Philosophy, Politics, Right of Reply

Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Reply To Aaron Hanlon

“Truth is Not Truth”
~
Rudy Giuliani, Meet the Press, August 20, 2018

On August 31, the Washington Post published an interesting opinion piece entitled “Postmodernism Didn’t Cause Trump. It Explains Him” by Professor Aaron Hanlon, an Assistant Professor of English at Colby College. In his article, Professor Hanlon referred to my May 17 article for Quillette, “The Rise and Emergence of Postmodern Conservatism” as an example of a prominent tendency on to “blame” postmodernism for the rise of Trumpism. Hanlon describes this tendency at length midway through the article. I will quote him in full to avoid misrepresenting his position:

Today, critics on both Left and Right are happy to wave their fingers at postmodern theory, so long as they can blame it for the Trump electorate’s unprecedented disregard for the truth. In Quillette—an online magazine obsessed with the evils of ‘critical theory’ and postmodernism—Matt McManus reflects on “The Emergence and Rise of Postmodern Conservatism.” From the Right, David Ernst contends that “Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself .” And from the Left, Kakutani recently wrote in the Guardian: “Relativism has been ascendant since the culture wars began in the 1960s. Back then, it was embraced by the New Left, who were eager to expose the biases of Western, bourgeois, male-dominated thinking; and by academics promoting the gospel of postmodernism, which argued that there are no universal truths, only smaller personal truths—perceptions shaped by the cultural and social forces of one’s day. Since then, relativistic arguments have been hijacked by the populist Right.

Unnecessary jabs at Quillette aside, Professor Hanlon goes on to make some reasonable arguments in the remainder of his essay. He observes that critics of postmodernism often interpret it as a monolithic “Gospel” rather than as a “contested set of assertions by many different people from several disciplines.” He then goes on to claim that those, like myself, who apparently want to “blame” postmodern theory for the emergence of Trumpism fail to demonstrate a clear “causal link” between the two. Professor Hanlon argues that, far from independently causing Trump, many postmodern theorists can actually help us understand the rise of Trumpism. In particular, he refers to the media theorist Jean Baudrillard, who, Hanlon argues (correctly, I think), provides useful theoretical tools for developing such a causal description.

…it’s clear that the real enemy of truth is not postmodernism but propaganda, the active distortion of truth for political purposes. Trumpism practices this form of distortion on a daily basis. The postmodernist theorists we vilify did not cause this; they’ve actually given us a framework to understand precisely how falsehood can masquerade as truth.

I believe that Hanlon has misinterpreted my earlier article. He implies that I blame postmodern academic discourse for the emergence of Trumpism—what I call ‘postmodern conservatism.’ But this is incorrect and, in fact, our positions are far closer together than he seems to realize. Firstly, I agree that it is important not to rush into blaming postmodern theory for the emergence of Trumpism. This would be granting far too much influence to an academic discourse. Secondly, I also agree that some postmodern theorists are indeed helpful when trying to understand the current political and cultural climate. As I will elaborate below, this is particularly true of those theorists who understand postmodernism as a culture. These authors can be distinguished from those adopt postmodern philosophical positions. While I disagree with the positions of postmodern philosophy, I do tend to admire theorists who understand postmodernism as a culture to be described and the limitations of which need to be overcome. I also think they can help us to understand the rise of postmodern conservatism, whether in its Trumpist or any other guise.

Unfortunately, Professor Hanlon is not the first to misinterpret my arguments about postmodern conservatism and other variants of far-Right discourse. However, he is the first left-wing critic to misinterpret my argument. Given this milestone, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to restate the basic tenets of my argument to clarify certain misconceptions.

The Ideological Roots of Postmodern Conservatism

I agree with Professor Hanlon that there is no causal link between the academic prominence of postmodern theory and the emergence of Trumpist postmodern conservatism. This is because I believe the ideological roots postmodern conservatism stretch further into the past. Analyzing these roots can help us understand why certain strands of conservative thinking were amenable to a postmodern mutation given the right social and cultural conditions.

It is important to stress from the outset that I do not believe that all or even most individuals who situate themselves on the right end of the political spectrum can be classified as postmodern conservatives. Conservatism, like all such labels, is an amorphous term that is often applied to a broad range of different and even contradictory political positions. In American political culture alone, neoliberal secularists, traditionalist Christians, global interventionists, and proud isolationists have all been branded conservatives at different times. And, indeed, many contemporary conservatives have reacted forcefully against the emergence of postmodern conservatism. They include Bill Kristol, David Frum, and of course the recently deceased John McCain. They also include intellectuals such as the Roman Catholic Patrick Deneen, author of the provocative Why Liberalism Failed, and Roger Scruton, perhaps the most well-known conservative academic. Each of these individuals has argued that the emergence of postmodern conservatism constitutes an undesirable shift away from what conservatism has been and should be.

That having been said, I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

While Edmund Burke was not a postmodern theorist himself, it is impossible to deny the parallels between his thinking and postmodernism. Following Leo Strauss’s interpretation, I maintain that Burke’s primary importance lies in his argument that moral values are not the product of individual reasoning or Enlightenment science. Indeed, Burke seemed to argue that truth claims about universal moral values discovered or constructed through reason are doomed to fail. Instead, he claimed that particular values emerged as a historical consequence of specific communal identities developing unique traditions and cultural practices. These identities were entitled to maintain these unique traditions and practices without interference by rationalistic interlopers. As Ian Shapiro explains in The Moral Foundations of Politics, Burke was a critic of the Enlightenment who criticized abstract scientific systems in defense of a conservative ‘outlook’ which stressed the importance of particular identities and the moral relativity of values. This would have an important impact on subsequent conservative thought in the work of critics like Michael Oakeshott, Robert Bork, and Roger Scruton. Today, Burkean historicism has mutated into the postmodern conservative appeal to traditional identity as the locus of both descriptive truth claims about the world, and moral truth claims about values.

Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821)

Joseph de Maistre was another, and even more radical critic of the Enlightenment. Born in the Duchy of Savoy in 1753, de Maistre initially flirted with a very tempered liberalism before becoming an enthusiastic reactionary. He argued that the growing influence of the Enlightenment, particularly its emphasis on the power of individual reason, would have a disastrous effect on communal stability and the political capacity of governments to maintain order. The Enlightenment enabled each individual to openly question the rational basis of political and social authority. As a result, it generated instability and broke up the homogeneity of traditionally well-ordered communities and their affiliated values. To counter the dangers of the Enlightenment, de Maistre argued that reason should be superseded by faith in traditional authorities, and ultimately in God. While such an argument might seem eccentric now, de Maistre’s irrationalist commitment to tradition, authority, and community established a durable precedent in conservative thinking. It would later bear dark fruit in the anti-Enlightenment projects of thinkers like George Sorel, Carl Schmitt, and others. Similar irrationalist claims are now invoked by many postmodern conservatives to justify their rejection of rationalistic arguments which destabilize their worldview.

