(In)Famous Neoconservative Postermodernism Quote
August 14, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble remembering this (apparently) well-known quote by a prominent American conservative expressing a 'post-modernist' worldview and approach to political life.

If I recall correctly, it was kind of dismissive about historical efforts to study and understand politics based on what has happened, instead emphasizing the ways in which the powerful were changing the rules and making history. The idea was that the former was passè, descriptive, and post-hoc, and not useful in the actual exercise of power. Anyone remember the quote, who said it, etc.?

I guess more broadly, I'm curious about the purported prevalence of a philosophically relativistic worldview among right wing "conservative" political leaders. I'd always associated the sensibility with left-leaning intellectuals, so its embrace by those on the other side intrigues me a lot.
posted by eagle-bear to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might be thinking of this quote attributed to Karl Rove.
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
I actually found the Bush Administration to be deeply and weirdly postmodern in the most cynical way possible, which was a cause for much cognitive dissonance for me.
posted by gauche at 10:40 AM on August 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

so its embrace by those on the other side intrigues me a lot.

You may find this FPP interesting.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:45 AM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Originally reported by Ron Suskind, I believe.
posted by CincyBlues at 10:45 AM on August 14, 2014

And, I suppose to address your broader question, I think that the cynical embrace of relativist epistemology has a lot more to do with being in power than it does with an actual, thought-out approach to questions of truth and its knowability. I don't think that even Rove would identify as a relativist, and perhaps was not even aware that that's what he was embracing in the quote.

David Graeber is not uncontroversial around here, but I thought this statement of his was insightful and possibly relevant to your question:
"The reason why grand narratives, or metanarratives if you like, have been so broadly rejected in radical theory since the ‘80s is that they close down possibilities rather than open them up, and, of course, tend to imply that political power should be in the hands of some intellectual elite that understands the inevitable direction of history. The problem is that you can’t really think outside some narrative structures. So the result is that those who think they are embracing a postmodern skepticism towards metanarratives, and just looking at contingent particulars, seem to end up reproducing the reigning assumptions of the day (economism, usually) without even noticing they’re doing so. There was a recent special issue of the journal Current Anthropology called “The New Keywords” organized by Lauren Leve, which I contributed to, where we actually tried to demonstrate how exactly that happened in ‘80s and ‘90s anthropology: instead of grand theory we ended up with a series of themes, consumption, identity, agency, flow… and all of them, really, ended up precisely echoing the logic of the market and the emerging neoliberal ideology of the day. So the question is: how do you write a grand narrative that will ensure we don’t do this, but which won’t also won’t try to enslave us to some Party that will lead us in the Inevitable Direction of History."
Admittedly, this description is more about the opposite shift in direction, but still.
posted by gauche at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

I guess more broadly, I'm curious about the purported prevalence of a philosophically relativistic worldview among right wing "conservative" political leaders.

It's a way of steamrolling opposition and getting what you want. You are in power and you want to do XYZ but tradition and/or law says you're not allowed? What do you do? You look em in the eye, you say XYZ is completely legal, then you do XYZ as if it's nothing, then you scoff at any disbelieving protest as ignorant/insane, then before anyone gets any traction on figuring out XYZ, you do it again with ABC... then DEF.... The opposition is kept off-balance and overwhelmed, time rolls on, the situation keeps changing, and pretty soon there is no way to undo XYZ and its legality solidifies through default assumption (they did it so it must be legal) and lack of focused organized powerful challenge (which was given insufficient chance to materialize - kept off-balance by constant new realities)

Much like "Possession is nine tenths of the law", so is power. If you ignore the rules boldly enough, they cease to be rules, and they cease to restrict you. See: Cheney, Scott Walker, etc. I assume Obama was watching and learning too.
posted by anonymisc at 1:07 PM on August 14, 2014

I don't know if the Bushies were postmodern. But they were Nietzschean, and perhaps Thrasymachusean.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:31 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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