Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fortunately, In America At Any Rate, Education Produces No Effect Whatsoever

I’ve been trying for a while now to fit this quotation into a posting, so here it is upfront:

Nor does one become illiberal when denying truth to a Puritan. Liberalism, as Gellner ought to know, is a doctrine about institutions and not about individual beliefs. It does not regulate individual beliefs, it says that nothing may be excluded from the debate. A liberal is not a mealymouthed wishy-washy nobody who understands nothing and forgives everything, he is a man or a woman with occasionally quite strong and dogmatic beliefs among them the belief that ideas must not be removed by institutional means. Thus, being a liberal, I do not have to admit that Puritans have a chance of finding truth. All I am required to do is to let them have their say and not to stop them by institutional means. But of course I may write pamphlets against them and ridicule them for their strange opinions.

The quotation comes from Paul Feyerabend’s reply to Ernest Gellner’s review of Feyerabend’s Against Method, reprinted in Science in a free society (London: Verso/NLB, 1978), p. 148. I like it because it sums up neatly what I was trying to say in yesterday’s posting, though I confess it feels odd to realize that by this definition, I’m a liberal. But I can live with that: words for political positions are imprecise, and change. I’ve always liked this 1895 exchange from The Importance of Being Earnest:

Lady Bracknell. [interrogating Jack, the would-be fiancé of her daughter] What are your politics?

Jack. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist.

In the 1952 film version, “Liberal Unionist” was changed to simply “liberal.”

I wish I knew enough Japanese to understand what the Takarazuka Flower Troupe did with it: