The Pluralism of Errors and Lies

If diversity becomes the highest principle, there can be no universal human values. . . . If there is no right and wrong, what restraints remain? If there is no universal human basis for it, there can be no morality. ‘Pluralism’ as a principle degenerates into indifference, superficiality: it spills over into relativism, into tolerance of the absurd, into a pluralism of errors and lies.

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nashi Pliuralitsy

Solzhenitsyn’s words, though directed originally toward his fellow Russians, can still resonate with those living in Western, liberal-democratic societies. The “value” of diversity has yielded the devaluation of truth which, in turn, has given rise to indifference toward right and wrong, facts and lies, the noble and the base, and so forth. This reality strikes fear into the hearts of Christian liberals—such as those housed at the Acton Institute—who continue to insist that from “many” a “single common morality” can be distilled. Indeed, was that not the promise pitched to Catholics by neoconservative luminaries such as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and his still-breathing epigones, George Weigel and Robert P. George? It didn’t matter that America’s traditional (Protestant) religious framework had started to fray or that more and more “conservative Christians” came to imbibe deeply from the intoxicating liquors of liberalism. Somehow, someway there would be a “voice for Christianity” amongst the rest and, further, that this voice wouldn’t simply be scoffed at and dismissed before finishing a sentence. Now that voice has grown silent; the price for being able to speak again is capitulation—capitulation to spirit of the times and the interests of elites. Pluralism may have collapsed into absurdity, but don’t tell the liberals that; their livelihoods depend on the obfuscation of that truth.

Of course it is not possible to follow Solzhenitsyn all of the way. His reference to “universal human values,” though well-intentioned, betrays a subtle acceptance of values-speak, which itself is an offshoot of the same intellectual and spiritual upheavals which bequeathed liberalism to the West. Perhaps it would be better to speak of “universal morality” or what those in an earlier age simply called “the natural law.” That is not where the matter ends, however. To speak of natural law in this day and age is to speak gibberish to ears attuned, at best, to purely consequentialist—that is to say utilitarian—arguments. Right and wrong comes down a cost/benefit analysis, which is one reason libertarians find it so easy to condone pornography, prostitution, and unbridled drug use. Even some so-called “Christian libertarians” are perfectly willing to turn a blind eye toward these blights, arguing that the “cost of enforcement” outweighs the “benefit of deterrence.”

What a sad state we are leaving to our children. One shudders to think where matters will rest when their progeny enters the world. Our politics has degenerated into a theater of the absurd and Christian religious life in the West, particularly in America, seldom amounts to more than 50 shades of the “Prosperity Gospel.” It is little wonder that we are incapable of defending against the “pluralism of errors and lies.”