What this brief analysis is meant to demonstrate is that, far from contending that contemporary postmodern academic discourse caused postmodern conservatism, I have argued that there was always the potential for certain strands of conservative thinking to mutate into postmodern form. These latent strands of conservative thinking were merely awaiting the right social and cultural conditions for this mutation to take place. They developed and flowered with the emergence of what, following Fredric Jameson, I call postmodern culture.

What is Postmodern Culture?

As I have already indicated, Professor Hanlon devoted a significant section of his article to the claim that postmodern theorists can help us understand the emergence of Trumpism. I believe he is correct, though his Washington Post article only provides a single example of a postmodern theorist who is useful in this regard: Jean Baudrillard. In this section, I will provide a more systematic discussion of which postmodern theorists might be useful.

As I argued above, and in my previous Quillette article on the topic, it is helpful to divide postmodern theorists into two categories: postmodern philosophers and theorists of postmodern culture.

Postmodern philosophers include authors such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, and—during certain periods—Richard Rorty. They are the latest iteration of a long history of philosophical skeptics, going back to at least the Sophists discussed in Plato’s dialogues. Like all skeptics, postmodern philosophers challenge the claim that human reason can give us certainty; whether descriptive certainty about how the world is, or moral certainty about which values should orient our actions. While they tended to draw more radical political conclusions than Burke or de Maistre, the postmodern philosophers shared with Burkean historicists and de Maistrean irrationalists a belief that human beings are embedded in contingent historical contexts. These contexts invariably frame our answers to descriptive and moral questions, and the postmodernists held that there is no getting past them using reason alone. Personally, I find this skepticism wrong-headed for a number of epistemological reasons which I will not discuss here. Needless to say, I think it is important to confront these skeptical philosophical positions to uphold the priority of reason over prevailing belief.

Theorists of postmodern culture take a different, and I believe far more interesting, approach to postmodernism. Like Professor Hanlon, I think there is a great deal they can teach us about why variants of postmodern conservatism such as Trumpism emerged. Theorists of postmodern culture include authors from across the ideological spectrum: liberals like Neil Postman, social democrats like Jürgen Habermas, Marxists like David Harvey and Fredric Jameson, media theorists like Jean Baudrillard, and of course conservatives such as Allan Bloom and Patrick Deneen. They argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.

Why this cultural shift occurred is a matter of considerable debate amongst theorists of postmodern culture. For some, like Postman and Baudrillard, the emergence of new media is primarily to blame. As we increasingly spend our time interacting through digital, televisual, and other technological mediums, we have lost our sense of identity and our related ability to evaluate truth claims critically about how the world is and how we should act. Take television, for example. Postman argues that where we used to evaluate politics through extended engagement with the complex and nuanced arguments with books, we now primarily engage with politics through biased news outlets. Competition for increasingly shortened attention spans encourages these news outlets to simplify information, and give it as virulent a partisan bent as possible. For Postman especially, this also destabilized our sense of identity. In our postmodern media saturated culture we increasingly define our political positions through the lens of partisan hyperbole, gutting our ability to see ourselves as members of a community of rational individuals, many of whom may believe truth claims which contradict our own but which are reasonable positions, nonetheless. For other authors, notably Deneen on the Right and Habermas on the Left, postmodern culture emerged because we have become increasingly disconnected from one another; both as individual citizens, and from the collective public sphere where truth claims about the world and values were once discussed and evaluated. And so the explanations go on.

Conclusion: How Postmodern Conservatism Emerged

These theorists of postmodern culture are vital to understanding how postmodern conservatism was able to emerge. Contra Professor Hanlon’s contention, I do not claim that postmodern academic discourse prompted the rise of Trumpism. Rather, it is under the conditions of postmodern culture that the strands of conservatism discussed earlier could mutate into their current postmodern form.

Postmodern culture has produced many different political reactions. Most of these can be interpreted as consequences of postmodern culture’s tendency to destabilize our sense of identity and moral values. On the Left, postmodern culture has produced the well-known and much-critiqued identity politics movements. These groups see the destabilization of identity and values as an opportunity to establish a new kind of pluralistic society where traditionally ‘marginalized’ groups are given a greater say. These postmodern leftists invoke these marginalized identities and their affiliated values in order to push for great political inclusion and power. For liberal centrists, the reaction to postmodern culture has been more mixed. For some, like Richard Rorty, the destabilization produced by postmodern culture provides an opportunity for a more ambitious social dialogue about the kind of liberal polities we would like to create together. For more right-wing liberals, like Jordan Peterson, this same destabilization should be criticized for leading individuals to embrace cynical social withdrawal on the one hand, and group conformity on the other.

Finally, we get to postmodern conservatives. They have reacted to the instability produced by postmodern culture by turning to traditionally powerful identities and their affiliated values as a source of meaning and stability in an increasingly rudderless world. The identities and values with which they are affiliated vary considerably, depending on the individual postmodern conservative. They may well contradict or overlap in different ways. But what is common to all postmodern conservatives is the claim that these traditionally powerful identities and values have been destabilized and dethroned by various antagonists. Whether it is the national identity of the everyday American being undercut by immigrants and their allies amongst the cultural elites, the religious identity of devout Christians being challenged by secularists and those who identify with other faith traditions, Western ethnicities being undermined by globalists and cosmopolitans, or indeed all of the above, the postmodern conservative always connotes the antagonistic relationships in a similar manner.

The perceived antagonisms emphasized by postmodern conservatives emerge as a result of misplaced anger about the transformations engendered by postmodern culture. The postmodern conservative misdirects his or her anxiety about destabilized identity against a readily available antagonist because this is ideologically simpler than analyzing and shifting the conditions of postmodern culture. This is the tragic dimension to all these developments. In the long run, the policies directed against the postmodern conservative’s perceived antagonists will not ameliorate the conditions which produced this anger in the first place. This is why, as Professor Hanlon points out, it is so important to understand them better.

 

Matt McManus is currently Visiting Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey. His forthcoming books are Overcoming False Necessity: Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law and What is Post-Modern Conservatism? He can be reached at garion9@yorku.ca or followed on Twitter @MattPolProf

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76 Comments

  1. Interesting but…I think this misrepresents Burke to some extent. I would say that in “Reflections” he makes it pretty clear throughout that his approach to morality (as opposed to political arrangements) is not a relativist one, rather that whatever institutions have arisen and been found to conduce to a generally held conception of morality are to be favoured. For instance:

    “We found these old institutions [of the church], on the whole, favourable to morality and discipline, and we thought they were susceptible of amendment without altering the ground.”

