Some animals are more equal than others.”
Napoleon the Pig,
Animal Farm by George Orwell
When I was in graduate school, I was surprised to find that one of my classmates made his lab students memorize dates associated with Charles Darwin, including his birthday, the publication of The Origin of Species, and the years that he sailed aboard the Beagle.
Teasing him, I asked, “Are you going to make them memorize my birthday in the future?”
He snarled back, “You are no Charles Darwin!”
Actually I am. Before I explain, let me point out that I have seen this sort of idolatry toward many scholars, Karl Marx and Adam Smith (communism vs capitalism), Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn (scientific progress vs scientific resistance), Socrates vs Thomas Jefferson (aristocracy vs democracy), or to our opening point, Charles Darwin vs Charles Thaxton (organic evolution vs intelligent design). In each case, the idolatry motivates followers of one scholar or the other to be quite convinced that the historical figures’ ideas are complete and flawless, and any criticisms are wrong-headed.
It is easy to spot such hero worship. We have already touched on the previously noted absolutist, binary thinking. Another strong diagnostic is when adherents produce some quote from their preferred scholar. Once quoted, they expect a hush to fall over the discussion, and all other opinions to capitulate. We see it in academia frequently.
And we see it in government and partisan politics. For instance, there are Constitutional fundamentalists who argue that America is so exceptional, and our Constitution is of such exquisite quality, that it cannot be improved, and should never be modified or reinterpreted.
Which begs the question: Is Thomas Jefferson my lord, or my equal?
It’s a deliciously evil question. If Jefferson and the other Founders of the United States are our superiors, our masters, and because of it we cannot disagree, modify, and reinterpret the Constitution they wrote…
…then the very ideals of democracy that those Founders created, and therefore the Constitution itself, are null and void.
And the same is true of the scholars I noted above. If we are not allowed to disagree with them, if in fact we are not obligated to critique and object to what they said and wrote, then we are not their equals. And if we are not, the most basic concepts of freedom of thought and expression – the freedoms that each of those scholars required, and demanded for himself – are wrong.
Picture of Animal Farm courtesy of Gasketfuse.