What exactly is postmodernism? An explanation of the difference between the original French postmodernism and modern, leftist identity politics postmodernism, and analysis of the ramifications of that difference.
Krunoslav provided a lot of historical and philosophical reference but not all social ills can be placed on any particular ideology. Societies have always waxed and waned. The reasons are complex and varied. Common factors are environmental changes such as drought and other natural disasters, population pressures such as the baby boom, immigration, war, disease, and even genetic deterioration. Often an elite class arises that divert to many resources away from productivity. Too many chiefs and too few workers to put it bluntly. Often the elites take up religious or secular religious practices that are narcissist and nihilistic further alienating the under classes. While Marxism and postmodernism has certainly been a destabilizing influence the rot preceded them.
Luxus seems to be a common factor in cultural decline. As it relates to our current problems the possibility of Luxus taking hold has never been greater than the opportunity that the individual revolution provided. Many of our problems from the widespread prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are directly tied to excess. The excess that makes civilization possible can be it's undoing. Without excess their would be no luxury to tolerate people like Marx or the postmodernists. Of course there would be few scientists, artists and philosophers of any sort.
The real problem with ideologues is they put up barriers to pragmatic examination of societal ills. They offer simple often counter productive solutions that are emotionally appealing. The pragmatic get pushed aside because reality is often unpleasant and overwhelming. People use to luxury are particularly reluctant to adopt practical ideas. Luxus has the psychological side effect of living in the moment.
By exclaiming that “there are no absolute truths” the postmodern stance is also claiming that the statement it just made is an absolute truth—trying to have it both ways, rejecting absolutism with absolutism.
We attend a postmodern meeting, and everyone leaves happy because everyone at the meeting was able to express himself or herself, even if no decisions were made. We give equal awards to our kids so nobody feels left out. Our news media is more concerned with the question, “How did that make you feel?” than any other.”
“It is almost impossible to get anyone with a postmodern slant to say “I think” and stand by what follows, without making sure that the person listening understands, “Of course, there are other things to consider.”
“Prior to postmodernism, it was rare to claim that one was a cultural Christian, Jew, or Muslim. There was no such thing. Now, being culturally religious is a widely accepted stance.”
“Saying, “I don’t agree with you,” or going so far as to say, “I think your belief structure is childish,” does not amount to persecution. Insensitivity is not the same as harassment or oppression. But postmodernist do not get the joke, for they have no sense of humor.
Instead public shaming is rampant and sometimes appropriate, but unfortunately, in recent years, shaming has morphed into coordinated assassinations of reputation, and anyone who is slightly insensitive or not PC enough can be led to a public character lynching without due process.”
― Gudjon Bergmann, More Likely to Quote Star Wars than the Bible: Generation X and Our Frustrating Search for Rational Spirituality
“Like the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, postmodernism seeks to institutionalize dishonesty as a legitimate school of thought. The idea of truth as the ultimate goal of the intellectual is discarded. In its place, scholars are asked to pursue political objectives--so long as those political objectives are the 'correct' ones.
Postmodernism is not fringe within the community of scholars. It is central. This tells us a great deal about the life of the mind today. Peruse any university course catalogue, and you find names like Foucault, Derrida, and Barthes. Scour the footnotes of scholarly books and journals and a similar story unfolds. With the primacy of philosophies--postmodernism, Critical Theory, and even the right-leaning Straussianism--that exalt dishonesty in the service of supposedly noble causes, is it at all surprising that liars like Alfred Kinsey, Rigoberta Menchu, Alger Hiss, and Margaret Sanger have achieved a venerated status among the intellectuals?
What never fails inside the mind of an intellectual never works outside the confines of his head. The world’s stubborn refusal to vindicate the intellectual’s theories serves as proof of humanity’s irrationality, not his own. Thus, the true believer retrenches rather than rethinks; he launches a war on the world, denying reality because it fails to conform to his theories. If intellectuals are not prepared to reconcile theory and practice, then why do they bother to venture outside the ivory tower or the coffeehouse? Why not stay in the world of abstractions and fantasy?”
