‘With that ominous echo of McCarthyism, Stanley Fish, postmodern provocateur and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, begins his defense of postmodernism in a symposium in the summer issue of The Responsive Community, a quarterly political journal edited by Amitai Etzioni.
Clearly, Mr. Fish continues, no one has yet threatened to treat postmodernists like traitorous Communists, but “it’s only a matter of time,” he says. A new version of “America, love it or leave it!” is in the making, he claims, “and the drumbeat is growing louder.” A “few professors of literature, history, and sociology,” he asserts, are now being told that they are directly responsible for “the weakening of the nation’s moral fiber” and that they are indirectly responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
…Mr. Fish, fearing the growing drumbeat, has mounted a campaign to defend pomo. His views are the focus of the journal’s symposium, “Can Postmodernists Condemn Terrorism?,” in which his often idiosyncratic interpretations are challenged by academic luminaries like Richard Rorty, Benjamin R. Barber and Cass Sunstein. Mr. Fish also raises the pomo flag in “Postmodern Warfare: The Ignorance of Our Warrior Intellectuals,” a cover article in the July issue of Harper’s magazine.’ NY Times
Naturally, Jonah Goldberg, editor of The National Review Online, takes on Fish, arguing essentially that moral relativism is too dangerous an idea to play with under current circumstances:
Alas, when it comes to the world of ideas… — politics, philosophy, cultural criticism, art, and so on — we don’t just merely permit so much as actively encourage people to explore any idea they like. As a society we typically think this is wonderful because we believe in freedom of thought, speech, conscience, etc. And, if you’re going to frame the issue as one of government interference versus my unadulterated right to speak, write, read, and think as I wish, then it is a wonderful thing, on the whole.
But beneath all the clichés, posturing and, breast-beating from “lovers of liberty” and civil libertarians of all parties, there’s an inescapable fact. Some ideas are dangerous. If you are a reasonable person, you will concede this point — even if you disagree with me on which ideas were dangerous. My list includes those notions which constitute the cores of Nazism, Stalinism, communism, postmodernism, Maoism, relativism, scientific socialism, Hale-Boppism, running-with-scissorsism, et al. If you’re on the left you might take a few of those off and add capitalism, conservatism, manifest destiny, whatever.
Believe it or not…