Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, wrote about closed intellectual systems:
A closed sysem has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of causistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.
The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emoional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.
In debating with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking: there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic. (I don’t think this is true of all “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)
But what are the “axioms of great emotive power” in which “progressives” believe? It is pretty easy to write down on one sheet of paper the basic beliefs of Christianity, or of Marxism, or of American Democratic Republicanism. The fundamental tenets of Naziism…Nationalism, Socialism, anti-Semitism, etc….were well summarized by Joseph Goebbels in this pamphlet.
I find it difficult to summarize today’s “progressive” belief system. It does not seem to be a coherent intellectual system, not even a faux-coherent intellectual system such as Marxism. But it clearly appeals deeply to millions of people, and has largely pervaded many if not most institutions, ranging from academia to popular media, throughout America and Western Europe.
So let’s try to identify these axioms. What are the things in which one must believe if one is to be a good “progressive”? Please try to be maximally objective and to maintain emotional distance, as if you were describing the religious beliefs of a lost tribe in South America or a band of Christian heretics in the Middle Ages, and try to separate the intellectual content of the belief system from the emotional drivers of those beliefs.