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. (Additional support includes Friedrich Nietzsche’s Will to Power, Beyond Good and Evil, and Thus Spake Zarathustra.)
Enlightenment and Darkness
Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism (reason, individualism, liberal democracy, free markets). Postmodernism is based on nihilism and radical left politics.
- Intro: The Trouble with Zombies
- Part 1: Truth is Dead
- Part 2: Objectivity is Dead
- Part 3: Hegel’s Dialectic
- Part 4: Staring into the Abyss
- Part 5: Heidegger Knows Nothing
Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics
Postmodern political philosophy is related to Rousseau, whose totalitarian collectivism inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to the rise of Napoleon and his conquest of Germany.
- Part 6: Rousseau’s Paradise Lost
- Part 7: Radicalization and Revolution
- Part 8: Fear, Paranoia, Reaction, War, and Betrayal
- Part 9: First Terror
- Part 10: A Farewell to Kings
- Part 11: Civil War
- Part 12: Rousseau’s Paradise Found
Right Collectivism gave Rousseau a German makeover, adding hero worship, state worship, German supremacy, and the dialectic.
- Part 13: Napoleonic Stress Disorder
- Part 14: Kant Goes Medieval
- Part 15: Herder’s Volksgeist
- Part 16: Fichte’s School of Nationalism
- Part 17: Hegel – Freedom is Slavery
Left Collectivism fused German Counter-Enlightenment ideas with romanticism: passion, revolution, and disgust (). Disgusted, Marx and Engels concocted “scientific socialism” and published the Communist Manifesto.
- Part 18: Antichrist
- Part 19: Basic Economics
- Part 20: Labor Pains
- Part 21: Owen’s Heresy
- Part 22: Fourier’s Fairy Tales
- Part 23: Marx and Moses
- Part 24: Communist Manifesto
The Revolutions of 1848 frustrated Marx and Engels. The French Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped, triggering failed leftist uprisings. German Communism and Italian unification failed. Bismarck united northern Germany .
- Part 25: Revolutions of 1848
- Part 26: French Revolution Redux
- Part 27: Bastiat, Rousseau, and Revolution
- Part 28: Frankfurt Fumbles
- Part 29: Young Italy
- Part 30: Blood and Iron
Red Star Rising
The Franco-Prussian War united victorious Germany, with defeated France dividing in civil war. Marx exploited the crushed Paris Commune. The First International split, with Bakunin railing against Marx’s authoritarianism, warning of dictatorship and slavery.
In his inimitable way, Friedrich Nietzsche also warned against the looming Communist catastrophe.
“The time is coming when we shall have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years,” Nietzsche warned in Will to Power, “We are hurling ourselves headlong into the opposite … There is a seeking after a sort of earthly solution of the problem of life, but in the same sense [as Heaven] … the final triumph of truth, love, justice (socialism: ‘equality of persons’) … an attempt to hold fast to the moral ideal … to hold fast to a ‘Beyond'” Socialism, he wrote, “is an attempt to read the phenomena of life in such a way as to arrive at the divine guidance of old, with its powers of rewarding, punishing, educating … the victory of the good and the annihilation of the evil … as a duty”.
Socialism is a reaction to modern nihilism, Nietzsche argued. “The [modern] world has not the value which we believed it to have,” he wrote, where without faith, we can no longer “deceive ourselves and chant the old story”. So, we must “seek for new values [and] … get behind the naïveté of our ideals“. These new values make it “so that life has a curse upon it”, he observed, deifying “the community” and vilifying human differences that “cleave gulfs and build barriers “.
Nietzsche scorned socialist utopians. “It is disgraceful on the part of socialist-theorists to argue that circumstances and social combinations could be devised which would put an end to all vice, illness, crime, prostitution, and poverty,” he argued. “‘Utopia,’ the ‘ideal man,'”, he scoffed, are but “subordination to the propaganda of social ideas, charlatanism” – the ideas of Rousseau.
“Rousseau is a symptom of self-contempt and of inflamed vanity,” Nietzsche argued. Rousseau was “preposterous … [in] his shameless contempt for everything that was not himself”. He “moralizes and seeks the cause of his own misery after the style of a revengeful man”.
