At his blog today, Julian Sanchez uses the phrase “epistemic closure” to describe contemporary American “conservatism” (which I would call, in fact, a neo-authoritarian cultural movement):
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal.
Socrates suggested that the world can be divided between those who think that they know the truth and those who know that they don’t know and so are willing to engage in dialogue (dialectic) with others on their way towards the truth. But tellingly, Sanchez sees a breakdown in conservative dialogue even among conservatives (represented most recently by David Frum’s ousting from the American Enterprise Institute):
[T]here is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.
This is also true of cults, isn’t it?