Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Explaining Postmodernism

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:

Leftist intellectuals during most of the twentieth century looked to socialism as a secular equivalent of salvation.

This has only grown in the twenty-first century.

The socialist intellectuals were in a quandary. They ought rationally to have abandoned their views, since their doctrine was fallacious in theory and disastrous in practice; but rationality is not a trait much in evidence among the socialistically inclined. If reason speaks against socialism, is not the solution obvious: out with reason! If reason provides no access to reality, but is rather a mask for power, the critique of socialism is disabled.

The problem with looking to socialism today is that in order to make an omelet, one must find a Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or Kim Il Sung to be the cook.  This isn’t stopping the intellectuals.

Hicks points to Rousseau as the intellectual source for the post-modernists:

He did not celebrate civilization, but deplored its onset. "There is an inverse relationship between cultural and moral development: Culture does generate much learning, luxury, and sophistication—but learning, luxury, and sophistication all cause moral degradation." The unfortunate rise of reason drove humans from their simple, primitive life.

Remove the one thing that makes man different from the apes, and what are you left with?  I take that back: apes maintain, and do not destroy, the attributes that have sustained them.

Next is a Jordan Peterson video, Identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege.  I do not have a transcript, so what is identified as from Peterson is merely paraphrased; any errors between Peterson’s views and the following cites are mine.

The objective of postmodernism is to bring on communism: Marx’s way didn’t work. Postmodernism is a way to bring on Marxism under a new guise.

As I mentioned, I see this as the same objective held by the cultural Marxists.  What I struggle is to understand is the difference in the means.  Both are after destroying what is known generally as western culture and tradition; both do so for the same ends.

For postmodernism, the white patriarchy is the target. 

The most natural, longest-lasting form of voluntary governance is the family.  For humans, tradition (certainly in the west) is a family led by the male.  This leaves the “white” part of the target.

I cannot speak with any meaningful understanding of non-western cultures and traditions.  I do understand the western (i.e. “white”) tradition reasonably well.  It is certain that the idea of the value of the individual has strong roots in the western tradition; it is certain that the idea of the value of liberty has strong roots in the western tradition.  My hypothesis is that it is for these reasons that “white” is a characteristic of the target.

Peterson points to where the postmodernists are right:

There are an infinite number of interpretations to the world.  This is true, but only partly true!

Where they are wrong:

It is true that there are an infinite number of interpretations to the world; but there aren’t an infinite number of viable interpretations.  You can’t have an interpretation that leads to death, damage, agony, and pain. 

For which, of course, we have overwhelming evidence that demonstrates clearly that the socialist interpretation leads to death, damage, agony and pain.

The viable interpretation must be life-affirming right now and across time, for you and your family and future generations.

We are told that communism would work if we only found the right leader.  History gives us something like 20 communist countries, past and present – this, if you count the Soviet Union and its controlled eastern-European satellites as one.  None of these had the right leader?

There are hardly any viable interpretations.  Why?  “You do what I tell you” requires force.

What is likely to happen when you tell a population to give up their property and give their life to “the people”?  Whatever it is, it isn’t good. 

When we agree about the interpretation, there is peace.

It is an interesting point; it points to a common culture – but not just any common culture – as the number of viable possibilities is not infinite.

Whatever my displeasures and complaints about the west (truly, the governments in the west), it is a reasonable proposition to suggest that those of us in the west today are living in a pretty good time and place in history.  How did it get this way?

The interpretation we have has been filtered by millennia – what works, what doesn’t work.  When we find something that doesn’t work, we improve it. 

Peterson finds the roots of our interpretation captured in the first few chapters of the Bible.  He offers a lecture series, The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories.  In this series, he examines the earliest stories – Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, etc.  It runs about 30 hours – a worthwhile investment in time if this subject is of interest to you.

This isn’t good enough for the postmodernists:

The postmodernists don’t work to improve what doesn’t work – they want to destroy the whole thing.

What is it that they want to destroy?

“They don’t like inequality.  Well who does?  ‘I’m against poverty!’  DUH!”

That one is pretty close to a direct quote.  The issue is: what do you do about it?

But there are real differences among people.

Which suggests that there will always be inequality.  To get past this problem, the postmodernists start lumping people together into groups; big surprise – it is all of the groups that aren’t white and male and patriarchs that must be propped up.

