There are some books, whether you agree with the perspective or not, that are just so useful in epitomizing a particular matter or worldview that they become necessary reading.
This book, “Contingency, irony, and solidarity”, published way back in 1989, is one of those books. In it Rorty does the average man an immense favor by clearly and unambiguously laying out the operating assumptions of at least one version of the post-modern liberal project.
Of course just what post-moderrnism is, is somewhat in dispute, as a glance at the Wiki editorial history shows. Nonetheless, with an appropriate shrug at the disciples of irony and deconstruction, this 2010 Wiki description (and post modernists are all about description and subversive redescriptrion) serves as well as many I have seen:
Postmodernism is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problematisation of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. It involves the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations …
This blurb from the back of the book may help as well.
So, what else is new, you ask? This book was written 24 or more years ago!
We’ve (you say) been confronting modern-liberals for decades now who seemingly cannot or will not explain how it is that they derive their conclusion that we must yield to their direction, from their seemingly – or so we infer – ultimately nihilistic worldviews.
Yet it is a fact that we continue to ask how it is that they think this all works. How, we want to know, do they get an affirmative conclusion, or an imperative statement, from what must be, when we take their other descriptions of reality into account, negative (metaphysical, ontological, logical, take your pick) premisses?
Well, this book explains how it is done. Here’s the secret. The secret is that there is no secret. There are no inferences derived. There are no deductions believed to be entailed. It’s all just what they want according to their own, particular sensibilities. Just as we figured.
The point of view is anti-foundational, anti essentialist, nominalist, i.e., anti essential natures and natural kinds, in extreme. Therefore there are [so they believe] no real and objectively existing universals to even fill their places in universal categorical propositions.
Nice to see one of the princes of the pack admit it so clearly. Yet, the blithe nature of the admission made those decades ago, confirms what nearly everyone – not just intellectuals – by now intuits directly: that the modern political left, so steeped as it is in this theory of meaning, cannot really be argued with.
Let Limbaugh fume that words have meanings. The opposition shrug and say ‘our meanings are different from yours’.
With them, it’s not as we have repeatedly inferred, a matter of dis-covering an objective reality and reasoning from axioms based on it . What is at issue as far as they are concerned are their sensitivities and their imaginations and their desires: and your reality will bend to their narrative and program, or else.
This is not the place to examine just where their belief system degenerates into incoherence. I am not sure that incoherence or what is an admitted self-reference problem is even a troubling issue with someone whose notion of “truth” is,
” … that since truth is a property of sentences, [notice it doesn’t say ‘propositions’ or arguments*] since sentences are dependent for their existence upon vocabularies, and since vocabularies are made by human beings, so are truths.”
Why should it? He just previous to that writes,
“The very idea that the world or the self has an intrinsic nature … is a remnant of the idea that the world is a divine creation, the work of someone who had something in mind, who Himself spoke some language in which He described His own project … [then later] On the view I am suggesting, the claim that an adequate ‘philosophical’ doctrine must make room for our intuitions [meaning immediate apprehensions of reality] is a reactionary slogan …”
As I said, you will probably not find a more concise, lucid, and unabashed exposition of the doctrines we confront every day as the solidarity pedlars steadily gnaw away at our formal liberties in the supposed name of relieving suffering and humiliation and exclusion – but of just what exactly, they cannot and feel they need not, say.
Thinking back, many of us will say that this entire matter feels like a rehash. Wasn’t the debate over the bankruptcy of post-modernism and deconstruction held back in the early nineteen nineties in the universities, the important journals, and the big papers? Didn’t Alan Sokal make public fools of them? Didn’t they fold up their tents and kind of go away?
Yes, yes, and no. They not only didn’t not go away, the theorist of 25 years ago has clearly written the psychic program that the modern-liberal Democrat runs today.
From academia to the street and polling booth in a couple decades.
Once upon a time, even Democrats referred to a common reality, imagined that humans had a moral center in addition to inchoate urges, and could be thought to understand the difference between truth and falsehood and to at least know in their consciences if they were lying or not.
Only a fool would make that assumption now.
* Note. Rorty was involved, his curriculum vitae reports, in analytic philosophy before abandoning it for a kind of deconstructive and ironic pragmatism. Therefore he well knows the traditional conceptual difference between a proposition and a sentence, and his use of “sentence” is, for those of us not yet familiar with him, pregnant with meaning and intent and back references. Get the book … cheap from a remainder bin or used book shop if you can.