Philosophy vs. Ideology

Today I’d like to explore some implications of my recent series of posts about the nature of opinion; specifically, the dangers of ideology. (As a reminder, so far I’ve discussed holding fewer opinions, opinions about opinions, holding multiple opinions, opinions vs. truths, and opinions weak and strong.)

Ideology is insidious. When I value strict adherence to an ideology above the pursuit of truth, my internally consistent and strongly held opinions become primary to my identity. In a sense, I’m no longer an independent person but merely a receptable for a belief system. Ideology requires mental conformity and a depth of automatism that goes beyond the mere mouthing of slogans; ultimately, it defines who I am.

We’re all familiar with how ideology has been used in service of power within authoritarian and totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. However, relatively liberal societies are by no means immune; present-day America is a fine example, squeezed as it is between Trumpism and wokism. (Indeed, America — having been founded by crazy Englishmen who sailed across the north Atlantic to settle a howling wilderness in search of God or mammon — seems especially prone to certain forms of fanaticism.)

And yet, despite the overwhelmingly ideological atmosphere in which we live, I think that one always has the option, no matter how difficult it might be to exercise, of resisting the pressures of ideology and instead living in truth, as the Czech dissident Václav Havel put it.

This concept of living in truth is fascinating. Havel learned it from the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, who was hounded to death by the secret police for being the spokesperson of the human rights group Charter 77. Patočka in turn thought its sources could be traced as far back as the theology of the Church reformer Jan Hus (1372-1415). To my mind, living in truth is bound up with the love and practice of wisdom — that is, with philosophy in its original and truest sense. While there is overlap here with the scientific, spiritual, and artistic mindsets, I think philosophy as a way of life is one of the greatest antidotes to ideology.

There is much, much more to explore here, which I plan to do in a series of essays over the next few years.

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