Revolution, Tyranny, and War
Rousseau incited the “insurrectional desires” of “the oppressed” by tossing around words like “unjust” and “cruel”, Nietzsche claimed. Rousseau elevated “the revengefulness of the masses … to the position of justice”.
Lo, this is the tarantula’s den! Wouldst thou see the tarantula itself? Here hangeth its web: touch this, so that it may tremble.
There cometh the tarantula willingly: Welcome, tarantula! Black on thy back is thy triangle and symbol; and I know also what is in thy soul.
Revenge is in thy soul: wherever thou bitest, there ariseth black scab; with revenge, thy poison maketh the soul giddy!
Thus do I speak unto you in parable, ye who make the soul giddy, ye preachers of EQUALITY! Tarantulas are ye unto me, and secretly revengeful ones!
But I will soon bring your hiding-places to the light: therefore do I laugh in your face my laughter of the height.
Therefore do I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word “justice.”
– Thus Spake Zarathustra, XXIX. The Tarantulas.
Socialism is “the tyranny of the meanest and most brainless … the envious” scoffed Nietzsche. This is “the zenith … the logical conclusion of ‘modern ideas’ and their latent anarchy”. Socialism “is on the whole a hopelessly bitter affair,” he wrote, where “the poisonous and desperate faces of present-day socialists [betray] … the childish lamb-like happiness of their hopes and desires”.
“Nevertheless, in many places in Europe, there may be violent hand-to-hand struggles and [eruptions] on their account” Nietzsche continued, “the coming century is likely to be convulsed in more than one spot, and the Paris Commune … will seem to have been but a slight indigestion compared with what is to come.” The twentieth century, he warned, would be plagued with wars.
Life and Death
Socialism is but a poorly concealed “will to the denial of life”, Nietzsche cautioned. “One must desire more [property] than one has in order to become more,” he said, “this is the teaching which life itself preaches to all living things”, the morality of Growth and Development – “to have and to wish to have more”.
Socialism is hostile to all individual rights, Nietzsche reasoned in Beyond Good and Evil. Socialist “fraternity-visionaries” claim to want a “free society” but have an “instinctive hostility to every form of society other than that of the … herd.” Their “tenacious opposition to every special claim, every special right and privilege … [is] ultimately opposition to EVERY right, for when all are equal, no one needs ‘rights’ any longer.”
“I even wish a few experiments might be made to show that in a socialistic society, life denies itself,” Nietzsche mused in Will to Power, “The earth is big enough and man is still unexhausted enough for a practical lesson of this sort … even if it were accomplished only by a vast expenditure of lives—to seem worth while to me.”
Nietzsche would not live to see the vast expenditure of lives under socialist experiments. Many then and now would turn a blind eye to the horrors. Why?
“Vengeance will we use, and insult, against all who are not like us”—thus do the tarantula-hearts pledge themselves.
“And ‘Will to Equality’—that itself shall henceforth be the name of virtue; and against all that hath power will we raise an outcry!”
Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for “equality”: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtue-words!
Fretted conceit and suppressed envy—perhaps your fathers’ conceit and envy: in you break they forth as flame and frenzy of vengeance.
What the father hath hid cometh out in the son; and oft have I found in the son the father’s revealed secret.
Inspired ones they resemble: but it is not the heart that inspireth them—but vengeance. And when they become subtle and cold, it is not spirit, but envy, that maketh them so.
Their jealousy leadeth them also into thinkers’ paths; and this is the sign of their jealousy—they always go too far: so that their fatigue hath at last to go to sleep on the snow.
In all their lamentations soundeth vengeance, in all their eulogies is maleficence; and being judge seemeth to them bliss.
But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
Distrust all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking.
And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!
My friends, I will not be mixed up and confounded with others. There are those who preach my doctrine of life, and are at the same time preachers of equality, and tarantulas.
That they speak in favour of life, though they sit in their den, these poison-spiders, and withdrawn from life—is because they would thereby do injury.
To those would they thereby do injury who have power at present: for with those the preaching of death is still most at home.
– Thus Spake Zarathustra, XXIX. The Tarantulas
The nationalist tail wags the Communist international dog. Next: Part 35, Nationalism and Internationalism.