What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

The low man is so very low...

...that he needs a liberal kindergarten teacher to help him out, by force if necessary.

(I always knew I disliked this guy.)

It seems to me that the regulative idea that we—we...liberals, 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.” This is the concept the victorious Allied armies used when they set about re-educating the citizens of occupied Germany and Japan. It is also the one which was used by American schoolteachers who had read Dewey and were concerned to get students to think ‘scientifically’ and ‘rationally’ about such matters as the origin of the species and sexual behavor [sic] (that is, to get them to read Darwin and Freud without disgust and incredulity). 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.

What is the relation of this idea to the regulative idea of ‘reason’ which Putnam believes to be transcendent and which Habermas believes to be discoverable within the grammar of concepts ineliminable from our description of the making of assertions? The answer to that question depends upon how much the re-education of Nazis and fundamentalists has to do with merging interpretive horizons and how much with replacing such horizons. The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.

These 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.

Putnam and Habermas can rejoin that we teachers do our best to be Socratic, to get our job of re-education, secularization, and liberalization done by conversational exchange. That is true up to a point, but what about assigning books like Black Boy, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Becoming a Man? The Racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society the students should not be forced to read books by such people—black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children’s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like “There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes, and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen of our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. 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 have no trouble offering this reply, since I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. It seems to me that 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. I come from a better province.

Richard Rorty, from "Universality and Truth," in Robert B. Brandon, ed., Rorty and His Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-22.

HT: Esteemed husband

Comments (22)

You say that you knew you always disliked Rorty; I take it that this quote is proof that you had good reason to dislike him. So, what about the quote makes you dislike him? Is it the fact that he openly tries to brainwash people, or is it the views he tries to brainwash people into having? That is, do you think you can teach without brainwashing, and so resent that he brainwashes, or do you agree that all teaching involves a form of brainwashing, but you wish he used a different cleaner?

It is amazing how exactly this corresponds to the agenda I attributed to the modern university in the second of my three-part Tech Central Station series on universities and the Left several years ago (i.e. the one Leiter ritualistically cites as "evidence" of my crankery -- perhaps he thinks Rorty was a crank too):


If you go back and read what my critics had to say at the time, you'll find that it is pretty obvious that what really bothered them was not that I incorrectly described how left-wing professors saw their calling (I did not incorrectly describe it) but rather that I objected to how they saw it, and did so rather vehemently.

Wish I had known to cite this at the time. Not that it would have made any difference. These people know what they are doing, and would rather not have anyone call attention to the man behind the curtain so long as their stranglehold over the commanding heights of the culture is still less than absolute.

But I'll give Rorty credit for being frank in public -- something he was always more willing to do than most leftist academics are.

It wouldn't help to quote Rorty since you'd put everyone to sleep with his hopelessly limpid acadamese where you have to slog through to get to his message that he hates independent minds and does his Uriah Heep best to destroy reason wherever he finds it.

What a sick creepo.

He does make one want to puke.

Now isn't it funny that, even if we're not racists and we're not sexists, the fact that we just don't accept the triumph of the sexual revolution and last Thursday's discovery that a man's ability to marry another man is a most fundamental human right means that we are the moral equivalent of defeated ex-Nazis?

Remember when we were the good guys for having a sexual ethic?

The mindset Rorty sets forth is truly extraordinary. Think of it: Five thousand years of Judeao-Christian teaching and tradition, the law and the prophets, all of Sacred Scipture, the Father of the Church, the writings of the Popes and councils, the teachings of the various orthodox Christian denominations, the martyrs and confessors, the apostles and missionaries, the example of nature itself and the claims of the natural law: all of these Rorty weighs against his and his comrades' own imperative, which is "if it feels good do it" shall be the only law concerning human sexuality. And having weighed their view against that of their opponents, Rorty and his comrades claim the victory. Why? How? Based on what? The preponderance of the noblest and most brilliant scholars Western civilization has produced are against them. The witness of human history is all against them. Nature herself is against them. But Rorty et al. don't trouble themselves about what is against them. Their simply wishing it makes it so and overcomes, in their minds, any and all opposition of whatever weight and from whatever quarter. And having wished it, and decided it, they undertake to school the children of Christian families to reject Christ also.

