Friday, April 06, 2007

postmodern conservatives ii

From Kevin Mattson in American Prospect: (my emphasis)
Look behind the right’s cultural crusades...the push for intelligent design, the attack on secondary education as mere liberal indoctrination, and the assaults on the media -- and you start to notice a consistent worldview emerging. Call it conservative postmodernism. It is composed of numerous cultural strains that feed off one another. There’s anti-intellectualism, mixed in with a populist distrust of professionalism and higher education as well as “objectivity,” which is seen as a smokescreen cloaking the sinister ambition of imposing a liberal worldview on unsuspecting students or media consumers. For the conservative mind of today, everything is political; there is no set of competences that rises above the struggle for political power. Following from this, there is no real truth. There are only clashing viewpoints relative to one another, all deserving equal treatment in the public square.
And then Mattson quoting Nicholas Lehmann on the NewYorkTimes who wrote a long piece after researching right wing forms of media, [Lehmann states]:

“Conservatives are relativists when it comes to the press. In their view, nothing is neutral: there is no disinterested version of the news, everything reflects politics and relationships to power and cultural perspective.”
My only elision to those two quotes---I qualify "some conservatives....." not just "conservatives". Mattson, interestingly considers himself in the line of the Enlightenment which he sees under attack from both the postmodern left and postmodern right. A liberal classical liberal if you will.

When I quoted the Townhall piece, contrary to Dallman's claim of not having dealt with any content on the site, I meant what Mattson says as everything is political and that there is no real truth.

For the record, the sentence I narrowed in on in Townhall was this one:
By uniting the nations’ top conservative radio hosts with their millions of listeners, Townhall.com breaks down the barriers between news and opinion, journalism and political participation....
The line "breaks down the barriers between news and opinion, journalism and political participation" as related to the so-called end of objectivity and the suffusion of all information with power/politics.

The intra-conservative fight between Instapundit Glen Reynolds and Rush Limbaugh may point in this direction. Reynolds as a pomo conservative; Limbaugh the relic modern one.

I may be wrong, reading too much into that statement. That would be a fair criticism. There is a legitimate debate I think over whether certain conservatives have embraced the philosophy or rather are just co-opting the pomo language game. Where I think Dallman's argument went off the rails was then into this wider critique of postmodernism not having any meaning.

But back to Mattson for a second. For all that though he is smart enough to also recognize:
In so doing [defending Enlightenment against pomo left and right], liberals need not toss out the legitimate element in the postmodern critique of the Enlightenment.
Sounds like Habermas to me. If one does not prefer postmodern, then translate what I say into anti or critical-modernist strains within modernity. That was Habermas' critique of individuals like Derrida and Foucault--they themselves were still lost in the very system theory, monological deficiencies of modern philosophy they correctly criticized.

A search under postmodern conservative on Google will reveal a surprisingly rich (at least to me) discussion of the topic. You will not find my post anywhere near the top, let's put it that way.

Not the least of which is the self-proclaimed postmodern conservative blog.

Also this article on postmodern strains in evangelical theology:

Beneath and behind the postconservatives' approach to theology lies a growing discontent with evangelical theology's traditional ties to what Wheaton historian Mark Noll describes as the "evangelical Enlightenment," especially common-sense realism. Postconservatives see postmodernism as providing more appropriate resources for evangelicalism's philosophical underpinnings. Many of them opt for some version of critical realism, while others, such as Fuller professor Nancey Murphy, turn to philosophers such as Willard Van Orman Quine and Alasdair Maclntyre in developing a new philosophical orientation. A few have begun to explore the potential of postmodern antirealism. But the majority reject ontological relativism as incompatible with the gospel in any culture.
And for a very basic definition of postmodernism, from PrawsfsBlwag:

Postmodernists focus on a set of interrelated themes, such as the blurring between fiction and reality, the impossibility of universals and master narratives, the multiplicity of valid interpretations, the social construction of individual identity, and the contingency of human events and culture.
Terms as variegated as postmodernism and postmodernity (which generally I think are related but separate, postmodernity being more a general state of being, postmodernism being the specific application and espousal of certain theories, techniques, and so forth) are inevitably going to be difficult to pin point. But this is vastly different than totally meaningless.