This is pushed under the name of diversity.  Peterson finds the current means of achieving diversity (group identity) to be fallacious – on many levels.  For example:

There are more differences within groups than between groups.  The idea that there are more differences between groups is the fundamental racist idea.

Yes, but to come to this conclusion one would have to accept reason.

You can get plenty of diversity without focusing on the “group.”  

A business has an objective to get the “right” amount of diversity – in thought, ideas, counter-opinions, etc. – and this can all be achieved without focusing on the group identity.

Apple’s diversity chief is stepping down after only six months on the job — after causing an outcry by saying that being a minority or a woman are not the only criteria for diversity, according to reports.

Keep in mind: the diversity chief is a minority and a woman.

“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” the inaugural diversity chief said.

I need some hot chocolate.

“Diversity is the human experience,” she said, according to Quartz. “I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.”

And a teddy-bear.

Returning to Peterson:

Social status and payment (in a free society) is based more on competence than power.  But when a person in a hierarchy acts like their position entitles them to power, the society begins to corrupt.  The misuse of power leads to the corruption of society.

He offers Harvey Weinstein, but the list is long.  And, for this reason,  society is corrupt.

Is it white privilege or majority privilege?  Is it white privilege in China?  This is culture, nothing more.

It’s not about white privilege.  It is about destroying the culture (and I have given my view about why the target is the “white” culture).  When you destroy the culture – with all of its traditional and reasonably voluntary governance structures (e.g. the patriarchy, church, etc.), who or what is left to govern? 

A gold star if you know the correct answer.


From Peterson:

Why are they choosing the differences that they choose?  Why not other differences – there are an infinite number of “groups” and categories of people.  Eventually, taken to its logical conclusion, the individual is the ultimate minority.

But reaching a logical conclusion would require reason….  Peterson should pay more attention in class!


  1. Peterson calls for more individualism, but no matter how great or superior a particular individual is, they cannot overcome group action.

    In the West white people face group opposition, yet are called upon to act as atomized individuals. As we can see, this results in white individuals losing ground everywhere, in the culture, physical spaces, and work, and in the schools.

    Self actualization is important, but self actualization will never be achieved if organized groups are permitted to seize resources from white people. Only group action can stop it. Nothing else.

    1. "Peterson calls for more individualism..."

      I don't think I would boil his views down to such a simple statement. He recognizes that people act in groups. He speaks often of the idea of patriarchy; he speaks - even in the above referenced video - of the majority taking privilege.

      He recognizes that such governance structures can be labeled as "tyrannies." But, and I will quote him directly, "that's not all they are."

      In other words, there is value in such governance structures as well. There is value in the patriarchy. This is a group. There is a reality of majority privilege. This, also, is a group.

      He most certainly does not believe in the individual to the level that every individual is free to choose his own pronoun.

      So...I don't think his view can be boiled down to such a simple statement.

    2. Truly.
      The individual is the acting force and the individual's conscience can't be replaced by group edict. Very much in line with the libertarian view. Now if he could just realize that the most observant form of governance would be a non-state government.

    3. Peterson will call nationalism, 'racism', a form of "collectivism" for which the antithesis is "individualism".

      Any corporate structure (you know, those corporations that libertarians love) is at its essence collectivist. The 'civic nationalism' advocated by Peterson is also collectivist. Clearly the only collectivism that isn't allowed is any organizing by white people (especially voluntary organizing).

  2. https://globalnews.ca/video/3867811/extended-excerpts-from-secretly-recorded-meeting-between-wilfrid-laurier-university-grad-student-and-faculty

    I recommend people listen to the above audio if you want an idea of how bad things have gotten in Canada.

    Basically a TA/grad student is being bullied by a Marxist enforcer (to the point of tears lol) for showing a video of Peterson to the class. The conversation is surreal. Note also that she “disagrees” with Peterson and discribes his view that a man is a man and a woman is a woman to be “out there.”

  3. They attack white men because that's where the easy money is. And race forming behaviour is innate, they side with the more aggressive ascendant majority, if white men organized many sjw's would flip sides.

  4. postmoderism is easily defined as that which makes the sacred trivial and the trivial sacred

    1. Very pithy and accurate. Substitute profane for trivial and the observation still holds true.

  5. Rothbard for all his genius appears to have never actually read Foucault. Had he done so he would have seen in Foucault a great libertarian ally rather than having initiated the errant libertarian tradition of denouncing Foucault.

