Postmodernism 101, Part 6: Rousseau’s Paradise Lost

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:

Erstwhile
immanuel-kantImmanuel Kant

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, the irrationalist camp appeared, peering into their hearts.  The nihilist Schopenhauer despaired.  Schleiermacher found heartfelt faith.  Kierkegaard urged action: crucify reason and make a leap of faith.  The skeptical Nietzsche urged bravery against the unknown: use our will and power to become the Superman.

Martin Heidegger laid the philosophical foundations of postmodernism.  In dark, mystical meditation, he conjured the spirits of Counter-Enlightenment for his revelation: metaphysical nihilism.  Heidegger’s philosophy embraced Nothing, opposed Western reality, reason, and logic; focused on contradiction and conflict; and dwelt in dark shadows of emotion.

Postmodernism’s Socialist Faith

Postmodernism’s arguments unmask it as radical leftism, in the guise of philosophy.  Postmodernism makes radical leftist political arguments: oppressor, oppressed, conflict, revolution.  Its subjective philosophy should predict a variety of political theories (not uniformity).

How and why did this happen?  Just as the Enlightenment faced the Christian faithful with a crisis, twentieth century leftist intellectuals were faced with a crisis, following Marxism’s catastrophic failures –  calamity, evil, carnage.  How could they maintain their Marxist faith against such evidence?  Heidegger offered a philosophical refuge: abandon reason, take it on faith, and continue the conflict.  Postmodernism’s political theory comes from elsewhere.

Rousseau’s Paradise Lost
jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Counter-Enlightenment philosopher Jean Rousseau was the fiery prophet of Postmodernism’s socialist faith.  Karl Marx had overshadowed Rousseau.  But, Marx’s star had fallen into the abyss of twentieth century catastrophe.  Rousseau’s ghost would return from the shadows.

Counter-Enlightenment revolutionary Rousseau denounced the Enlightenment in religious terms.  He damned reason and civilization for Paradise Lost.  Reason is Original Sin, Rousseau argued.  Civilization is fruit of the poisonous tree.  Reason and civilization had corrupted man, he said.  He lamented our lost idyllic Garden of Eden, “the state of nature in which the concern [was] for our self-preservation”.

Civilization is not progress, Rousseau argued, but is “in fact toward the decay of the species”, he wrote.  Reason and civilization bore evils: abundance that led to property rights, property rights that led to competition, competition that turned men into enemies, technology and medicine that weakened our bodies, society that stoked jealousy, envy, rivalry, and conflict.

Civilization’s inequalities (wealth, honor, and power) are “privileges enjoyed by some at the expense of others.” Rousseau wrote.  Reason is the enemy of compassion, he claimed.  The rich get richer, the poor poorer.  Reason drives inequality by driving individualism, Rousseau argued, turning man inward, and turning his back on others.

Civilization is self-serving, to benefit the rich and powerful, Rousseau argued.  The sciences, letters, and arts are “so many chains binding [us]”, he claimed.  They are not freedom, but slavery – “garlands of flowers over the iron chains in which men are burdened” to “make [us] love our slavery”.

The answer is revolution, Rousseau argued, because reform is not possible.  We must tear down this civilization and replace it, he claimed, just as the Spartans did.  Rousseau admired the militaristic, communal Spartan ideal, despising Athenian decadence.

Rousseau argued for a new society – totalitarian socialism.  The new society must elevate passion over reason.  It must have an intolerant state religion.  It demands total sacrifice of the individual to the state.

Rousseau wanted a society that elevated passion over reason.  Man is driven by natural passion, he argued, not reason.  Reason confuses us and leads us astray.

Rousseau argued for an intolerant state religion.  We need a state religion so that we can “bear with docility the yoke of the public good”,  he wrote.  Disbelievers must be put to death, he argued.  Reason is the enemy – leading to disbelief, disobedience, and anarchy.

Rousseau argued for total sacrifice of the individual to the state.  The individual “must be surrendered to a new moral and collective body”, he wrote, “under the supreme direction of society’s leaders”.  Every “citizen should render to the state all the services he can as soon as the sovereign demands them,” Rousseau wrote, and “if it is expedient for the state that you should die, ‘[you] should die'”.

Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.  He would die without seeing the consequences of his philosophy – the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.

Commentary

With Marx discredited, Rousseau provides postmodernists with a political philosophy that features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau might seem less tainted than Marx.  If so, it is because Marx’s catastrophes are more recent and horrific.  Rousseau is often glossed over, out of context.  (“Social contract” sounds much more appealing than “totalitarian socialist theocracy”.)

Rousseau’s philosophy echoes in Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto.  Primitivist Kaczynski shares Rousseau’s lament for Paradise Lost.  Both condemn society for man’s ills.  Both tout revolution and the impossibility of reform.  However, Kaczynski opts for anarchy, while Rousseau opts for totalitarian socialism.  Kaczynski condemns Rousseau’s consequences – the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.

Next

Rousseau’s ideas inflame the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  Next: Part 7, Radicalization and Revolution.

Postmodernism 101, Part 5: Heidegger Knows Nothing

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:

Erstwhile
immanuel-kantImmanuel Kant

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
martin-heideggerMartin Heidegger

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.
Commentary

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.

Next

History explains postmodernism’s leftist politics.  Next: Part 6, Rousseau’s Paradise Lost.

Postmodernism 101, Part 4: Staring into the Abyss

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:

Erstwhile
immanuel-kantImmanuel Kant

In Marxist tradition, postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern philosophy and its progeny.  The Enlightenment’s modern philosophy overthrew the Medieval philosophy of faith.  Modernism supposed individuals could use perception and 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 attacked reason with logic’s razor, slicing objectivity away.  Reason was left half-blind, unable to know reality.  Hegel thought Kant’s defense weak, and launched a counter-revolution.  Hegel conjured a dialectic that played by its own rules, a game changer that slapped logic away and reinvented reason.