Dallman has, I believe, already decided up front that the term (pomo) is meaningless. Nothing I write or quote will convince him otherwise.

tags technorati :





7 Comments:

At 5:41 AM, Blogger MD said...

Chris,

You can avoid my argument, and caricature it all you want; it doesn't help your perspective.

For the record:

My position is that the term "postmodernism", per se, as a term, has lost potency as a term because too many people in too many different situations with too many agendas use the same term. As one example, you and all the different situations/applications you applied "postmodernism" towards on the previous thread, plus the several more you add here.

The loss of potency is akin to trying to arrange too many playing cards into a house, and the house buckling from the weight of cards. I think the house has fallen.

I have never made the arguments that there are no people who espouse what they, themselves, call "postmodernism"; so you could link to five thousand more people who combine "postmodernism" and "conservativism"; and none of it addresses my point that the former term doesn't have any practical meaning.

My secondary argument, is that whatever postmodernism means, it is strictly an idea -- like any of the well-known ideas, and the not so well known ones; well known ones include god, sign and symbol, prophesy, love. The consequence of that is to see that postmodernism, as an idea, is simply something we superimpose upon reality; it explains, in part, why so many people use it in so many different situations; yet unexplained is why people continue to use it, at all. I haven't made an argument much in that regard, because I, in part, don't care why.

My tertiary argument is that the mere use of "postmodernism" implies acceptance of a larger taxonomy, something of pre-modern, modern, postmodern. And if one does that, one adopts a view that, much like postmodernism, can mean so much that it falls apart from the weight.

Other aspects of my argument:

There is nothing novel, intellectually, in postmodernism. Strategies such as questioning assumptions, deconstructing texts, and the whole throwing suspicion upon history, books, people, etc. goes back to ancient Greece. Thus postmodernism brings nothing new to the table, so to speak. The consequence of that is that even if you believe that postmodernism means something, still there is the "so fucking what?" factor.

Another strain, which I didn't develop much, is the simple factor of the particular category of media in question, with regard to the online delivery of Townhall.com, and how, in essence, the medium is the message. But that isn't a question of postmodernism, or its taxonomy; rather, that is a question of media studies, which hasn't shown up in your analyses, Chris. And that would shed a whole lot more light on Townhall.com than the "mean anything convenient" tact of postmodernism.

And, finally, that "postmodernism" means nothing has no bearing on whether or not various schools or disciplines of thought used under the "postmodernism" banner has similar problems with meaninglessness. My argument is limited; one term, "postmodernism" doesn't mean anything. Plenty of other schools, terms or tags relate to this term, and I'm not commenting on their validity.

In fact, I'd strongly prefer people just talk about those schools and disciplines, and whatever merit and truths these provide, and ditch the associative tag of postmodernism. Because it is just a crutch, and genuine thinking people don't need it, and oughtn't.

md

p.s. If people want to be or exemplify "postmodernism" without the rah-rah, just be suspicious. A lot. About everything. Even about things straightforward, limited, and often explained. Suspicious, baby. Suspicious.

 
At 5:48 AM, Blogger MD said...

P.P.S.

Or, instead of merely being suspicious, 24/7 (even being suspicious of your suspicion) one can just realize that all of "postmodernism" is a small strain within the great idea "Opinion"; and a particularly pathological, malignant, narrow one, at that.

 
At 7:54 AM, Blogger MD said...

And let me also clarify that anyone who buys into the taxonomy of pre-modern, modern, post-modern, is in fact a postmodernist. No matter how one names or renames those, or adds to them, the essential assumption is the same -- that top-down, superimposition of categories that obliterate distinctions between history and the human mind is useful.

To buy into the semantic validity of "postmodern", one is compelled to do the same for "modern", as well as for "pre-modern". One cannot be a postmodernist without, as it were, purchasing stock (of the semantic varietal) in this over-arching meta-narrative wannabe.

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger Ted said...

Pardon my interlocution, but I was wondering, Matt:

Are you opposed to periodicity, per se, or is it just the particular premodern-modern-postmodern taxonomy that you find problematic?

