Holding Onto Ideology As We Move Past Dogma

Ideology determines the goals of action and gives us a coherent way of understanding things. But when we become too dogmatic – when we rigidly require a specific way of thinking – we lose the ability to communicate our ideas with people who will think of them differently. Dogmatic thinking almost takes on the role of religious sectarianism.

The history of Marxism is a great example of philosophy becoming dogma. Rather than taking some insights of Marx and building on them, many Marxists acted as if anything not described in Marxist terms was invalid. As popular Marxism developed into sects of Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism, the fanatical devotion to the One True Interpretation became the stuff for dark humor.

When dogma dictates that one must rally behind a certain leader, people get hypnotized or alienated. This can be seen with politicians throughout history.

The Ron Paul campaign and related movements have done a lot of good – people are looking into libertarian ideas who weren’t doing so before (though saying that they “otherwise would not have” is going too far), a lot of energetic activism and libertarian thinking has resulted, and the conservative stance Paul takes has the capability to turn a lot of concerned right-leaning people in a more libertarian direction. But while Paul has a role in gaining freedom, he does not embody the solution. And it is ridiculous to lash out at people for pointing out authoritarian things he has done.

Advocates of a stateless society are not immune to dogmatic thinking.

You might encounter immediate hostility if you say that the zero-aggression principle (“no person may initiate force on another”) or self-ownership (“you own your self”) are not the best ways to express a belief in individual liberty. To such partisans, good thoughts can only derive from the only possible good basis, and if you do not accept that basis, you must harbor some secret agenda to oppress them.

Some market anarchists are reluctant to accept ideas that are not phrased in the way Murray Rothbard (or maybe Samuel Konkin) would phrase them. And being a better Rothbardian means being a better libertarian. Meanwhile most people outside of certain social circles have no idea who Rothbard is.

Of course, the outrage and willful misunderstanding from all corners when different definitions of “property,” “capitalism,” and “socialism” are encountered is well known to anyone who has spent time in anti-state internet forums.

If you look into social anarchism enough you are bound to find similar problems. Expect grandiose esoteric communiqués and writing that is probably aping the Situationists (a group who emphasized creativity as part of revolutionary activity).

Moral posturing is another religious element that politics could do without. It’s cool if you don’t pay taxes, or if you live self-sufficiently or whatever. But maybe your choice isn’t the best choice for everyone. Maybe others can do more for liberty in other roles (there is that whole division of labor thing). The manner in which an individual engages with the enemy ought to depend on the skills, temperament, and situation of the individual involved.

If your only plastic soldier is the Bazooka Guy, then your army is going to suck.

As noted above, dogma can turn valuable thinkers into dangerous jokes. “How can I build on the work this person has given us?” is a more valuable question than “How can I be more like this person?”

“How can this theory address issues in my life?” is a more useful way of looking at things than “How can I change my life to live this theory I’ve attached myself to?”

It is not possible for action to achieve a coherent goal without a coherent ideology. Discussing things with people who are interested, trying to interest people who are not interested, and coming up with your own interpretations are important to make action useful.

But when liberty is the goal, the more dogmatic an ideology is, the less coherent it is, and the less effective action will be. Liberty involves satisfying diverse desires with the least possible restrictions on freedom. The homogeneity that dogmatic thinking spawns is not conducive towards this goal.

An ideologically informed, but non-dogmatic approach toward people with other ideas would be to work with them when doing so is beneficial, and to try to influence their ideas without being afraid of their ideas influencing you.

A lot of people are realizing the need for alternatives to the state-capitalist order. They may be looking for them in Ron Paul, Tea Parties, the anti-war movement, lawbreaking, or wherever else. Certainly there are some people who will never be worth dealing with, but a basis for cooperation and discussion might be found with people who are thinking of things differently than you. And isn’t voluntary cooperation among people with diverse interests an important functional element of anarchy? Isn’t encountering and trying to understand new ideas an important way to improve your own?

I hope that some kind of “post-dogma” label doesn’t become a new dogma. Instead of crusades and purges, I hope this essay encourages people to think about ways to identify and overcome undesirable tendencies. We can’t eliminate inflexible thinking from ourselves. We might be able to be more introspective and more willing to find common ground with other viewpoints. But we should never lose our values in a nonsensical pluralism that authoritarians can exploit.

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