Love Your Enemy, But Know Him Too

In the mid-1990s the philosopher Norman Geras published a short book on the “ungroundable liberalism” of Richard Rorty. Geras was annoyed that many of Rorty’s relativist fellow travelers were some of the same people demanding “social justice” of one sort or another based on claims about reality they took to be self-evidently true (e.g. “The workers are exploited!” “Women are oppressed!”). One minute they were debunking all truth claims and the next they were out in the streets earnestly “speaking truth to power.” Geras pointed out the obvious fact, one would have thought, that you can’t have it both ways. As he put it: “if there is no truth then there is no injustice.” He went on to plead with the social justice warriors not to be seduced by the all-facts-are-interpretations nihilism of the post-modernists; he wanted them to understand that if they gave up on the pursuit of truth it left them defenseless against oppressors, and with no choice but to seek power themselves. Little did he realize that it was power, not justice, they wanted all along.

Geras was right about philosophy, but he was naive to think that totalitarian Leftists care about philosophy. For tyrants, philosophy, like everything else, is of value only to the extent that it is useful to getting the power you need to get what you want, whatever it is. Aristotle said that democracies were prone to tyranny because there were always going to be those who refuse to recognize any law but their own and will be driven to gain the power to impose their will by force. One might propose, in light of Aristotle, that the more fully democratic a society becomes in its culture, the more prone to tyranny it becomes.

Rorty’s project, however misguided, was an effort to deepen democracy by democratizing culture down to its very roots—to truth itself. He wanted every man to be able to speak “his own truth,” and in so doing bring more voices into the “conversation of humankind.” Sounds harmless enough, right? It is but for the existence of evil. All those liberal democrats, like Rorty, who idealize and idolize democracy, inevitably make overly optimistic assumptions about the goodness of what Christians understand to be fallen man (fallen Americans in this case). They fail to account for the possibility that some of those involved in this “democratic conversation” might be quite willing, anxious even, to shout others down or silence those who believe in a truth and an order that man did not make—orthodox Christians for instance.

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Furthermore, proponents of liberal relativism fail to understand the relationship between the logic of morals and the logic of law. If they did they would know that when every man is told, or comes to believe, he has a right to “his own truth,” every man will then insist that his truth be recognized in law and enforced by the state. Never mind that there may be nothing natural, or good, about the law he seeks to establish. Never mind that he has set himself up as a god. That Americans have come to accept that might, not right, gives you the right to make law is itself an indication of the decadent condition of our culture and the dreadful state of our democracy.

But what of this evil among us? How do we understand those who seek to stamp out all opposition to their rule? To understand them we must look more deeply into things than Geras or Rorty, secular philosophers, can reach. Then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a man who knows a little something about the spiritual disorders of the radical Left, saw clearly in 2005 that we were headed not toward any “democracy of relativism” imagined by Rorty, but instead toward a dictatorship of relativism, the regime under which believers must now try to live and worship in peace. What Cardinal Ratzinger understood is that this tyranny from the Left has its origins not in the seminar room relativism of the amiable Richard Rorty, but in the twisted soul of the master “intellectual swindler” himself: Karl Marx.

The spiritual disorder driving all those who are out to crush Christianity wells up from a rejection of, and hatred for, God and all his Creation. Men refuse to accept God’s gift out of pride, out of an unwillingness to acknowledge his position in a hierarchy he did not make. To do so would mean accepting that he is not a god, which is unacceptable. This rebellion against reality, against being itself, reaches into man’s being, and shapes all of his life. Rather than conform his mind to the world he sets about trying to twist the world to conform to his mind—to the lie he has allowed into his soul. Bringing reality into conformity with his mind requires tremendous psychic and spiritual energy and the accumulation of social power, the lust for which turns men into tyrants.

This spiritual disorder is clearly evident in Marx and Marxism, where the natural desire for justice, and the wisdom to seek it in and through the love of God, is perverted into a willingness to use force to bring about “justice.” As with today’s tyrants, the willingness to subordinate truth to power is evident as early as Marx’s early scribbled notes on Ludwig Feuerbach (who led the way for Marx by asserting that man creates God, not the other way around). In “thesis XI” Marx famously wrote: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Why change the world unless there is something wrong with it? What is wrong with it, in the end, is that Marx did not create it, God did, and this is a reality Marx cannot accept. Notice, as well, that where the Judeo-Christian wisdom instructs us to see ourselves, and not God’s creation, as the source of the trouble in the world, Marx’s rejection of that wisdom leaves him to blame God and his imperfect world, not the sin man has brought into it. And so the solution to man’s problems does not lie in man, in his repentance and turning away from himself toward God; it lies in changing the world, which means of course changing other men. Marxists are fine; it’s other men who need to be changed.

And not surprisingly the very first thing that has to be changed is other men’s dependence on God, hence Marx’s early assertion that the “critique” (i.e., destruction) of religion is the first order of business for any true revolutionary. God must be murdered, as Voegelin so delicately put it, so that man is free to re-invent the world, and himself, as he wishes and according to his own design. Those animated by this atheist humanism, Marxists importantly among them, cannot rest until all traces of creation, including man himself, are re-made and “improved” by man through science, technology, and politics. Anyone who insists on continuing to worship God and his creation, and not man and his creations, witnesses to the truth that has been denied and cannot be tolerated. In the new order all is to be tolerated and celebrated so long as it attests to the autonomy and power of man. On the other hand, anyone who refuses to accept the lie that man created God will be crushed. The father of lies insists on it.


  • Clifford Staples

    Clifford Staples, Ph.D., is a sociologist serving as a Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

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