“I would never let someone go off to university without this book.”
Just before the official release of the Swedish translation of Explaining Postmodernism, an editorial review in Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm’s largest newspaper. A rough Google Translate version follows.
Truth is more than just stories
Susanna Birgersson, Editor
[Published March 30, 2014 ]
IN A PREFACE TO the new Swedish-published book “Postmodernism Explained: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault” by Stephen RC Hicks, Peter Santesson writes: “Modern thinking laid the foundations for the open society. Why would the impact of giving up that thinking be less dramatic?”
Modern thinking is based on the premise that the mind can tell us something about reality outside the mind. Confidence in reason is the prerequisite of the Enlightenment foundations of science and the mother of individualism; its consequences are technological and medical advances, individual rights, and liberal democracy.
Hicks takes us on a winding journey, all the way back to the crime scene and toward contemporary postmodernist theories and policies.
1700s philosopher Immanuel Kant is the villain, at least according to Hicks. In contrast to the Enlightenment fathers, Kant argued there were too many filters and individual experiences between reason and reality for man to reach objective knowledge by perception and thinking. He liked the mind, but did not think it was capable of something more than indulging itself. Humans may have meticulous organization inside their reason, but of the reality outside they cannot say anything.
What followed was the beginning of an effective dismantling of the ethics of individualism and the Enlightenment view of human beings with their right to self-determination.
And so Hegel’s totally bizarre use of common sense notion. Can we even know oneself? The idea of theses followed by antitheses which empties into the syntheses—something blissfully covering both the opposing statements and no further—is incomprehensible. Graphed dialectics is certainly stylish. Possibly it is a fruitful way to frame the paradoxes found in the Christian faith, a description of the meeting between the immanent and the transcendent. But as a guide to the knowledge of the worldly journey, Hegel is hardly someone to hold your hand.
Hicks turns to collectivism and socialism, in the journey towards the final defeat of reason in postmodernism—in the postwar period this gas seeped into the education system, the human sciences, and politics.
The Enlightenment premise is that the mind can give us knowledge of the real world. But a proper defense of it is still missing, so this basic assumption is the Enlightenment’s Achilles heel—and that’s the stance that postmodernists kick.
The truth about something does not exist, just different stories and experiences—argue the postmodernists. The challenge is then through deconstruction and unmasking to reveal the racism, sexism and colonialism that the white, Western, heterosexual man engaged in. The consequence is that minorities’ struggle issues get huge proportions while the vilest human suffering can be reduced and relativized if it only occurs in non-Western contexts.
There is no truth to be grasped and presented. Language and beliefs hide nothing except more language and more social constructions. The function of language is not to be as precise as possible to describe reality—we can never talk about the same thing. Instead, the aim of language is to create “reality”. Anyone who calls his opponents “fascist” is not necessarily speaking “truth” but only using language effectively.
Like Peter Santesson, I would never let a student go off to university without a copy of “Postmodernism Explained”.
susanna.birgersson @ dn.se