― Daniel J. Flynn, Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas
Modern Times: Camille Paglia & Jordan B Peterson via YouTube
“What this reveals about our universities is the operation of a pathological element. One need not ban the American flag from most of our campuses. It is more useful to deceive the world by allowing that flag to fly in a place where, all things being equal, its meaning and spirit has been abolished. In the Humanities and Social Science departments, where freedom of thought is of central importance, the American flag is more hated than loved by the faculty and the graduate students. I know this from firsthand because I was a graduate student at UC Irvine from 1986-1989. Professors there promoted Marxism, engaged in active recruitment of students amenable to Marxist ideas, and damaged the careers of those who were anti-Marxist. In those days it was done very quietly, administratively. If you dared speak up for America or economic freedom, you were persecuted. Your reputation was ruined. It is preferable to avert one’s eyes from such a situation, and very unpleasant to experience it directly; that is why those singled out for persecution were never defended. They were hung out to dry, and nobody dared interfere. Who, after all, wants trouble? This is the beauty of a quiet and selective intimidation.”
“But it would be a mistake to assume that the liberal class was simply seduced by the Utopian promises of globalism. It was also seduced by careerism. Those who mouthed the right words, who did not challenge the structures being cemented into place by the corporate state, who assured the working class that the suffering was temporary and would be rectified in the new world order, were rewarded. They were given public platforms on television and in the political arena. They were held up to the wider society as experts, sages, and specialists. They became the class of wise men and women who were permitted to explain in public forums what was happening to us at home and abroad. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a cheer leader for the Iraq war and globalization, became the poster child for the new class of corporate mandarins. And although Friedman was disastrously wrong about the outcome of the occupation, as he was about the effects of globalization, he continues, with a handful of other apologists, to dominate the airwaves.”
― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class
Which Is Worse: Postmodernism or Anti-Intellectualism?
By Alex Berezow — March 23, 2017
Every discussion about postmodernism quickly devolves into accusations that the writer doesn't know what postermodernism is. Of course, that's true, because nobody knows what postmodernism is. Even the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy agrees. As the ultimate manifestation of intellectual and cultural relativism, postmodernism means whatever its adherents want it to mean.
Yet, this nebulous concept poses an existential threat to science and technology. How so? Because postmodernism is largely characterized by a rejection of objective truth. This is antithetical to scientific inquiry.
Marcel Kuntz, Director of Research at CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), has made it part of his life's work to fight against the corrosive effects of postmodernism. He's back again in the pages of Trends in Biotechnology. He perceptively writes:
Postmodernism is a product of the romanticist rejection of reason and of the 'Western guilt' regarding tragedies such as slavery, colonialism, the Holocaust, and so on, many of which are viewed as consequences of Enlightenment 'imperialistic' thought. A typical expression of this guilt is to display one's repentance regarding these historical events (even if one is not personally responsible for them) with political correctness being one of its social coercive tools.
The March for Science Postmodernism
Postmodernism also explains the "March for Science." Contrary to their claim that the march is about promoting evidence-based policies, the organizers are pushing a thinly veiled postmodernist agenda. That's why they have partnered with groups that endorse vehemently anti-science positions, such as Center for Biological Diversity, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Francis Bacon likely would be surprised to learn that a movement claiming the mantle of science is primarily preoccupied with politics, diversity, and harassment. As a general rule, those aren't considered pillars of the scientific method.
The "Democratization of Science"
Such buffoonery is perhaps the inevitable result of "democratizing" science. True, science should be taught to all people, but it is absurd to believe that the average person has something useful to say about it. Yet, that's precisely what the organizers of the March for Science believe. Their website says:
If scientists hope to discuss their work with the public, they must also listen to the public's thoughts and opinions on science and research. Progress can only be made by mutual respect.
No, no, no. That is pure, unadulterated postmodernist drivel. Scientific progress is not made by holding hands and singing Kumbaya with the local yoga instructor. Instead, it is made when scientists are allowed to investigate tough questions by rigorously applying the scientific method. From this discipline springs revolutionary technologies that change the world. While public outreach by scientists is important, asking for public input is often a complete waste of time.
