The Left

On sacrificing the confidence of certainty

I’ve been reading Irving Howe’s and Lewis Coser’s The American Communist Party: A Critical History (written almost 50 years ago) and I was struck by this passage on the Party’s cultural/literary magazine The New Masses:

The New Masses politicians knew exactly, at any given moment, what the true line on any event or problem was; and they saw it not only as their duty but as a therapeutic service to cram that line down the throats of believers, half-believers and disbelievers. The New Masses ideologues, writing with the confidence possible only to those who have ceased to regard their own assumptions as an object of inquiry, were ready to claim the whole province of knowledge for their own, past, present, and future; nor did they hestitate to admit that the claim was made not on the ground of accumulated study but in the name of a general principle.

I can’t help envying ideologues on the right and the left who write with the “confidence possible only to those who have ceased to regard their own assumptions as an object of inquiry.” It must save a lot of time, thought and dark nights of the soul. Meanwhile those of us who cling to the tiresome notion that our assumptions should be an object of inquiry, and are willing to sacrifice some of the confidence that goes with certainty, get by as best we can.

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