There was a time when debates consisted in measured arguments, logical in syntax and respectful of the opponent. One thinks of the earlier, elevated exchanges between G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, whose differences of belief about almost everything—including the most important things: religion and politics—were imaged in Chesterton’s corpulence and Shaw’s emaciation. When Chesterton said that Shaw looked as if there had been a famine in the land, Shaw said that Chesterton looked like its cause. Then they dined with laughter, for they were bonded by the conviction that there are high ideals that are objective, even if they disagreed about what they were.
When prejudice and sentiment replace love of truth, discourse yields to shouting. Serious conversations have given way to “talking heads” shouting rehearsed slogans at each other, not letting facts stand in the way of opinion. This is why a prominent media figure recently lamented that “journalism is dead.”
The irony is that this degeneracy of discourse is in the name of free speech, when it actually disdains such freedom. The power of an argument exists only in the exercise of power itself: might makes right. “But wisdom is justified by her children” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35). Every tyrant tries to defeat truth with drums. It is the consequence of ideology usurping logic. The decay of logic began when men confused the two.
The triumph of the will over the intellect was a subtle attitude even among such sophisticated mediaeval theologians as William of Ockham and Duns Scotus. Of course its most violent and vulgar expression was in Islam, but it leaked into modern attitudes through cynical people like Nietzsche and Freud who did not think themselves religious at all. All that may seem obscure, but you meet it daily in the “spin doctors” of TV talk shows and newspapers.
Einstein said that National Socialism took over Germany by suborning the media, the universities, and the courts of law. That corruption has free play in our time, when you can tell what a television channel will report simply by which one it is, when college students burst into tears when a lecturer says something that contradicts their conceits, and when judges render decisions according to their political allegiance.
This mentality is “Voluntarism.” It is a corruption of voluntas, which means will or desire, just as racism is a corruption of race, and sexism is a corruption of sex, and militarism is a corruption of the military. Our Lady was the opposite of the voluntarist: “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” And her Son, conceived by that selfless surrender to truth, redeemed all creation with the inner dialogue of truth with truth: “Not my will but thine be done.” Jesus was not a talking head. We know all this because the Evangelists were not spin doctors.