Actually, it can be worse. Dr. Kuntz explains:
People willing to 'engage' usually have a political agenda: they are often activists, relabeled as 'stakeholders,' who view technology as a problem rather than as a possible solution.
Unfortunately, fostering mutual respect while singing campfire songs won't change their minds.
Postmodernism vs. Anti-Intellectualism
Last year, we published an article that claimed anti-intellectualism is the biggest threat to modern society. This article, as well as Dr. Kuntz, would seem to argue that postmodernism is the actual threat.
So, which is worse: Postmodernism or Anti-Intellectualism? Trick question! They're the same thing.
(1) For proof, read the comments section in the article, "Scientists Should Fight Postmodern Public Values."
(2) The very first sentence of its entry on postmodernism reads, "That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism."
Source: Marcel Kuntz. "Science and Postmodernism: From Right-Thinking to Soft-Despotism." Trends Biotechnol 35 (4): 283-2859. Published: April 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2017.02.006
"In the West, we have been withdrawing from our tradition-, religion- and even nation-centred cultures, partly to decrease the danger of group conflict. But we are increasingly falling prey to the desperation of meaninglessness, and that is no improvement at all. “It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you're going to insist on bending the world to your way, you better have good reasons.”
Adopt responsibility for your own well-being, try to put your family together, try to serve your community, try to seek for eternal truth... That's the sort of thing that can ground you in your life, enough so that you can withstand the difficulty of life.
― Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos"
An Excellent Observation about Postmodernism by Jay L. Wile
I was first exposed to postmodernism when I went to university. If you don’t recognize the term, it is rather hard to define, mostly because there are so many variants of it. However, it generally refers to the idea that there are very few (if any) objective truths. Most of the things we hold to be “true” are only true for our experiences. Someone with a completely different set of experiences might come up with a completely different sent of “truths,” and those “truths” are just as valid as the “truths” that we come up with.
Consider, for example, the insightful cartoon above. The first panel shows an artist who has apparently come up with something he thinks is amazing. Because he sees that it is good, he considers himself to be a genius. The second panel shows a postmodern artist, who says that there is no such thing as a genius, because that category is dependent on culture. Of course, he thinks he is a genius for recognizing this fact!
Now, when it comes to art there is a measure of truth here. What is beautiful to one person might be quite unpleasant to someone else. As the old maxim states, beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. However, I think it is possible to recognize the genius of an artist, even if you don’t find his or her art appealing. A postmodernist would not agree. Moreover, a strict postmodernist would apply this idea of “truth” everywhere, even in science. According to the postmodernist, a “scientific fact” isn’t a fact at all. It is a social construct, and it might be quite different in another culture or society.
Obviously, I think postmodernism is mostly nonsense. Apparently, so does Andrew Klavan. In chapter 8, he discusses the “mad scene” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In that scene, the title character (Hamlet) is pretending to be insane. Klavan writes:
When he’s asked what he’s reading, he answers weirdly, “Words, words, word.” He talks about how his internal moods seem to transform outer reality so that he can never be sure what the world is really like. Morality especially has come to seem to him completely dependent on his own opinions. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” he says.
How wild was this? Shakespeare had predicted postmodernism and moral relativism hundreds of years before they came into being! Like Hamlet, the postmodernists were declaring that language did not describe the world around us…Like Hamlet, the postmodernists announced that what we thought was reality was just a construct of our minds…And like Hamlet, the postmodernists had dismissed the notion of absolute morality…
But there was one big difference. Hamlet said these things when he was pretending to be mad. My professors said them and pretended to be sane.
“Racial stereotyping. For Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders, the sin of white racism was stereotyping all black people as inferior. It was a prejudice to be sure, but it was predicated on the assumption that all blacks were the same. King objected to stereotyping because he wanted blacks to be treated as individuals and not reduced exclusively to their racial identity (hence the meaning of his famous statement about the content of one's character taking precedence over the color of one's skin).
The postmodern left turns the civil rights model on its head. It embraces racial stereotyping - racial identity by any other name - and reverses it, transforming it into something positive, provided the pecking order of power is kept in place. In the new moral scheme of racial identities, black inferiority is replaced by white culpability, rendering the entire white race, with few exceptions, collectively guilty of racial oppression. The switch is justified through the logic of racial justice, but that does not change the fact that people are being defined by their racial characteristic. Racism is viewed as structural, so it is permissible to use overtly positive discrimination (i.e., affirmative action) to reorder society." ― Kim R. Holmes, The Closing of the Liberal Mind: The New Illiberalism's Assault on Freedom
In the collages of the United States in the 1960's, Postmodernism provided an attitude of cynicism and rejection of Enlightenment rationality, effectively allowing the "oppressed" to assume as well as invent any new identity they wished over the upcoming decades. After all, as postmodernist would see it, there is no reality anymore and science does not count. Therefore, identierians could identify themselvse as any minority they wanted and even invent new categories.
Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry criticised Postmodernism for reducing the complexity of the modern world to an expression of power and for undermining truth and reason: "If the modern era begins with the European Enlightenment, the postmodern era that captivates the radical multiculturalists begins with its rejection. According to the new radicals, the Enlightenment-inspired ideas that have previously structured our world, especially the legal and academic parts of it, are a fraud perpetrated and perpetuated by white males to consolidate their own power. Those who disagree are not only blind but bigoted. The Enlightenment's goal of an objective and reasoned basis for knowledge, merit, truth, justice, and the like is an impossibility: "objectivity," in the sense of standards of judgment that transcend individual perspectives, does not exist. Reason is just another code word for the views of the privileged. The Enlightenment itself merely replaced one socially constructed view of reality with another, mistaking power for knowledge. There is naught but power."
H. Sidky pointed out what he sees as several "inherent flaws" of a postmodern antiscience perspective, including the confusion of the authority of science (evidence) with the scientist conveying the knowledge; its self-contradictory claim that all truths are relative; and its strategic ambiguity. He sees 21st-century anti-scientific and pseudo-scientific approaches to knowledge, particularly in the United States, as rooted in a postmodernist " decades-long academic assault on science:" "Many of those indoctrinated in postmodern anti-science went on to become political and religious leaders, policymakers, journalists, journal editors, judges, lawyers, and members of city councils and school boards. Sadly, they forgot the lofty ideals of their teachers, except that science is bogus."
“Postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals.” ― Jean Baudrillard
“In our postmodern culture which is TV dominated, image sensitive, and morally vacuous, personality is everything and character is increasingly irrelevant.” ― David F. Wells
“Postmodernity means the exhilarating freedom to pursue anything, yet mind-boggling uncertainty as to what is worth pursuing and in the name of what one should pursue it.” ― Zygmunt Bauman
“Whereas modern cynicism brought despair about the ability of the human species to realize laudable ideals, postmodern cynicism doesn't — not because it's optimistic, but because it can't take ideals seriously in the first place. The prevailing attitude is Absurdism. ― Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
“Postmodernism, the school of "thought" that proclaimed "There are no truths, only interpretations" has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for "conversations" in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.” ― Daniel Dennett
Postmodernism today tries to reject biological differences between sexes, rejects history and psychology and tries to argue that everything is subjected to construct of language, best express in "I identify as...."
...in other words you can have any kind of neurotic personal experience, and define your reality by using language and than turn the whole insanity in a political issue. If someone disagrees you attack them with language, accusing them of any number of phobias. That devastating use of language is the contribution of postmodernism.
In other words, reality is whatever one can express with language according to postmodernists, but unless its them expressing it than its used for power.
All truths are relevant, except this one, they say. I say, book them season tickets to rubber room, so they don't hurt themselves.
In part in reference to post-modernism, conservative English philosopher Roger Scruton wrote, “A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”
Roger Scruton on Moral Relativism - A conversation with Roger Scruton at Café Gerbeaud in Budapest, Hungary, on the topic of moral relativism. Hosted by the Common Sense Society on January 25, 2012.
Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism | Jordan B Peterson
"Why is it that after a century of socialist disasters, and an intellectual legacy that has been time and again exploded, the left-wing position remains, as it were, the default position to which thinking people automatically gravitate when called upon for a comprehensive philosophy? Why are ‘right-wingers’ marginalized in the educational system, denounced in the media and regarded by our political class as untouchables, fit only to clean up after the orgies of luxurious nonsense indulged in by their moral superiors? Is it as the evolutionary psychologists say, that egalitarian attitudes result from an adaptation, one that sustained those hunter-gatherer bands when sharing the quarry was the primary social bond? … Or is it, as Nietzsche tells us, that resentment is the real default condition of social beings, who know only that the other has what they want, and must be made to suffer for it?
Whatever the explanation, we have seen, in every writer considered in this book, the assumption of an a priori correctness. It does not matter that equality cannot be defined or concretely situated. It is just obvious that it is the answer, so obvious that we have no need to define the question. At the same time there exists on the left a remarkable fear of heresy, a desire to safeguard orthodoxy and hound the dissident…
Clearly we are dealing with the religious need, a need planted deep in our ‘species being.’ There is a longing for membership that no amount of rational thought, no proof of absolute loneliness of humanity or of the unredeemed nature of our sufferings, can ever eradicate. And that longing is more easily recruited by the abstract god of equality than by any concrete form of social compromise.
To defend what is merely real becomes impossible, once faith appears on the horizon with its enticing gift of absolutes."
-- Roger Scruton, from Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands (2015)
Marxian criticisms: Alex Callinicos attacks notable postmodern thinkers such as Baudrillard and Lyotard, arguing postmodernism "reflects the disappointed revolutionary generation of 1968, (particularly those of May 1968 in France) and the incorporation of many of its members into the professional and managerial 'new middle class'. It is best read as a symptom of political frustration and social mobility rather than as a significant intellectual or cultural phenomenon in its own right.
Francis Wheen's book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World broadly critiques a variety of non-critical paradigms with a significant critique of cultural relativism and the use of postmodern tropes to explain all modern geo-political phenomena. According to Wheen, postmodern scholars tend to critique unfair power structures in the west including issues of race, class, patriarchy, the effect of radical capitalism and political oppression. Where he finds fault in these tropes is when the theories go beyond evidence-based critical thinking and use vague terminology to support obscurantist theories.
An example is Luce Irigaray's assertion, cited by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in their book Fashionable Nonsense, that the equation "E=mc2" is a "sexed equation", because "it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us". Relativism, according to Wheen becomes a sort of wall which shields non western cultures from the same sustained critiques. While inherent sexism in North America is open to hostile critique (as it should be according to Wheen), according to postmodern thought it is taboo to critique honour killings and female genital mutilation in North Africa and the Middle East.
Relativism will defend such taboos by claiming such cultures are out of the sphere of shared Western values and that we cannot judge other cultures by our own standards or it is defended through diminishing the severity of sexism by either denying its prominence (as Western propaganda/misunderstanding) or blaming it on menacing western factors (imperialism, globalization, western hegemony, resource exploitation and Western interference in general). Wheen admits that, while some of this may have merit, its case is highly exaggerated by relativism. Wheen reserves his strongest critique for those who defend even the most appalling systemic mistreatment of women, even in countries where Western contact and influence is minimal.
Example of one of the postmodernist French philosophers...
Characteristics of Postmodernism
When listing the chracteristics of postmodernism, it is important to remember that postmodernists do not place their philosophy in a defined box or category. Their beliefs and practices are personal rather than being identifiable with a particular establishment or special interest group.
The following principles appear elemental to postmodernists allthough like in many religions they overlap, contradict and are not part of all fundementalists who bealive in them:
There is no absolute truth - Postmodernists believe that the notion of truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people and special interest groups to gain power over others.
