Breaking the Paradigm | From Ideals to Dogmas
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From Ideals to Dogmas

The Tragic Transformation of Liberalism

From Ideals to Dogmas

The Tragic Transformation of Liberalism

By George Orbeladze
7.07.2023

Liberalism, as a philosophy, has a history spanning more than three hundred years. Throughout its existence, it has faced numerous challenges and underwent various transformations due to brilliant individuals' efforts. The root of liberalism originates from the Latin word "Liber," meaning "free." Highlighting this foundational aspect can serve as a reminder to those who oppose liberalism, see it as a threat, or view it as a restrictive ideology.

Here's a hypothesis for consideration: A philosophical movement, once institutionalized, transitions into a phase of belief, degrades, and eventually becomes a universal aggressive threat. The justification for this transformation is simple yet disturbing: people often more readily accept changes when they're imposed forcefully. This means if an authoritative figure mandates changes...

Consider the development of the following three postulates: "Honor your father and mother," "Thou shalt not kill," and "Thou shalt not steal." Did society first embrace these notions, internalize them, and then ascribe them as divine messages? Or were they initially documented as divine edicts and then accepted?

Around 3500 years ago, it might have been difficult to articulate why acts like killing, stealing, or taking someone's spouse were wrong. Invoking divine prohibition simplified this. By asserting "God Forbids," questions dissolved. Maybe this approach worked in the short term. But think about how troubling it is to respect parents merely because of a rule, not genuine love or gratitude for their care. Consider the issues that arise from refraining from murder, theft, or coveting, not because you understand the moral implications, but because a higher power prohibits it and provides an avenue for negotiation and forgiveness (Matthew 7:7).

Shifting to more recent history, in the aggressive milieu of 2000 years ago, could a message of love reach the masses on its own? It's doubtful. However, what if it was proclaimed in God's name?

In the beginning, love wasn't embraced as widely as hoped. Many historians concur that Christianity's chances of becoming a global religion were slim. This is where institutionalization intervened. Paul (5 – 64/65 AD), recognizing its importance, institutionalized the church by appointing Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete to oversee local congregations. This system expanded, and by 200 A.D., congregations were centralized. Subsequently, Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 200-258) argued for even more centralization, claiming that "the Church's unity was in the unanimity of the bishops" ("The Treatises of Cyprian," Treatise I, paragraph 5). Within 200-250 years, an international institution arose, needing to fortify its stance in a hostile environment. The only viable strategy seemed to be reinforcing dogmas. Early Christian leaders followed this route, as demonstrated by events like the burning of the library of Alexandria. The result? Christianity flourished with 2.5 billion believers, 1800 years of influence, and unparalleled impact. But where did the central idea go? I argue that the idea was eclipsed. Love (in the sense of freedom) cannot thrive when it's co-opted, and that's what Christians attempted. In addition to God being the recipient and source of unconditional love, He also mandates its expression (Matthew 22:36-40). An idea cannot flourish under these circumstances. So, the idea faded, replaced by dogma, leading to societal degradation, dark ages, aggression, the Crusades, the persecution of scholars and women, wars, and the annihilation of civilizations...

For me, the takeaway is clear: an institutionalized, dogmatic belief system cannot truly represent love, equality, or goodness, and this includes freedom. This leads me to my main concern: the institutionalization and subsequent dogmatization of liberalism.

Rooted in John Locke's tenets (personal freedom and property rights), liberalism has catalyzed numerous global advancements. Events like the French Revolution with its "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" and the American Revolution's declaration that "all men are created equal" and endowed with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness might never have happened without liberalism's influence. These events powerfully showcase genuine freedom's resilience.

Although dogmatizing freedom seems paradoxical, the 20th century saw political parties appropriating liberal ideals. Ask someone today about liberalism, and they might think of politics or figures representing the ideology, like Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt did indeed translate the concept into a political framework, finalizing its institutionalization, but along the way, the idea of "égalité" (legal equality) morphed into socioeconomic equality. These shifts politicized liberalism, transforming it into a political battleground tool. What happened to the core idea? I contend it was lost, with phenomena like "cancel culture" symbolizing the victory of dogma over idea.

While some might argue that structures can make abstract ideas tangible, even at the risk of some dogmatization, we've seen what dogmatizing love led to—conflict, war, destruction. What might dogmatizing freedom result in? Liberté replaced by bondage? Égalité overshadowed by conformity? Fraternité swapped for chaos?

I beg to differ!

It's time to release liberalism from institutional dogma's clutches and revive it—an idea, not an ideology; a guide, not a force; a discourse rooted in understanding rather than blind allegiance.

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