Modern philosophy and politics are often thought of as oil and water with the former being an exercise in mental masturbation while the latter being an exercise in pragmatism. It is my goal in this post to attempt to begin to bridge the gap between the two and to briefly explain the need for an embrasure of epistemological realism among the Right (the consequences of which are yet to be explored) in order to effectively hold ground against modern Constructivism.
Before diving in, however, it is prudent to define a few terms as simply as possible so as to, hopefully, lose fewer readers.
- “Epistemological realism argues that our representations and language are accurate mirrors of the world as it actually is, regardless of whether or not we [humans] exist. It seeks to distinguish between true representations and phantasms.”1
- Anti-realism “generally bases itself on the indeterminability of whether representation is construction or a true representation of reality, it often slips into the thesis that representation is a construction and that reality is very likely entirely different from how we represent it.”2
- Constructivism argues that features of reality (e.g. race, gender, etc.) are merely social constructions.3
The appeal of anti-realism to the Constructivist Left is that it opens the door to revisionism insofar as reality is not seen as a transcendent, objective thing but rather, if our representation is a construction, a “reality for-us.”4 This means that the supposedly objective pictures of the world — that is to say, pictures of racial differences, genetic differences, and even skin-color à la Rachel Dolezal — aren’t actually objective, but are simply constructions of the world filtered through our anti-realist epistemology. As Bryant (although he doesn’t endorse anti-realism) says,
[anti-realism can] show how “pictures” of the world are socially constructed such that they vary according to history, culture, language, or economic class. In this way, the anti-realist is able to debunk universalist pretensions behind many “world-pictures” that function to guarantee privilege […] social constructivists and antirealists vigorously [argue] that our conceptions of society, the human, race, gender, and even reality are constructed. Their worry seems to be that any positive claim to knowledge risks becoming an exclusionary and oppressive force of domination, and they arrive at this conclusion not without good reason or historical precedent.5
Realism, and specifically epistemological realism, allows us to sidestep (with a bit of argumentation, as usual) the claims made by social constructivists by appealing to an objective reality that is in fact knowable and independent of human constructions. Thus, while social systems and modes of government are constructed by humans (with the aid of nature),6 scientific statements about humans remain objective and empirical.
The political implications of the realist vs. anti-realist debate should be obvious, but one point worth highlighting is that since anti-realism is so dominant in academia, students are taught in that tradition. As opposed to the modern Left being a “cultural Marxist conspiracy,” it seems more likely that the pervasiveness of anti-realist philosophies in all sectors of the humanities has led students for generations to buy constructivist arguments and thus make policies and worldviews around them.
Consequently, if the Right wants to be taken seriously again in the public sphere and get back into the fight, it needs to bring back realism as its dominant epistemology.
1. Levi Bryant, The Democracy of Objects (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011), 18.
2. Bryant, The Democracy of Objects, 15.
3. Much more can, and will, be said on this point in a future post, but for now a reductivist view is fine.
4. Ibid., 16.
5. Ibid., 16-17.
6. See Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
The Real Right Returns
The Right is coming back. After decades of humiliation and political failures, the opposition is reorganising, catching up with the times, and getting itself in order. It is none too soon. Europe faces numerous challenges, challenges which the entrenched, incompetent elites of politics, academia, and the mass media are unable and unwilling to confront. Uncontrolled […]