Truth and error are synonymous - Facts, postmodernists claim, are too limiting to determine anything. Changing erratically, what is fact today can be false tomorrow.
Self-conceptualization and rationalization - Traditional logic and objectivity are spurned by postmodernists. Preferring to rely on opinions rather than embrace facts, postmodernist spurn the scientific method.
Traditional authority is false and corrupt - Postmodernists speak out against the constraints of religious morals and secular authority. They wage intellectual revolution to voice their concerns about traditional establishment.
Ownership - They claim that collective ownership would most fairly administrate goods and services.
Disillusionment with modernism - Postmodernists rue the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion.
Morality is personal - Believing ethics to be relative, postmodernists subject morality to personal opinion. They define morality as each person’s private code of ethics without the need to follow traditional values and rules.
Globalization – Many postmodernists claim that national boundaries are a hindrance to human communication. Nationalism, they believe, causes wars. Therefore, postmodernists often propose internationalism and uniting separate countries.
All religions are valid - Valuing inclusive faiths, postmodernists gravitate towards New Age religion. They denounce the exclusive claims of God.
Liberal ethics - Postmodernists defend the cause of feminists and homosexuals.
Pro-environmentalism - Defending “Mother Earth,” postmodernists blame Western society for its destruction.
"What was new, then, in the American controversy over political correctness in the early 1990s? A few things, certainly. The name was new. “Politically correct” was originally an approving phrase on the Leninist left to denote someone who steadfastly toed the party line.
“Comrade, your statement is factually incorrect.”
“Yes, it is. But it is politically correct.”
(The Rise of Political Correctness)”
― Angelo Codevilla
Then it evolved into “P.C.,” an ironic phrase among wised-up leftists to denote someone whose line-toeing fervor was too much to bear. Only in conjunction with the P C. debate itself did the phrase get picked up by people who had no fidelity to radicalism at all, but who relished the nasty syllables for their twist of irony. Apart from this phrase, some of the particulars had a fresh aspect: the focus on campus speech codes, and the amusing experience of watching people on the right argue for the First Amendment and people on the left against it. The way that certain liberals and old-school leftists joined the neoconservatives in making several of the arguments was also new, and perhaps quite significant, since previous debates tended to observe a chaste division of left and right.
Yet at bottom, the P C. debate was just a continuation of an argument that is more than a decade old. And the longevity of this argument, the way it keeps reappearing in different forms, growing instead of shrinking, producing best-selling books about university education every couple of years, its international dimension, the heat and fury—all this should tell us that something big and important is under discussion. How to specify that big and important thing is not so easy, though. The closer you examine the argument over political correctness, the more it begins to look like one of Paul de Man’s literary interpretations, where everything is a puzzle without a solution. No three people agree about the meaning of central terms like “deconstruction,” “difference,” “multiculturalism,” or “poststructuralism.” Every participant carries around his own definitions, the way that on certain American streets every person packs his own gun. And when you take these numberless definitions into consideration, the entire argument begins to look like ... what?
I would say it looks like the Battle of Waterloo as described by Stendhal. A murky fog hangs over the field. Now and then a line of soldiers marches past. Who are they? Which army do they represent? They may be Belgian deconstructionists from Yale, or perhaps the followers of Lionel Trilling in exile from Columbia. Perhaps they are French mercenaries. It is impossible to tell.
The fog thickens. Shots go off. The debate is unintelligible. But it is noisy!
What explains the confusion? One explanation—there are others—lies in the peculiar history of certain very radical ideas that came out of the sixties’ left, both in this country (USA) and in France. The left-wing uprisings of circa 1968 had two phases, which were in perfect discord, like two piano strings vibrating against each other. The first phase was an uprising on behalf of the ideals of liberal humanism—an uprising on behalf of the freedom of the individual against a soulless system. The second phase was the opposite, as least philosophically. It was a revolt against liberal humanism. It said, in effect: Liberal humanism is a deception. Western-style democracy, rationalism, objectivity, and the autonomy of the individual are slogans designed to convince the downtrodden that subordination is justice.
