István Magyari-Beck

Uniting Force of Heterodoxy

A presentation given on the opening ceremony devoted to the first issue of the international heterodox journal ARCA

On November 21st , 2008.


There is a widespread opinion according to which it is the orthodoxy which establishes commonly shared feelings and views. Heterodoxy in this respect is a harmful condition where people fight against each other both intellectually and even physically. Is this opinion true or false? As far as I know these terms were used originally by the Christianity and having denoted official theology on the one hand (orthodoxy) and heresy (heterodoxy) on the other hand. From those old times on the meanings of these two words were generalized. We use them virtually in all the domains of thinking, acting and mainly in politics. But their basic essential meanings remained the same. Perhaps the best way of representing the relationship between them by a metaphor would be to imagine a flower, the central part of which can be called orthodoxy and the petals around it – heterodoxy. This metaphor is all the more suitable as it suggests the togetherness of the two social phenomena. Any kind of heterodox view can be grasped and defined vis-á-vis the central orthodoxy. Without orthodoxy we can speak only of pluralism to describe the multiplicity of conceptions, actions, feelings and so on. Heterodoxy has a point of reference whereas pluralism has not. If we detach ourselves from the flower metaphor the only common feature of heterodox phenomena is their opposition towards the orthodox center.


Now it is high time to beg the pardon of our readers for the above presented theorizing. The journal ARCA is exactly a heterodox forum, where we can put forward our alternative ways of looking at the World. However, where is the orthodoxy in this period of Euro-Atlantic history? We do have such orthodoxies, but we prefer to call them MAINSTREAMS. It is true that orthodoxy as such in the religious past behaved in authoritarian way and frequently killed its enemies by using both military and economic tools. Today’s orthodoxies have already given up the rigid authoritarianism. They only occupy the first place in the rank order of theoretical constructions. This is why we – as a rule – call them MAINSTREAMS. A lot of mainstreams are over-financed, over-protected at the expense of alternative and presumably better solutions. Let us see the economic, ecological, social and political etc. crises. All of them were created by different types of mainstreams. For that very reason the outstanding professionals from all over the world became more and more interested in alternative approaches. The issue in these days is not that of the simple pluralism without having a common “enemy” situated at the center of ideologies.


Why are we hungry for the alternative approaches? This question is extremely interesting as it can be the royal way towards the understanding of the interplay between the orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Let us start studying orthodoxy in this respect. My thesis at this point is that it is orthodoxy itself which inevitably creates heterodoxy and not only by the ordinary negation of orthodox views. The story starts with the appearance of the second candidate for orthodoxy many times overlapping the first one. A well-known example will illuminate this process in a more comprehensible way. Rudolf Virchow came up with a theory of illness as the problem of regulation within the state of cells which was for him the living organism. Let us take this conception as the orthodoxy existed in medical sciences in the 19th century. But soon another conception appeared on the scene. Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur introduced and worked out the bacteriological and virology explanation of illness. The new paradigm was deducible from Darwinism as a special kind of fight for survival between the species. Subsequently a lot of cases were found with the possibility of double explanations. But Virchow’s orthodoxy has already received its alternative. After a while the Darwinist explanation displaced the Virchow’s one and became the new orthodoxy. In the beginning of twentieth century, a new discipline of psychoanalysis emerged and reintroduced in a sense the aspect of regulation within the organism. Soon Virchow’s theory, Psychoanalysis, Cybernetics and an inaudible return of Lamarckism created together a kind of heterodoxy around the orthodox bacteriological center of illness’ theory.


Now the question arises: What is the value of heterodoxy? Answering this question in a sentence the result of heterodoxy is the creation of new and enlarged orthodoxy. How can it happen? It is clear in today’s medical sciences that the bacteria and viruses alone cannot explain the human illnesses. Other parts of explanation could or should be the subconscious part of the psyche, problems of biological regulation on the level of nerves, lack of training in stressful situations and so on. These factors provide the soil fertile for the bacteria’s and viruses’ attack. Thus the factor of the fight for survival against the microorganisms became only one of the causes creating illnesses. At this point heterodoxy took the form of pluralism or multi-causality, that is, the phase of pre-synthesis. After this phase the new orthodoxy follows as a rule. The brief summary of the above-said will be the permanent turnout from orthodoxy to heterodoxy and from heterodoxy to orthodoxy. The development is thus not only cyclical but also a spiral-like movement. Moreover, the two concepts and the corresponding reality are not only contradictory to but also the follower of each other. Here and now we can answer the question about the uniting force of heterodoxy: Heterodoxy is a set of ideas and conceptions emerged from and alternative to the old orthodoxy and flourishing so as to create the new and enlarged – that is more global – orthodoxy.  


In order to estimate the importance of heterodoxy – thus the importance of the journal ARCA – in our historical period it is inevitably to understand the widespread crises in almost any kind of orthodoxy which reigns now in the most advanced Western civilization. To mention just a few: crisis of politics, environmental crisis, axiological crisis or crisis of values, psychological crisis, economic crisis, cultural crisis, crisis of religions, philosophy, sciences, crisis of organizations, crisis of communication, energy crisis, demographical crisis and so on and so forth. Although all of these crises have some answers, two of their insufficiencies have to be mentioned here. Firstly, they are mostly certain local answers to the global problems. Secondly, they are not actually interconnected within general conception(s) by the necessary meta-ideas. History and human mind “beats” like a heart. Heterodoxy expands the volume of the virtual in this context organ whereas orthodoxy moderates its volume. The task of our days is to generate as much as possible ideas and conceptions so as to be able to select the best ones.           

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