Postmodern Politics and the Goal of Social Justice

QUESTION: Postmodern Politics – The Goal of Social Justice

ANSWER:

Postmodernists long for a time when all of society’s ills and abuses will be eliminated and social justice will prevail. Richard Rorty elaborates his vision for America: “[Walt] Whitman and [John] Dewey tried to substitute hope for knowledge. They wanted to put shared utopian dreams—dreams of an ideally decent and civilized society—in the place of knowledge of God’s Will, Moral Law, the Laws of History, or the Facts of Science...As long as we have a functioning political left, we still have a chance to achieve our country, to make it the country of Whitman’s and Dewey’s dreams.”1

Rorty’s language is idealistic—the goal is nothing less than “an ideally decent and civilized society.” Rorty further develops this idea: “[Whitman and Dewey] wanted utopian America to replace God as the unconditional object of desire. They wanted the struggle for social justice to be the country’s animating principle, the nation’s soul.”2 Elsewhere Rorty reiterates the desire to substitute “social justice for individual freedom as our country’s principal goal.”3

Postmodern Politics – “Otherness”
The Postmodern understanding of social justice revolves around the “other.” Derrida’s phrase “the singularity of the Other” and Rorty’s term “otherness” refer to those who are marginalized by society—the poor, unemployed, migrants, Hispanics, blacks, women, gays and lesbians.4 This is equivalent to the Marxist idea that virtue resides only among the oppressed and forms the foundation for identity politics.

Social justice in the Postmodern sense means giving oppressed groups their due in society. Oppressed groups have traditionally been identified according to their race, sex, or gender as well as their economic level. To achieve economic equality requires governmental redistribution of wealth—take from the rich and give to the poor—a common theme among leftists. Rorty refers to Dewey’s utopian dream, and while Dewey was not a Postmodernist, Rorty draws from Dewey’s pragmatism to express his own political hopes. In that light, it is noteworthy that Dewey was himself the head of the League for Industrial Democracy, the American counterpart to the British Fabian Society, a socialistic organization founded in 1883.5 Both of these organizations attempted to influence their governments toward socialism.

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 106–7.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., 101.
4 Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Gay/Queer Studies, et. al., are taught from the Postmodernist point of view. For example, see F. Carolyn Graglia, Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism (Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing, 1998).
5 For an in-depth study of the British Fabian Society, see Sister M. Margaret Patricia McCarran, Fabianism In The Political Life Of Britain, 1919-1931 (Chicago, IL: The Heritage Foundation, 1954). For an in-depth look at John Dewey’s role bringing his brand of socialism into America’s public schools, see B.K. Eakman, Cloning of The American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education (Lafayette, LA: Huntington House Publishers, 1998).

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