“Liberals are relativists!”
The second most poisonous myth about relativism (I’m coming to the most poisonous shortly) is that liberalism = relativism.
Among the various charges laid against “liberals”, relativism is one of the most popular. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
In his inspiringly-titled Let Freedom Ring, Sean Hannity, political pundit at Fox News, suggests that one reason U.S. “liberals” are hostile to the teaching of the Declaration of Independence in public schools is that
…. liberals absolutely abhor and militantly reject the Founders’ belief in absolute truth. America’s Founders believed deeply in certain fundamental truths about life, liberty, and the nature of man. In fact, they believed – they weren’t just inserting lofty-sounding but meaningless platitudes in the document – that such truths were “self-evident.” By sharp contrast, the Left embraces moral relativism with an arrogant tenacity.
There you are: “liberals” – whom, incidentally, Hannity seems to equate with “the Left” – embrace moral relativism.
David Limbaugh author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, also thinks “liberals” are, or are mostly, relativists. Limbaugh responded in an interview to a comment about “liberalism” by saying that while “liberals”.
…subscribe to moral relativism and no absolute truth, they betray their standards when it comes to judging Christians. They apply an absolute standard when it comes to Christians and they condemn us for our beliefs, so they’re completely hypocritical on that…. The Judeo-Christian ethic is one that is undergirded by absolute truth. Liberals, by and large, don’t subscribe to any such value system.
Limbaugh here accuses “liberals” of both relativism and hypocrisy: they proclaim relativism and non-judgementalism, yet here they are making moral judgements about Christian attitudes towards, say, homosexuality or the place of prayer in schools. Outrageous.
But are “liberals”, by and large, relativists?
Many people who describe themselves as “liberal” reject relativism. Here in the U.K., many people call themselves “liberal”. Among those I know, I’m not aware of any who would consider themselves relativists. But maybe things are different in the U.S. Maybe, over the pond, “liberals” do tend to sign up to the kind of hypocritical, non-judgementalist relativism of which they are repeatedly accused. But maybe not. Few of those who claim “Liberals are relativists” appear to have done much research into the moral beliefs of those they describe as “liberal”. Usually their evidence amounts to little more than a few anecdotes. Undoubtedly, some “liberals” do embrace moral relativism. Perhaps many do. But the suggestion that all, or most, of them are relativists seems poorly founded. Are most “liberals” relativists? I have no idea. But then neither, I suspect, do those making the accusation.
And yet the factoid that “liberals are relativists” has become heavily woven into the psyche of conservative America. Type “liberal” and “relativist” into Google and see what you get. I did, and quickly come up with a great deal of this sort of thing:
The modern liberal is a self-proclaimed relativist, who does not believe in unbiased truth. Naturally, such a person does not believe in fairness or honesty either, both being relative. I do not say this is true of 100% of liberals, but it is true of most of them. (source here)
On what evidence is this accusation made? None at all. In the U.S, the accusation “Relativist!” appears to have supplanted even “Communist!” in terms of its popularity, vitriol and baselessness.