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The Trump Election and Freedom of Thought

The Trump Election and Freedom of Thought

In a recent “Points of View” episode on BBC Radio 4[1], the well-known philosopher, Professor Roger Scruton, gave a reasoned analysis of something that may explain the surprise election of Donald Trump in America and of the Brexit vote here in the UK. Although clearly not a supporter of Trump (or Clinton), he makes the point that the views of those who do not embrace the ‘establishment’ consensus regarding immigration, homosexuality, transgender rights, etc. have generally been vilified. Such views have therefore not been allowed to be expressed openly. As Scruton says, “For the liberal elite, the disinherited working classes are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic.” The non-elite are castigated, not always without truth of course, as intolerant, yet the liberals do not admit their own intolerance. He makes the point that within such an atmosphere, many would-be Trump voters were unlikely to admit to their sympathies in the polls. Scruton believes that Clinton made a fundamental mistake in portraying those who disagreed with the liberal establishment view as intolerant bigots who have no place, and thus no voice, in modern society.

 

The ‘liberal’ intelligentsia have become increasingly powerful but also increasingly intolerant of those who dissent from their own views, the establishment ‘orthodoxy’. Those of us who believe, for instance, that surgical intervention might not be an appropriate remedy in the case of those experiencing confusion about their sex are ridiculed as intolerant or bigoted, rather than offered the opportunity to debate. A loving Christian couple who wished to adopt a child, but stated that they thought that a mother and father of opposite genders is the ideal, were prevented from adopting, despite assuring the ‘authorities’ that they were not homophobic. They lost their appeal with the judge ruling that: “if children were placed with carers who objected to homosexuality and same-sex relationships, "there may well be a conflict with the local authority's duty to 'safeguard and promote the welfare' of looked-after children".[2] In a similar spirit of intolerance, Oxford University Students’ Union banned the Life group from advertising its services[3] and Strathclyde University has banned the Life group there as threatening the ‘safe space’ for pro-choice students.[4]

 

Scruton states that Trump, like Cameron, has made the mistake of surrounding himself by those who merely agree with him rather than those who can give a considered contradictory view, challenging one to think more deeply. The lack of open, charitable and informed debate has prevailed in the Church too. Until fairly recently in the UK, the Conference of Bishops and the National Council of Priests were dominated by the same liberal dogmatism that simply would not allow alternative views, such as those offered by the Faith movement, to be promoted or debated. Ironically, it has perhaps been the very failure of liberal catholic theology to inspire and encourage young people that has resulted in a disproportionate number of those who do practise their faith in the UK being faithful to the magisterium. The ‘dissenters’ have for the large part lost their fervour for, if not their actual practice of, the faith through disillusionment with the false dawn offered by such theology.  There is a critical need for catholic theology to be engaged with modern scientific philosophy and yet remain faithful to the magisterium.

Ideas, and their open debate matter; philosophy and underlying philosophical assumptions matter. Political or theological “safe spaces” neuter the proper role of reason. This is why movements such as Faith must continue to make their own contribution to the world of ideas: in the hope of building a better civilisation here on earth so that we may be worthy of our true home, the kingdom of heaven.

 

Faith Magazine

May - June 2017

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