Monday, February 13, 2006

Fish and Relativism:

Pomo poster boy Stanley Fish has generated some controversy in the blogsphere for his article on the Islam Cartoons. Andrew Sullivan focuses in on Fish's radical relativism: "For post-modernists, liberalism is just another ideology. It has no superior claim to our allegiance than, say, Islamism or scientology or Raelian metaphysics."

And here Julian Sanchez notes how Fish's relativistic rejection of liberalism doesn't necessarily lead to the happy go lucky multicultural, "can't we all just get along?" results, and has right-wing overtones.

What's more interesting here, though, is that while Fish is typically pegged as hailing from the left, his screed is in many ways a perfect fit for the likes of Little Green Footballs. As Princeton's Kwame Anthony Appiah has astutely pointed out, a hard relativist position in which there's no common language in which to proffer cross-cultural criticism doesn't yield some kind of fuzzy "whatever's right for you" tolerance, but rather forces the conclusion that members of different cultures have nothing to learn from each other--and that conflicts of value can't ultimately be resolved by reason, but only by force.


But of course, Allan Bloom noted this before Appiah. Indeed, this insight (how post-modern relativism ultimately traces back to Nietzsche and the implications of this) is one of the central values of The Closing of the American Mind. The author of post-modern relativism is Nietzsche. And Nietzsche, although he has been adopted (or "coopted") by the Left (hence the chapter "The Nietzscheanization of the Left or Vice Versa") was a hard core, inegalitarian, elitist right-wing philosopher. So it shouldn't surprise us if post-modernism doesn't always (or perhaps ever) seem to fit properly with leftist, egalitarian tolerance.

As Bloom wrote in Closing:

Nietzsche was a cultural relativist, and he saw what that means -- war, great cruelty rather than compassion. War is the fundamental phenomenon on which peace can sometimes be forced, but always in the most precarious way. Liberal democracies do not fight wars with one another because they see the same human nature and the same rights applicable everywhere and to everyone. Cultures fight wars with one another. They must do so because values can only be asserted or posited by overcoming others, not by reasoning with them. p. 202

1 comment:

Irrational Entity said...

I also find the far left and far right convergence interesting. I do not think it coincidental that both sides think they can form a perfect society if only they could tell everyone what to do.