Liberalism's Problem with Objective Truth



The following is an e-mail sent to Dave Rubin regarding his book, titled, ‘Don’t Burn this Book.’ Dave directs his online interview program called the ‘Rubin Report.’ On his website, he writes,

‘Dave’s journey from a Progressive to a free thinking Classical Liberal has been an on going adventure. Like most American’s Dave spent the majority of his adult life subscribing to a certain Lefty political narrative which is fed to all of us through the cultural, political and media machine. Fed up with these “factory settings” and click-bait news, Dave decided to open up about his awakening, for all to see.’[i]

It is his identification as a classical liberal, and his book’s chapter on ‘objective truth,’ that my letter addresses. But what is a classical liberal?

‘Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism that advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanization and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America.’[ii]

The classical liberal will emphasize liberty, rule of law, and freedom without any necessary link to God or his moral law. Hence, Dave’s admitted struggle with objective truth and my response.

This post is not an endorsement of his book. Nevertheless, while I disagree with several of his conclusions in the book regarding marriage, procreation, recreational drugs, and other issues, I admire his honesty and willingness to converse reasonably and respectfully.


Thy Kingdom Come!

Dear Dave,

I recently finished listening to your audiobook, ‘Don’t Burn this Book.’ I really enjoyed it.

While as a Catholic priest I would disagree with you on several of your stances, I deeply admire your honesty and humility in the search for truth and your willingness to publicly declare what you believe – even when it is not popular. I particularly appreciated that you published the entirety of your interview with Larry Elder even if it ‘made you look bad,’ and that you consequentially began to change your views on the subject.

However, what I found most fascinating was your honest wrestling with the need for an objective morality. I would argue that it is this point – the need for an objective morality – that is the single biggest problem for classical liberalism as I believe you called it.

If by classical liberalism you mean a person can pursue his or her own happiness or create his or her own rules – without limitations – then chaos ensues. Now I realize that you, like other classical liberals, do not espouse the pursuit of happiness without limits, since at several points in your book you suggested some limitations to an individual’s behavior. However, that too remains problematic for classical liberalism. If there are indeed limits, what are they? Who sets them? What are the criteria upon which they are set? If societal agreement were the only point of reference, then by what standard could we object to any law as unjust?

You frequently, and rightly, stated that it is important to look at the facts, but facts alone cannot give us moral criteria. Take your example of abortion – facts can tell you that the unborn child can feel pain after a certain number of weeks, but that fact alone cannot make abortion immoral. There must be an underlying principle making it so – such as, ‘It is wrong to kill a sentient human being.’ At best, facts may elucidate the application of the principle, but not create it.

I would argue that the West has only been able to function to a degree with a classically liberal system for the last three or so centuries because it was done so in the moral and religious context of our Judeo-Christian culture. That is, most people still agreed on what was right and wrong because of their religious faith. As those Judeo-Christian roots hold less sway in our contemporary society, classical liberalism alone has no moral infrastructure to sustain it –by itself, it simply cannot give us right and wrong.

The Catholic Church espouses what is known as natural law. That is, gleaning from the way we are, our nature, we discover both the bodily and spiritual aspects of our being, and it is only in acting in accord to that nature that we can thrive as human beings. So, we must take care of our bodies but also our souls.

It is primarily the spiritual side of man that points to the reality of God and our vocation to have a relationship with him. We refer to that spiritual reality of man as being made in the ‘image and likeness of God.’ Therefore, being created as persons – capable of knowledge and love – we reflect God who is also a personal God. Therein lies our dignity as human beings. It is a God-given dignity, and no person or state may rightfully deny it. It is a dignity that bestows both rights and responsibilities.

As persons we are free, but that freedom is not absolute, it is a human freedom created to choose the good, for which the point of reference is God’s own goodness. His goodness, and our vocation to reflect that goodness, provides us with the obligation that says there are certain things we shall not do. Central to the content of the commandments are to relate to God and to the other human persons with love. We may freely choose to act against these basic human obligations, but to do so would contradict our very nature and bring about the existential frustration that we call hell.

This has been a rather simplistic summary of a very rich doctrine. However, this is meant to be a letter and not a book. If you are interested in reading more about this, may I suggest: 1) C S Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity [especially chapter 1], 2) ‘On Conscience: Two Essays by Joseph Ratzinger, and 3) G. K. Chesterton’s ‘The Everlasting Man.’

Again, I want to thank and applaud you for your courageous and public pursuit of the truth. I hope to emulate your virtue in this regard.

Prayerfully and Respectfully Yours,

Fr. John Bullock, LC

PS I would like to eventually post this letter on my blog:

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

[i] [ii]

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