Postmodernism, Part 19: Basic Economics

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 (with support from Maps of Meaning, by Jordan B. Peterson).

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

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.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Rousseau’s ideas (and Napoleon’s conquests) inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including multiculturalism, moral relativism, indoctrinating education, hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy and destiny).  This partly explains totalitarian collectivism (and German nationalism).

Left Collectivism is partly rooted in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  The romantic Lord Byron had a profound influence.  He was an aristocratic rebel who espoused rebellion, amorality, hero worship, militarism, and revolution.

Left Collectivism was also rooted in the process of industrialization.

Basic Economics

To understand “capitalism”, it’s useful to understand some basic economics.  For our purposes, this includes three concepts: markets, the state, and society (no math or mumbo jumbo).

“Capitalism” (so to speak) is not one monolithic entity.  It has several moving parts (actors that play different roles).  These include market economics (the markets), liberal democracy (the state), and society (individuals, families, and private institutions).  These different actors have related and competing interests, but don’t move in lockstep with each other.

Market economics is a system for allocating scarce resources, based on voluntary exchange and price.  Resources are scarce.  (We can’t turn water into wine.)  The price of wine is a “signal” that incorporates a mind-boggling amount of information (past and present, across the globe).  Nobody knows or can know how to calculate the “correct price” for wine or anything – no genius and no AI.  (The economy is too complex to model, measure, and predict.)  The price mechanism distributes this complex calculation (of mind-boggling information), across the globe, into a single data point – price.  Market economics is the worst system in the world (except for all the rest).

Liberal democracy is the state.  All states feature coercion and sanction.  The state holds a monopoly on coercion (the power to compel involuntary action).  The state uses the power of sanction (its monopoly on violence) to give force to law.  Liberal democracies give individuals some participation in representative government.  They grant some rights (interests that trump other interests), such as speech, association, religion, and property.  They give individuals some access to courts to seek justice. Liberal democracy is the worst system in the world (except for all the rest).

Society is the individual and voluntary associations of individuals.  Society is not the state.  (Society lacks sanction and coercion.)  Society is voluntary.  (There is no opting-out of the state.)  Society includes friends, families, communities, churches, charities, etc.  Society is a source of values (competing values, including competition with state-endorsed values).  Society voluntarily provides education, assistance, training and support.

Industrial Development

This is a modern conception of “capitalism”.  These ideas have evolved over centuries and continue to evolve.  These institutions don’t evolve at the same pace.  Sometimes they (like us) look forwards, sometimes back, sometimes blind, sometimes drunk.  They (like us) have one foot in yesterday and the other in tomorrow.  It’s far from perfect.

The Industrial Revolution was a slow process.  These institutions were moving from agricultural medieval feudalism towards modernity.  The institutions were changing.  The arrangements were changing.  Values were changing.  There was a revolving door of winners and losers.  There were crooks and liars, idealists and charlatans, saints and sinners.  It was (and is) a long and painful process.

Commentary

“If I have seen further than others,” wrote Isaac Newton, “It is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.  We should be mindful of that perspective.

An idea is hiding there.  Newton’s metaphor stands on an older one, “a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself”.  Each of us is “a dwarf”.  What is the giant?

The giant is a tower of bones.  In the sweeping valley of chaos, lie heaps of debris and ruin.  In its center, is a ghastly mountain of rubble and bones.  Atop that, looms a structure, a tower of bones, lashed together with  sinews of the long forgotten dead.  At its base, the bones are bleached white; at top, fresh with blood.  The tower is ornamented with faded banners, broken relics, and skulls of the once wise and mighty.  The giant tower is our civilization and culture.

“Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand,” writes psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, “The thing we cannot see is culture … The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture.”  Our giant tower of culture was built upon hard lessons by the dead.  We climbed and built this giant, step by painstaking step.  When we fall, we plummet into a merciless abyss.

Marx and Engels stood atop a giant that shuddered violently, as machines roared to life, belching smoke and fire.  These men marveled at this power and thought themselves giants.  They claimed to see to the end of history.  They thought themselves brilliant scientific engineers of human destiny (who could design and build a bridge to paradise).

Their disciples dismantled the scaffolding upon which they stood to raise an altar to their genius.  They raised armies to enslave and slaughter, to build their ghastly bridge to oblivion.  It creaked and groaned, then shattered of its own weight.  Men and debris scattered in the howling winds of chaos, and tumbled to the floor, below.  They lie there still, mute testimony to hubris and folly.

Next

Industrialization helps lead to socialism.  Next: Part 20, Labor Pains

Postmodernism, Part 18: Antichrist

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 (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Erstwhile

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.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s ideas (and Napoleon’s conquests) set the German Counter-Enlightenment on fire.  Kant espoused a sort of feudalistic militarism.  Johann Herder argued for multiculturalism, moral relativism, and nationalism.  Johann Fichte argued for public education as indoctrination, and German nationalism and destiny.  Hegel added to Rousseau his dialectical view of history, divine totalitarianism, and German supremacy.

This partly explains totalitarian collectivism (and German nationalism).

Now, we explain Left Collectivism (socialism) and its roots in romanticism and industrialization.

The Noble Monster

Romanticism was an artistic reaction to the Enlightenment.  (The Counter-Enlightenment was a philosophical and political reaction to the Enlightenment.)  Rousseau was inspirational to both and linked them together.

Rousseau appealed to sensibility (passion, unthinking emotion, especially sympathy).  Sensibility assigned virtue to the poor and enshrined idyllic nature.  Rousseau (an itinerant drifter) embodied this aesthetic.

frankenstein-monsterThe noble monster

The Romantic aesthetic favored the radical and dangerous (rejecting prudence and safety).  It scorned money-grubbing industrial economics (as beneath us).  It preferred violent emotion and stormy nature.  Romantics yearned for an idyllic legendary (medieval) past.

German Sturm and Drang (associated with Herder) was an early romantic movement.  It celebrated German myth and folklore.  It expressed itself in music, art, literature, and philosophy.

Romanticism is a moral value system (not just an aesthetic).  It values passion (love, hate, pride, jealousy, fury, contempt) and passionate action (violence, murder, revenge) irrespective of the social consequences.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an example.  Her noble monster wants to be loved, but society rejects him, driving him to hatred and murder.  The monster was above morality because his passion drove his murders.  (We sympathize for the killer, not the victims.)

Antichrist
lord-byronLord Byron

The romantic Lord Byron was an aristocratic rebel. He championed the rebellious anti-hero.  He idolized Napoleon, lamenting his defeat.  Byron had a profound impact on Germany.  He inspired revolutionary heroism.

Byron was an aristocratic rebel.  He felt shunned by an aristocratic society that he wasn’t born into.  Byron inherited his estate (after a childhood in squalor) and came from a “bad family” (with a lawless reputation).  He was self-conscious, limping from a foot deformity.  Byron was bisexual and engaged in scandalous love affairs.  He cultivated the persona of a great sinner (likening himself to Satan).

Byron championed the rebellious anti-hero.  His heroes were rebels, vengeful villains, such as his pirate in “The Corsair”:

“He knew himself a villain – but he deem’d,
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the the bolder spirit plainly did.”

He rejected Christian morality.  He fancied himself above contemptable mankind’s hypocritical morality.

Byron idolized Napoleon, lamenting his defeat.  His “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte” evoked Satanic imagery.

“’TIS done—but yesterday a King!
And arm’d with Kings to strive—
And now thou art a nameless thing:
So abject—yet alive!
Is this the man of thousand thrones,
Who strew’d our earth with hostile bones,
And can he thus survive?
Since he, miscalled the Morning Star,
Nor man nor fiend hath fallen so far.”

He likens Napoleon (who strewed the earth with bones) to Satan (the Morning Star).

“The Desolator desolate!
The Victor overthrown!
The Arbiter of others’ fate
A Suppliant for his own!
Is it some yet imperial hope
That with such change can calmly cope?
Or dread of death alone?
To die a prince—or live a slave—
Thy choice is most ignobly brave!”

He hero worships a Satanic vision of Napoleon (the Desolator), echoing Milton’s Paradise Lost (“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”).

Byron had a profound impact on Germany.  Many Germans saw Napoleon as an Antichrist who threatened the German nation.  Prussian Chancellor Bismarck saw Napoleon as an Antichrist to be imitated.  Napoleon was Hegel’s “world-historical individual”.  He was Nietzsche’s Superman.  Byron helped infuse Germany with hero worship and amoral militarism.

Byron was a revolutionary.  He is considered a hero of the Greek War for Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  He raised money for the revolution, helped finance the war, and provided humanitarian aid; then, fell sick and died in Greece.  Byron inspired future revolutionaries, including Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Commentary

Byron was profoundly influential.  He inspired the collectivist Left and Right.  His admirers included the hero-worshiping Thomas Carlyle (who unwittingly inspired Nazi hero worship).  Byron’s romantic aesthetic inspired revolutionaries.  His romantic amorality and careless contempt for humanity inspired ideologies that caused terrible carnage.

Romanticism’s aesthetic has a stirring and enduring emotional appeal (especially to rebellious youth).  Romantic morality seems appalling and absurd.  Consider a hypothetical.  Your neighbor, Byron, is an aristocratic rebel:

  • It is okay to kill Byron because you are jealous of his fame.
  • It is okay to kill Byron because you envy his wealth.
  • It is not okay to kill Byron to steal his gold.

As an individual ethic, romantic morality might be appealing (rebellious adolescent fantasy, freedom from moral constraints to act with reckless abandon).  As a community ethic, it has been catastrophe (anarchy, murder, rape, violence, societal collapse, economic collapse, famine, disease, untold suffering) – not in theory, but in historical fact.

First world anarchists (cozy and safe from such horrors) enjoy the luxury of fantasy.  The present victims of such horrors wish for better.  The past victims (men, women, children) did also.

Next

Industrialization helps lead to socialism. Next: Part 19, Basic Economics.

Postmodernism, Part 17: Hegel – Freedom is Slavery

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 (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Erstwhile

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.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  He was a Counter-Enlightenment totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.  His ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Napoleon gained power and trounced Germany.  He ended the Holy Roman Empire, occupied German territories, and imposed foreign values on them.  Germans blamed the Enlightenment for invading the dark forests of deeply rooted German traditions.

German Counter-Enlightenment minds gave Rousseau a German spin.  Kant espoused a sort of feudalistic militarism, where Nature uses human warfare for human progress.  Johann Herder (Kant’s student) disagreed, arguing for multiculturalism, moral relativism, German (not universal) progress, and nationalism.  Johann Fichte (Kant’s student) also disagreed, arguing for Ego (German subjective reality), public education as totalitarian collectivist indoctrination, and German (collective) freedom.

Hegel: Freedom is Slavery

Hegel was the fellow who reinvented reason.  He and Kant had split over how to defend God.  Kant used logic to kill objective reality.  Hegel objected because this denied universal truth.  He wanted it back.  So, Hegel used his dialectic to reinvent reason.  Reason was the universe acting through individuals, with contradictions clashing in a process of cultural evolution.

Hegel decided to give Rousseau the dialectic treatment plus a healthy dose of German idealism.  He was a Rousseau fanboy, but the French Revolution had proved to be weak beer.  To change the world, Rousseau’s collectivist totalitarianism needed a German shot in the arm.

hegelHegel

Hegel (like Rousseau) argued for state religion – in a literal sense.  He claimed that history was progress towards divine perfection (the Absolute Idea).  “God governs the world,” he taught, “the carrying out of his plan is the History of The World”.  The State “is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth”, he said, “One must worship the state as a terrestrial divinity”.

Hegel (going beyond Rousseau) sacrificed the individual on the altar of his state religion.  “If the state claims life, the individual must surrender it,” he parroted Rousseau. Individuals “are thus sacrificed”, he wrote, “under the category of means to an ulterior end”.

Hegel reinvented freedom (echoing Fichte).  True freedom is the obedience of the law. “Law is the objectivity of Spirit; volition in its true form, ” Hegel taught, “for it obeys itself – it is independent and so free”.  (In other words, freedom is God’s.  God’s laws are the nation’s laws.  Individuals have a duty to God and country, which are one and the same.)

Hegel (like Rousseau) endorsed dictatorship (of “world-historical individuals” – like Napoleon).  The dictator “is devoted to One Aim”, he wrote, and “may treat other great, even sacred interests, inconsiderately; conduct which is indeed obnoxious to moral reprehension.”  (The dictator is above morality.)  “But so mighty a form must trample down many an innocent flower”, he said.  (The dictator is above morality and will slaughter innocents to realize God’s plan.)

Hegel (like Fichte) divined that history was culminating in the German people.  The Spirit had developed in three phases: the Orientals, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Germans.  “The German world knows that All are free”, he wrote, “The German spirit is the spirit of the new world.  Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the unlimited self determination of freedom”.

Two important takeaways from Hegel are: his dialectic and totalitarian ethnic nationalism.  Both components would be taken up by the Collective Right and the Collective Left.

Commentary

Hegel was profoundly influential.  His ideas (seemingly bizarre, unhinged, even lunatic) would shake the world, killing tens of millions.

Importantly, from a subjectivist philosophical point of view, there is nothing inherently wrong with holocaust and genocide.

Next

Romanticism and industrialization birth Socialism. Next: Part 18, Antichrist.