Socrates or Swine

Our entertainment-drenched culture is a reflection of the colonizing power of liberalism. Liberalism is a drive for unlimited freedom, and any inequality or hierarchy stands in the way. Even the distinction between superior and inferior ways of life is anti-liberal.

As Ryszard Legutko puts it (Demon in Democracy), liberalism demands a “minimalist anthropology,” one that makes no thick assumptions about human aspirations, values, ends, or purposes. Society exists to facilitate the satisfaction of the most basic needs of human beings.

John Stuart Mill argues that (in Legutko’s summary) “although man aspires to satisfy his drive for pleasure, he will always prefer to be an unsatisfied Socrates rather than a satisfied pig.” The reason is that “man is cognizant of both states – the Socratic and the swinish – and there is no way that reason and conscience will allow him to opt for being a pig.” This argument assumes that “some ways of life are objectively better than others, that the Socratic model is clearly superior to that of a common man, and that there is nothing in human nature that can make people oblivious to this fact” (31).

Legutko is less sanguine: “In liberal democracy, especially in recent decades, a generally acknowledged oral directive forbids looking down on people’s moral priorities, because in the present society equality is the norm, not the hierarchy. . . . Mediocrity has been generally, though tacitly, acknowledged as a non-controversial, if not preferred model, whereas the Socratic model, though nominally viewed as equal among others, has lots its appeal and support from the democratic mainstream as too aristocratic and elitist.” Socrates is “hopelessly at odds with modern preferences.” The pig has equal claim on human life (31).

Liberalism’s minimalist anthropology thus makes us entertainment pigs. It erodes the distinction between “Lent and Carnival.” For modern liberal man, “whether some other, more objective reality exists is to him a matter of indifference, and if told there he not, he would probably still remain unmoved” (37). Thus entertainment permeates everything – “schools and universities, upbringing of children, intellectual life, art, morality, and religion” (36). All sense of life’s seriousness erodes under the regime of liberal order.

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