Community and Political Thought Today

By Peter Augustine Lawler; Dale McConkey | Go to book overview

9
Liberal Ironism and the Decay of Citizenship

JOSEPH KNIPPENBERG


THE POSTMODERN CONDITION

It is common nowadays to describe our time as postmodern. Postmodernity is everywhere, from art and architecture to literature to philosophy and social science. In Richard Rorty's words, it has achieved "cultural hegemony."1 While such a fashionable term runs the risk of being so overused and over-applied as to become virtually meaningless -- at least in more or less popular discourse -- t has been and can be used with a certain amount of precision to denote the critique and abandonment of the modernroject of enlightenment. Because postmodemists display "an incredulity towards metanarratives,"2 they cannot support a project whose purpose is to discover, popularize, and universally apply rationally discernible principles. Unlike enlightenment rationalists, who have confidence in the power of human reason, postmodernists mistrust reason and the universalism they associate with it. Rather than speaking in categories applicable to all human beings as human beings, they attend to the unique habits, ways, and cultures of particular peoples. In Richard Rorty's words, postmodernists believe that "there is nothing 'beneath' socialization or prior to history which is definatory of the human."3 For postmodemists, it does not make sense to speak of a natural order or of human nature.4

Some find this understanding of our situation quite liberating. If identities and moral and cultural truths are "made, not found," then we are free to make and remake ourselves and our "values" as often as we wish, borrowing from the plethora of sources that the pluralistic life of the postmodern world makes available.5 Individual ways of life come to resemble the menu offerings we find in fashionable

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