What is postmodernism? Is it a problem? The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism. It is based on the book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.
Previous posts include:
- Intro: The Trouble with Zombies
- Part 1: Truth is Dead
- Part 2: Objectivity is Dead
- Part 3: Hegel’s Dialectic
- Part 4: Staring into the Abyss
Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern philosophy, just as Enlightenment modernism overthrew Medieval faith. Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality. Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.
The German Counter-Enlightenment reacted to defend faith and community. Immanuel Kant hacked objectivity from reason using logic’s razor. Half-blind reason could not know reality. Hegel thought Kant weak, and reinvented reason – a dialectic that forced logic to give way to contradiction.
In Kant’s wake, a new camp appeared – the irrationalists, who looked into their feelings. Nihilistic Schopenhauer perceived only will. Faithful Schleiermacher believed in his heart. Kierkegaard urged action – crucify reason and make a leap of faith. Skeptical Nietzsche urged courage against the unknowable: cast away morality, tap into your will, and become the lightning – Superman.
Heidegger Knows Nothing
Postmodernism’s leading twentieth century philosopher was Germany’s mystical, metaphysical Nazi, Martin Heidegger. He borrowed from earlier Counter-Enlightenment thinkers: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kierkegaard. Heidegger concocted a dark brew that poisoned reason and revealed Nothing.
Heidegger borrowed from earlier Counter-Enlightenment thinkers: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kierkegaard. Like Kant, he thought perceptions and concepts obscured reality. Like Hegel, Heidegger thought we could better know reality (but rejected Hegel’s reasoning). Like Kierkegaard, he trusted his feelings. Like Schopenhauer, Heidegger dwelt on dark feelings.
Heidegger trusted his feelings. Like Kant, he thought reason could not know reality. Sense perceptions and artificial concepts (including language) obscured reality. Kant naively supposed a reality and asked what it was, Heidegger thought. Heidegger meditated on his feelings and asked a different Question – why it was.
Logic could not answer Heidegger’s Question. “Why is there Being and not rather Nothing?”, he asked. The contradiction of something from nothing conflicts with logic (as Hegel saw). Heidegger decided that logic was merely an “invention of schoolteachers” and that answering his Question requires that reason be destroyed.
In mystical fashion, Heidegger reveals metaphysical nihilism. Heidegger, bored, anxious, and full of dread, discovered Nothing. He first explored language, vainly seeking to uncover primordial ur-words. He grew terribly bored, disconnected, and discovered Nothing. In disconnected boredom, we slip into nothingness, he thought. This dreadful sense of annihilation helps us to answer the ultimate Question. Being and Nothing are one and the same.
Heidegger’s metaphysical nihilism and anti-realism would be a foundation for postmodernism.
- Conflict and contradiction reveal truth.
- Reason is subjective.
- Concepts (language) obscure reality.
- Contradiction trumps logic.
- Feelings trump reason.
- Western reason and logic are hindrances.
There is much more to Heidegger. Nazism aside, he inherited traditional German social and political collectivism. History and tradition made these powerful Counter-Enlightenment political currents.
Heidegger’s dark, mystic philosophy resembles the Dark Side of the Force in Star Wars mythology. In the Star Wars universe, the Jedi knights draw power from an unseen mystical Force. “Trust your feelings,” they are told, but do not give into the Dark Side – feelings of fear or hate. The evil Sith lords draw power from the Dark Side. Their evil Empire conjures Nazi imagery. Star Wars mythology seems to warn of Nazism’s philosophical heritage.
History explains postmodernism’s leftist politics. Next: Part 6, Rousseau’s Paradise Lost.