Correcting postmodern history — imperialist version

Reading postmodern history can be frustrating, with its philosophical antipathy to facts and truth and its ideological priors. Here’s an example — Jean-François Lyotard on the rise of authoritarianism:

Saddam Hussein is a product of Western departments of state and big companies, just as Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were born of the ‘peace’ imposed on their countries by the victors. … the Iraqi dictatorship proceeds, as do the others, from the transfer of aporias [problems] in the capitalist system to vanquished, less developed, or simply less resistant countries.”

That’s from Lyotard’s Postmodern Fables (University of Minnesota Press, 1997). His claim is the standard Marxist-Leninist imperialist thesis: economically strong countries dominate the weak ones, in part by exporting their own internal problems to them. Therefore, the weaker nations’ problems are almost always not their own fault but really the fault of the stronger.

In this particular instance, Lyotard claims that World War I’s victors imposed harsh terms on the losers (i.e., through the Versailles Treaty), thus causing the losers to become even weaker and thus prey to authoritarians, fascists, and national socialists.

The claim is clear ideologically, but the facts make a mess of it.

While Germany was an Axis power in World War I and lost, Spain was neutral, and Italy fought with the victorious Allies.

So the weakened war-loser turned to nasty politics — but so did one of the war’s winners and one that was neither a winner nor a loser.

Why then does Lyotard so casually make such a sweeping and false historical claim? Perhaps we’re to take the “fables” part of the title seriously.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *