Absolutism is the New Relativism

In an eye-opening article in Slate, Fred Kaplan writes that Condoleezza Rice “invokes her academic credentials to evade responsibility for decisions that she’s made or for policies that she’s helped devise.” More specifically, Rice argues that as a student of history, she has learned that far-future consequences are unforseeable, that the now-seemingly-negative may turn out to be positive, and vice-versa — and that, because we can’t predict how her decisions will be judged in thirty years, a hundred years, or a thousand years, we must not judge them today, either.

This may strike many people as both eminently true and eminently indefensible; after all, we still have to make decisions, and build on those decisions, even if we can’t know what our great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren will think, even if our goal is to make choices that will enable those distant descendants to exist and to thrive.

To me, the interesting aspect of her comment is that her eschatological objectivity (in The End, we can and will know) brings Rice and her fellow conservative academics to the same place as the radical subjectivity of their left-wing postmodern academic opponents in the culture wars, a position for which the postmodernists were soundly spanked by the good upstanding believers in absolute, objective reality.

Of course, the news isn’t that people engaged in politics (even academic politics) pillory their opponents for things that both sides do for opposite reasons. The news (if such an aphorism can be news) is that the poet was right: extremes meet.