    On a small point, too, Allan Bloom always denied that he was a conservative.

    • Sarka says

      That was my reaction as well. Burke in many ways remained an Enlightenment man himself – who despite his high romantic rhetoric was at bottom always committed to a rational, even a utility based, assessment of political organisation and a qualified ideal of progress. He did not really argue that traditional communities had some “entitlement” to their “identities” against the interference of “rationalistic interlopers” (that already has too much of a whiff of the conceptual obsessions of recent decades). His position was more that respect for traditional values was – at least where they had already produced situations of stability and freedom – a rational approach to the maintenance of real working rights for individuals. Burke pitted the rational (sensible) against the rationalistic as a form of madness that would lead to irrational horror. And of course with his doctrine of “prejudice” and the “common stock of wisdom” he was also making a historical sociological point about values.

      One of the peculiarities of current debates that refer to intellectual history in trying to make sense of modern phenomena, be they post-modern kinds of radicalism “critique”, multiculturalism, identity politics or “postmodern populisms” is that they seem always to jump back over more than a century to a rather flattened out notion of the “Enlightenment” – assuming it to have persisted in relatively unchanged form up until “post-modernism” somehow attacked its foundations, perhaps with some resonances with Counter-Enlightenment romantics and reactionaries. They ignore the vast stretches of history of ideas, the whole birth of classic social science around definition of modernity and traditional social orders (Marx and his heirs apart), around the role of religion, around visions of past and future – so conservatism and radicalism, and retro-radicalism and so on – that came after. It’s a fascinating piece, but trying to explain e.g. Trump style populism with ref. to philosophy two centuries ago PLUS the “postmodern” seems a kind of strange prestidigitation to me.

  2. On the Burke point; I tend to agree with you. If I had time for a more extensive discussion I would probably characterize him as a value pluralist. Saying that, it is hard to tell sometimes. As Shapiro pointed out, Burkeanism is primarily an “outlook” based on experience, not an analytical scheme concerned with the application of formal categories.

    As for Bloom, I know he claimed that. I can appreciate why, but I think for conventional purposes he belongs in the conservative canon. Certainly that is the way many have read his text.

    • Yes, it certainly reads that way. That was why I was so surprised to learn that he didn’t like to be categorised like that!

  3. In Quillette—an online magazine obsessed with the evils of ‘critical theory’ and postmodernism

    Ha ha. Got you to associate critical theory with evil.

  4. Wow, Matt. You’ve finally stopped labelling Peterson as a conservative. In your next article, do you think you could actually call him a classical liberal?

  5. Thanks Matt. Really interesting stuff and definitely one of my favourite writers on here.

  6. Peter from Oz says

    I’m interested to know what the “modern” Matt and Prof Hanson think “postmodern” comes after?
    It would seem that for them the key is the rejection of the Enlightenment.
    As far as culture is concerned modernism is a 20th century movement that lasted from just before the Great War until the 1960s. Postmodernism was what came after that. It has nothing to do with the enlightenment. Burke can’t be a postmodern Conservative. He was a Whig turned Tory.
    Now there’s a word that Matt and Americans really need to understand. Tory is the descriptor that they need to describe the right, rather than conservative, which can apply to right or left wingers depending on circumstances. Thus those who wanted to keep the USSR in being in 1991 were hardline lefties, but were also correctly referred to as “conservatives.” Tories are quintessentially for small, strong government. But mostly they are for life, ie living rather than theorising too much about living. Postmodernist are about making everything political. Tories want to take politics out of as many spheres of life as possible.
    Trump is neither a product of postmodernism nor a postmodernist himself. Like Disraeli, he is sui generis, a Tory radical with a streak of the showman.

    • Stephen Hicks says

      Tories started out as catholic cavaliers fleeing cromwell. Trump is a bit more like the “Lord Protector”, and he is very interested in putting his own politics into every sphere to the point of political and economic Total War. If anything Tories are the Republican establishment, huddling away until the Lord Protector is impeached and the natural order is restored

    • Farris says

      This article is one giant straw man argument. Nothing short of attaching a belief system to conservatives or Trumpism and then criticizing that belief system.
      ” In the long run, the policies directed against the postmodern conservative’s perceived antagonists will not ameliorate the conditions which produced this anger in the first place. This is why, as Professor Hanlon points out, it is so important to understand them better.”

      How does Matt or Hanlon attempt to understand Conservatives? Were their interviews or polls? I suspect not. Rather both draw their own conclusions regarding conservatives and the rise of Trumpism and ask the reader’s indulgence. Where do these conclusions come from; representations in the media or the bubble sphere of academia? Conservatives as angry…Compared to the cool reasoned rational responses or hyperbole we see demonstrated in protests and language from the Left. This appears to be a rehash of the conservatives are “Angry White Males” or perhaps “Angry White Christian Males” couched in enlightened proses. It is hard to over look the us v. them language in the final sentence
      .
      Matt refers to the skepticism of conservatives. With that characterization I agree but he is endeavoring to convert healthy conservative skepticism into cynicism.

      “Postman argues that where we used to evaluate politics through extended engagement with the complex and nuanced arguments with books, we now primarily engage with politics through biased news outlets.”

      Media coverage of conservative view points is frequently negative and often conflated with Nazis. Yet these same media outlets demand that viewers and readers accept their reports as both factual and truthful. The fact of the matter is, as Ms. Clinton let slip, most media and elites view conservatives as “deplorable” or at least give that impression. Any wonder why they should react?

      Conservatives greatly desire to rationally debate their positions with liberals. But when they attempt to do so they are generally subjected to name calling. Part of the appeal of Trump is he gives tit for tat. It may not be mature but Trumpsters prefer it to constantly taking it on the chin because silence infers acquiescence.

        • Farris says

          Matt thank you for the citation. From the article you cited…”This jump-started the anti-immigrant sentiments which have always lurked in the political background ….”
          This the type of assertion with which I take issue. Conservatives are not anti-immigrant. Grass roots Conservatives are anti-illegal immigration. It is these type of assumptions that lead to the conclusion of postmodern conservatism. Grass roots conservatives have had their protestations about illegal immigration ignored by politicians of all stripes for over 30 years. It is this frustration which finally boiled over. Conservatives despise double standards, where one’s opinion or actions are praise worthy or condemnable based solely on the politics of the speaker or actor. Once again this frustration has boiled over. Conservatives became exasperated with the elitism embodied in both parties. After the midterm elections of 1994 the media warned of the angry white male. As I stated previously referring to conservatives as post modern seems a rehash of that previous sentiment. This adjudication is based primarily on large assumptions about conservative voters. Modern day conservatism is an expression of the desire for predictable governance, where laws are not passed to be ignored, where wrongful conduct is not conditioned on the politics, race or gender of the actor.