If I were to suggest that, despite considerable continuities, Mozart and Bach differed significantly enough to warrant being classified into different periods of musical style, would that bother you? I mean, Mozart could write a motherfucker of a fugue at the end of the Jupiter symphony, but he was not Bach. Not better, not worse, necessarily, just not Bach.

Am I just dumb, or is this similar to suggesting that Derrida, Foucault, et al, are more similar to each other than they are to Locke, Voltaire, etc., and that "postmodern" vs. "modern" is a handy (if terribly limited) shorthand for this difference? Granted, it's not as sexy as "Baroque" vs. "Classical".

Or a different angle: does the fact that "classical" can mean so many different things -- Greco-Roman antiquity, or music of roughly 1759-1825 (depending on what you do with Beethoven), or 'highbrow' music in general (my least favorite, but what else do you call it?), along with other things -- mean that the word/concept/idea is so fraught with multiple meanings that no one should use it?

Again, I am curious: how, exactly, is "postmodern" devoid of practical meaning in a way that "conservatism" manages to escape?

For the record, I'm weary of never-ending litany of prefixes (a trend I derisively call "postfuckingeverything") and agree that "postmodern" is horribly loaded and practically meaningless. To the extent, however, that it does (I think) point to a constellation of things that emerged at around the same time, I don't think it's totally useless. Lots of meaningless words are handy from time to time.

Ted

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger MD said...

Hi Ted,

One at a time:

Are you opposed to periodicity, per se, or is it just the particular premodern-modern-postmodern taxonomy that you find problematic?

It is mostly in the handling, so it depends. Periodicity is fine for purposes of historical reference. I am opposed to the premodern-modern-postmodern taxonomy for several reasons, already listed, especially that fact that it is too vague, thus too conveniently used.

If I were to suggest that, despite considerable continuities, Mozart and Bach differed significantly enough to warrant being classified into different periods of musical style, would that bother you?

Depends how you did it. Bach, for example, wrote voluminously for the Church; Mozart did not.

If it is a help, my view is that the history of things relevant to this discussion thread is the history of individuals and their handling ideas/themes. Most taxonomies are the product of attitudes/practices of the hard sciences wrongly infiltrating the Humanities.

Am I just dumb, or is this similar to suggesting that Derrida, Foucault, et al, are more similar to each other than they are to Locke, Voltaire, etc., and that "postmodern" vs. "modern" is a handy (if terribly limited) shorthand for this difference?

I doubt you are dumb. How handy is it, really. Most great thinkers "contain multitudes" and refuse easy categorization of their ideas.

does the fact that "classical" can mean so many different things -- Greco-Roman antiquity, or music of roughly 1759-1825 (depending on what you do with Beethoven), or 'highbrow' music in general (my least favorite, but what else do you call it?), along with other things -- mean that the word/concept/idea is so fraught with multiple meanings that no one should use it?

I would argue, in all those, yes; the term should be abandoned. Whether that will happen is a different story, entirely. But it should. Because "classical" says next to nothing, and all those composers contain multitudes, to say the friggin least.

how, exactly, is "postmodern" devoid of practical meaning in a way that "conservatism" manages to escape?

You raise a reasonable point. Conservatism is a problematic term, because, like postmodernism, its users want it to mean so much. Whether it is the same amount of intended meaning is a question I haven't explored. Off the top of my head, the main consistency you will see through most if not all strains of conservatism is a healthy respect (even if unconscious respect) for the ideas raised in the canon of classical liberal political thought. But, nonetheless, good point. Though conservatism being a problematic term is a different issue, you must admit, than postmodernism being a problematic term. There's a lot one must ignore to make the comparison between the two that I make above.

If you have any other comments or questions relating to my points and arguments, post them over at my blog, cuz I feel a bit weird doing all this at Chris's.

harmonic,
md

 
At 5:38 PM, Blogger Ted said...

I felt a little weird myself, actually. Let's thank Chris for his hospitality and continue, perhaps, elsewhere.

Ted

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...

no problem fellas. i appreciate different voices. peace.

chris

 

Post a Comment

<< Home