And when Christian parents object, Rorty et al. don't want to have to argue their case on the merits. By no means must they be brought to do this, for their case has no merits, and they know it. Their stand is based simply upon "because I'm smarter and I said so". And to keep anyone from noticing, Rorty et al. resort to ridiculous name-calling and invidious comparisons: Christians who oppose them are "bigots", and are to be likened to "Nazis". Indeed. Thoughtful Christians ought to burst out laughing in his face on hearing such pathetic attempts at distracting his opponents from what is really going on - which is that a cadre of arrogant atheists without authority and without mandate are trying to uproot the love of Christ from the upcoming generation.

Breathtaking arrogance. Will we continue to sit still for this? And if we do, are we worthy of Him who purchased us and at a price?


And to keep anyone from noticing, Rorty et al. resort to ridiculous name-calling and invidious comparisons: Christians who oppose them are "bigots", and are to be likened to "Nazis".
I don't think it is mere name-calling from their perspective though. I think liberals like Rorty actually do see "fundamentalists" - that is, traditional Christians - as Low Men. And since Nazis are (ironically) nowadays the paradigmatic Low Men that liberals understand best, given their close ideological proximity to liberalism, every Low Man is really just a closet Nazi or gestating Nazi.

I have a new post up on this specific point. And again, we don't want to make the mistake of thinking that liberals don't really believe what they say they believe. I think they in fact really do believe what they say they believe.

Zippy, to the extent that a cadre who base their entire arguement on essentially "because I said so", would trouble themselves to actually examine and hold anything that could be described as a belief, I believe you.

...a cadre who base their entire arguement on essentially "because I said so"...
IOW, whose entire approach is founded on man being the measure of all things, etc.
I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer

And then he compares himself to a Nazi too. Sort of. Only he comes from a better province.

I want to write some in answer to Bobcat as soon as I get some more time.

A few random thoughts inspired by this piece:

Mencius Moldbug has speculated that secular Western Europe looks so much like an American college campus because American academics played a key role in rebuilding Europe after the war. In that light, it's especially eerie that Rorty actually uses the imagery of Nazi reeducation.

Rorty's comments bring to mind Ward Churchill, formerly of CU-Boulder, who got into trouble for calling 9-11 victims "Little Eichmanns." (He got into bigger trouble after his plagiarism was exposed.)

Despite postmodernist anti-foundationalist habits, is it still more common to put "Western Civilization" in scare quotes than to put "The Enlightenment" in scare quotes?


It's both. That is, I object in the strongest terms both to Rorty's explicit embrace of sophism as the proper mode of teaching and to the specifics of his positions. And, to boot, I object to the incredible arrogance in his treatment of Christianity.

No, I do not agree that all teaching is brainwashing. I could say a lot more about this. I think it's easy to be confused about this for a number of reasons. First, if one spends much time teaching young children or even people with very little educational background, one becomes aware of how much simplification one has to do just to get started, to be understandable to one's audience, and to get anywhere without endless digressions. But simplification is not the same thing as brainwashing. And there are ways to keep oneself scrupulously honest even in those contexts. For example, the other day I was discussing a biblical passage with my ten-year-old. I told her that the pre-tribulation, pre-millenialists (whose position I explained briefly) interpret the passage in a particular way, that I don't agree with them, but that one advantage of their position is that it makes sense of that particular passage, whereas I myself do not know what the passage means. (It was the passage about "in that night...one shall be taken and the other left" in Luke.)

Another reason people might be tempted to think that all education is brainwashing is because a teacher is likely to influence his students--intentionally or unintentionally--with his own view of the subject. This isn't, in my opinion, a bad thing. But there are better and worse ways of influencing, and just making everything be about the will to power, as Rorty does, is incredibly wrong and dangerous, because it provides an out and out excuse for sophistry and deception, for the use of personal charisma in lieu of argument, and for the deliberate suppression of contrary evidence.

I also, of course, object to what Rorty is trying to do. His arrogance is unbounded. Commentator Marion has given a long list of groups, traditions, etc., he is casually despising. I would add to that list all the philosophers and thoughtful people who have made condemnation of homosexual acts part of a comprehensive and (at a minimum) not unreasonable view of the human person and human sexuality. To Rorty, everyone from Thomas Aquinas to Richard John Neuhaus (to name only two) is just a fundamentalist kindergartener who needs to be reeducated out of his hateful homophobia. This is bizarre and childish on Rorty's part and renders him an incredibly unfit teacher of the young.

And, naturally, since I regard myself as one of those thoughtful people who believes homosexual acts to be gravely immoral and homosexual inclinations to be objectively disordered, I find it highly disturbing that Rorty should have been using, and should advise others to use, their considerable influence in this sophistical way for what I cannot help viewing as the thoroughgoing corruption of young minds. That's appalling.

I would add, too, that Rorty rather ironically is rhetorically appealing without admitting it to to the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth and that some people have it and others don't. The irony is that Rorty is trying to sound like he doesn't believe this, but the reason his robust admission to reeducation is going to resonate with some people who happen to agree with him is because in the back of their minds there is this notion that, after all, they are _right_ and that their opponents are terribly, badly, wrong. Rorty cleverly sets the whole thing up with himself against those who want education to be a "dialogue" and so forth and who recommend entering into a mutually influencing relationship with those they teach. Now, I don't agree with that view, either. It's perfectly fine to say, "I'm right on this subject; most of my students are wrong. I hope to change their minds." But Rorty is obviously saying a good deal more than this, and something a good deal more objectionable.

I trust that is a thorough answer to your questions. :-)

Ed, exactly: You're up against that oh-so-common leftist phenomenon--they're allowed to say it, but we're not. It comes up so often that I wonder if liberals ever talk about it quietly among themselves, or if young liberals ever question it: "How come when the Washington Post says one of the Teletubbies is gay, this is something to celebrate, but when the religious right _reads_ the story and re-reports it, they're dirty-minded fools even to think such a thing?" "How come when conservative parents and philosophers like Ed Feser say liberal college professors are out to brainwash kids to liberalism, they're conspiracy-mongering nutcases, but when Richard Rorty says it, that's fine?"

Hi Lydia,

I also agree that not all teaching is brainwashing. In fact, I'd say that very little is; I want to keep brainwashing to be a severe, extremely deplorable practice undertaken, in general, by cultists, where you are isolated from anyone who disagrees with the cultists until you submit to their will, for at least partly physiological reasons.

That said, I agree you should be scrupulously honest. And it's hard to tell whether Rorty is honest; on the one hand, he says that he's not communicating with his students, and I don't know whether he tells (er, told) them that. On the other hand, he told *us* his view, which is something of a commendable honesty. (Not very, given what he's being honest about.) If it turns out that he happily told his students that he wasn't open to their ideas, then I can't see how he was dishonest.

This makes the question seem complicated to me; I'm happy to tell my students when I think my view has some deficiencies that aren't present in another view. But what about those views that I have a great deal of difficulty taking seriously? (E.g., materialism in philosophy of mind.) In such cases, I tell them that I find materialism inconceivable (largely because of qualia), but I hasten to point out that a great number of esteemed philosophers and cognitive scientists are much more optimistic than I am. But what if I were a materialist who felt that any form of dualism shouldn't be taken seriously? In such a case, I would tell my students that I don't take it seriously, but that a few distinguished philosophers do (though the vast majority don't seem to). And wouldn't that be giving students the impression that dualism is not really to be bothered with?

I am glad that liberals are no longer perpetuating this "open society" nonsense. We are liberal in the same way Iran is Muslim. All must conform.

What is also ironic is that when the Church held prominent power in the West it produced men like Albert and Aquinas. In the modern era, when liberalism is king and everyone else is a slave, all the secular world can muster is men who assume that all who disagree with them are mentally ill or severely irrational.

Where are the alumni? People need to stop giving money to the institutions. They are nothing more than liberal-producing factories. Hell, this guy is proud of that!

Bobcat, I'd say that Rorty's "honesty" as at the metalevel only: "Advertisement: I view teaching as brainwashing." That doesn't tell us how often he has told students or at least strongly implied to them that, for example, there are no even marginally decent arguments for Christianity, against homosexual acts, etc., and that all the people who hold these views are in essence ignorant rednecks. I suppose one could say that such sweeping implications can't be a sign of object-level dishonesty since he has first convinced himself of these arrogant and false views before passing them on to the students. But his avowed commitment to brainwashing his students makes it pretty clear that even if he ever had any qualms or doubts he would simply stifle them and move on.

I see no problem with believing that some views have no good arguments for them. One is bound to believe this about some things, and sometimes one will be quite right. After all, plenty of things _don't_ have any good arguments for them. I also see no problem with believing that some views are beyond the pale. It is not the case that every ethics class must treat bestiality and infanticide as serious candidates for morally licit acts. But if one doesn't just believe as Rorty does that teaching is all about social conditioning, one will hopefully be forced as a philosopher to a kind of self-honesty so that one makes fewer mistakes about which views have no good arguments for them and/or are beyond the pale. Or, more briefly, if one explicitly and self-consciously believes in truth, one has a better chance of finding it.

This takes me off the topic of the thread, but nonetheless:

I've met countless philosophers who have told me that they see no good arguments for belief in God and at least one good one against (the evidential argument from evil). I think they're being sincere; that said, I think they often haven't looked at very much of the case that theists have made. So, I don't think they're deceiving themselves, but I do think they made up their mind about the case too early on, and so led themselves to believe that theism is as hopeless as defending infa...well, I was going to say infanticide or bestiality, but in fact I can't think of one of these philosophers who thought that theism was less problematic than defending infanticide or bestiality. Many of these philosophers were utilitarians or Kantians, and so saw no problem defending infanticide in at least some cases.

Anyway, there are three problems these philosophers face: first, should they ever get around to confronting a good theistic argument, they will be completely closed to its conclusion (it will be a dead hypothesis for them, as James would say); so they're more or less unrecoverable by their late 20s. And no matter which philosopher's theism you surprise them with (van Frassen and Kripke are my two favorite examples), it doesn't have much effect other than for them to say "no, he's not" or "really? I didn't know that. Weird..." or "well, smart people can make mistakes." Second, most philosophers are atheists, so even if you point out prominent theist after prominent theist, they can point out more prominent atheists and feel comfortable to relegating theism to an odd tic shared by all-too-many of their colleagues. Third, very few theists actually give any arguments for theism. Many of them follow (what I call) the Notre Dame model and say, "I'm a Christian because I was raised to be, and I've never seen a reason to give it up." It makes the whole enterprise seem like the vegetarian/meat-eating debate, with the vegetarians saying, "you're not permitted to eat meat" while the meat-eaters say, "yes, I am", as opposed to the pacifism/non-pacifist debate (where the pacifists say "it's always immoral to use lethal force" while the non-pacifists say "it's sometimes immoral NOT to use lethal force"). In other words, it gives the impression that theists are trying to justify something illicit, like a 2-times-a-day heroin habit.

Indeed, the proponents of "properly basic" belief in God have done none of us any favors by their philosophical position, though they have done (and I do not want to sneer at this) a good deal for the reputation of Christianity in the profession just by being smart, highly respected philosophers and unabashed Christians.

I thought this made a good piece of satire until I realized that Rorty was serious.

students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.

Wow, so students leave college as elitist, Christophobic, secular fundamentalists instead. Oh yes, a vast improvement by far!

I guess this is why the older I get the less I give a frog's fat a$$ what any liberal says or thinks. And the more I want to keep my kids away from them at least until I'm confident my kids are able to see through the steady stream of b.s. In other words, until I'm confident they've received what used to be called an education before the liberals took over and decided that indoctrination is all that there is, so they'll just go ahead and do it to our kids whether we like it or not.

Very good, John. I advise home schooling. Especially, er, in Europe (hint, hint).

Damn straight! :)

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