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A liberdade e a igualdade entre a verdade e a retórica

por Samuel de Paiva Pires, em 24.02.13

Roger Scruton, Postmodern Tories:

«If we are to confront these ideas, it seems to me, we must begin from Plato’s famous distinction between philosophy, whose goal is truth, and rhetoric, whose goal is persuasion. In a media-dominated democracy truth counts for very little, while persuasion is everything. Looming over the battlefield of modern politics is the rhetoric of equality. It fights for any side that can capture it, defending traditional conservatism as equality of opportunity, and socialism as equality of outcome.

Philosophically speaking the idea that all human beings are equal is questionable. Equal in what respect, for what end, and in what perspective? Are criminals to be treated equally with law-abiding citizens, for instance? Nevertheless, from the rhetorical point of view, the very same idea of equality is the premise of every winning argument. Equality demands equal treatment for disadvantaged and advantaged children, and therefore exams that make no real distinctions between them. It demands equal treatment for nationals and for migrants, and therefore the abolition of effective border controls. It demands equal treatment for gay and straight people, and therefore gay marriage.


Looming slightly less prominently over the battlefield is the rhetoric of freedom. Philosophically speaking it is again highly questionable whether human beings are or ought to be free: free from whom, to do what? In the name of freedom men abandon their families; schools abandon discipline; universities abandon the old and tried curriculum in order to offer students a wider choice of degrees. Freedom means opportunity, and opportunity means that the canny, the determined and the strong rise to the top, enjoy those phenomenal city salaries, and join the new class of global fat cats. Dressed up in this way, individual freedom cries out for top-down control.


Yet freedom also opens the road to the rest of us; educational freedom creates opportunities for those at the bottom of society; economic freedom protects the volunteer and the entrepreneur against the smothering cloak of regulation; freedom of conscience protects us from the rule of priests and mullahs, while freedom of speech enables us to scorn bigots and bullies without fear of reprisal. Freedom, in this sense, is unquestionably a good thing—unless it is abused. And there’s the rub. What counts as abuse, who is to decide, and what should be the penalty? The philosophy here is deep and difficult but the rhetoric is easy. Matthew Arnold summarised the matter succinctly: “a very good horse to ride; but to ride somewhere.”

Reading these two books I came to the conclusion that the current difficulties for the conservative cause lie exactly in the tension that worried Plato. The philosophy of conservatism, launched two centuries ago by Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and David Hume, and on the continent by GWF Hegel and Joseph de Maistre, is, in my view, difficult, intricate and true. Today’s winning political rhetoric, by contrast, is simple, persuasive, and false. The theory of knowledge and its social function that inspires Michael Gove cannot silence the loud cry of the teachers’ unions for equality whatever the cost. The subtle arguments for the market economy developed by the Austrian school will never extinguish the zero-sum fallacy, which says that if some are rich it is because others aren’t. Burke’s defence of common law justice, like Hegel’s defence of the family and the corporation, has little weight against the rhetoric of “compassion.” Even those on the right who believe that the long-term effect of this rhetoric is to make everyone dependent on the state, and the state dependent on borrowing from a purely imaginary future, will go on repeating it. For the ruling belief is that “in the long run we are all dead,” as Keynes famously put it—none of us will have to pay for current policies and meanwhile it is best to look caring and nice. The philosophy of conservatism has nothing to say in response to this. For it is not about appearing nice. It is about conserving the foundations of civil society. Whatever rhetoric you choose for promoting that cause, the other side is going to describe you as “nasty.” For rhetoric is about appearance, not truth.»

publicado às 18:24


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