This second phase, the phase of ultra-radicalism, received a supremely sophisticated expression at the hands of various Paris philosophers, in the theories that can be called postmodern or poststructuralist. Or maybe it’s better (since everyone argues over what is the correct label) to call these theories “ '68 Philosophy,” as suggested by two of the younger Paris thinkers, Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut. The theories were, in any case, something other than mild doctrines of social reform. They were extravaganzas of cynicism. They were angry theories (though coolly expressed), hard to read, tangled, more poetic than logical. They were by no means internally consistent, one theory with the next. But if they had a single gist, it was this: Despite the claims of humanist thought, the individual is not free to make his own decisions, nor is the world what it appears to be. Instead, we and the world are permeated by giant, hidden, impersonal structures, the way that human forms in Invasion of the Body Snatchers are inhabited by extraterrestrial beings.
What are these permeating structures? They can be described every which way, mix- and-match style, according to the different versions of’68 Philosophy. There was, thus, the version of the Paris Heideggerians, for instance Jacques Derrida (we are permeated by the entire unfortunate tradition of Western thought). Or the Paris Nietzscheans, for instance Michel Foucault (we are permeated by the will to power). Or the Paris Freudians, for instance Jacques Lacan (we are permeated by the structures of the unconscious). Or the Paris Marxists, for instance Pierre Bourdieu (we are permeated by economic structures). Or the Paris anthropologists who were influenced by Claude Lévi-Strauss (we are permeated by unchanging cultural structures).
Mostly there was the idea that regardless of how the permeating structures are labeled. One Big Structure underlies all the others—and if this deepest of all structures can be described, it is by means of the linguistic theories that derive from Ferdinand de Saussure. That is: We are permeated by the structures of language. We imagine that language is our tool, but it is we who are the tool and language is our master. Therefore we should stop deluding ourselves with foolish humanist ideas about the autonomy of the individual and the hope of making sense of the world.
Or maybe—this is an implicit alternative possibility in several of the ’68 theories—by recognizing the existence and power of the permeating stmctures, we will bring on a grand revolution, Marxist-style, or even grander. The theories rarely said anything specific about such a possibility, though a writer like Foucault might speak of “an Apocalyptic dream ." But even without a direct invocation of the Apocalypse, there was an urgent tone in how these ideas were written, and the tone sometimes conveyed a touch of millenarian expectation.
Now, whatever else could be said about these theories, they were wonderfully expressive. The whole period from World War I through the end of the Cold War was (maybe still is) an era of ever-recurring catastrophe and mass death, with still greater catastrophes lurking in the future in the form of nuclear war or God knows what; and in such an era, to cast a cold eye on rationality and humanism seemed entirely sensible. It was a way of saying that a) things are out of control, and b) the effort to get them under control by looking to logical analysis or proposing a lofty view of mankind is like summoning a criminal to stop a crime. The theories evoked something about middle-class life in noncatastrophic conditions too—the emptiness of middle-class existence, the feeling of drift and purposelessness that seems to afflict the middle class everywhere and that makes some people susceptible to the idea of an impending catastrophe.
The theories were modern art's extension into philosophy. They were the equivalent of Finnegan’s Wake or canvases by Rothko, and in that respect they were artistically faithful to the bleak twentieth-century spirit. But there was no point in asking whether these theories were faithful to truth and reality in the ordinary sense of social science or conventional philosophy. Super-brilliance was their panache, and the more super the brilliance became, the murkier became the ideas. The prose was characteristically mud, as befitted a philosophy that regarded clarity and lucidity as engines of Western oppression. Sometimes the theories were put-ons or jokes. Or the theories were fictions that claimed to be nonfictions. They elevated puns into a literary genre. The truest class struggle in the ’68 sense was always the struggle between the hip and the unhip, and these theories were, in short, the Das Kapilal of hip. They were illegal thoughts, so to speak—“provocations, not programs,” in Allan Megi Il’s phrase. Of course that will always be the subversive appeal of ’68 Philosophy.
