Julian Baggini intervjuar Alan Sokal i TPM.


People sometimes unjustly accuse Harris and Dawkins at least of being strident when in fact all they’re doing is refusing our culture’s double standard for religion. The double standard is you can say more or less anything you want about Tories or Labour, about Republicans or Democrats; about capitalists or socialists; but you can’t say anything even remotely critical about a religion. Now why not? If you read Harris’s book or Dawkins’s book – certainly if you read what I’ve written – you don’t find anything half-way as harsh about religion as you read everyday in the paper about politics.


When thinking about why Sokal gets involved with these debates, it’s important to remember his political motivations. Sokal is a man of the left who once spent a few summers teaching maths at the National University of Nicaragua during the Sandinistas’ rule. Underlying his work outside of physics is a strong conviction that it is a disaster for the left to abandon a commitment to reason. In his book, he cites one such example of someone who wanted to claim that science is not universal, but varies according to how the individual is situated in the world: “A German can look at and understand Nature only according to his racial character.”


This of course is a quotation from Ernst Krieck, a notorious Nazi ideologue, who was rector of the University of Heidelberg in 1937-38. I was flabbergasted – well maybe not flabbergasted – when I came across it. This doesn’t show that postmodernists are Nazis or anything. What it shows is a kind of uncanny overlap of ideas between, on the one hand, left-wing postmodernists, and the other hand, extreme right wing nationalists, whether they’re German or Hindu nationalists.

Jag ska inte hymla med min stora sympati för de vänsterintellektuella som kämpar för att återföra vänstern till dess ursprung som upplysningsrörelse hand i hand med vetenskapen. Ur min synvinkel är Horkheimer och Adorno de största syndarna, medan hjältarna är de tidiga kulturradikala vetenskapsvänliga socialdemokraterna, de centraleuropeiska intellektuella som tvingades i anglosaxisk exil av fascismen, företrädarna för Spät-aufklärung, etc, etc.

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