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Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Expanded Edition) Hardcover – August 19, 2011
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With clarity, concision, and an engaging style, Hicks exposes the historical roots and philosophical assumptions of the postmodernist phenomenon. More than that, he raises key questions about the legacy of postmodernism and its implications for our intellectual attitudes and cultural life. * Steven M. Sanders, Ph.D., Reason Papers --Reason Papers
Refreshingly, Hicks does not take it as given that the poststructuralist viewpoints have been demonstrated to be in error. Rather, he seeks to trace them to a powerful ressentiment directed against the partisan of the Enlightenment and of capitalist achievement, and to provide the Enlightenment thinker with openings for serious intellectual engagement. * Marcus Verhaegh, Ph.D., The Independent Review --The Independent Review
About the Author
- Publisher : Ockham's Razor; Expanded edition (August 19, 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 278 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0983258406
- ISBN-13 : 978-0983258407
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Hicks’s conclusions are this stark but his arguments are detailed. He sees this as fundamentally a failure of epistemology that has been exploited endlessly. Kant’s ultimate subjectivism and his separation of subject and object have been decisive in opening the door both to postmodernism and to romanticism. Hicks does not pursue the latter; that would require another book, but one which I would very much like to see him write.
The book is one of the most lucid and accessible studies of the history of philosophy that I have ever encountered and it is particularly acute in its ability to connect the dots and trace the intellectual lineages and etiologies. If you want to see how the defense of affirmative action, speech codes, and global warming activism ultimately connects with Rousseau, Kant and Marx, et al, this is the book with which you should begin.
This expanded edition adds two relevant essays: “Free Speech and Postmodernism” and “From Modern to Postmodern Art: Why Art Became Ugly.” The latter is particularly incisive.
I had never understood the connection between Marxism and postmodernism, but Hick's makes the connection abundantly clear. If postmodernism does, indeed, make the claim that there 'is no truth' and that there 'is no reality' then how does this fit in with the idea of Marx? As Hick's demonstrates, if postmodernists indeed drank their coolade, one would find that their political affiliations were, at the very least, randomly distributed among the ideologies of our time. This is not the case, postmodernists are almost exclusively leftwing, and Hicks tells us exactly why, in a very compelling way.
He also traces the roots of postmodernism all the way back to the enlightenment era, and he systematically charts how the age of reason sewed the seeds of unreason that was to follow in the later centuries with Nietche and Hegel et al.
Hicks presents his thesis with beautiful, easy to understand explanations that burn with logic and common sense. I was riveted from start to finish. I have long wondered why it is that we hold the assumptions about the world that we do and this work provides one large piece to that puzzle, and has opened up a whole new world of enquiry for me.
My only (very small) criticism is that he observes correctly that the postmodernists (and their Marxist cousins) have shifted their support from failed communist ideology to causes like environmentalism. This is true, but it does not then follow that all environment issues are therefore invalid (as Hicks seems to come close to implying).
In this book, Mr. Hicks traces postmodernism back to its intellectual roots. For those unfamiliar with the subject, postmodernism is the twentieth-century philosophical movement, still dominant and pervasive in academia today and with tentacles reaching deeply into our wider societies, that contends that man is unable to make objective notions about truth, reason and human nature, and that any such claims must be the product of his socio-economic, historical, cultural, gender and ethnic circumstances. The foundation of this school of thought, Hicks argues, was laid two hundred years ago by Immanuel Kant, whose Critique of Pure Reason was an effort to protect his Christian faith from attack by early Enlightenment philosophy. In an exquisite historical and intellectual overview of German philosophy, Hicks follows the bloodline from Kant to Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and ultimately to Martin Heidegger, who was in turn a key influence on the twentieth-century postmodernists.
The author proceeds to do the same with socialism, which started with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a contemporary of Kant, and worked its way through the ages in the writings of Hegel, Herder, Marx, Fichte, Spengler and Junger, all of whom provided fertilizer for the writings of Heidegger. In case you were wondering why this list includes "Men of the Right", that's because Hicks identifies the collectivist Left and Right, correctly in my opinion, as merely two sides of the same coin. The difference is that national socialism was left entirely discredited in 1945, while its equally ugly twin brother wasn't until at least 1956, when the Soviets crushed any illusion about their true intentions one might still have had at that point in time.
