Guarding the boundaries

This past September, The New Criterion and The Social Affairs Unit jointly sponsored a symposium entitled “The Dictatorship of Relativism: Who Will Stand Up for Western Values Now?” in Winchester, England. The New Criterion has published many of the essays from the symposium in their January 2009 issue.

Dalrymple’s contribution is an essay entitled “Guarding the boundaries”, in which he argues that the inevitable uncertainty of philosophical judgment is not an argument for relativism, that judgmentalism is an inescapable feature of human nature and that moral standards, while always imperfect and disputable, are necessary if life is to be bearable.

What is new about the current relativism, it seems to me, is not that it contends the positioning of boundaries, for such positioning has, I think, always been contentious: It is always possible, after all, to argue that any given boundary contributes more to the misery than to the happiness of man. Rather, the current relativism contests the very need for boundaries itself, or at any rate has the effect, once it filters down from the intelligentsia into the general population, of destroying the appreciation of the need for boundaries. And if no boundaries are needed, then any attempt to impose them is without legitimacy. Only what comes from the self is legitimate.

Read the essay here
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2 thoughts on “Guarding the boundaries

  1. Jackson

    I’ll definitely be buying that issue. Thanks for the heads up.

    I assume that the symposium’s title flows from Joseph Ratzinger, who, as far as I know, coined the phrase “dictatorship of relativism”?

    Here, just a few days before he became Benedict XVI:

    “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”


    Ratzinger/Benedict has had much, much to say in addition to this about today’s descent into relativism.

  2. Steve

    Jackson, I haven’t read any of the other essays yet, but I noticed that Pope Benedict’s name was referenced very frequently, so I assume you are right.


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