Leftism and Jihad II
The New York Times, meanwhile, did us all a favor by printing the latest post-modern claptrap from Stanley Fish. For post-modernists, liberalism is just another ideology. It has no superior claim to our allegiance than, say, Islamism or scientology or Raelian metaphysics. It is not the product of centuries spent balancing faith and freedom, the achievement of the West that wllows for different beliefs to flourish alongside each other, in a constitutional order designed to protect freedom. Liberalism is just a religion; and its goal is to weaken other religions:
"This is, increasingly, what happens to strongly held faiths in the liberal state. Such beliefs are equally and indifferently authorized as ideas people are perfectly free to believe, but they are equally and indifferently disallowed as ideas that might serve as a basis for action or public policy."
Yes, Fish has read Nietzsche, hence his homage in the sentence: "The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously." But this is a distortion of liberalism, as Nietzsche's was. The defense of free speech is not a frivoloous exercise, as Fish argues. In the context of a continent where artists and writers have been threatened with death and murdered for their freedoms, it is a deadly serious task. And maintaining support for the difficult restraint that liberalism asks of us - to maintain faith if you want, but to curtail its intolerant and extreme influence in the public square - is, pace Fish, not an easy or platitudinous path. It is the difficult restraint liberty requires in modernity. Fish, however, like many postmoderns, is skeptical of such ideas of liberty and, in a pinch, seems to prefer the Taliban's authenticity to societies where writers dare to challenge religious taboos:
"[Liberalism] is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors."
What you see here is something very close to the surface among the postmodern left. They deny all truths, but somehow feel excited by being in the presence of true believers. It gives them a thrill, the way so many Western intellectuals once found Hitler's and Stalin's purism exciting. When it comes to a choice between fundamentalism and freedom, Fish is on the side of fundamentalism. The thrill of believing in something so much you are prepared to kill innocents for it! The authenticity of Jihad! How much deeper than the pallid Western defense of an insipid thing called freedom. Fish is a useful reminder of how hollowed out many of our intellectuals are. They have learned nothing from the 1930s; and seem eager to repeat them.