Postmodernism and the Devil

“Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

– From A Man for All Seasons

There is much anguish these days about the fact that we live in a post-truth world. Quotes such as those by Rudi Giuliani – “Truth isn’t truth” – cause outrage, particularly amongst the liberal left. And indeed, there is little to celebrate and much to lament about the status in which the truth is held these days. The growing propensity is for groups upon all sides to simply invent a narrative that suits them, and to hold to it even after incontrovertible evidence has been put forward against it. However, rather than simply wringing our hands, perhaps it is worth considering how we reached this sorry state of affairs.

For over half a century, the progressive left has been systematically dismantling the intellectual and societal foundations upon which respect for the truth is built. From post-modernism, which explicitly argues against a single objective truth in areas from history to literary criticism; to identity-based truth, where the truth of a statement is evaluated not by its relationship to the real world but by the characteristics of those who utter or oppose it; to liberal jurisprudence, which seeks to find arguments to make the law mean what a person wishes it to mean, rather than searching for what it actually means, vast swathes of the intellectual capacity of the progressive left is, and has been for many years, devoted to tearing down the edifices that preserve the value of objective truth. Indeed, the longer version of Giuliani’s quote – “that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.” would almost certainly pass unremarked in any introductory lecture in postmodernism.

Like William Roper in the opening quote, no doubt many of those engaged in the destruction of respect for the truth may often have felt they were doing this in a good cause, perhaps because it was a shorter route to social change than achieving victory at the ballot box. But when the best minds of our society stand up in the courtroom, the lecture theatre and the public arena to argue that night is day, and are celebrated and feted for doing so, is it any wonder that we have no defences left when populists and demagogues do the same?

We have torn down the fences of the truth, so do we really expect to remain upright in the winds that are blowing now?