In Praise of Dogma

It seems to me that we need a re-turn to dogmatic thinking within philosophy. Immediately, I’m sure of it, I have aroused some anxiety in some readers: they will immediately equate my claim with everything that is terrible in the world. Dogma is bad because it is bad. However, this is only an opinion – it has no basis or foundation. If it did, then, well, it would be a dogma. This is the point of dogma, it means that one remains firmly within the envelop of traditional thought for its justification. On the other hand, opinion, comes from without traditional thought and burrows its way within. While dogma is an opinion which has its basis in an established authority, opinion is a dogma which has its basis outside of an established authority. These are really two points of connection and two pretenses. The pretense of dogmatic thinking is that its dogma is something other than an opinion – the pretense of opinion is that its opinion is something other than dogma. Then, there is a rhetorical or strategic move here: dogma’s pretense is that it has something in the way of evidence for its claims. Opinion has its basis in something entirely different: in some affective state (an argument is wrong because it doesn’t make you feel good), in whim (an argument is wrong because it doesn’t satisfy you at this time), personal interest (an argument is wrong because it goes against your personal interest) , and so on. In other words, it comes from outside of the authority of a thinker, a text, a discipline, etc.

Then, is not the strategy of the dogmatic thinker much more rhetorically effective than the strategy of the opinion-maker? The distinction that I am making is really one that exists between something that grounds itself in a system of thinking, in a text, etc., and one that imposes itself on the text from without (for any reason whatsoever). Here, then, we have a suspicion of opinion. But we also have a suspicion of hermeneutics inasmuch as we still remain convinced that dogma is an opinion. The reality of the text is nonetheless not reality in the strict sense – it provokes a reality in the reader. This provocation is the reality-principle of dogma. It is not for nothing that the word dogma is actually derived from the word for opinion. The word opinion, however, has its foundation in all sorts of other words, including, “fancy,” “view,” “what seems to be true,” etc. Why, then, don’t we prefer the second-order opinion, which loops around twice, to the first-order, which can barely complete its first loop?

We can not just throw words at a problem and expect to make any headway. If we learned anything about the technique of free association then it is that it is precisely when we think we are speaking freely that we are in all actuality repeating or circling around the same track. If we want to switch tracks, then, we need to stop thinking that we are brilliant minds or beautiful souls, that we have no debt to tradition, that we can think outside of the text, outside of our philosophical masters, and we need to locate what is in them more than them. This is the mark of a true dogma. We need a dogma that subverts Lacan from the inside – while claiming that this was precisely what Lacan meant anyway. The opinion maker thinks she is free but does not realize that she is tied to a master, the dogmatist thinks she is tied to a master so that she can locate zones of freedom.

I find myself living within a scholarly climate that ensures that people say anything they want without anchoring it to anything. It is enough to “like” a facebook status for that status to be considered fact. An academic argument can easily be won simply by appealing to the virtues of happiness, how it makes you feel, how it allows people the most freedom, and so on. Those who are against the word revolution one day are tuned into it the next. When people turn their backs on dogma they necessarily turn their backs on passion, on passience, on conviction – they lack an engaged position and are forced to pretend at one. It is in this way that the opinion-maker eroticizes knowledge. All the opinion-maker can do is recycle the junk from their intellectual junk-pile (the technique of the bricoleur). The dogmatist, on the other hand, puts the objet a in the position of agent by locating what is within their master more than their master. Is it any wonder that those on the streets, outside of the university, have so much conviction but seem, from the perspective of university professors and students, to know so very little? On the other hand, is it any wonder that those of us inside of the university have so much knowledge but constantly have muster enough energy, do years of research, etc., just to make an original argument.

Finally, I would say that there is nothing inherent to dogmatic thinking that restricts it from speaking across many systems of thought. In fact, this is the condition and meaning of dogma. A dogmatist uses opinion, with all of its manifolds, to transmit her dogma. A dogmatist can remain firm to Lacanian principles without necessarily always using the concepts of the Lacanian field. This much, it seems to me, is obvious, and yet I feel the need to point it out.


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