Still, sooner or later the irritating flatfooted question about ordinary truth and reality and its relation to these ideas is bound to intrude. For what if, by unlucky chance, it turns out that everything in the world is not a language structure? In the field of politics, for instance, what if the difference between democratic societies and nondemocratic societies turns out to be real, not just rhetorical?
The many dazzlements of '68 Philosophy were never any use in addressing mundane questions like these. The great god of the Paris thinkers was Martin Heidegger, who was second to none in holding Western rationalism and humanism responsible for all the unhappiness of modern life and for hinting at millenarian alternatives. But the alternative he ended up embracing was the Nazism of Adolf Hitler. Of course, the Paris ultra-radicals who imbibed the theories of '68 Philosophy were anything but right wing. Yet there was nothing in their leftism to prevent a substantial number of them from tilting to an opposite extreme and celebrating dictators like Mao Zedong, so long as the horrors of liberal civilization were being opposed. For the whole point of postmodern theorizing was, after all, to adopt positions that were so far out, so wild, as to blow your mind.
In Paris, the '68 theories had their day, which lasted well into the late seventies and beyond. Then a new generation of writers came along, the people who were students in ’68 but came into adulthood only in the calmer years that followed—writers like Ferry, Renaut, Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut (and writing in English, the late J. G. Merquior), who worried about the mind-blowing ultra-radicalism of the older generation. These younger writers began to suspect that '68 Philosophy, in turning so ferociously against liberalism, sometimes bore a closer relation to the old German romantic philosophies of the far right (the cult of irrationalism, the eagerness to disparage universal ideas of rights, etc.) than anyone seemed to imagine when the theories were in vogue. They worried that by carrying skepticism to extremes, the '68 Philosophers were turning into a species of idiot, the sort of people who can no longer make sensible judgments because they stumble around wondering: Is that a door? Is that a window? The younger writers raised an eyebrow at the muddy prose style, too, and suspected, as Merquior commented (citing Pope), that..
Much was believed, but little understood, and to be dull was construed to be good.
The younger writers set out to resurrect the very notions that '68 Philosophy was designed to debunk—an admiration for Enlightenment reason, clarity, lucidity, and Western-style freedoms. Their resurrections have sometimes leaned in a more leftish direction, sometimes in a more conservative direction (whatever those terms might mean in today’s world). Either way, the drift toward humanism was unmistakable. Even a few of the elders of the sixties, disturbed by the implications of their own doctrines, pulled back over the course of the later seventies and the eighties. There were writers like Tzvetan Todorov, the Paris literary theorist, who shifted camp altogether. And in the realm of ideas a new liberal age, the era of human rights, was at hand—in Paris."
Great quote form Hannah Arendt. "The ideal subject of totalitarianism is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.
A good description of radical postmodernism and postmodernism itself..
The original postmodernist made some valid points about the inherent subjective or perhaps more precisely the relative nature of reality. They were philosophers and while their profundity was largely self promotion the rule of philosophy is to deal with abstractions. Often irreducible abstractions that can't be dealt with with closed analytical tools such as mathematics. A philosopher is never right in the objective sense.
The problem with postmodernism is it created it's own closed system imitating the abstract nature of mathematics and logic. It's failing is that it is impossible to incorporate into any pragmatic approach to the issues we face connected to survival or meaning. It certainly could never be the basis for activism and even to the extent was adopted by activist too abstract for most of them to process other than the nihilism.
The objective failure of communism, especially the French variety, needed to be explained by French philosophers. Communism was suppose to overcome the irrationality of competition. To replace the old morality based on revealed truth with objective reason. When communism failed to live up to it's promises it had to be that objective reason was impossible. Any other conclusion would make a mockery of centuries of French philosophy. In some ways postmodernism hasn't strayed that far from romanticism. Both try to plug the wholes in the enlightenment related to meaning. Meaning in postmodernism is entirely subjective but we have an objective set of instincts that postmodernism ignores or misunderstands.