September 3, 2007


Category: Academic,Liberalism — Biella @ 12:17 pm

In the last week, I have been witness to and part of many conversations and probably one of my favorite ones was about coffee. My friend reasoned that coffee is as wonderful as it is because of its dependability (unlike, for example, your relatives). You know that for a moderate sum of money, you can drink a drink that makes you happy, alert, and, for some of us, allows us to face the rest of the day on an even keel. It is pure comfort that derives from a form of almost ritualistic dependability.

This morning, as I was sipping my coffee, I came across a short blog post by Stanley Fish who certainly does not make me as happy as my morning cup of joe, but I do admire him for his dependability and consistency when it comes to reporting on matters of liberalism. For over 20 years he has dependably written on the quandaries and limit of liberal political ideology and his most recent installment, which focuses primarily on a new book by Paul Starr, is no different.

Well, his conclusion strikes just a little differently than the tone of some of his previous works.

In the past (or perhaps in some of his longer academic works), Fish’s solution to the problem of competing ideologies is that there are no solutions, just incommensurable ideologies and you gotta sort of duke it out, and the strong man/woman/group wins (see Terry Eagleton for this characterization of Fish’s work. But the ending to this piece is subtly different, a tone and stance I rather prefer:

“So again, what to do? Lilla’s answer is pragmatic rather than philosophical (and all the better for that). All we can do, he says, is “cope”; that is, employ a succession of ad hoc, provisional strategies that take advantage of, and try to extend, moments of perceived mutual self-interest and practical accommodation. “We need to recognize that coping is the order of the day, not defending high principles.” Now there’s a principle we can live with, maybe.”

What I like about his ending is that it acknowledges there are times when compromise is possible, where a common meeting ground can be forged, however provisional these may be. As someone interested in the politics of consensus and accommodation, I think it is important to recognize that human beings are not simply molded by one set of values but are are often dwelling within various systems (of sometimes contradictory) values. And it is because of this multiplicity that forms of accommodation and consensus emerge and can emerge, signaling a more hopeful politics that derive not from abstract adherence to precept such as tolerance, but from the far messier realm of actual life experience.


  1. Ha! Great idea. I see a lot of people switching between different rulesets. For instance the green party of which I was a member did not oppose when I took up autosports as a hobby. “We go by plane on holiday”, “oh my husband has a bunch of old volvo’s, you should meet him!” etc. I decided they are a bunch of hypocrits after all – but it matches nicely to open source developers doubling as consultants, and other “360 degree” combinations people make in their lives. Like drinking coffee from horrible automatic coffee makers @ the office during the day and great espresso on the way home at your favorite italian espresso bar.

    Comment by niels — September 4, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  2. I’m sorry maybe I didn’t quite hear that…. did TERRY EAGLETON accuse _someone else_ of being “a brash, noisy entrepreneur of the intellect who pushes his ideas in the conceptual marketplace with all the fervour with which others peddle second-hand Hoovers”?

    Comment by Rex — September 10, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags):
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .