Postmodernism, Part 25: Revolutions of 1848

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Friedrich Engels.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and culminated in Napoleon’s conquests.

Right Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

marxKarl Marx

Left Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment, romanticism, and early industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (morality, not so much).  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists, Marx and Engels, thought this the new normal.  Their “scientific socialism” prophesied a Communist destiny.  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolution was imminent.  (It would be a big letdown.)

Revolutions of 1848

In 1848, Europe was swept with revolutions.  These were liberal (democratic republican) revolutions.  Three major drivers were:

  • Hunger,
  • Nationalism, and
  • Economics

These were not Marxist revolutions.  (Marx was impatient and frustrated.)

Europe was dominated by five great powers: Austria, Prussia, Russia, France, and Great Britain.  Great Britain was a constitutional monarchy.  France had a constitutional monarchy (having exiled Napoleon).  These constitutional monarchies denied most people the right to vote.


The three other powers (Austria, Prussia, Russia) were absolute monarchies.  Russia (a repressive police state) was ruled by Tsar Nicholas I. (He had already put down a reformist uprising).  Prussia was ruled by King Frederick William IV.  (He had not delivered promised political reforms.)  The sprawling Austrian Empire was ruled by (mentally challenged) Emperor Ferdinand I (“Ferdy the Loony”).  The power behind the throne was the reactionary Chancellor Metternich.


People were hungry.  The Potato Famine had killed 1.5 million.  Grain harvests had failed.  Food prices skyrocketed.  There were food riots and hunger marches.


Nationalism was a big driver of the Revolutions of 1848.  The Austrian Empire (Austria, Hungary, Italy, German states) was rife with ethnic tensions and surging nationalism.  For our purposes, nationalism is not the focus, except for the cases of Germany and Italy.


Continental Europe lagged in industrialization.  Marx’s “scientific socialism” states (as a law of nature) an economic evolution: from agricultural feudalism to petty industry (crafts and trades), then to industrialization (capitalism), then to socialism, then to communism.  In this scheme, the British were ripe for revolution.  Continental Europe should not be (because they lagged in industrialization).

The British were the most industrialized in Europe.  Engels wrote his book about their deplorable working conditions.  (This is what Marxism is based on.)  Marxism states that capitalism inevitably gives rise to deplorable working conditions that inevitably give rise to revolution (socialism, communism, and so on).

Continental Europe was lagging in industrialization.  They were transitioning from petty industry to capitalism.  (The prerequisite deplorable working conditions would not yet exist.)  Craftsmen and workers would organize and fight over economic concerns (their livelihoods) and social reforms.  The Communist Manifesto wouldn’t resonate much.  (Marx and the Communists would be frustrated).


Marxists were (and are) always an impatient and frustrated lot.  They would never be patient enough for their “scientific” prediction to unfold.  (If it’s inevitable, what’s the hurry?)  When their “scientific” predictions would fail, they’d never question the “science”.  They would revise their theories, and remain impatient, frustrated, and faithful.  (Then, the self-anointed “political vanguard”, inevitably, tries to give the future a big, hard shove from behind.)


France revolts again.  Next: Part 26, French Revolution Redux.