Sunday, July 7, 2019


REVISION: The goal of present series was to map the timeline of postmodern philosophical ideas, from its source to the present day. It was first drafted as a manuscript for an unpublished book, entitled "The Dystopia of Paradise." The title reflects the fundamental error in the Left's moral approach to reality, known as Hume's Law: not looking at the world as it Is, but as it Ought to be. 

"La liberte guidant le peuple" ("Liberty Leading the People") by Eugene Delacroix. Louvre, Paris, March 27, 2018. 

Since then investigations have not stopped of course. This revised introduction is but the latest addition to the quest for the cradle of postmodernism, the Romantic Period. Romanticism was in fact a reaction to the 'rigidity' of reason that marked the Enlightenment proper. Confusingly, historians often consider the Romantic Period the Enlightenment, which is philosophically speaking, a mistake because it is in fact a reaction as this series will testify. 

More additions are in the pipeline. Although not directly related to Postmodernism as such, enquiries into much older history going back to early Christianity reveal that the seeds of Nihilism have been sown in the Western world, much, much earlier than Romanticism. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

As a recent BBC documentary presented by arch Postmodernist Philip Schama on "The Romantics and Us" shows, the present Cancel Culture that is presently laying siege to entire US cities by violent groups as Antifa and Black Live Matter, are as much the children of the French Revolution as the protest generation on 1968 was, if not even more so. The bottom line, perhaps to the surprise of many in the West: there is a natural continuation in the history of ideas. Many upheaveals and 'culture wars' can ultimately be reduced to the era of Classical Greece, the opposing philosophies of Plato and his student Aristotle, the tutor of Alexander the Great. 

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First posted on Politeia on March 3, 2008 and subsequently on PomoNews.

The present is a series of essays on the roots of modern European political philosophy. These ideas shaped many states on the continent, determined the nature of their Governments, and defined the role of the people as subjects of the state. The result is a distinct European culture that since the Enlightenment, has been working towards the destruction of its Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian roots. In this installment, Internationalism.

The idea of creation of a subjective universe, or rather a personal version of the universe originates with Protagoras (490-420 BC), who said "man is the measure of all things". The sophists of the rough, second generation, notably Trasymachus, a character in Plato's Republic, put that notion of subjectivism pragmatically to good use. In classical Greece the sophists used language, not in the service of truth or the transfer of information, but as a strategy for political point-scoring. Does this begin to ring a bell?

The sophists held that justice is in the interest of the stronger, that might makes right. Present day Postmodernists maintain the direct opposite: might makes indeed right, therefore we must redistribute power from the powerful to the powerless. 

Objectivist philosopher Stephen Hicks in his primer "Explaining Postmodernism" holds that contemporary Postmodernists have harnessed this form of political correctness to today's version of the social struggle, a weapon to perpetuate into eternity the strife of oppressed minorities against the 'fake tolerance' of the white, male 'power structure' known as the patriarchate. The latter should not be understood as 'whoever is in power', but rather 'whoever is in power, other than us'.

Free Download of Stephen Hicks primer on Postmodernism (PDF).
Although we have not always seen it for what it was, during the last two and a half centuries or so, the fruits of reason have been pitted in an existential dog fight with the reactionary forces of anti-realism. The movement is more generally termed 'the Counter-Enlightenment', to underscore the culture's fundamental rejection of the values of the Enlightenment rooted in reason. 

The origin of postmodernism

In his ground-breaking book Hicks posits two theses: 

  • that the failure of epistemology (philosophy's study of human knowledge) made Postmodernism possible; 
  • that the failure of Socialism made Postmodernism necessary. 

What Rousseau, Kant and Hegel were to church authority, the Postmodernistss are to collectivism: their raison d'ĂȘtre. As a result the true agenda is not to destroy the old order, but to use it as a perpetual grievance to fight against. If the old order would truly be destroyed, they would not even know what to do with themselves!

The emergence of the Counter-Enlightenment represents the turning point of the age of reason. The era between 1780 and 1815 was a defining period in Modernism, as Anglo-American and German culture split into respectively the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment.

