Now, sitting comfortably? Are you a liberal or a conservative? Do you think your views, sane, rational, fair, unbiased or generally decent? Well what if I told you that you are a biased, interested, often irrational and double-dealing individual who rigs debates, fixes the meanings of discourses (and things) and generally configures things to your own advantage and your opponent's disadvantage? OK, you would disagree with me: BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT STANLEY FISH IS SAYING ABOUT YOU!! He does this in a series of extraordinary essays attacking conservatives and liberals alike (though under the post-Enlightenment rubric of "liberalism" in general, that belief system shared by most modern, Western thinkers) for their slipperiness in debate and their use of fake and polemical principles, actually the products of politics (a noble because unavoidable category for Fish). Fish's aim in all this seems to be to drag everyone back to their contextual and historical time and place(s) and to do away with the notion that we can avoid this or retreat into our various cognitive, abstract and universalising hiding places. What is left is what we had before Fish started writing and what, according to Fish, we will always have: political debate, the opportunity to convince your peers that this way is better than that, that this conclusion is better than that one. But, after Fish, we won't be able to do this by appealing to principles anymore since he has exposed them all as partisan and political. So "hoorah" for Stanley Fish's eye opening book, let's build a better world, and watch out, Stanley Fish is after you!
One of the great things about Stanley Fish is that he tells us what we all already know, and gets us to pay him for it--even though we don't like what he tells us! After all, who DOESN'T know that the First Amendment is just a bunch of words. Who, these days, DOESN'T think that the law is just however the court happens to be feeling that day? The answer is, unfortunately, a great many, which is why there continues to be a need for people like Stanley Fish. The fact that somebody has to do this job is, I think, really too bad. In fact, it might not be too much to say that what we really ought to do, as a country, is to apologize to Mr. Fish for making him do things that would make any sensible person disgusted. You would think that, as a nation, we wouldn't need Fish after having had Mencken, but there you go. Anyway, if you are a bright undergraduate, you might want to read this book, especially because your teachers have (and they've laughed at it), but if you really want to know about the things Fish is talking about here, you would do a lot better reading Mencken's "Chrestomathy" at the least. And then, just maybe, you might begin to have some idea of the sort of country you are inhabiting.