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Right-wing postmodernism

September 6th, 2003

Josh Marshall observes

the administration’s main obstacle has been the experts themselves–the economists who didn’t trust the budget projections, the generals who didn’t buy the troop estimates, intelligence analysts who questioned the existence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. That has created a strong incentive to delegitimize the experts–a task that comes particularly easy to the revisionists who drive Bush administration policy. They tend to see experts as guardians of the status quo, who seek to block any and all change, no matter how necessary, and whose views are influenced and corrupted by the agendas and mindsets of their agencies. Like orthodox Marxists who pick apart mainstream economics and anthropology as the creations of ‘bourgeois ideology’ or Frenchified academic post-modernists who ‘deconstruct’ knowledge in a similar fashion, revisionist ideologues seek to expose “the facts” as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases.

This is a point I’ve been making for some time.As the debates over Aboriginal history, global warming and even creationism show, the same is now true for large sections of the Australian right, most notably those who take their line from Quadrant. Of course, as Marshall points out, there are plenty of precedents for this kind of thing on the left, but with Marxism moribund and postmodernism in terminal decline, it’s now much more prevalent on the right.

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  1. September 6th, 2003 at 12:51 | #1

    The intellectual relativist position implied by Right wing ideological spin doctors, which abolishes the distinction between truth and falsehoood by making the cognitive value of all propositions “interest-dependent”, should be distinguished from old-fashioned machiavellianism, which realises the distinction between truth and falsehood alright but suppresses the latter in the pursuit of secular power/privilege.
    I daresay that the Right is guilty of a bit of that as well.
    The intellectual sin that peravdes the Right is not so much the denial of the idea of truth, as the usurpation of it as a privilege only available to those who have “signed onto” the Movement. This is a revival of the idea of Revelation, available only to the Elect, who have chosen to abandon the god-forsaken ways of the Left.
    It is very attractive to ex-Party (winschuttle) and ex-seminarian (Abbott) types who have gravitated to the Right since the collapse of the organised ideological Left.
    They have Seen the Light now, as they did then, and those who do not comprehend the glories of their Vision are damned by vice of their connection with the Devil.

  2. Dano
    September 6th, 2003 at 15:09 | #2

    You’re just so…so…biased, John.

  3. Don
    September 6th, 2003 at 17:15 | #3

    I agree. But I don’t know if I’d call it ‘right wing postmodernism’ – Marshall’s closer to the mark when he compares it to old fashioned modernist marxism. The whole movement depends on the idea that there is only one truth, only one right answer and that they have it. But like the marxists they don’t believe the public are smart enough to be trusted to make up their own minds. It’s OK to spin in the service of righteousness.

    I liked Marshall’s comment:

    “Almost all of Bush’s deceptions have been deployed when he has tried to pass off his preexisting agenda items as solutions to particular problems with which, for the most part, they have no real connection.”

    This is the politics of the garbage can. In one garbage can you have a pile of solutions (eg invade Iraq, cut taxes for rich people) and in the other garbage can there are a bunch of problems (eg terrorism).

    The aim of the garbage can game is to get all of your favorite solutions out of the bin and matched to problems.

    Your supporters don’t care that the problem-solution matching is dodgy if they believe in the solutions. And with all the yelling and screaming by your opponents and those to your right many of the public will just split the difference as decide that the truth lies somewhere in the middle – and that’s where you’ll be.

  4. carl
    September 8th, 2003 at 11:53 | #4

    Another example might be Newt’s offensive on the State Department in Foreign Policy. He gives the following quote as an example of a “‘deliberate and systematic effort’ to undermine Bushâs foreign policy”:

    a recent classified report by the State Departmentâs Bureau of Intelligence and Research titled “Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes,” which was leaked in March 2003 to the Los Angeles Times. As reported by that newspaper, the document stated that “liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve [in Iraq] . . . . Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements.”

    This assesment doesn’t appear very controversial to me, but then I don’t work for the AEI. Newt’s argument seems like a pretty straightforward case though of viewing inconvenient facts as equivalent to a partisan attack and distinctly unwelcome.

  5. rdb
    September 10th, 2003 at 18:32 | #5

    Evangelical anti-intellectualism?

    From The Nation: An Empire of Their Own: by MELANI MCALISTER
    ….
    Left Behind also highlights something important about the way mass culture works. Rather than creating a homogenized McWorld, as so many critics have claimed, popular culture can and does reinforce ideological and cultural divisions, fostering sharp distinctions between communities. The evangelical population in the United States is becoming more numerous, more politicized–particularly around foreign policy–and more powerful than ever before. This transformation is as much cultural as political, or rather, it is inextricably both at once. Those of us who care deeply about the future of politics, domestic and international, cannot afford to ignore the fact that evangelicals are no longer merely a subculture. They are fast becoming a–perhaps the–dominant force in American life.

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