In listening to Jordan Peterson over the last few months, he has often commented on the destructive philosophy of post-modernism, a philosophy that – in his view – is the force behind the cultural destruction underway in the west.
Prior to hearing this from him, my knowledge on the matter went to the cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School and, before this, Antonio Gramsci. Peterson is aware of these influences, but for him the Post-Modernists are today’s driving force.
What is meant by postmodernism?
Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist's premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist.
Are nationalism, politics, religion, and war the result of a primitive human mentality? Is truth an illusion? How can Christianity claim primacy or dictate morals? The list of concerns goes on and on….
It seems both an infinite number of realities and no realities – all at the same time. No wonder it is difficult to define.
I have been thinking about this post from the first time I heard the subject mentioned by Peterson. Even setting aside the normal life that often gets in the way of writing, this has been a subject that I have had to let stew in the old noodle for a while. I offer the following as an initial foray into a subject that I do not yet understand very well.
I have found a few helpful resources on the topic and will reference two of these in this post. With this, let’s begin.
Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Stephen R. C. Hicks, a book review by David Gordon
A more thorough definition and explanation of this philosophy:
…Hicks tells us exactly what he means by postmodernism: "Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring direct knowledge of that reality. . . . Postmodern accounts of human nature are consistently collectivist, holding that individuals’ identities are constructed largely by the social-linguistic groups they are a part of . . . postmodern themes in ethics and politics are characterized by an identification with and sympathy for the groups perceived to be oppressed in the conflicts, and a willingness to enter the fray on their behalf" (emphasis in original).
While there may be some differences between the postmodernists and the cultural Marxists, it seems the objectives are quite similar – use identity politics (“groups perceived to be oppressed”) in order to destroy western culture and tradition and, hence, bring on their socialist paradise.
Hicks tells us that the "names of the postmodern vanguard are now familiar: Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Richard Rorty. They are its leading strategists.”
All are French except Rorty, for whatever that is worth. Derrida and some of the other French advocates are or were affiliated with the Collège international de philosophie:
The Collège international de philosophie (Ciph), located in Paris' 5th arrondissement, is a tertiary education institute placed under the trusteeship of the French government department of research and chartered under the French 1901 Law on associations. It was co-founded in 1983 by Jacques Derrida, François Châtelet, Jean-Pierre Faye and Dominique Lecourt in an attempt to re-think the teaching of philosophy in France, and to liberate it from any institutional authority (most of all from the University). Its financing is mainly through public funds.
The college offers no degrees, it has few students, and attendance is open and free. Why it deserves to exist, I cannot explain. Therefore, this leads one to consider cynical possibilities.
Returning to Gordon’s review:
[Hicks] proceeds to ask an insightful question: what is the appeal of these irrational views to contemporary intellectuals?
A fair question. And the answer: