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Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault by Stephen R.C. Hicks
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“In postmodern discourse, truth is rejected explicitly and consistency can be a rare phenomenon. Consider the following pairs of claims. On the one hand, all truth is relative; on the other hand, postmodernism tells it like it really is. On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely destructive and bad. Values are subjective—but sexism and racism are really evil. Technology is bad and destructive—and it is unfair that some people have more technology than others. Tolerance is good and dominance is bad—but when postmodernists come to power, political correctness follows. There is a common pattern here: Subjectivism and relativism in one breath, dogmatic absolutism in the next. Postmodernists are well aware of the contradictions—especially since their opponents relish pointing them out at every opportunity. And of course a post-modernist can respond dismissingly by citing Hegel—“Those are merely Aristotelian logical contradictions”—but it is one thing to say that and quite another to sustain Hegelian contradictions psychologically.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“why is it that that prominent segment of the Left—the same Left that traditionally defended its positions on the modernist grounds of reason, science, fairness for all, and optimism—is now voicing themes of anti-reason, anti-science, all’s-fair-in-love-and-war, and cynicism? ”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Therefore, it is a combination of the two factors—widespread skepticism about reason and socialism’s being in crisis—that is necessary to give rise to postmodernism.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Consider three more examples, this time of clashes between postmodernist theory and historical fact. Postmodernists say that the West is deeply racist, but they know very well that the West ended slavery for the first time ever, and that it is only in places where Western ideas have made inroads that racist ideas are on the defensive. They say that the West is deeply sexist, but they know very well that Western women were the first to get the vote, contractual rights, and the opportunities that most women in the world are still without. They say that Western capitalist countries are cruel to their poorer members, subjugating them and getting rich off them, but they know very well that the poor in the West are far richer than the poor anywhere else, both in terms of material assets and the opportunities to improve their condition.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“A new ethical standard was therefore necessary. With great fanfare, then, much of the Left changed its official ethical standard from need to equality. No longer was the primary criticism of capitalism to be that it failed to satisfy people’s needs. The primary criticism was to be that its people did not get an equal share.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Traditionally, Marxist socialism had supposed that providing adequately for human needs was a basic test of a social system’s morality. The achievement of wealth, accordingly, was a good thing since wealth brought with it better nutrition, housing, healthcare, and leisure time. And so capitalism was held to be evil because Marxists believed that it denied most of its population the ability to enjoy the fruits of wealth. But as it became clear that capitalism is very good at producing the wealth and delivering the fruits—and that socialism is very bad at it—two new variations on Left thought turned this argument on its head and began to condemn capitalism precisely for being so good at producing wealth.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“As Nietzsche noted in Daybreak: When some men fail to accomplish what they desire to do they exclaim angrily, “May the whole world perish!”  This repulsive emotion is the pinnacle of envy, whose implication is “If I cannot have something, no one can have anything, no one is to be anything!”[312]”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Kant is sometimes considered to be an advocate of reason. Kant was in favor of science, it is argued. He emphasized the importance of rational consistency in ethics. He posited regulative principles of reason to guide our thinking, even our thinking about religion. And he resisted the ravings of Johann Hamann and the relativism of Johann Herder. Thus, the argument runs, Kant should be placed in the pantheon of Enlightenment greats. That is a mistake. The fundamental question of reason is its relationship to reality. Is reason capable of knowing reality - or is it not? Is our rational faculty a cognitive function, taking its material form reality, understanding the significance of that material, and using that understanding to guide our actions in reality - or is it not? This is the question that divides philosophers into pro- and anti-reason camps, this is the question that divides the rational gnostics and the skeptics, and this was Kant’s question in his Critique of Pure Reason. Kant was crystal clear about his answer. Reality - real, noumenal reality - is forever closed off to reason, and reason is limited to awareness and understanding of its own subjective products… Kant was the decisive break with the Enlightenment and the first major step toward postmodernism. Contrary to the Enlightenment account of reason, Kant held that the mind is not a response mechanism but a constitute mechanism. He held that the mind - and not reality - sets the terms for knowledge. And he held that reality conforms to reason, not vice versa. In the history of philosphy, Kant marks a fundamental shift from objectivity as the standard to subjectivity as the standard. What a minute, a defender of Kant may reply. Kant was hardly opposed to reason. After all, he favored rational consistency and he believed in universal principles. So what is anti-reason about it? The answer is that more fundamental to reason than consistency and universality is a connection to reality. Any thinker who concludes that in principle reason cannot know reality is not fundamentally an advocate of reason… Suppose a