The French Enlightenment philosopher known to us as Voltaire once said, “Whoever can make you accept absurdity can make you commit injustice.” This was in response to the persecution and execution of Jean Calas, the last man in France to be broken on the wheel. Calas was a Protestant living in a Catholic society, so critics of the Church used his case much in the same way moderns are using George Floyd.
Voltaire, like most men of the Enlightenment, had a simplistic understanding of human society. Through insouciance and critical humor, liberal thinkers dismantled the framework of society without regard to what would replace it. In the process, the modern fanatic, a novel form of barbarian, was unleashed. From the Reign of Terror until this point in time, the fanatic has been civilization’s greatest enemy.
We cannot know for sure, but it is reasonable to assume that Voltaire would have been a big fan of Madame Guillotine. He had this to say on the topic of punishment: “It hath long since been observed, that a man after he is hanged is good for nothing, and that punishments invented for the good of society, ought to be useful to society.” What could be more useful than the elimination of the enemies of the revolution? “The embrace of strange ideas is a way for those who enjoy human suffering to glory in it.”
Putting that aside, Voltaire’s observation that there is a correlation between the toleration of the absurd and the toleration of injustice is important. As the great Theodore Dalrymple observed, communist societies, the most absurd creations in human history, heavily relied upon the imposition of absurdity in order to maintain the authority of the party. Under communism, absurdity is the moral authority of injustice.
As Dalrymple noted, this is where we see how liberal democracy has taken on the trappings of communism. Political correctness is a way to maintain control. By forcing people to accept and repeat the most ridiculous things, the people in charge break the will of the people. By accepting the lie, they can no longer live in the truth. “A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.”
This is the reason for these weird public confessionals from public figures accused of violating some part of the progressive catechism. It is not so much about breaking the spirit of the accused. That can be done in private. Doing it in public, forcing the rest of us to share in the man’s humiliation, compels the rest of us to quietly accept the authority of those forcing the accused to make his public confession.
The mistake here, though, is in assuming the causal relationship is one-way. That what comes first is the acceptance of the ridiculous, from which leads to cruelty and violence in order to defend the absurd. Instead, at least in many cases, the relationship works in the opposite direction. The desire to inflict harm, to exercise unjustified power over others, is what draws people to embrace the absurd.
The traveling partner with all of these bizarre social fads is a cadre of ideological enforcers who inflict torment on those not willing to embrace the absurd. More often than not, these are volunteers. Social media is teeming with people who imagine themselves as witch-hunters. They search the social media profiles of suspects, looking for blasphemy against whatever is popular at the moment.
Officially sanctioned sadism is now creeping into the ruling classes. The New York Times, the pinnacle of ruling-class media, employs young women whose only job is to hunt down heretics. With a straight face, the media claims to be the victim as they destroy the lives of nobodies, who they claim are a threat to the democracy. Wokeism is a help-wanted sign for every vindictive sadist of the age.
This is where we see the causal relationship turn the other way. The embrace of strange ideas is a way for those who enjoy human suffering to glory in it. This is why the modern right is powerless in these battles. Their bourgeois objectivism requires them to find a logical explanation for everything. Since there can be no rational answer for the burst of insanity we see at the top of society, the right must sit in stunned silence.
The bizarreness of this age cannot be overstated. We live in a time in which the makers of medicines claim in their ads that humans are assigned a sex at birth. These are people presumably operating at the very limits of the human science. They rely upon the best-trained men and women to create drugs to treat illness. Yet, they claim that humans are assigned a sex at birth. That is madness in service to absurdity.
The contemporary critics of the Enlightenment, like Joseph de Maistre, viewed the claims of Voltaire and Rousseau as an assault on man’s nature. Those institutions they criticized, like the Church, the aristocratic order, and the executioner, did not spring from nothing. They provided a necessary foundation for human society, one with a moral authority that framed man’s natural reason.
Freed from those moral constraints, reason quickly turns into superstition. Whether it is egalitarianism, the blank slate, or any of the shibboleths of liberal democracy, what passes for reason is in fact a war on nature. So much so that the mantle of reason is used to justify the mutilation of children by parents, convinced by their televisions that their male child was “misgendered” at birth. Is there any greater injustice than a mother harming her child in the name of absurdities like transgenderism?
We have arrived at the monstrous end of the liberal project. What started as a reasoned assault on superstition is now a collection of increasingly bizarre superstitions, in service to a war on observable reality. What Voltaire criticized as absurd superstition looks enlightened compared with what his ideological heirs are inflicting on us. It turns out Voltaire was right, however. He just picked the wrong target.