Triumphalism consists of the warrantless assertions that the decline or defeat of an adversary is caused by an antagonist and that the antagonist’s success is a sign of superior virtue. In the post–World War II period, for instance, the political and economic collapse of the Soviet empire is often attributed to a competitive loss to Western European and North American capitalist powers. The fall of the Soviet Union is alleged proof of the superiority of those economic and political institutions over their Soviet counterparts.
Triumphalism is a combination of two mistaken assertions. The first assertion, that the defeat of one is due to the effort of another, is what classical rhetoricians since Aristotle have called a fallible sign. Not only is the assertion open to refutation, but its certainty can never be reliably established beyond doubt. The second assertion, that the adversary’s defeat establishes the virtue of the victor, is a value judgment. As such, no credible facts can be derived from the perspectives of the victor or the loser that are not tainted by their interests. Thus facts cannot validate values, only facts.
The German sociologist and economist Max Weber is perhaps most responsible in the social sciences for stressing the ultimate dependence of the constitution and relevance of facts on values. His student, the Hungarian sociologist Karl Mannheim, showed how class interests were particularly important in forming worldviews whereby both values and facts attained cultural significance. In modern philosophy the American Thomas Kuhn’s argument that knowledge is normative and writer Hilary Putnam’s (b. 1926) insistence on the inseparability of judgments about facts and values have contributed additional support to a more general view that there can be no such thing as a value-free estimation of the world and its virtues. This position would view triumphalism as logically untenable.
If one starts with individual values, some difficulties can be avoided. Take the phenomenon of increased economic inequality in post-Soviet Russia. A believer in competitive capitalism valuing individual freedom in economic pursuits, for instance, would find growing economic inequality in post-Soviet Russia perhaps a necessary condition for the success of an enterprising minority. A socialist from the Soviet era, in contrast, would find the growth in economic inequality in post-Soviet society iniquitous. Thus in this case the fact of increased economic inequality in post-Soviet Russia takes on a differential significance, based upon one’s basic values.
There are, however, more difficult scenarios. Suppose two persons or groups claim to agree on basic values but do not count as significant the same facts. In the United States people for and against therapeutic abortions value the sanctity of human life. The antiabortionists count fetal deaths as the indispensable marker for valuing human life. The pro-abortionists count the health of the pregnant woman as the vital measure of human well-being. Neither accepts the facts of the other as valid counters in valuing the sanctity of human life.
These two instances do not exhaust the logical possibilities of the problems entailed in assessing facts via values and vice versa. They do suggest, however, how triumphalism as a theoretical practice is undercut by its reliance on unwarranted assertions on both sides of a given fact-value equation.
SEE ALSO Abortion; Capitalism; Civilizations, Clash of; Cold War; Idealism; Kuhn, Thomas; Mannheim, Karl; Popper, Karl; Socialism; Weber, Max
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"Triumphalism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/triumphalism
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