          • That is fair. I appreciate your attempt to distinguish “grass roots conservatism” from the critique I am leveling. I’ll happily concede that I don’t really have a problem with many of these positions; at least any beyond a reasonable policy dispute.

            However I would maintain that the kind of conservatism promoted by Trump, Viktor Orban and others is quite different from this “grass roots conservatism” though they may share certain broad objectives in common.

          • The entire mendacious edifice built around shaming people who dissent against the PC orthodoxy of cultural relativism and globalism is doing nothing but backfiring on the left all over the world, and will continue to do so. The upper class journalism/media types who tend to lean left, and liberals in New York who don’t see a problem with globalism are the types of people who aren’t affected by it like the native working class. They get to live in gated communities and in expensive apartments surrounded by other upper-middle class liberals, and don’t have to interact with those Muslim migrants who are completely unwilling to assimilate into Western culture like the working class who lives around them.

            They also aren’t as affected by the complete gutting of industrial jobs, the massive increases in real estate prices completely pricing average Americans out of their home ownership or the huge pressure on the labor market and welfare system by lax immigration policies. It’s easy to pat yourself on the back and circlejerk how cosmopolitan and tolerant you are for supporting virtue signalling policies when they don’t directly affect you, and call everyone who dissents a bigot. The multicultural utopian worldview would quickly collapse when faced with the reality that working class people deal with, and perhaps maybe then they wouldn’t just dismiss their perfectly valid concerns. And maybe the left may start seeing the votes not constantly slip away into the arms of populists who at least listen to these concerns, instead of demonizing them.

            And until all of the professional class elitists get their head out of their little bubble and get in touch with what matters to the common man, we will continue coming out to the voting booth and burning your entire globalist establishment to the fucking ground.

        • Peter from Oz says

          I’m sorry, but I’m with Farris. You can’t just mash two concepts together and claim that they make sense. ”Postmodern conservative” is an oxymoron too far.
          Postmodernism doesn’t reject the ENlightenment so much as take Enlightenment ideas to their illogical conclusion.

          • Well firstly Harland, the rather resentment fueled tone I sense in your comment does a lot to back up my essential point. Secondly you want to talk about hardship: a lot of those “Muslim migrants” right wing populists turn away were fleeing conditions Americans living “in the bubble” of a developed and safe state could not understand. Same is true of a lot of other immigrants fleeing from Latin America and so on. Couldn’t the reasoning you direct against all these out of touch “elites” be just as readily directed back at you?

          • Farris says

            @ Peter
            I appreciate your support and insights. It has been my experience that when the Left loses an election, (U.S.-Presidential, U.K.-Brexit) they rightfully go in search of a reason. However they usually come to 1 of 3 conclusions; the electorate was duped, the electorate is ignorant, the electorate is racist/anti-immigrant or any combination thereof. Not much introspection going on. Regarding the racist/anti-immigrant hypothesis, I suspect it comes from either guilt or projection.
            Guilt: The Left is adamant in its desire for fairness but also has a preference for race or gender based outcomes. This preference conflicts with their desire for fairness, so they rationalize the conflict by claiming they are fighting against racism. Conservatives on the other hand prefer race and gender neutral out comes. Certainly this position is more reasonable than rigging the deck. Leftist therefore elevate their nobility by claiming to support the greater cause.
            Projection: As previously mentioned the Left prefers race and gender based outcomes. This preference is projected onto their opponents on the right only with negative connotations. In short, yes we practice unfairness but so does the other side who is much more nefarious.
            So according to the Left, Trump or Brexit won because of a white racist reaction/resentment to noble progressive initiatives. This argument gains traction despite the fact that in the U.S. whites twice voted for President Obama. It would appear the Left believes these whites voted for Obama only to return or rediscover their racist origins.

  7. Stephen Hicks says

    “The postmodern conservative misdirects his or her anxiety about destabilized identity against a readily available antagonist because this is ideologically simpler than analyzing and shifting the conditions of postmodern culture.” ie Peterson. “Marxist postmodernism” is a crude construct that Stephen Hicks invented based around nietzsche’s notion of slave morality. Perhaps it could be simply replaced with “slave morality” except that the term’s original connotation was against Christianity, therefore the term would not be palatable to American conservatives. Peterson is a conservative postmodernist since he arbitrarily alters the concept of slave morality to serve a reactionary political purpose in terms of rejecting left wing identity politics (rather than actual left wing post modernism). Furthermore while he is politically liberal, he is culturally conservative, believing in quaint notions such as monogamy, and is successfully piggy backing his rather unsexy personal morality on the back of the dopamine rush his audience get from anti slave morality rhetoric.

    • Neil Saunders says

      What utter drivel, Mr “Hicks”. Peterson, however, certainly errs in making your namesake – a disciple of Ayn Rand – his primary source for his (otherwise thoroughly justified) attack on postmodernism.

      • Stephen Hicks says

        He needs the concept of cultural post modern marxism to tie left wing identity politics with post modernism in general, and then heap on the soviet atrocities guilt on top of it all. To most educated, intelligent people its all a bit of a stretch, however to his fans it is not a problem. Considering JP got his fame from attacking identity politics then the popular success of his attack on post modernism leverages mostly off the concept of a unified post modern marxist cultural behemoth, ie the work of Hicks. One could equally talk about a reactionary homosexual cultural agenda and tie in Bloom and Yiannopoulos and then at a stretch link them to Ernst Rohm

  8. ga gamba says

    Hanlon writes of the postmoderist Lyotard: Lyotard saw these large-scale shifts [consumerism, media society, and postindustrialisation] as game-changers for art, science and the broader question of how we know what we know. This was a diagnosis, not a political outcome that he and other postmodernist theorists agitated to bring about. Adding: Marx had written, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” But philosophers of postmodernity inverted that goal, seeking mainly to interpret it.

    Here Hanlon is disingenuous. What is a diagnosis, after all? An examination of symptoms to identify the nature of a problem. I think there’s a problem and how do I go about correcting it?

    If I were to visit a doctor complaining shortness of breath, he examines me, asks questions, and takes x-rays, and upon examination of the data he then declares: “I diagnose your shortness of breath due to your smoking tobacco, working with asbestos, and huffing glue,” has he not at the bare minimum implied the behaviours I need to cease? This is more than mere interpretation.

