Pathos vs. Logos

The full-throated temper tantrum thrown by so many on the Left since the election smacks a little like the Great and Powerful Oz having the curtain drawn back, showing there’s really no there, there.

Which is true.

Progressivism is a blind faith. Instead of believing in revelation, one believes in . . . progress. In this regard, progressivism resembles communism, fascism, and national socialism — all of which presumed that they were on the right side of history. Such a conviction relieves one of the need to think prudentially. Indeed, it relieves one from the need to think at all: one need only surrender to the Zeitgeist and go with the flow — which is why today’s liberalism is essentially, as both columnists imply, brain dead. Ask a progressive why he or she believes in progress, and you will get in return an astonished stare. Things are, you see, getting better all the time, and that is all there is to it.

This conviction also explains why liberals sneer at their opponents, demonize them, denounce them as “deplorables” and “irredeemables,” and refuse to engage their arguments. They descend to insults because they have no real idea why they stand where they stand. They have attitudes but they are bereft of ideas. In consequence, when they discover that they have been digging themselves into a hole, they respond by digging deeper, as they are doing right now.


A small but growing number of young conservatives see themselves not only as engaged citizens, but as guardians of an ancient intellectual tradition…

The Hertog course is one of more than a dozen similar seminars sponsored by conservative and libertarian organizations around the country. Some last for months, others just a few days. Some recruit older participants, but most target college students and 20-somethings.

The syllabuses and faculty range from say, the secular Jewish milieu of Hertog to the libertarian Cato Institute to the Christian traditionalism of the John Jay Institute. But all these programs seek to correct the defects they see in mainstream higher education by stressing principles over pluralism, immersing students in the wisdom of old books and encouraging them to apply that wisdom to contemporary politics.

By now, leftist collectivism should be thoroughly discredited in the eyes of anyone who can discern success from failure.  Deep down, many of them know it, too.  That is why their arguments increasing are “because shut up,” hurling the epithet of the week, or going on the personal attack to destroy an opponent’s livelihood.  They stay moving only by the energy of pent-up emotion, not guided by any logic or rational thinking.  By tossing out the classical works that used to be the bedrock of a truly liberal education, they have lost the ability to be challenged and to respond in a civil manner to such challenge.  Thus, the emphasis on “safe spaces,” where the bedrock foundations of Western Civilization are not allowed to intrude on their fairy tale narrative.

The dangers of unchecked pathos – reliance on emotional motivation rather than reasoned thought – are abundant.  Pathos is what fires up a nation to go to war, or give unlimited authority to a popular demagogue; logos is thinking through the cost-benefit analysis of such endeavors.  Indeed, some have seen pathos as a way to reduce the level of critical thinking in a target audience.  So it should be no surprise that a movement like Progressivism, motivated as it is by the same calls for “liberty, equality, fraternity” that motivated the French Revolution (and resulting Reign of Terror) has little in the way of rationally developed arguments with which to win over opponents.

One cannot maintain a civilization when its members can only argue by saying how they feel, rather than what they believe.  There are exceptions to this trend, as the linked article notes.  The problem is that a 2-year-old’s whose thinking is challenged tends to act out (think tantrum and hitting the other kid whose toy you want).  The adult version of that is to attempt to silence… even with violence, if necessary.

Keep that in mind as you hear the calls to regulate “fake news,” and to ban “hate speech.” Those calling for it have every intention of being the arbiters of what is “fake” or “hate,” and thus have available to them the full force and weight of the State to destroy those who do not comply.


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