The True Colors of the Academic Left

Is the purpose of education to inform and to promote critical thinking? Not according to the late leftist-postmodernist philosopher Richard Rorty:

“It seems to me that the regulative idea that we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists, most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of ‘needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions’ … It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank… You have to be educated in order to be … a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I don’t see anything herrschaftsfreiHerrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.

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6 replies »

  1. I have encountered this quote before. I actually have no qualms about post-modernsim (well Rorty actually a pragmatist in the analytic tradition) but this is just garbage.

  2. By the way, I was recently in an argument with a 23-yr old college student regarding the merit of a book about transsexuality to be taught in elementary schools. I told her I found it innapropriate for government “educators” to be informing students of what their values should be, and that that job was best left to the parents. She disagreed. It figures…

  3. This reminds me of patronizing feminist females laying down rules of discourse for discussing rape, gender et al. Deviate from that dogma and ….hooh-boy (or girl)!

  4. I consider myself on the Left and this passage is among the most vile I can imagine. If the project of the Left is merely to reprogram the world according to a new orthodoxy, what the fuck is the point? I thought the legacy of the Enlightenment was to understand our shortcomings and errors in order to better understand ourselves… but there’s not even the pretense of a genuine desire to understand. Just institutional perpetuation.

  5. The weird thing about Rorty was that he epitomized the contradiction found among many modern liberals and leftists in that he embraced near-total relativism in philosophy and zealous moralism in politics. For instance, he once said that he couldn’t really think of a knock-down reply to Hitler. You find this a lot in the academic world. On one hand, according to postmodernism, there is no such thing as objective morality or ethics or cultural values, and some of them will deny there’s any such thing as scientific or historical truth as well. But often the same individuals will combine this kind of relativism with a zealously moralistic crusade against racism, capitalism, sexism, homophobia, pollution, et.al.

    This is why I am a Stirnerite. If we are going to be revolutionaries, anarchists, whatever we are, I say we forget about moralism and simply proclaim our own interests and objectives in the name of self-assertion. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some pre-rational or emotive or practical opposition to whatever we are opposed, but let’s leave this “Fundamentalists of the Left” or “Nazis of the Left” stuff embraced by the likes of Rorty out of it.

  6. It was Foucault-a thinker whom I actually like- who epitomized this brand of ultra-relativistic nihilism like no other. However, he didn’t suffer from the same internal contradiction as Rorty as his goal was purely destructive and was never some moral crusade.

    This relativism is a product of Nietzsche and Heidegger, two thinkers who, ironically enough, would view the modern academic left with immense disdain.

    I think toward the end of his life Rorty tried to paradoxically embrace humanism while rejecting essentialism, and began justifying his political proposals with appeals to pragmatism-practicality.

    Overall, as a Kantian-Schopenhauerian in philosophy, I never went for his and other thinkers of his ilk’s views.

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