    Re problems, often the issue is a group declares a problem exists and another group replies,”Huh? I don’t see this.” There are problems looking for solutions and solutions looking for problems. The debate centres at first whether of not there is a problem; if there is one, what are its causes; and what, if anything, are we to do about it? The postmodernists typically succumb to a univariate cause of problems: power. It places emphasis on ruptures, disjunctions, tensions, instabilities, and other inconsistencies in the way power is acted and communicated. This power establishes constructs that are hegemonic, threatening if not outright violent, and exclusionary. These constructs, these frameworks, are the institutions, formal and not, and their systems. Now, it can be argued the philosophers do not explicitly advocate tearing down the systems, but, at the very least many academics – and other sense makers – and students have inferred this message.

    Hanlon, and to a much lesser extent McManus, use Trump as a proxy for conservatives to paint their picture. Trump is untruthful ergo other conservatives are untruthful. Both offer a partial and far from comprehensive account of both postmodernism and conservatism. Like any picture, certain subjects are foregrounded, whilst others are consigned to the background or left out completely. It is worth noting that my acknowledging the partiality of the accounts presented in their articles is itself a demonstration of the postmodern approach. For example, neither mention the never Trump conservatives nor the condemnation of Trump by many inside his party. Both ignore lies told about Trump. Further, looking at the landscape, where are the vast majority of postmodernists? Are they amongst the conservatives or the progressives?

    …it’s clear that the real enemy of truth is not postmodernism but propaganda, the active distortion of truth for political purposes. Trumpism practices this form of distortion on a daily basis. The postmodernist theorists we vilify did not cause this; they’ve actually given us a framework to understand precisely how falsehood can masquerade as truth.

    This may be Baudrillard’s (and Hanlon’s) causal description, yet do all postmodernists make the same argument? If I recall correctly, many emphasised personal truth, which is how a person experienced an event and his/her understanding derived from it. Hence all these defences of “my truth,” “your truth,” and “his/her truth,” because truth is understood to be individually shaped by personal history, social class, race, gender, culture, religion, etc. To put it as a postmodernist might: thought and discourse aren’t securely anchored in a priori or privileged structures of “the real.” And all of this ignores the problem of the unreliable narrator as well as the unreliable eyewitness. At its worst the notion of truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people to gain power.

    Let’s not ignore Baudrillard declared, “Illusion is the fundamental rule.” He argued the world is without meaning and that our affirming meaninglessness is liberating: “If we could accept this meaninglessness of the world, then we could play with forms, appearances and our impulses, without worrying about their ultimate destination.” We are failures once we believe life has meaning.

    It seem this “real enemy of truth”, this “masquerade”, can’t exist if we are to take Baudrillard at his word.

    • Yes you are absolutely right. Baudrillard willingly flirted with nihilism as a normative outlook and he often claimed that there was no longer any truth to be had. The world where there was a representation and a “true” thing we tried to represent was gone forever. There was only the tyranny of signs, and there would no longer be any getting past them. We should just learn how to enjoy the spectacle as it were.

  9. Charles says

    If we are to accept Burke’s views that particular values emerged as a historical consequence of specific communal identities developing unique traditions and cultural practices; then in the English speaking World they are the product of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings . Monogomy appears to have been more important amongst the Anglo Saxon, Norse and Germanic tribes where it was also associated with greater female equality. Women were known to fight with men and ran the camps on their own if needed. Arab writers were amazed at the freedom of Viking women. Having affairs and keeping women as sexual objects and not allowing them to travel freely, appear to be more of a southern European tradition.

    Trump is in part, a reaction to political correctness. The Vikings, Angles, Saxons and Jutes respected those who could fight and speak the truth fearlessly. Kings were elected and Witan comprised all those of the tribe who had earned the right to speak. There was no concept of the Divine Right of Kings as this evolved from the Roman Empire of which the V, A, S and J had never been members.

    The oldest parliament is Iceland, founded in 930 AD. The oldest laws in England date from Aethelbert of Kent at about 650 AD.

    Post modernism is the creation of impractical useless intellectuals who never have to make life or death decisions. Intellectuals who have experienced combat tend to have more common sense.

    Tories loyalty to the Monarchy ignore the fact that after James 1 it had changed. Being Scottish, James had absorbed the French tradition of Divine of Right of Kings , which had never been an English tradition. By 1295 and the Model Parliament , Edward 1 was saying ” That which affects all must be consulted by all “.

    I would argue that Cromwell ( from Huntingdon ) and the Parliamentarians were returning England to AS traditions and away from Continental traditions. The American War of Independence was also a return to A S traditions and the Witan. The first amendment is a constitutional defence to “Speak the truth fearlessly “.

    The respect to speak the truth fearlessly tends to be more common in warrior societies with a high degree of equality, respect for women as individuals and often with a marine connection. Storms destroy liars; in many ways they are the greatest test of truth. Compare the character of any post modernist intellectual with E Shackleton, the Arctic Explorer. Feminists say the “The personal is the political ” and M Thatcher said ” The facts are conservatives “.

    Burke is correct once again. Post modernism is the product of Verdun in 1917- broke the Spirit of France; French capitulation in WW2, collaboration( hardly ever mentioned ), defeat in Indo China and Algeria; communism’s failure; the uprising of 1956 Hungary and Czechoslovakia 1968;Israel’s victories in 1967 and 1973. PM’s want multiple versions of reality because the truth is too painful: communism is a failure and they are incapable of constructive work. It is creed for the urban populace who have a grudge against their fellow man and civilisation ( M Muggeridge ).

  10. X. Citoyen says

    One has to accept the claims that invited analysis as facts to the take the analysis seriously. I’d dismiss your claim that Trump is the lyingest liar ever as naive if it weren’t for another more obvious explanation: Progressives initiate a new round of cosmic navel-gazing after the election of every Republican president. There’s always some great falling off that’s occurred and some reckoning for it soon to follow. Then a Democrat wins and somehow all the bad forces, movements, sinister transformations in politics, etc., disperse as the sunny upslope re-emerges from the dark fog of what turned out to be a momentary setback. I don’t pretend to know whether you’ve bought the story or whether you’re selling it, but I can’t take it at face value because it’s déjà vu all over again.

    On to the explanation. Here is your conservative story. I mark two points I’ll dispute in my story:

    [1a] “Similar irrationalist claims…” [i.e., “that that reason should be superseded by faith in traditional authorities”] “…are now invoked by many postmodern conservatives [2a] to justify their rejection of rationalistic arguments which destabilize their worldview.”

    Now my story:

    [1b] Conservatives have always made the claim, backed by empirical evidence, that political order depends on social order, which depends on individuals believing in (or pretending to believe in, or withholding judgement regarding) a shared transcendent order that defines human ends in the world. Human nature being what it is, this is only ever a necessary condition for political order, and political orders are always only as good as the transcendent order they derive from. But it is a necessary condition.