thinker argued the following: “I am an advocate of freedom for women. Options and the power to choose among them are crucial to our human dignity. And I am wholeheartedly an advocate of women’s human dignity. But we must understand that a scope of a women’s choice is confined to the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen’s door she must not attempt to exercise choice. Within the kitchen, however, she has a whole feast of choices[…]”. No one would mistake such a thinker for an advocate of women’s freedom. Anyone would point out that there is a whole world beyond the kitchen and that freedom is essentially about exercising choice about defining and creating one’s place in the world as a whole. The key point about Kant, to draw the analogy crudely, is that he prohibits knowledge of anything outside our skulls. The gives reasons lots to do withing the skull, and he does advocate a well-organized and tidy mind, but this hardly makes him a champion of reason… Kant did not take all of the steps down to postmodernism, but he did take the decisive one. Of the five major features of Enlightenment reason - objectivity, competence, autonomy, universality, and being an individual faculty - Kant rejected objectivity.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Reason is a tool of weaklings who are afraid to be naked in the face of a cruel and conflictual reality and who therefore build fantasy intellectual structures to hide in.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“As it became impossible to believe in the morality of the Soviet Union, a shrinking contingent of true believers shifted their devotions, first to communist China under Mao. But then came revelations of even worse horrors in China in the 1960s—including 30 million deaths between 1959 and 1961. Then Cuba was the great hope, and then Vietnam, then Cambodia, then Albania for awhile in the late 1970s, and then Nicaragua in the 1980s. But the data and the disappointments piled up, all dealing a solid and devastating blow to socialism’s ability to claim a moral sanction.[259] One such set of summary data is reproduced below in the form of a table comparing liberal democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian governments in terms of one measure of morality: the number of their own citizens those governments have killed.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“What is the purpose in this context of appealing to opinion and semantic relativism?  The purpose is to get your opponent off your back and to get some breathing space. If your opponent accepts that the debate is a matter of opinion or semantics, then your losing the argument does not matter: nobody is right or wrong. But if your opponent does not accept that everything is a matter of opinion, then his attention is diverted away from the subject matter at hand—namely, politics—and into epistemology. For now he has to show why everything is not merely semantics, and that will take him awhile. Meanwhile, you have successfully diverted him. And if it looks like he is doing a good job on the semantics argument, then you can throw in—“Well, what about perceptual illusions?”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Included in the Totalitarian/Killed by Own Government cell are the 10 to 12 million human beings killed by the German National Socialists in the period 1933-1945. Subtracting that number from 138 million, along with subtracting a few million killed by miscellaneous totalitarian regimes, means that over 110 million human beings were killed by the governments of nations inspired by Left, primarily Marxist, socialism.[260]”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence. I repudiated rational thought in favour of a theology of feeling.”[54] One should strive to realize oneself by exploring and embracing this feeling of absolute dependence. This requires attacking reason, for reason gives one a feeling of independence and confidence. Limiting reason is thus the essence of religious piety—for it makes possible a fully-entered-into feeling of dependence and orientation toward that being upon which one is absolutely dependent. That being is of course God.[55]”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Kunst ist Scheisse (Art is shit) was, fittingly, the motto of the Dada movement. Duchamp’s urinal was the fitting symbol. Everything is waste to be flushed away. On this hypothesis, then, postmodernism is a generalization on Dada’s nihilism. Not only is art shit, everything is.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Reason and power are one and the same,” Jean-François Lyotard states. Both lead to and are synonymous with “prisons, prohibitions, selection process, the public good.”[6] Postmodernism then becomes an activist strategy against the coalition of reason and power.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“reason must be aware only of the subjective effect and not the external object.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Communist governments account for 110 million of these deaths. Source: Rummel 1994.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“On the one hand, all truth is relative; on the other hand, postmodernism tells it like it really is. On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely destructive and bad. Values are subjective—but sexism and racism are really evil. Technology is bad and destructive—and it is unfair that some people have more technology than others. Tolerance is good and dominance is bad—but when postmodernists come to power, political correctness follows.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“The empirical evidence has been much harder on socialism. Economically, in practice the capitalist nations are increasingly productive and prosperous, with no end in sight. Not only are the rich getting fantastically richer, the poor in those countries are getting richer too. And by direct and brutal contrast, every socialist experiment has ended in dismal economic failure—from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, to North Korea and Vietnam, to Cuba, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Morally and politically, in practice every liberal capitalist country has a solid record for being humane, for by and large respecting rights and freedoms, and for making it possible for people to put together fruitful and meaningful lives. Socialist practice has time and time again proved itself more brutal than the worst dictatorships in history prior to the twentieth century. Each socialist regime has collapsed into dictatorship and begun killing people on a huge scale. Each has produced dissident writers such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Nien Cheng who have documented what those regimes are capable of.