Believe it or not, this is the headline

By Michael Jankovic

I cannot help but thinking there is nothing. There, a direct confrontation with nihilism.

Nihilism is a philosophy that believes in nothing, it is an untenable position to hold. If one is reasonable, and holds the position, suicide is a necessary result. If you cannot believe in anything, then your life will hold no value to you. It is an incredibly attractive position from one point of view and an incredibly desperate position from another.

Liberalism illustrates this paradoxical quality because it promotes nihilism and anti-nihilism at the same time. It commands us to believe in freedom, but by believing in freedom above all else, we stand at the edge of the nihilist abyss.

If we are to base freedom on the individual then, at birth, she is without connection to the world. She is disconnected from her mother, from her ancestry, from her religion, from her state. She is in a position of absolute freedom. The liberal venture is to keep this freedom.

Her only attachment should be to her own freedom, not even to the freedom of others that surround her. In this theoretical equation, the result is nihilism. Although the individual believes in one thing, freedom, meaning is stripped from her life because she remains an autonomous agent in a world of other autonomous agents.

In the real world, people are attracted to other people and need meaning in their lives. So they create organizations, some voluntary and some involuntary, to appease the need they feel. The liberal project was introduced late in the development of human civilization and these voluntary associations threw a stick in the spokes of liberal machinery. We had religions, identities, differences and histories to deal with. In response, liberals invented the idea of tolerance.

Tolerance has within it the nihilistic heritage of liberalism. If we are to be tolerant can we really believe in anything? If one truly believed that Christ was the only path to salvation, could that person be tolerant of different faiths?

Tolerance dictates there must be multiple truths, we must put the idea of freedom foremost among all ideas in our culture. It is no wonder, then, that the most liberal societies are the least faithful in religious observances. In making all other ideas subservient to freedom, we lose the capability to truly believe in anything tying us to other people.

Is this a good thing? It depends upon how expansive our definition of freedom is.

If it were a small provincial version, we would be destined to descend into hell. The individual concerned only with his own freedom would look after his own needs at the expense of others.

However, religion has installed in us the ability to see beyond our narrow self-interest and has allowed for a definition of freedom so expansive that if freedom were the only value in society we would be all right. This definition of freedom admits our freedom depends upon those around us. This is the Canadian definition of freedom.

The Canadian experience has shown us that "limited nihilism" (if such a thing can exist) can be positive; it allows us to look past the surface difference between people to work together towards common interests.

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