In Defense of Dogma: Why Being Dogmatic Spurs Enlightenment

by R.C. Roberts

In a panel discussion in 1993 in Canada on C-SPAN, the late Christopher Hitchens described the American media in the following way: “In my hometown of Washington D.C., the obvious is a little bit harder to come by, but it is there, all right. It is a complex and more highly evolved obviousness. The mass media in my hometown deny any attachment, or any allegiance to anyone of any kind. They have what I call the ideology of Objectivity.” What I find incredibly interesting about this statement its the immense clarity. In our media, as well as amongst individuals in most forms of discourse, this ideology permeates our dialogue in a culture that seems to be digressing into infantilism.

What is the ideology of Objectivity? While Mr. Hitchens rather cynically pointed out that it has caused the media to think that they own the truth, a statement that cuts to the bone, I think it has led to the establishment of requirements for how to act during discussion. It is what I call, “The three things you must live without,” and they are the following:

  1. Live without passion
  2. Live without elitism
  3. Live without dogma

While I take issue with each of these, seeing them as false incarnations of the idea of objectivity, I would like to take issue with being without dogma in this article.

Dogma: that overbearing love for your convictions. Most people look down on such a love, pointing to it as something evil, or just a cause for concern. In a society that has fallen in love with the idea of tolerance, progress, and acceptance, to have a dogmatic bone in one’s body is strident, inconsiderate, or even immoral.

While I can spend time defining, and most likely ridiculing, the social perspective of dogma, I see no reason to. I think dogma is absolutely fine, and perhaps even necessary for society, at the very least in the intellectual sphere. I defend dogma because it is not merely a mindset, but also a lifestyle. A commitment, as it were. One can, with Nietzschean irony, be dogmatic about the most enlightened things, since dogma is just as much about the being the man spewing their opinions as it is about the opinions. In our era of tolerance and progress, we changed the word dogma, often finding more acceptable (I say this word with complete disdain) words for it: radical, controversial, contrarian.

The phrases, so irritating in their formulation, that is used all the time these days in discussion is: “well, that is just your/my opinion” or “you do you, and I’ll do me” or “To each their own.” In our society, to be proper is to be so open that one supposedly realizes their opinion is just that: an opinion in a sea of opinions. They are to relax their spine, or in a show of maturity, remove it altogether.

This is what is killing our intellectual culture: tolerance at expense of the intellectual spine. No one leaps to the defense of their opinions. They will raise their hands in cautioned deference, or they will claim to be offended and return to the infantile sob sessions of their childhood. Pundits of our day are loud, but do not mistake that for the passion for conviction that is trademark of the dogmatist. They have the volume they do because it must replace the passion they lack.

So why do I say be dogmatic? Because dogma takes courage, specifically in this day and age. But even more so, beyond that, one who is dogmatic faces the greatest challenge: withstanding criticism to the very ideas that inform their being. It is who they are, and it plays an increasingly important role in our society: the dogmatist is the stone by which the general public and intellectual sharpen their minds. Even when the dogmatist lacks any virtue, any morals, any dignity, the tenacity of their convictions invites the sort of challenge necessary for one’s intellect to grow. Where would Socrates have gotten without a Gorgias or a Crito? Where would Nietzsche have been without the nationalism of Prussian life or the dogma of the Catholic Church? Dogma of virtue is what one may wish to aim for, but in a society of postmodern apathy, dogma of any kind is preferable to the feeble intellect of the neutered “Modern Man”.

Thus, be dogmatic, Take up your convictions in public. Grasp the sheep of our day by the nose and force them to think. No more riddles to get past the troll on the bridge: you fight, or you die.