Thursday, April 30, 2020

Deconstructing Postmodernism

Rather than enter the couple of conversations where food-fights have broken out regarding post-modernism and deconstruction, I offer a thought here.  I am sure it will be considered childish to actually look up the terms, but here goes (from Wikipedia…yes, I know, childish squared). 

Deconstruction is an approach to understanding the relationship between text and meaning. It was originated by the philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), who defined the term variously throughout his career. In its simplest form it can be regarded as a criticism of Platonism and the idea of true forms, or essences, which take precedence over appearances.

Deconstruction purports to show that language, especially ideal concepts such as truth and justice, are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible to determine.

Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from modernism. The term has been more generally applied to describe a historical era said to follow after modernity and the tendencies of this era.

While encompassing a wide variety of approaches and disciplines, postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection of the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, often calling into question various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality.

My summary: deconstruction says truth and justice cannot be defined or determined; if something cannot be defined or determined, it cannot exist – in other words, truth and justice cannot exist.  Natural law and Christian ethics (the overlap is considerable and necessary) is the only cure for deconstruction.

Postmodernism calls into question the grand narratives of the Enlightenment and modernism.

So when PVK labels Peterson as a postmodern classical liberal, it sounds right to me given this definition.  PVK did not label Peterson a deconstructionist, and this also sounds right to me given this definition. 

Classical liberalism (the target of postmodernists) killed God, offering that science (narrowly defined) is all that man needs.  Peterson, looking for a cure to the malaise (meaning crisis) of our times, finds…what?  God!  The God that classical liberalism killed as part of modernity’s grand narrative!

Peterson is calling into question the grand narrative of modernism.  This is postmodernist thinking.

NB: Addendum: I should have gone further in looking into this.  While it is true that Peterson is turning the most important (in my view) narrative of the Enlightenment on its head – the death of God – he is doing so in a manner that is not at all the same as that which is typically seen from most postmodern thinkers.


  1. Doesn't Peterson have to be something other than a classical liberal if the definition of one is someone who believes there is no need for God and the narrative of life God brings?

    I think the label does fit, generally, but that one thing hit me as not fitting together.

    Can a classical liberal also be a Christian? But you have to divide the philosophy into different pieces. Economic, political, scientific, and theological. I am a classical liberal in every way but theological. My theological thinking is described more as ancient than anything else. Antediluvian, premodern, ancient, Biblical, Jewish, Apostolic, etc.

    I am pretty much liberal on most other things. Politics, check. Economics, check. Science, check other than using it to argue against the existence of God.

    1. I think the answer to your question is yes. I think this is part of the struggle Peterson has had. He has been trying to walk a very fine line - the need to admit that there is a need for a God (let alone, God) and the environment of modern academia which can countenance no such heresy.