“Academic freedom” and other PoMo Republican inventions

Florida’s proposed “student academic freedom” bill, which would allow conservative students to sue liberal professors who advance ideas that are repugnant to them, started me thinking yesterday about postmodern theory and deconstruction, and the way Republicans have quietly co-opted some of these techniques.

Ten years ago I took a course in Jurisprudence, the philosophy of the law. I lost the casebook we used in that class, but one of the essays I remember best argued that deconstruction as practiced by judges isn’t an inherently liberal approach. Instead, it’s a tool that can be used to critique and dismantle an existing framework. And in the law, once the framework falls, something else is erected in its place.

When left-leaning judges approach the law in this way, the right wing excoriates them for judicial activism. But when reactionary judges toss out years of Supreme Court case law, the right wing argues that this deviation from precedent occurs in the name of a return to higher values that have been subverted by a privileged liberal elite. The same thing is true outside the judicial arena, as the “academic freedom” bill illustrates.

The legal school of deconstruction (called “C.L.S.”), originally created, yes, by liberals in the 80’s, aimed to reinvent the law:

to give it a revolutionary new purpose: to lead the dismantling of the various hierarchies of power and privilege that through perversions of the legal process have come to threaten the higher values of our society.

Sound familiar?

This morning I caught up with Digby’s blog, and discovered that he recently used David Brooks’ latest inane “what’s wrong with liberals” column as a springboard for a critique that dovetails with some of the thoughts I’ve been having. Here’s part of what Digby said:

Brooks says that Republicans are strong because they argue all the time amongst themselves in a congenial way and everybody is open minded and understanding that they can’t have everything they want. [Ed. note: how much time has Brooks actually spent among Southern Republicans?] It’s one big philosphy seminar over there in GOPland. Liberals, on the other hand, are so obsessed with our ever expanding list of big complicated government programs that we haven’t given a moment’s thought to the kind of big thinking that evidently goes on among cosmopolitan Republican intellectuals who represent all those heartland values we are supposed to revere.

Why, he asked the unnamed head of a big liberal think tank who his favorite philospher was and he never called him back with the answer. Imagine that. (And here I thought we all knew that the only appropriate response to that question was “Christ — he changed mah heart.”)

Brooks says that we should emulate the right’s unruly but friendly fractiousness and spend more time arguing philosophy. He says that’s what they did when they were completely out of power and it’s shown to be very healthy for their big happy tentful of civilized individualists. This entire discussion about media infrastructure and message discipline is wrong because that is not where the real strength of the right’s political dominance lies [according to Brooks].

The rule of thumb for all Republicans giving advice to Democrats on op-ed pages is to assume the opposite. This means that message discipline and the right’s media infrastructure is exactly where the strength of the right’s political dominance lies. And I would argue that regardless of the friendly philosophy seminars in the break room at NR or The Weakly Standard, their governing philosophy can quite easily be summed up as a strong belief in no taxes on wealth, laissez faire capitalism, coercive Christianity and a huge police/military infrastructure. There are only a couple of philosophers who lead you in that direction, and it’s a place that I don’t think America knows it’s going.

He further says that we have a hard time understanding the big philosophical ideas because liberal theorists are so “influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.”

This means that we are on the right track because understanding post-modernism, relativism and the rest is the single most important key to understanding how the right is operating right now. Any party that can win the presidency by saying that hand counting uncounted votes is inherently unreliable compared to the machines that failed to count the votes in the first place cannot be said to be a party that doesn’t understand relativism. Michel Foucault is a much better guide to modern politics in the radical Republican era than John Dewey could ever be. We should be dragging all those ivory tower Derrida-ites out of the classrooms and hiring them at think tanks to deconstruct Republican rhetoric….

It’s funny, the last I heard liberals were elitists for being a bunch of pointy headed intellectuals who spent too much time watching PBS and not enough time burning rubber and eating at Red Lobster. There was no end to the lectures telling us that we libs were out of touch with everyday real Americans and we should take our heads out of our nancy-boy literchur and open up the Bible for some real inspiration. And now Brooks says we should be holding a non-stop series of undergrad rap sessions. Man, it’s so hard to know what we should do to be more like Republicans. My head is spinning.


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