I imagine it's behind a paywall, so I've copied and pasted it in full.
Janet Daley wrote:JANET DALEY
15 May 2021 • 1:00pm
Many years ago someone who was not remotely sympathetic to Communism told me that he dreaded the collapse of the Soviet Union because the Cold War balance of threat between the two superpowers was the only thing preventing global chaos. If the USSR ceased to exist, he said, what would follow would be endless outbursts of nationalist territorial disputes and terrorist adventurism. What was then called the Third World (because it was outside the two main power blocs) would no longer be bribed and bullied into some kind of order by the competing interests of East and West and so would be abandoned to its own anarchic ends.
That may or may not have been a sound analysis. You may feel, looking at the Middle East and Afghanistan, that there was something in it. But there was an even more cataclysmic consequence of the end of that almost century-long ideological confrontation between the communist bloc and the West which we are living through now. The Cold War which dominated the politics (and culture) of the twentieth century was not just a military confrontation, it was an argument: a substantive, sometimes cynical but nonetheless genuine, disagreement about how people should live. To engage in it – even to understand it – required knowledge of basic principles, an ability to marshal evidence, a willingness to enter into debate.
In the West where it was legally possible to converse about these things, there was ongoing and very serious discussion of the merits of capitalism and private enterprise vs state ownership of property and a command economy. Occasional fits of repression, or attempts to suppress such debate, would flare up but they never really succeeded in extinguishing the fundamental notion that this was, by its very nature, a conflict of ideas which had to be examined on their merits.
Now that great argument is over. Totalitarian communism is either utterly discredited (as in Russia) or persists in name only (as in China where it has been replaced by totalitarian state capitalism). Both of those nations have more or less reverted to their ancient traditions of tyrannical rule without too much resistance from their populations. It is in the West where the vacuum has caused the most trauma.
In the void left by the absence of that huge, all-embracing disagreement, what has emerged? A rejection of rational dispute itself, a retreat from reasoned debate, of arguments that follow from first principles, of defending a conclusion with evidence or paying due respect to conflicting viewpoints: in short, a culture war in which no ground can ever be given.
Marxism and capitalism in their original doctrinal forms had grown directly out of the Enlightenment: the whole point was to construct political and economic systems that would be beneficial to the majority and which could compete for general approval. Both were corrupted and distorted by human frailties but their idealistic intentions were based on theories and values that could be articulated and defended. As indeed they were, so extensively and exhaustively that people, not infrequently, changed their minds – were converted or “turned” in the case of intelligence agents.
What has replaced all that? Public discourse does not consist of competing arguments any more: it isn’t a proper discussion at all. It is a diatribe in which one side tries to destroy, or prohibit, or totally suppress the other. We have returned to a Dark Age where reason and actual disputation are considered dangerous: where views contrary to those being imposed by what are often nothing more than activist cults can be criminalised. Not only must those who now hold opinions which breach orthodoxy be banned but historic figures who could not possibly have anticipated current social attitudes must be anathematised as well.
Where have we seen this before in the West? When religious authority determined the truth and could prohibit any dissent – when books that might lead to subversive, unacceptable thoughts could become prohibited texts forbidden to anyone not given specific permission to read them. By an extraordinary irony, the Vatican’s list of prohibited books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (which was only abolished in 1966), included two great Enlightenment thinkers, David Hume and John Locke, who are currently under attack by the new Inquisition which seeks to root out any historic connection with the slave trade.
What is significant is not the modern views that are being propounded but the way they are being enforced. The question is not whether you approve of these opinions but whether you accept that they must not be questioned, subjected to examination, or disputed. Much has been said about the “illiberalism” of what now presents itself as liberal opinion but what is happening goes way beyond simple intolerance. It is a return of something no thinking person expected to see again in the rational West: the banishment, or the hunting down, or the deliberate ruination, not just of explicit opposition but of coincidental association with a tainted position.
This isn’t so much the Middle Ages – which had its own high standards of intellectual rigour even when it was condemning Galileo for heresy: it is a kind of enforced blindness to the process of reason. As a result, the only arguments that may be permitted are about detail within the orthodoxy: do trans rights take precedence over those of biological women? Which forms of speech for describing contentious identities are permissible? How far back must historic guilt be traced?
So we are arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. What is worse is that once you have devalued argument and evidence, you have no defence against superstition and hysteria: the lunatic conspiracy theorists and the social control fanatics have as much legitimacy as anyone.
This new Dark Age, with its odd combination of narcissism and self-loathing, is a threat nobody saw coming. If the institutions that should resist – universities, the arts, and democratic governments – fall before it, the free society is finished, defeated more resoundingly than it would ever have been by the old enemy.
This is something I've been banging on about for ages, much to the annoyance of those who prefer to base their arguments on their gut feelings and unconscious bias rather than credible information and subject matter expertise.
I particulaly liked these observations:
Public discourse does not consist of competing arguments any more: it isn’t a proper discussion at all. It is a diatribe in which one side tries to destroy, or prohibit, or totally suppress the other. We have returned to a Dark Age where reason and actual disputation are considered dangerous: where views contrary to those being imposed by what are often nothing more than activist cults can be criminalised. Not only must those who now hold opinions which breach orthodoxy be banned but historic figures who could not possibly have anticipated current social attitudes must be anathematised as well...
...it is a kind of enforced blindness to the process of reason. As a result, the only arguments that may be permitted are about detail within the orthodoxy.
...once you have devalued argument and evidence, you have no defence against superstition and hysteria: the lunatic conspiracy theorists and the social control fanatics have as much legitimacy as anyone.
However, this phenomenon is not unilateral. Whether it has come about simply as a reflex response to PC/Woke or for more complex reasons, the devaluation of argument and evidence Daley talks about can be seen at both poles of this 21st Century divide. Whichever ideological tradition people come from, the lounge bar logic of, 'it's obvious, innit?', when it's anything but, has become the default in public discourse.
As I've said before, whilst it may not be the cause the internet age has potentiated this reggression in debate. In the past when information was no less available but much less accessible, it was far easier to spot pseudo-science, or 'pseudo-politics'. Those with wacky, evidence-free opinions who managed to get those opinions into the public space were mostly ignored and sidelined by the weight of informed, evidence-based, credible criticism they received. Nowadays though, the internet allows these opinions free rein. The internet is still largely uncurated, anarchic and offers no 'quality assurance' that the opinions and ideas proselytised thereon are credible or that the person or persons presenting those opinions have any bona fide expertise, education or knowledge to validate their content.
But the worrying aspect to which Daley refers is the tacit approval of government in just one side of the contemporary divide. As a result, those who do have bona fide expertise, education or knowledge and dare to speak against the orthodoxy are dismissed as readily as any partisan internet talking head. Whether as above by reflex or for more complex reasons, the net effect is also that those who do have bona fide expertise, education or knowledge and dare to speak in favour of - or not explicitly against - the orthodoxy are similarly dismissed by those who most passionately oppose it. In short, in this 'new Dark Age' as Daley calls it, people who actually know what they are talking about on either side of any argument are dismissed, derided and mocked by those who, 'just know',...and who see no grounds to explain, justify or support their knowledge with credible evidence.
Therefore, much as I dislike Daley's journalistic hyperbole, I think 'new Dark Age' is depressingly apt for these modern times.