defend itself by directing hate speech against its critics. The death of philosophy is the death of culture.

Canada has laws built into the Criminal Code against hate speech, but it remains undefined.  Various ideologues are waiting and hoping that additional laws will be passed against hate speech, for they are ready and eager to accuse any of their critics of hate speech, no matter how legitimate their criticisms may be. Paradoxically, legislating against hate speech will allow it to flourish—in the words of the Bard, “As if appetite had grown by what it fed on” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2). 

How important is philosophy to society? We should heed the words of Étienne Gilson, who warned that “If we lose philosophy itself; we must be prepared to lose science, reason, and liberty; in short, we are bound to lose Western culture itself together with its feeling for the eminent dignity of man.”

We need philosophy to learn about the breadth of reality, not a mere fragment; to understand the nature of the human being and not settle for an ideological construct; to provide a basis for all people to live together in harmony, not merely a select few. The task of the philosophy teacher is to make virtue attractive to his students and evil repulsive—and to show his future legislators that philosophy, more than any ideology, contains the best promise for a better world.


  • Donald DeMarco

    Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus of Saint Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the Saint Austin Review and the author, most recently, of Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding.

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