January 2001 -- "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else." So said John Maynard Keynes, and truly.
Over the last two and a half centuries, for example, the anti-Enlightenment ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau have been taking on an ever more powerful role in Western society. The recent presidential election produced numerous instances of this, as when the Florida Supreme Court grounded a decision on the following Rousseau-like dictum: "The will of the people, not a hypertechnical reliance upon statutory provisions, should be our guiding principle in election cases."
But Rousseau and his brand of anti-Enlightenment thought are by now familiar foes. A newer and far more troubling enemy is the anti-Enlightenment thought of postmodernists such as Jacques Derrida. During the last forty years, we have seen such postmodernism come to dominate the humanities in higher education and replace traditional scholarship with puerile analyses cast in terms of race, sex, and economic status. Very recently, this corrupting postmodern technique has been transmitted downward to the mass media.
Terry Moran of ABC News
During the election, one example was provided by Terry Moran , White House correspondent for ABC News, and his background provides insight into the spread of philosophical ideas. Moran's journalistic career began at Legal Times, where he was a correspondent and assistant managing editor. At that high-level of legal journalism, he would naturally be aware of the theoretical movements affecting the law, including the postmodernist Critical Legal Studies movement. In 1992, however, Moran moved to the mass media, as represented by Court TV. In 1998, he went to a still more mass medium, ABC News, where he was the network's primary correspondent for Supreme Court coverage. In 1999, he was named White House correspondent for ABC, and so was able to bring a postmodern outlook to wide-ranging analyses involving American politics and culture.
During the last forty years, we have seen such postmodernism come to dominate the humanities in higher education and replace traditional scholarship with puerile analyses cast in terms of race, sex, and economic status. Very recently, this corrupting postmodern technique has been transmitted downward to the mass media.
And that is just what he did with his December 6, on-line election commentary. Going far beyond the leftist politics of the Roussseauean anti-Enlightenment, Moran put forward the postmodern theory that political ideas are merely excuses for oppression by groups that are defined by race, sex, or class. "It is no accident," he said, attacking Republican arguments for obeying the law, "that the biggest champions of rules in general are white men. We wrote them, after all. For centuries, we were the only ones allowed to write them. . . . The very American tradition of reverence for rulemaking is one that, quite naturally, has been sponsored by those empowered to make rules in the first place."
This represents a significant decline in our marketplace of ideas. Formerly, the Enlightenment's advocacy of the rule of law was opposed by the anti-Enlightenment's advocacy of the popular will, with each side declaring the other's theory to be wrong in fact and disastrous in practice. Still, each side believed that there was a truth of the matter and that rational arguments could determine where the truth lay.
What Moran was telling his non-academic audience was that the ideas of oppressor groups-such as Republicans-are only weapons designed to keep down other groups. What is actually at stake is power, not truth and reason.
How quickly such a belief can produce tyranny we know from our campuses. There, anti-oppression rhetoric like Moran's has yielded kangaroo courts that dispense with the presumption of innocence; censorship in the form of speech codes; and thought control in the form of political correctness. If Moran and other journalists are allowed to get away with spouting postmodern "news analysis," they will be laying the groundwork for introducing similar procedures and institutions into the country at large.
This article was originally published in the January 2001 issue of Navigator magazine, The Atlas Society precursor to The New Individualist.