It would seem paradoxical for postmodernism to marry socialism: After all, the former denies any claim to impartial knowledge or absolute truth, so one would expect its adherents to be found all over the political spectrum. Nevertheless, the two strains ultimately came together in the twentieth century, when all the great postmodernist thinkers, Derrida and Foucault included, were hardcore socialists at the same time.
Hicks argues that the crisis of socialism lay at the root of this phenomenon. While Marx had argued that the rise of capitalism would inevitably lead to an ever greater schism between the rich and poor in society, in reality the opposite was true and the middle classes were prospering. In fact, by the mid-twentieth century the middle classes were living lives of which the kings and emperors of yesteryear could only have dreamed. At the same time, it became patently obvious to any impartial observer that life behind the Iron Curtain was an absolute nightmare. The house of cards came thundering down when the Soviets invaded Hungary in '56 to crush the popular uprising against the socialist rulers in that country.
Socialism had always been the product of reason and logic, starting from the idea that the Marxist revolution would inevitably follow in every capitalist society and ending with the illusion that smart technocrats could engineer their nations into workers' paradises. When all that got shattered, postmodernism proved the refuge for the disillusioned socialists. It became, in Hicks' words, "a symptom of the far Left’s crisis of faith," and "a result of using skeptical epistemology to justify the personal leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism."
Some of the reviewers of Explaining Postmodernism have been predictable in their criticism: The author is an Objectivist (gasp!) who wrote a book critical of the Left, while not, in fact, "explaining postmodernism". These detractors ought to be ignored, because Hicks explains it all very well and correctly identifies it to be a phenomenon of the Left. This observation is by no means revolutionary (if you'll pardon the expression).
Nevertheless, the book is not without its flaws. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Hicks has little use for religion. He starts from the premise that the early Enlightenment thinkers, with their emphasis on reason and logic and rejection of religious superstition, had it right, and provided the foundations of our modern democracy and ordered liberty. Hicks shows to have a blind spot here. Because Christianity is not on his radar, he never ponders the question whether it serves a function in a modern democratic, capitalist and free society, let alone whether the latter can even survive without the moral foundation provided by the former. Thinkers such as Tocqueville, a keen student of democracy, argued it couldn't. Given that the Enlightenment grew more radical and anti-religious with every new generation of thinkers, it's fair to ask whether it, and the modern societies it spawned in the West, weren't top-heavy from the beginning. (No, I don't necessarily have the answer to that.)
Secondly, the roots of postmodernism can arguably be traced back to the first days of the Enlightenment, not just to the later "counter-Enlightenment philosophy" of Kant. Thomas Hobbes, who is not even mentioned in the book until footnote 67, contended that, since human life in the beginning was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short", man started forming societies governed by the rule of law out of sheer self-interest. It happened in reaction to his fear of violent death. In other words, to Hobbes the social contract was conventional, not natural. This marks the first departure from the natural law doctrines found in classical philosophy and Christianity.
But the greatness of an outstanding book like Explaining Postmodernism lies in its invitation for us to conduct a civil and rational argument about what postmodernism is and where it originated, devoid of the ad hominems, reductio ad Hitlerum, cries of "racism" and other base cannon fodder employed to win 'debates' in our postmodern world these days. Stephen Hicks has done us a great service here. I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the topic.
Top reviews from other countries
I see now that from the Enlightenment onwards philosophy is basically just some sort of literature: Clever boys playing with words. What a con job.
Perhaps it is down to something like this: After the Entlightenment no real progress was to be gained in philosophy, but rather in science and technology.
So the strain of "philosophy" we got after the Enlightenment is more art and beauty - more meditations along the lines of ancient mysticism - than real work on understanding reality and thus contributing to progress. Wonderful book by Hicks and what a con job by Kant going forward.
Thanks for clearing my mind from this useless mud that is postmodernism.
In my view - and supported by this book - philosophy as a serious enterprise stopped around Kant. Reading "philosophy" after Kant should now be considered a pastime like knitting or going for a walk a long a beautiful beach: It is important enough, but mostly just for fun and to get a nice aesthetic experience, which we all like now and then.