Deep Disagreements and the Rhetoric of Red Pills

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

Redpills1. Deep Disagreement

It is a common enough occurrence. In arguing with someone, as a controversial view is supported, even more controversial reasons are given, to be followed by more and more controversial commitments. A regular strategy in what might be called normal argument is that arguing parties trace their reasons to a shared ground of agreed-upon premises and rules of support, and then they test which of their sides is favored by these reasons. But disagreements one might call deep are those wherein shared reasons are not easily found. And consequently, it seems that under these conditions, argumentative exchange is doomed to failure. Robert Fogelin famously argued that "the possibility of a genuine argumentative exchange depends … on the fact that together we accept many things." Deep disagreements, consequently, "cannot be resolved through the use of argument, for they undercut the conditions essential to arguing."

Of late, our interest in deep disagreement has not been purely academic. With Donald J. Trump winning the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and the rise of the alt-right movement in American politics, we found that we faced very real cases of what had seemed a sheer theoretical posit. In particular, the intellectual movement of the self-styled "neo-reactionary right" and the "Dark Enlightenment" seemed to be exemplary. We have been on record as what we've called Argumentative Optimists in the face of deep disagreement, so our theory now has a test case.

2. The Dark Enlightenment and the Cathedral Cathedral

When we started reading around in the neo-reactionary corpus, we found ourselves in what felt like an upside-down world – all the dialectical elements of the argument were familiar, but none of the premises presented as truisms seemed remotely plausible. The journalist James Duesterberg captures his experience first reading the literature of the Dark Enlightenment:

Wading in, one finds oneself quickly immersed, and soon unmoored. All the values that have guided center-left, post-war consensus … are inverted. The moral landmarks by which we were accustomed to get are bearings aren't gone: they're on fire.

This Alice through the looking glass experience is something that those in the literature expect. But the writers in this genre have no plans on showing their readers the way back to the world they'd left behind. In fact, this break with the world of liberal norms is one of the core commitments of the neo-reactionary program. Importantly, we, all those who have not stepped out of it, have been brainwashed by a quasi-religious political superstructural institution ruling the Western world – what those in the neoreactionary movement call The Cathedral.

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