How to Resolve the Paradox
Norm said something interesting today.
A framework for public life based on accepting that there is no single ‘road to salvation’, or – put otherwise – no single overriding moral truth, or that there is no way to be completely certain about whatever moral truth there may be, would seem to be the only alternative to permanent warfare between people of different belief systems (and that applies, of course, not only to religious belief systems). Call this framework ‘pluralist liberalism’. Is it not itself premissed, then, upon principles for which universal validity is claimed by its adherents? Some would say no, but I’ve never seen a persuasive argument for that. Liberalism makes a claim of its own to moral truth, but it’s a moral truth permitting those who believe in competing moral truths to live together, provided they don’t try to impose these on one another by violence. Which means that liberalism has to exclude the attempts of antithetical belief systems to monopolize the public domain for themselves. If there is an air of paradox about this, I don’t know how to resolve it.
Well…one way might be by saying there is a difference between a single road to salvation – which is, for instance, the kind of thing David Horowitz and Jamie Glazov kept trying to pin on Norm and Nick and the whole of the left in that misbegotten interview in Front Page a month or two ago – they kept insisting that the left as a whole believed in utopianism – like this:
But if you are on the Left, are you not part of an ideology that holds that human redemption, accompanied by human equality and a classless society, is possible and that it can be engendered through social engineering?
No. Next question. Or rather, back to what I was saying when I interrupted myself – that sentence isn’t even finished, which is a disgrace. Ahem: by saying there is a difference between a single road to salvation, and a framework based on accepting that there isn’t one (or, pluralist liberalism). By saying that universal validity isn’t exactly the same thing as a single road to salvation or a single – single, mark – overriding moral truth. By saying that a single road to salvation, a single overriding moral truth, and certainty about whatever moral truth there might be, are all on one side of this divide, all fit into one definitional box, while a framework based on accepting that there is no such thing, and plural liberalism, and claims of universal validity, are on the other. Perhaps it’s the secular aspect that separates them. Roads to salvation and single overriding moral truths tend to be theistic, and handed down by authority, and thus immune to questioning and reason; a framework that says there is no such thing isn’t. All the words Norm chose for the first half of the equation smack of taboo, of hands off, of don’t touch, of the holy of holies; the words he chose for the second half smack of the human and the discussable. The first half can be delivered by fiat; the second half relies on reasons. The first can’t be explained; the second can.
That’s how I would resolve the paradox. I would say that universal validity is not the same thing as a single overriding moral truth, because it’s a human thing not a goddy thing.
How would you resolve it?