Fooba Fooba Fooba

In another essay, Westphal is concerned to deal with the ready identification of postmodernism with various political absolutisms, particularly fascism and communism. In “Deconstruction and Christian Cultural Theory,” Westphal argues that such an assimilation is based on a gross misreading of Derrida and Foucault in particular.

“So it is that the temptation to lump postmodernism together with Hitler and Stalin is simply irresistible to some” (p. 176).

“Why are they then so quick to link Hitler and Stalin with postmodernism?” (p. 179)

“How is it possible for presumably responsible scholars to find Hitler and Stalin in this?” (p. 184).

There is at least one answer to these questions that should be revealing, at least for those who care about what people (including philosophers) actually do, how they vote, where their sympathies are. Derrida identified himself as a “man of the left,” although he was coy about associating with the Stalinists. And Foucault was the darling of the post-68 radical leftists. But for a certain kind of mind, this kind of troublesome fact can be neglected so long as we have the ghost of nuance from their writings that we can chase down the halls of the philosophy department. “Perhaps we can tease out a certain playful critique of icky things in Heidegger if we continue to wring it out like a damp washcloth . . .” In the meantime, I am trying to get people to look at the man’s armband. See that? Have you ever seen that symbol before? Like in the movies? Does the goosestepping off to faculty meetings ever trouble you?

Radical chic in philosophy routinely gets a pass. Whether we are talking about Sartre with Mao, or Heidegger with Adolf, there is this weird gnostic insistence upon not paying attention to actual real-time actions. How do they apply their systems of thought? Where do they graviate? How do they vote? Bring up the fact that Heidegger was a card-carrying you-know-what, and all we hear is polite throat-clearing. And this is one of the reasons why we should apply a hermeneutic of suspicion here — not only because the radical politics of many of these men is obvious, but also because of the refusal of their explainers and handlers to deal with the obvious. Instead of explaining the armband, they want to retreat into obscure texts in order to make them more obscure. By the end of the day, we don’t know who is a commie anymore, even though he is standing on the top of a Parisian barricade, waving a flag.

Westfold repeats Arthur Schlesinger’s observation with approval — “the atrocities of modernity have been committed by moral absolutists” (p. 177). Yes, and those atrocities were also identified as such by moral absolutists. Here is an irrelevant observation. The Holocaust was perpetrated by men with guns. Here is a relevant rejoinder. It was also shut down by men with guns. Right? Wrong? These are strange words. Tell us more about this strange religion of yours.

“This assimilation of postmodernism to totalitarianism is especially ironic since the former is a sustained critique of the violent, totalizing discourses that absolutize their own insights, thereby legitimizing the violent, exclusionary practices congruent with those discourses” (p. 179).

Let me illustrate the central problem here. Let me let fly with a violent, exclusionary observation, the kind of thing I am wont to do from time to time. Nazism is wicked. There, I said it. Now, what am I supposed to do? Obvious, isn’t it? I have to wait for the “sustained critique” of my totalizing impulses from the postmodernists. The problem is apparent. If we are not governed by the absolutes of God, then anything goes, including the worst forms of arbitary absolutism.

In a sea of relativism, the harsh relativists will always kick around the weak relativists. That much is obvious. And in a world where arbitary and idolatrous absolutes are running around loose, the last thing we need are postmodernists promulgating a worldview that makes resistance to such evil incoherent. The pomo critique of totalizing violence applies as much (on paper) to Osama bin Ladin as it does to the Special Forces hunting him down, but men like Osama pay no attention whatever, and those who make the decisions about what our Special Forces will do all graduated from colleges where this kind of truth rot is a central part of the curriculum. So you tell me what the net effect will be.

“Then they add, ‘If we are to oppose the physical violence of poliyical totalitarianism, we must oppose the epistemic or ‘interpretive’ violence of totalizing discourse'” (p. 180).

Let me interpret. If we are to oppose their violence, then we must first abandon the violence of thinking their violence might be wrong. There we are, sitting on the limb, wood saw in hand. Fooba, fooba, fooba.

Westphal wants this uncertainty of his to be a Pauline uncertainty. “Why not agree with Paul that we see ‘through a glass darkly’?” (p. 181). Well, because Paul was talking about the eschaton, the ultimate future. Of course he saw that through a glass darkly. We all do, especially the dispensationalists. But he didn’t see the glass itself darkly, or his coffee table, or his assessment of the Judaizers at Galatia, or his sandals in the morning.

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