Postmodernism

Once it became clear that the seventy-year experiment with radical socialism had failed, European intellectuals, especially in France, formed a new theory of social relationships (and much else) called postmodernism. Led by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, and others, this movement sprang from an intellectual nihilism that had been gradually forming throughout the twentieth century. Seeds of postmodernism go all the way back to Dada and the language-based philosophy of Wittgenstein. Like socialism (“from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”), postmodernism is based on a very simple idea, namely, that all people are at bottom, not just equal but the same, and that all cultures are of equal value. Postmodern ideologists believe that there is no absolute truth and that one person’s ideas are equal to another’s, education, acculturation, philosophical and moral ideas notwithstanding. Western civilization is not only not better than, say, Siberian shamanism, but actually inferior. Some postmodern ideologues speak slightingly of what they call the Enlightenment Project, which they blame for all the social and economic dysfunction of the world.

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Now these ideas, seemingly simple, are actually quite profound in their consequences and quite new. After all, radical socialism is a product of the Enlightenment, from Hegel through Marx and Lenin. Virtually all the contemporary leftist programs, which traditionalists find disturbing, derive, in some way, from postmodernism. The equality of Edison and the floor-sweeper at Menlo Park is an example of postmodern thought. The notion that education should not privilege the ideas and artifacts of dead white European males as opposed to those of other cultures and genders is also a postmodern notion. Modern leftism on college campuses, especially in liberal arts departments, is unafraid to express the radical ideas deriving from postmodernism, while very willing to suppress the free expression of countervailing notions. To them, academic ideas are all right so long as they conform to their ideology.

People that do not possess such ideas are regarded as stupid or ignorant. Au contraire. Postmodernism, as it is found in our intellectual life, represents a kind of ignorance and intolerance. Because it denies the right of any disagreement, it constitutes an ideology; and as I have said before, all ideologies are wrong. Unfortunately for the young, many university liberal arts programs are lockstep with these notions, and the young cannot help but fall sway to them.

Postmodernism has other implications too. First, in its implicit distaste for capitalism, not surprising owing to its growth out of communism. This disdain is fed by the notion that since equality of results is ideal, capitalism, which grows out of inequality, is intellectually unsupportable. Capitalism, it is believed, grew out of the “invisible hand” notions of Adam Smith and thus is a by-product of the hated Enlightenment (even though banks and capital markets had existed for centuries before Mr. Smith). Capitalism has grown to be increasingly reviled in elite intellectual circles and even with ordinary persons who consider themselves liberals.

Postmodernism is secularism, which often translates into the ideal of atheism.  Postmodern atheism derives from the notion that all cultures are equal, except the Enlightenment which is responsible for all the evils of the world. It winds up being less a hatred of religion per se than a rejection of Christianity. Note its toleration of the many crimes being performed in the name of Islam and President Obama’s refusal to refer to Islamic terrorism and its exaltation of shamanistic and animistic religions.

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Although postmodernism is not intrinsically associated with big government, it is redistributional. If everyone is equal, then why do some live at a subsistence level and others make many millions a year? (I find it curious that professional athletes and entertainers never come in for the criticism that CEOs do.) Postmodernists believe that modern capitalism, especially in its global form, leads to repression of impoverished populations and is a form of neocolonialism aimed at the enrichment of the few.

Given its pervasive influence over leftist culture, why has the vast majority of the population never heard of postmodernism? You never see it referred to in the press or spoken of in political discourse. Its obscurity is partly because there is no single unifying ideological text like Das Kapital or Mein Kampf and partly because postmodernism is more of a general idea than a program. But mainly because it has become the guiding philosophy of the American left, the Democratic Party in particular, and is portrayed as an extension of traditional left Democratic ideas.

 

 

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