Crisis

The Enlightenment brought a crisis of faith and a crisis of meaning.  Mankind stared into an abyss, half-blind.  Some despaired and plunged into darkness.  Some held to belief.  Some leapt into the unknown.  Another summoned lightning in the darkness.

Despair

arthur-schopenhauerArthur Schopenhauer

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer despaired.  Hegel was a coward, he thought, for attempting to return to religion.  Hegel’s metaphysics were not reality.

Schopenhauer agreed with Kant that our minds understand reality from perceptions and concepts.  “All perception is intellectual,” he wrote, “The world is my representation [of it].”

Our only reality is our will, Schopenhauer wrote.  Our actions define our will, he argued.  Our actions reveal our motivations.  This is all we can know of reality, he said.

To search for more is pointless, Schopenhauer argued, because our will cannot comprehend more.  If we could, he claimed, we would find only chaos, cruelty, and horror.  For Schopenhauer, it would be better that man and the world had never existed.  “Nothing else can be stated as the aim of existence except the knowledge that it would be better for us not to exist,” he despaired.

Belief

friedrich-schleiermachrFriedrich Schleiermachr

German philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher held to belief.  Kant was correct, he agreed, that reason cannot know reality.  We believe what reason tells us.  We can believe what faith tells us.

Reason is based on belief, said Schleiermacher.  We perceive external objects.  We cannot know the existence of them, independent of our minds.  The external world is an object of belief.

Faith is based on belief, he argued.  We can look inward, into our hearts.  In our deepest religious feelings, we can sense the divine.  Our faith is also an object of belief.

Faith requires that we limit reason, Schleiermacher concluded,  “No God without a world, and no world without God”.

Leap into the Unknown

soren-kierkagaardSoren Kierkegaard

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard pushed us to make a leap of faith.  He agreed with Kant that knowledge of reality was impossible.  Nevertheless, the world forces choices upon us.  Our destinies are at sake.  We must act.

We make life’s choices in ignorance, Kierkegaard contended.  “Life can only be understood backwards,” he said, “but it must be lived forwards.”

We must choose, Kierkegaard said, “I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that.  My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not – you will regret both.”

We must make a leap of faith, Kierkegaard concluded.  God cannot be justified rationally.  God is irrational and unknowable, he said.  Like Abraham, he said, we must relinquish our understanding and thinking, and keep our soul fixed upon the unknowable.  We must “crucify reason” and make a leap of faith into the unknowable.

Lightning in the Darkness

friedrich-nietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche fought to light a way in the falling dark.  Christianity’s candle was dimming, its moral compass failing.  The specter of Schopenhauer’s despair followed him.  Nietzsche summoned lightning to light the way.

Nietzsche saw the German battle against the Enlightenment as one of hatred between brothers who “wronged each other as only brothers wrong each other”.  The Enlightenment was an attack on the philosophical German spirit by the English mechanistic mind.

Nietzsche agreed with the “catastrophic spider” Kant, that reason was woeful.  Reason relied on our “weakest and most fallible organ”, he said, our consciousness.  Reason demeaned us “unfortunate creatures”, reducing us to “thinking, inferring, reckoning, coordinating cause and effect”.

Christianity could guide us no longer.  “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!”, Nietzsche lamented,  “How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers?”  Without religion’s moral compass, how could we guide ourselves?  “Whither do we move?  Away from all suns?  Do we not dash on unceasingly?  Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions?  Is there still an above and below?”  Nietzsche asked.

Nietzsche dispelled the specter of Schopenhauer’s despair.  His pessimism was born of religious “world-renouncing morality”.  Fear and pessimism must not drive us to religion, he argued.

Nietzsche proposed a way forward: Will to Power – the exercise of power to achieve individual potential.  “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength,” Nietzsche said, “Life itself is Will to Power.”  Man must become the Superman, he argued, “the lightening out of the dark cloud”.  We should not be herded by “good and just” herdsmen.  What good are happiness, reason, virtue, justice, or pity?  We must live dangerously and embrace conflict to achieve our full potential.

Nietzsche’s short life ended in madness, his works incomplete.  Others took up his works and twisted them to terrible ends.

Commentary

The German Counter-Enlightenment had now split roughly into two camps:  one Hegelian, the other irrationalist.  Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche represent German philosophy’s irrationalist camp:

  • Reality.  Reason cannot know reality.
    • The theists (Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard) found truth in the rational and the irrational.
    • The atheists (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) found no truth (only phenomena and will).
  • Human Nature.
    • Schleiermacher endorsed conscious choice of good and evil (subject to human nature).
    • Kierkegaard endorsed personal freedom to choose salvation (subject to original sin).
    • The atheists (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) perceived will.
  • Values.
    • Kierkegaard valued individual freedom, opposed Hegelian collectivism, and valued faith in Christ.
    • Schleiermacher valued the higher good, including the individual and their duty to God and community (the collective).
    • Schopenhauer was a nihilist who thought the search for universal truths to be absurd (futile, pointless).  He saw no point in life.
    • Nietzsche was a moral skeptic who denied universal truths.  He valued achievement of individual potential in a hierarchy (at all costs).  He opposed mass movements (“the herd”, “the rabble”).

The Twentieth century awaited –  twisted ideologies and a maelstrom of chaos, war, revolution, carnage, and monstrous horror.

Next

Postmodernism’s foundation is laid.  Next: Part 5, Heidegger Knows Nothing.