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Beyond “Left” & “Right”

ABORTION & NUCLEAR WAR

By Peter Kreeft | April 1985
Peter Kreeft is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and the author of numerous books.

I am not a politician, but a philosopher, and not even a political philosopher at that. Through­out most of history, when philosophers have seen fit to make pronouncements about politics, what they have usually made instead is great fools of themselves. Plato, Hegel, and Heidegger are notable examples: all profound and idealistic philosophers but totalitarian or even fascist in their politics. (If you wonder why I do not mention Marx, it is be­cause I do not count him as a philosopher who pre­tended to be a politician but as a politician who pretended to be a philosopher.)

The air of political controversy is murky and whistles with verbal bullets. It does not fit the tastes or talents of the ivory tower philosopher. Nevertheless, I shall dare to rush in where angels (who have no politics) fear to tread, thereby prov­ing myself a fool.

But there are two kinds of fools — fools who think they are wise, and the wise who know they are fools.

So perhaps the very naïveté and foolishness of a simpleminded neophyte in the field of politics can add a needed dimension, like the voice of the little child in Hans Christian Andersen’s cautionary fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: the child was the only one naïve enough to cry aloud that the emperor was naked.

The nakedness I want to cry about is that of the omnipresent categories of “left” and “right,” or “liberal” and “conservative.” I think they are naked, or empty of clear or useful meaning, espe­cially when they are applied to issues about the val­ue of human life. They are used mainly as fishnets into which we can throw any fish, conveniently not noticing that many swim away through the gaping holes in the nets. The categories are enormously attractive, however, because they function as knee-jerk labels. They minimize the wear and tear on our grey matter. (Here is one of mankind’s best kept secrets: it is tremendously demanding and excruciatingly exhausting to think for your­self.)

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