By: David S. Petolicchio
“There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.” This is a famous quote found in pop-culture attributed to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Few statements sum up, and summarily debunk, relativism in one sentence like this quote. In this argument, it asserts that there are no “eternal facts” and no “absolute truths” but in doing so, it contradicts its own argument which makes an absolute claim “…there are no absolute truths.” In The Incompatibility Of Natural Rights And Relativism (Part 1) the argument for natural rights was found only in supernatural origins or in the presumption that rights were inherent to being a human, and regardless of which argument one espouses, the core of these ideals is that there must be absolute truths that remain unchanging for natural rights to exist.
Relativism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, “a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing” or “a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them.” The most relevant aspect of this definition can be found in the second statement which essentially claims that morality is entirely contingent upon information, circumstance, and sociological climate. This assertion is, of course, illogical in that the atrocities of Stalin or Hitler could be considered “moral” simply because those cultures supported the advancement of those dictators and allowed them to gain and maintain authority. Evil must be, and always is, evil. Such a consistency is paramount for any worthwhile moral system to exist.
Not only does relativism collapse when it suggests that absolute truths don’t exist (thereby violating its own assertion), but it also fails when it naively argues that morality is exclusively established by human consensus. Human consensus should never be viewed through the lens of being the primary arbiter of moral absolutes, particularly when one ponders the vast number of historic precedents of societal failure. Certainly, if someone was to espouse relativism, then they would be bound to admit that slavery was a perfectly moral action as it was truly a “product of its time”. While the widespread acknowledgement of moral absolutes is certainly variable, the essential truths of moral laws will remain the same. In this way, slavery would be (and is) still truly immoral, despite at certain periods of history, it being an accepted practice by the majority. In this way, modern activists who seek the denouncing of slavery and the promotion of reparations MUST believe in absolutes, otherwise their argument is nonsense and they would be demanding recompense for an entirely moral behavior.
In many ways, relativism is the democrat’s (a proponent of democracy) ideal worldview, in that all things in law, justice, and morality are entirely at the whims of the masses and no challenges from history can be applied with any degree of consistency. “But that was then, this is now” would be the rallying cry of the relativist and democrat alike when confronted with an opposing view. Democracy and relativism share many principles, not the least of which is the suggestion that society is the only origin of truth and morality and as such whatever society deems true or “right” can vary from day to day. There are principles that surpass the power of human consensus and the ever changing whims of society. Such truths exist beyond the temporal realms of human frailty, and justly so. Absolute truths exist and are bigger than any individual or civilization, as is necessary for moral and ethical stability.
In summation, absolute truth must first be established before Natural Rights, otherwise Natural Rights would be vastly different according to each generation. No nation can ever survive and remain free when it is based on, or changed to, the foundation of relativism. George Washington once said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars.” In this statement, George Washington is not only establishing his own belief in relativism but is arguing that absolutes must be maintained for the sake of American prosperity.
Without Truth, there is no morality. Without Morality, there is no freedom.