    The Enlightenment radicals tried to write God, the Church, and the aristocracy out of the same transcendent order by historicizing the rest of values derived from revelation. Liberty, fraternity, equality, the rights of man, etc., were commanded by God. The radicals turned them into the result of progressive historical forces that could be grasped and even shaped by reason—sorry, Reason—and proclaimed that the transcendent order could be immanentized in this world.

    The entire po-mo movement, whatever its internal differentia, is defined by its loss of faith in capital-R reason working in history but not in the great progressive future and the undesirability of the present. So they batter away at the bourgeoisie, capitalism, Christianity, and anything else vaguely “Western” in the hope that destroying the order will bring about a new one that is somehow like the wispy dream-world of their imaginings.

    [2b] Accordingly, conservatives do not reject “rationalistic argument which destabilize their worldview”; they reject the irrational ideas and deeds of fantasy-chasing radicals who imagine that the miseries and limitations of the human condition are really products of an unjust system staffed by unjust people who must be overthrown. Thus, it is not the conservative worldview that is at stake, but the world as it is, imperfect as it is.

    I expect none of this will dissuade you from characterizing me as reactionary fighting a losing battle against the forces of history because you believe in those forces of history. But your feigned view from nowhere has got the psychology of conservatives wrong and facts they point to wrong.

    I don’t fear the forces of history because, simply put, I don’t believe in forces of history. I don’t need to “seek” psychological stability in a postmodern world by cleaving to an “identity” because I already have the psychological stability that comes from not believing in historical boogiemen coming to punch holes in my sacred canopy with their magical deconstruction powers. There is no destabilizing postmodern culture. There are just destabilizing radicals (along with their acolytes and hapless victims) doing what radicals have always done: Antinomian words and actions in the service of the chiliastic beliefs that give their lives meaning.

    Recall that the famous line from Aristophanes—Zeus is dead, whirl is king—was not uttered in despair by a conservative; it was the conclusion drawn by the follower of the comedian’s radical version of Socrates. In the same way, it is you who’s been persuaded that whirl is king, not me. And so it is with your fellow-traveler Rorty: He proclaims the victory of whirl, and then invites everyone to join his “ambitious dialogue,” a dialogue that anyone with any sense knows will end in the same old fantasy world his radical predecessors dreamt of.

    My real concern, as befits a “conservative,” is not the death of Zeus and the terrible metaphysics-smashing powers of postmodern agitators—the almighties don’t need my help and the po-mo god-slayers are Sophists redux. My concern is that the radicals are wrecking our institutions because they’ve attained too much influence in them and over them. You say this is all in my identity-seeking head, even though your claims about the destabilization of postmodern culture point to nothing if not this power and its wreckage.

    Finally, you didn’t mention the conservative endgame, presumably because you’re used to dealing with radicals who never talk much about the results of their endeavours, trusting as they do that people as good and true as themselves must create something wonderful. At any rate, the grand conservative design is all rather mundane: Diminish the influence of radicals in our institutions and return to those civic duties and to those incremental and rational reforms that actually improve the lot of mankind. This is not imagined as some transformative march back to time that didn’t exist; it’s an oft-bungled attempt to get a bunch of screeching fools off the stage before they spoil the show.

    • D.J. Yeppers says

      This is a wonderful response. Could you possibly recommend me any books you would consider essential to understanding conservative thought?

      • I would recommend Roger Scruton’s Conservatism: And Introduction to the Great Tradition as the best modern look. Ian Shapiro’s The Moral Foundations of Politics doesn’t exclusively discuss conservatism, but also have some great insights about the Western political tradition as a whole

      • X. Citoyen says

        Well, I use “conservative” as an umbrella term for various philosophical traditions that are not informed by a belief in progress in history and transformative political projects. Michael Oakeshott said conservativism was a disposition toward skepticism about grand political schemes. Expressed as a decisive choice, he would probably say a conservative concurs with Burke on the French Revolution, while a progressive and transformative type sides with the revolutionaries, sometimes in spirit, sometimes in practice.
        It’s worth noting that many liberals are conservative in this sense of the term, and some people called conservatives are not.

        Neoconservatives, for example, are not conservatives because they believe in progress through government intervention—or, rather, intentional non-intervention. The difference (and the animosity) between them and the rest of the progressive flock is that they’ve abandoned socialist transformation in favour of free markets, free trade, low taxes, etc., as the means of effecting progress. This is not to suggest that the policies lead to equally bad outcomes—socialism is far worse than neoconservative non-interventionism. But they agree on the question of the aims and potential of government activism.

        I’m a conservative in Oakeshott’s sense and by my choice in the Burkean dichotomy, but I consider myself a Platonist. So my “conservative book” would be Plato’s dialogues. Probably not what you expected, but there are two reasons for this. For one, most of what you read nowadays is conditioned by nowadays. If you want to understand our times, you need to take a trip to somewhere else and come back with fresh eyes. Plato will do that and more: You’ll get a better understanding of human nature and the human condition. All you have to do is take your time and read carefully. The second reason is that you can buy politics in a can by sampling the ones for sale, and then choose one that suits your taste. But you can’t get political philosophy that way. The long road, which starts with Plato, is the only road.

  11. c young says

    > While I disagree with the positions of postmodern philosophy, I do tend to admire theorists who understand postmodernism as a culture to be described and the limitations of which need to be overcome.

    This is so badly written its almost unreadable. See the sentence above – full of redundant words and phrases that add up to very little.

    Shorter sentences please. You might have something interesting to say.

  12. Postmodernism is a culture and not just a philosophical outlook. Since it is a culture whether you support it or not, it can still be described and discussed. That better

    • Charlie says

      A culture of what ? Does it produce anything of merit, beauty or wonder? If an alien came to earth could you point to anything produced by the PMs which could be considered an asset to human civilization. The Pyramids of Egypt, Wall of China, work by the great artists of Renaissance, music by Bach or any great composer, The Lindisfarne Gospels, a Viking long ship, putting man on the Moon. Orwell once again summons the words he describes many middle class left wingers as ” boiled rabbits, lacking any swashbuckling qualities, possessed of shallow self righteousness and only capable of carping criticism” seeks a good description of most post modernists.

      Above a doorway of a beautiful house was an inscription which said “Wren fecit “, ” Wren made me “. What great work of beauty or technology have the Post Modernists culture produced?

      I would suggest that Conservatives means holding on to that which works best. In engineering, that which looks good often performs well. A good example would be The Pantheon and Cloaca Maxima of Rome, The Spitfire, or churches and cathedrals, which often have superb acoustics. I would suggest that holding on to that which works is shown to be useful when one looks at evolution. Lobsters and sharks evolved hundred of millions of years ago and they still function extremely effectively.

