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Monday, June 28, 2004
Related to the below: this Richard Rorty critique of a Richard (note: not Sheldon) Wolin book called The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance With Fascism From Nietzsche to Postmodernism. You can pretty much guess what this is all about. I had, once upon a time, intended to comment on this, but now I think my thoughts are in a different place. What I meant to address, I think, was this bit:

Wolin believes that the prevalence of "slack postmodernist relativism" is very dangerous. "The postmodern left," he says, "risks depriving democracy of valuable normative resources at an hour of extreme historical need." His book seeks to demonstrate that "at a certain point postmodernism's hostility towards 'reason' and 'truth' is intellectually untenable and politically debilitating."

My knee-jerk response, of course, is that this is silly; morals are relative, especially in politics, but there are also clear boundaries for "essentialists" just as there are for any functional pomos, so to imply that any relativism is a slow slide into fascism ignores your own. (Relativism, that is.)

But in relation to my point below about the way a confident connection can effect change, I have to wonder: is the (possibly unintended) implication here, i.e. that whether or not they actually exist, absolute norms do serve a positive role in collective governance, actually a corollary of my own point? That is to say, if what we're doing is pretending that something is true in order to make it true, isn't it useful to pretend that certain subjective ideas are true, too?

Well, sure. I certainly think beliefs in things like justice, the rule of law, equality, etc., are necessary for a republic, and I support certain things that foster these beliefs. But at the same time, you have to do the backflip again and realize that just as people have an unsupported, fundamentally faith-based belief in certain cornerstones of democracy, so do people have a naive, unfounded belief in relativism. That a decent number of people manage to live their lives more or less under the belief system of postmodernism (which plays a big part in modern liberalism) attests to the way that relativism can inspire just as much unreasoning devotion as absolutism. Awesome!