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Deconstruction as an educational strategy   Here is an example. Kate Ellis is a radical gender feminist. Ellis, as she writes in Socialist Review, believes that sexism is evil, that affirmative action is good, that capitalism and sexism go hand in hand, and that achieving equality between the sexes requires an overthrow of existing society. But she finds that she has a problem when she tries to teach these themes to her students. She finds that they think like liberal capitalists—they think in terms of equality of opportunity, in terms of simply removing artificial barriers and judging everyone by the same standards, and they think that by personal effort and ambition they can overcome most obstacles and achieve success in life.[303] But this means that her students have bought into the whole liberal capitalist framework that Ellis thinks is dead wrong. So, Ellis writes, she will enlist deconstruction as a weapon against those old-fashioned Enlightenment beliefs.[304]”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“In American law, there is the Constitution and the whole body of common law precedent, and very little of that supports socialism. Consequently, if you are a Left-wing graduate student or professor in literature or law and you are confronted with the Western legal or literary canon, you have two choices. You can take on the opposing traditions, have your students read the great books and the great decisions, and argue with them in your classes. That is very hard work and also very risky—your students might come to agree with the wrong side. Or you can find a way to dismiss the whole tradition, so that you can teach only books that fit your politics. If you are looking for shortcuts, or if you have a sneaking suspicion that the right side might not fare well in the debate, then deconstruction is seductive. Deconstruction allows you to dismiss whole literary and legal traditions as built upon sexist or racist or otherwise exploitative assumptions.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“A variation on this strategy was implicit in a new definition of “poverty” that the Left began to offer in the early 1960s: the poverty that capitalism causes is not absolute but relative. Popularized”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Our four figures, by contrast, voiced themes of strong collectivism in ethics and politics with calls for individuals to sacrifice for society, whether society was defined as the species, the ethnic group, or the state. We find in the case of Kant a call for individuals to be willing to do their duty to sacrifice for the species; we find in the case of Herder a call for individuals to find their identity in their ethnicity; we find in the case of Fichte a call for education to be process of total socialization; and we find in the case of Hegel a call for total government to which the individual will surrender everything.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“This conclusion about perception is devastating for science: If our percepts are theory-laden, then perception is hardly a neutral and independent check upon our theorizing. If our conceptual structures shape our observations as much as vice versa, then we are stuck inside a subjective system with no direct access to reality.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“The dominance of subjectivist and relativistic epistemologies in academic philosophy thus provided the academic Left with a new tactic. Confronted by harsh evidence and ruthless logic, the far Left had a reply: That is only logic and evidence; logic and evidence are subjective; you cannot really prove anything; feelings are deeper than logic; and our feelings say socialism.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“That is my second hypothesis: Postmodernism is a response to the crisis of faith of the academic far Left. Its epistemology justifies the leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism, and that same epistemology justifies using language not as a vehicle for seeking truth but as a rhetorical weapon in the continuing battle against capitalism.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“As the Marxist movement splintered and mutated into new forms, Left intellectuals and activists began to look for new ways to attack capitalism. Environ-mental issues, alongside women’s and minorities’ issues, came to be seen as a new weapon in the arsenal against capitalism”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“This standard Humean/Kantian dichotomy of analytic and synthetic propositions immediately yields a very problematic implication: Logical and mathematical propositions are dis-connected from experiential reality. Propositions about the world of experience such as Beverly’s car is white are never necessarily true, and propositions of logic and mathematics such as Twice two makes four, being necessarily true, must not be about the world of experience. Logical and mathematical propositions, wrote Schlick, “do not deal with any facts, but only with the symbols by means of which the facts are expressed.”[98] Logic and mathematics, accordingly, tell us absolutely nothing about the experiential world of facts. As Wittgenstein put it succinctly in the Tractatus: “All propositions of logic say the same thing. That is, nothing.”[99] Logic and mathematics, then, are on their way to becoming mere games of symbolic manipulation.[100]”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
“Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason, those consequences being necessary given the history of epistemology since Kant.”
Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault

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