    Foucault was actually the first to champion the works of Mises and Hayek recommending them highly to his students. And there is no one who denounced Marxism more than Foucault for many reasons not the least of which was that Marxism insisted it was a 'science'.

    Foucault is actually the perfect complement and counterpoint to Mises, Hyack, Bastiat, and Rothbard not at all an adversary, a purveyor of a big bad postmodernism. Foucault every bit as much as Rothbard saw the state as the enemy: Foucault is the ONLY one ever to point out that the modern judiciary, the complex of courts, armed agents, and their bureaucratized administration has come down to modern societies virtually unchanged from their medieval origins as tax collectors for feudal warlords. Government has evolved from warlord to monarchy to democracy to socialism but the judiciary has preserved its original medieval form.

    Foucaults fascinating and deeply insightful analysis of power has lain dormant for 30 years patiently waiting for some enterprising libertarian scholar to pursue the many strands of possible libertarian research suggested in Foucaults work.

    1. I am not sure why the connection to Rothbard. Does he write something regarding Foucault somewhere? Please provide a link.

      From the little I know of his philosophy, the most I can say is it is mixed - through time, apparently flirting with both communists and classical liberals.

    2. When I read Bionic's post I immediately thought of an article Rothbard wrote on hermeneutics.


      Foucalt is mentioned in that article being lumped along with the other French hermeneuticians: Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida. I tend to agree with his criticisms of hermeneutics in general, but after having read your post, I wonder if Foucault was incorrectly lumped in with this tradition. Would you say Foucault was a hermeneutician?

      I read some of Foucault's quotes, and I have to say that he reminds me a lot of Proudhon. He seems like a man in love with contradictions. That is not a good start in my book, but I'm open to your contention that he is an ally of liberterianism.

      From what I can tell he certainly seems of the Left, but he rejects Marxism so that is a good start.


  6. I, like many, first became aware of Peterson about a year ago, mostly due to his hassles with campus SJW's.
    Then I got hooked. Obsessed is a better word. Almost like a cult. But a GOOD cult, ahem.
    Anyhow, I feel that we've all been converging on a new incarnation of anarchism. Not minarchism, but anarchy with a real appreciation for CULTURE.
    Peterson really nails this with his allusions to throwing the baby out with the bathwater, i.e. tossing millennia worth of accrued knowledge to reinvent the wheel sociologically. (sorry for all the metaphors).
    Bionic is way out in front on this, but of course, Hoppe was there first. I like this direction.

    1. Hoppe was there first. He takes a lot of heat for this yet remains firm.

      I know you were around at the time this dialogue started here at this blog, so I am sure you know this but I feel it is a good place to make the note:

      I first started down this path because someone challenged me to take on Hoppe in the same way I took on the left / thick libertarians. I had previously read some of Hoppe but not much of his "culture" stuff (for lack of a better terms).

      Well, whatever the purpose of the challenge from the left-lib who made it, I think it backfired!

    2. "Well, whatever the purpose of the challenge from the left-lib who made it, I think it backfired!"

      This makes me chuckle. The first time I was exposed to LRC was because of a NYT's article that referenced Lew's website in a disparaging manner circa 2006 in a Ron Paul profile article.

      It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my intellectual development, politically speaking- and I'm sure the NYT's was hoping for the opposite.

  7. I read Hicks book prior to reading David Gordon's review. The book itself is well worth the read, because if nothing else it is short. I enjoyed the end of the book more than the beginning. In the beginning he states a "failure of epistemology" being the cause of the ultimate post-modern bent. I don't think epistemology failed at all. I think thinkers failed to understand the concept. Following Mises through Hoppe on epistemology is easily my favorite intellectual exercise. And I think it does support the claim that when you've got an axe to grind and the obstacles prove insurmountable, pull and end-around and throw them out as the post-modernists have done.

  8. Postmodernism, Smostmodernism.
    First we have to understand r/K theory.
    Then we understand that politics is about emotions, not logic.
    Then things become clear.

    I read Hick's book - and liked it!
    But it is irrelevant.
    Postmodernism is irrelevant.
    The left is ruled by r-stratgy.
    Pre-1960 marxism was the left's choice, today it is postmodernism, tomorrow... who know's?
    Its not about ratio, its about emotions.

  9. Don't necessarily post this to the blog...

    I find this pastor's youtube channel on Peterson to be very useful. He has two playlists on Peterson.