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4.4.04

Some Hegemonic Truth-Claims About The Popularity Of Relativism

Kevin Drum responds to a reader who asks why liberals get so worked up bashing the religious right, when the religious right is pretty peripheral. Drum's answer, which I broadly agree with, is that the religious right actually does wield quite a bit of power -- though I think we do tend to over-focus on the real wingnuts like Jerry Falwell and Rev. Phelps, thus hurting our ability to address the larger group of reasonable religious conservatives.

Drum's post brought up a parallel question in my mind -- why do conservatives spend so much time bashing postmodern relativism? From my perspective, relativists aren't much of a voting bloc. Even people who claim to be relativists often turn out to be realists in their practical political views. While Bush appointed Leon Kass to chair the bioethics council, I can't imagine John Kerry asking Michael Dear for input on urban planning.

My suspicion is that 1) the disproportionate number of relativists in academia, an environment familiar to people who write social/political criticism, skews people's perceptions of how many relativists are out there*, and 2) it's easier to argue against relativistic rationales for leftist political programs that can be and are supported on realist grounds.

*This availability bias probably also explains why so many liberal bloggers spend so much time criticizing libertarians -- libertarianism (as distinct from small-government conservatism, which has similar outcomes with a different philosophical grounding) may not be big in the real world, but there are loads of libertarian bloggers.

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