Clay Waters – himself a formerly-religious person, I think, though I wouldn’t want to mischaracterize his views – last month pointed out a New York Times article about Heather Mac Donald being an atheist conservative. That’s one of many things about Mac Donald that pleases me and, as it happens, I learned another when I saw her speak to the Phillips Foundation the day before that article came out: She says she was motivated to go into political writing by her disgust at the Continental philosophy and deconstructionism rampant at Yale when she was an undergrad.
A decade later, it was in large part the rampant deconstructionism at Brown – arguments by obscurantist French theorists aimed at showing that all language and symbol-use is a mind-controlling web best decoded through a combination of Marxism, feminism, and phallus-obsessed neo-Freudianism – that motivated me to fight back and start writing regularly in defense of reason, morality, and civilization, as I still do (and as my friend Alyssa Pelish recently reminded me, one of my big inspirations was Jonathan Swift).
I think it’s worth pausing to consider the fact that neither my motivation nor Mac Donald’s would fit into the usual religious narrative – nor the usual deconstructionist narrative – about how atheists and capitalists think. Religious conservatives like to paint atheists as nihilists, undermining everything and sneering at purportedly-evident Truths, while deconstructionists depict capitalists as unreflective dupes of the system who would as readily buy into religious lies as we do into mind-controlling advertising.
In fact, it is religion that is (necessarily) averse to truth, and deconstructionism that is in love with its own self-absorbed, mesmerizing-and-flattering poetics. If atheists sometimes seem pushy to religious people, it’s only because atheists do not have as much need to flee from arguments as religious people do. And no shampoo ad in history has ever made as snooty a pretense of offering you instant sophistication as has Continental philosophy, with its ritualized incantations about metonymic signifiers and instantiations of hierarchized hegemony – offering, as David Lipsky put it in a short story shortly after graduating from Brown, to reveal the sinister clockwork behind reality, at the price of leaving you a haunted, cynical, sexy, and hip – often black-clad – shell of your former self, possibly with tenure and cigarettes.
Far from atheist-capitalists being afraid of the truth, we’re the ones always happy to discuss it – and to learn more – while defenders of faith and socialism alike, as their lies become more painfully obvious, are the ones driven to the last-ditch defensive measure of hiding behind postmodernist obfuscation. In essence, religion and Continental philosophy alike are nowcompelled to say: “Oh, you say it’s true science can explain things without any need to invoke the supernatural? You say it’s true that free-market economics explains society more effectively than Marx? Well, then, maybe nothing is true anyway. Who’s to say what’s true these days, what with all our modern ideas...and products?”
Religious people and Continental philosophy buffs deserve each other, in short, whereas civilization deserves to be rid, at long last, of both camps. Instead, the two occasionally join forces now. If Foucault could cycle through dozens of different horrific belief systems – including support for Iranian revolutionary Islam – why not use Continental philosophy to defend Christianity or whatever else floats your boat?
My fellow Proud to Be Right contributor James Poulos has been known to mix theology and Continental theory – what becomes of faith after the materialistic Enlightenment, after all? – but that’s all the more reason I’m pleased to see him keeping it pithy and concrete on Twitter and online video these days. Long First Things essays, by contrast, can lead to madness. I’m against madness, whether of sorts traditionally associated with the left or right.
And I thought that way even before being a libertarian. Mac Donald isn’t technically a libertarian even now – and she amusingly paused to apologize to me for it during her speech last month – but she’s anti-bullshit, like an awful lot of instinctively-moderate people (regardless of where they end up on the conventional political spectrum) and that goes a long way.
However, since so many Continental theory types are convinced that they are not obfuscators but rather are more adept than us blinkered bourgeois rationalists at thinking about ambiguity (especially regarding complex social constructions such as gender), tomorrow let us take a moment to appreciate a defense of bourgeois virtues written by a transsexual.