Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Explaining Postmodernism

I have just finished reading Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks.  One advantage of living on a boat is that you have a lot of time to read.  After an orgy of adventure, science fiction and fantasy novels I decided it was time for something with a little more meat.

Hicks describes three periods of philosophical thought: Pre-modernism (Medieval times); Modernism, and Postmodernism.  One would expect the book to be quite weighty but in fact it is straightforward and easy reading.  Hicks traces the points of view of the philosophers during the 18th through 20th centuries.  You will be familiar with many of the names: Locke, Adam Smith, Heidegger,Nietzsche, Marx ... But the cornerstone player was, in Hick's view, Immanuel Kant.

What struck me the most about Explaining Postmodernism was Hick's assertion that although philosophical thought is intended to be "pure" (whatever that actually means) the philosophers were driven by their need to service their emotional (or if you prefer "faith") beliefs into their philosophical world view.  For example, Kant was very religious and was directly experiencing the assault on his faith that the Enlightenment, with its focus on fact and reason was doing to religion. Perhaps the most telling quote: :I here therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith."  Kant was clearly in the anti-Enlightenment camp.  And, Hick's asserts, he was the harbinger of the postmodern philosophy.

Hick's then goes on to develop postmodern thought.  His assertion is that the postmodern philosophers had embraced another religion - socialism.  Like Kant they needed to create a world view that was consistent with the needs of their religion.  Their problem was that reason clearly indicated that they were wrong.  Their solution was to throw out reason and elevate the place of emotion and who better to describe emotion then Nietzsche and Freud.  The result is that rage, power, guilt, lust and dread constitute the center of the postmodern emotional universe.  Since the evidence of two centuries was that socialism was not the "wave of the future" the rage continues to build.

Hick's then goes on to link the actions and attitudes of the contemporary Far Left in the United States with the world view of the postmoderns.  By rejecting reason they don't have to be factually right, they just need to feel emotionally justified.  Since words have no linkage to reality (in postmodernism) they feel free to say anything that keeps their opponent off balance.

Hicks makes a cogent argument.  I found it quite compelling.  Perhaps the most interesting insight for me was the conclusion that the Far Left is not, as some commentators would lead one to believe, trying to create an amoral and secular society in the United States.  Rather, after over 200 years of failure they are willing to do and say anything to bring about a socialist state - the "heaven" of their religion.

In conclusion, and insightful and easy read.  I recommend it.

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