The former began in England, and was picked up by the French. But Roussseau's followers wrested the Enlightenment inspired revolution away from John Locke's (1632 -1704) followers. This quote is from Locke's 2nd Treatise §3:

"In order to preserve the public good, the central function of government must be the protection of private property ..."

... compare that to Rousseau:

"For the creation of a society of 'common will', the people need only accept the dictates of the state" ...


The German reactionaries

The French Revolution turned into the Jacobin Reign of Terror, the particularly bloody, third and final episode. The old German States thereafter, already suspicious of the new order, began a counter movement in an effort to rescue religion from what they saw as the onslaught of reason.

When the Enlightened French despot, Napoleon Bonaparte jumped into the vacuum left by the Reign of Terror and conquered Europe, the still largely feudal German states knew for sure what chaos the age of reason had wrought. It came from the anti rational Romantic movement, but they blamed reason for the mayhem. 

The reaction to reason was a counter movement by a brand of collectivist philosophers and intellectuals - politically on the Left as well as on the Right, some religious, later on also atheists - with a number of themes in common: Jean-Jacques Rousseau inspired "anti-individualism, the need for strong government, the view that religion is a matter of the state (whether to promote or suppress it), the view that education is a process of socialization, ambivalence about science and technology, and strong themes of group conflict, violence and war.


"Left and Right have often divided bitterly over which themes have priority and over how they should be applied. Yet, for all of their differences, both have consistently recognized a common enemy: Liberal capitalism, with its individualism, its limited government, its separation of church and state, its fairly constant view that education is not primarily a matter of political socialization, and its persistent Whiggish optimism about prospects for peaceful trade and cooperation between members of all nations and groups."

"By the early twentieth century (...) the dominant issues for most continental political thinkers were not whether liberal capitalism was a viable option - but rather exactly when it would collapse - and whether Left or Right collectivism had the best claim to being the Socialism of the future. The defeat of the collectivist Right in World War II then meant that the Left was on its own to carry the Socialist mantle forward."

"Accordingly, when the Left ran into its major disasters as the twentieth century progressed, understanding its fundamental commonality with the collectivist Right helps to explain why in its desperation the Left has often adopted ''fascistic'' tactics."


The merging of law and morality

Another fateful innovation was conceived by the Counter Enlightenment movement. As had been the paradigm during the long period of Church authority over morality, arts and science, all modern mainstream Enlightenment thinkers had embedded the new advances in science and mathematics into Christian belief. A deterministic God had replaced the concept of God as a distant Creator (Deism), making space for human free will as the Aristotelian world view requires. 

Defying Aristotle, human nature, as well as Hume's Law -- the confusion of 'Is' with 'Ought' -- the Counter-Enlightenment philosophers following Rousseau, Kant and Hegel -- even the atheists among them -- reversed this orthodoxy. The state wrested the authority over moral issues, civil registry, the arts and sciences and eventually social services from the Church, subjecting these fields to secular law.  

Arts and sciences were eventually reluctantly privatized (although not its funding), the realm of morality was never really released to the individual. Instead statists developed political models, that reflected religious ideals, the re-creation of paradises on earth through social 'rights', with Government in the role as God. The new Utopia was born. 

The tenets of the holistic Aristotlean Enlightenment were abandoned and replaced by opposing Platonic dialectics: realism made way for idea-lism, and individualism for collectivism; subjective, internal emotions, intuition, the sub-conscience and passions were adopted as sources of knowledge rather than reason and sense experience that is looking outward for external objective facts; collectivist social theories replaced liberal economic theories based on individual reason. 

Universal Enlightenment values were still nominally held, but became limited to specific themes. In these themes God was replaced by whatever fitted the theme: nationalists replaced God with the nation, state adolators deified the state, Socialists turned society into God and Communists the working class with the State as arbiter of truth and as redistributive agent.

We'll return to that subject after having a look up close at the main, early Romantic protagonists of the Counter-Enlightenment drama.

Up next: ... Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712-1778) personal life is marked by traits sounding awkwardly contemporary ...

In this series of the Counter Enlightenment