      I would suggest post modernism is the result of mainly French intellectuals realisation of their utter practical uselessness and irrelevance to civilisation. When they can produce the equivalent beauty of Allegri’s Miserere while gazing at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel I will be happy to be proved wrong.

    • X. Citoyen says

      “Postmodern” is as good a label as any for the usual group of thinkers, artists, and architects who go by the name now. No argument from me here.

      But you’re going beyond this. You’ve clicked and dragged the postmodern line out to include and explain the wider culture. You’ve made us all postmoderns suffering from “growing…skepticism about the stability of truth claims,” which has “destabilized our sense of identity.” Conservatives, for their part, are reacting to this skepticism with “misplaced anger.” (This is a little unclear, by the way. Do you mean they’re angry at the wrong thing or they’re wrong to be angry?)

      I’m skeptical about the breadth and depth of this claim. I don’t dispute that all the thinkers you cite subscribe to this interpretation; I doubt whether there’s evidence to support power of skepticism about truth claims and values and destabilized identity much beyond their social circle. In more concrete terms, you see one commonly experienced phenomenon (i.e., skepticism) having multiple psychological effects, leading to political ones. I could, with more evidence and fewer dubious interpretive moves (e.g., my interpretation doesn’t require psychologizing anyone), point to two phenomena: (1) skepticism among a subset of thinkers in high places (2) causing a reaction in the wider culture.

      Take any of the progressive initiatives over the least few years. Your interpretation says those who’ve reacted negatively suffer from postmodern skepticism and anxiety about their own values and identity, which somehow transformed into reactionary politics. There are too many moves here between general skepticism and conservative reaction, and, not incidentally, you don’t cite sociological evidence or exemplary events. Moreover, you seem to assume the social and cultural changes people are reacting to are independent of the subculture of postmodern skepticism. So-and-sos demanding social recognition because…they didn’t have it before.

      The simpler, one move interpretation of conservatives is that they’ve reacted because they don’t share the skepticism about traditional values and truths that led the progressives to push the change. The simpler explanation of radicals is that the postmodern subculture’s skepticism about everything except identity engendered identity-seeking among those affected by their skepticism.

      As I suggested in my comment above, whirl is not king of the culture. Whirl is at best a street tough in your neighborhood. And like your neighbors, you mistakenly assume the rest of the world is ruled by the same passion ruling your small part of the world. But your neighborhood is also a rich and powerful one, so your thrashing about is affecting the wellbeing of everyone else in the city.

  13. Coolius Caesar says

    I think you drastically overestimate conservatives and Trump, and calling them post-modern seems a bit perverse, dare i say offensive: we’re nothing like the Left.

    • I am afraid I would disagree with that. If you even look at something fairly simple like the identity oriented hyper partisan rhetoric there isn’t that much difference between the postmodern right and left.

  14. Emmanuel says

    I believe the issue is much more simple : the post-modernist worldview, where there is no such thing as truth and objectivity is an intellectual “tool”.
    You can use it to support whatever cause you want : I mean, when there is no objective reality, it becomes perfectly OK to say whatever you want to promote your own ideas or challenge your opponents’ views. The people who accept that kind of post-modernist premises will always have an edge over those who believe in rationality and facts in a context of ideological debate or conflict.
    Thus, for some conservative politicians, adopting that kind of strategy is nothing but a perfectly rational strategy, a matter of using your opponents’ weapons against himself (although of course the academic postmodernist left is not very representative of the mainstream political left).

    That concept of postmodernist right reminds me of Bruno Latour’s change of mind regarding the scientific methodology : during several decades he challenged the scientific methodology before admitting that it was much more than one way of knowing the world among others and should not be seen as only equal to other explanation systems. The reason of that change of mind ? People whose ideas he does not like (like Holocaust or climate change denialists) are now using the same kind of arguments to promote their views and Latour does not like it.

    Challenging the possibility of truth and objectivity is fun and useful at first, when only your side is doing it, but when your opponents start doing it themselves, you start realizing you put yourself in a bad situation.

  15. “While such an argument might seem eccentric now, de Maistre’s irrationalist commitment to tradition, authority, and community established a durable precedent in conservative thinking.”

    I need read no further than this statement to know that the author has incorrectly labeled whole strands of conservative thought that see value in traditional beliefs as ‘irrational’ and therefore ‘postmodern.’ This is ridiculous. You can’t maintain that conservatism is both postmodern AND committed to beliefs about a natural order outside human conventions. Leo Strauss identifies a natural right teaching that goes all the way back to he Greeks and continues to shape debates around political theory for conservative thought. The postmodern discourse on the other hand proceeds by assuming the answer to the question of natural right, a question that is still a question to conservatives.

    I have failed to be convinced that there is any such meaningful category as “postmodern conservative.” A deeper understanding of the fundamental distinction between these two categories reveals these categories are thoroughly incompatible. Mixing them is misleading in more ways than I have time to belabor here.

  16. RandomAspersions says

    I find a post-modern professor making arguments about objective “Truth” and Trump corrupting said “Truth” to be incredibly ironic.

    • I am not a post-modernist by any measure. In fact, as I highlighted, I dislike substantial streams of the discourse.

  17. De Maistre’s traditionalism isn’t like Burkean traditionalism. It is vehemently irrationalist, which is why it is often situated as counter-Enlightenment critique.

    If you wish a good account of this problem I would suggest reading Isaiah Berlin’s essay on De Maistre or the Cambridge companion on the same interpretation

    Moreover you misinterpreted my position, stated repeatedly, that neither Burkean historicism nor De Maistrean irrationalism are themselves post-modern positions. They evolved into that given certain conditions.

    https://books.google.com.mx/books?id=IjdqDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=De+Maistre%27s+irrationalism&source=bl&ots=HvzkIguK_B&sig=fhNqmH_ZPWIwK9OalqD_5fmKNO4&hl=es-419&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiL1dXNv6LdAhVCgK0KHbkIClMQ6AEwAnoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=De%20Maistre's%20irrationalism&f=false

    • Matt, thanks for the reply. I remain skeptical about calling certain strains of conservative thought postmodern. It seems to me this is only accomplished by expanding the definition of postmodern to an extent it loses its descriptive power.

      That aside. I do have a question. One thing that interests me are the truth claims that are still widely accepted by both left and right as legitimate and that therefore remain the bedrock of any possibility of consensus. As it currently stands, number has remained an aspect of reality that most people accept, even despite protestations of scientific claims. For instance, no one dares to claim that a fair election should have an alternative outcome because numbers are an insufficient interpretation of the results, in the way you hear postmodern claim language is henerative and not representative of reality.

      In your estimation, how long will it be before number faces a similar fate of language at the hands of postmoderns?

  18. I can appreciate that concern, though I tried to be as analytically precise in my reasoning and application as possible. This essay expands my reasoning in more detail and with social description. Perhaps you will find it, if not convincing, at least more concretized.

    https://areomagazine.com/2018/09/02/how-post-modern-conservatism-emerged/

    As for your comments about number, the interesting thing is that many of the problems in the foundations of meta-mathematics are already severe enough that there are few accusations post-modern type theorists could make that are severe enough to cause serious damage relative to what has already occurred. A logically rigorous foundation for all mathematics, dreamed of by Frege and Russell, was dealt a serious blow by figures like Godel and some aspects of Turing’s computing problems. So my answer would be that from a philosophical standpoint, we are already well past that. If you wish an interesting summary of these problems I would strongly recommend Roger Penrose’s work:

    https://www.amazon.com/Emperors-New-Mind-Concerning-Computers/dp/0198784929/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1536110287&sr=8-5&keywords=Roger+Penrose

    As for whether people will ever become socially skeptical about mathematics, I would not guess. I have seen some attempts to dismiss numbers as a Western conception and so on, but most haven’t seem to have gotten a great deal of traction. My suspicion is because, despite the philosophical problems highlighted above, mathematics remains of such intuitive and/or pragmatic use that the challenges posed to it just wont gain much traction.

  19. Whatever happened to good old fashioned rhetoric and demagoguery?

  20. Consider the job of the philosopher and the job of the publisher of a dictionary.

    The philosopher asks “What is Justice?” and derives a definition of justice from “reason alone”.

    The publisher determines usage, and creates a definition of justice that reflects common usage.

    Which is more useful to a non-native English speaker interested in understanding the concept of “justice”: the philosopher’s tome on Justice or the dictionary? The same point can also be applied to politics and morals.

  21. I think there is a confusion here, taking a psychological concern for a political (e.g. social) one.

    When there is a breakdown in an existing political order and the rise of new elites (and institutions and philosophies accompanying the rise), there is often disruptive social change like the Reign of Terror, the Bolshevik revolution, Mussolini’s March on Rome, Hitler as Chancellor. Murder and atrocities seems to follow in the wake.

    The conservative is not marked so much by an inner need for meaning or identity, so much as an outward desire to prevent the fall of Troy from her attackers. The psychology of the other side is more interesting: what drives a person to lust for blood and terror, while perfuming their atrocities in the highest ethical claims imaginable? Some, like Stalin, probably just motivated by power, but others, mad idealists and blood thirsty intellectuals, more difficult to pin down.

      • Let’s start with Hobbes, who is the major influence on what we might call “statist conservativism”–lived through the English Civil War which undoubtedly influenced his political thought.

        De Maistre (leaving aside the fact that his stuff has a lot of commonalities with Rousseau) was disgusted by the French Revolution and its atrocities. Burke was less extreme, but he lived across the channel, but clearly the French Revolution impacted his thought.

        I think the conservative psychology is driven by fear of civil unrest and civil war than some internal angst. But to go on, Solzhenitsyn lived under Stalinism, and his politics are all informed by what a rat-screw egalitarianism is in practice. Even conservatives who in the interwar period embraced the “revolutionary right”, they did so because they felt that it was the only alternative to a Bolshevik revolutionary left, which would entail social leveling and chaos.

        Rules are arbitrary but not capricious (meaning rules are essentially ad hoc but they have objective consequences). A social order is based on acquiescence to the existing rules, either out of conscience or due to fear of punishment. Undermining the rules (which are ad hoc and susceptible to dissolution under the solvent of rationalism and skepticism) creates a vacuum, which is ultimately filled by the imposition of a new normative order by force, as you can see in the development of the Bolshevik Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, or in the passing of the Weimer Republic into the Nazi period.

        Conservatism is ultimately about trying to retard the emergence of a revolutionary crisis or about seeking reforms in an effort to head it off at the pass, based on fear of civil unrest. Some of this is undoubtedly about protecting privilege, but a lot is informed by a real humanitarianism and distrust of power-hungry and blood thirsty revolutionaries.

        • You see the pattern of dissolution of old norms and the imposition of new norms in the development of the New Left/68 Generation who back in the 60’s and 70’s were all for free love, free speech, and against the normative structure of their times. Now, we have the push to create blasphemy laws (“hate speech”), redefinition of “rape” based on sex identity (the female is always raped unless there is a signed contract), discipline of the workers through sexual harassment, etc. etc. Coercion, restrictions of freedom, imposition of a moral framework by force–but no surprise. You get rid of the old religion first, then you impose your new religion. But what are the consequences of the new religion–maximizing human potential or social leveling, innovation or stasis?

          • Digression:

            Rules are arbitrary (“ad hoc”) but not capricious.

            “Murder is wrong” is a de ontological expression of duty toward others. However, any justification would be made on utilitarian grounds (the effects of a rule like “murder is okay if your clan is bigger than their clan”). Stuff like God is invoked in turn when the question becomes why be moral, and sacrifice oneself in furtherance of the community. Of course, atheists are “so moral” that they would never put themselves before the greater community, so they have no need for theological imperatives, its just who they are. [Of course, atheists are capable of real fanatical sacrifice, but generally in service of ideas, which leads to a greater point that the cult of the gods is just idealism for the masses.]

            But rules in a polity have differential impacts on groups and individuals in a polity (consider large clan/ small clan), and most groups and individuals will rationalize rules that benefit them the most as being “universally” good. So “rationality” in practice looks more like self-serving rationalization by the holders of the megaphone. . . and there is ultimately no “rational” way to decide between competitors, there can only be “reasonable” compromises–and sometimes not even that.

          • Matt:

            I would recommend dropping the notion of “postmodern conservatism” as it doesn’t really work. I presume we are talking about folks like Roger Scruton, John Gray and Ed West, and maybe some other names not mentioned in polite company.

            You can call it “national conservatism”, “identitarian conservatism”, “populism”, “populist nationalism”, “far right extremism”, all of which are better descriptions of the phenomenon.

            The only person I know who might be a “postmodern conservative” would be Dugin, who is more of a “facist’s fascist” than a conservative, and who is, I suspect, often writing tongue-in-cheek to provoke.

          • X. Citoyen says

            KD,

            Important observation in the last point. One can hardly lump together people like Scruton and Gray—and presumably everyone who writes for New Criterion, First Things, Claremont, Cato, etc.—with Dugin and the other cliques of swords-and-dragons dreamers who’ve cooked up anti-modern political fantasies by combining identity politics with Game of Thrones. None of these visionaries has anything to do with traditional conservatism, and the phenomenon is better described as “lifestyle anti-modernism.” McManus would have a stronger case if he had stayed in his lane, cultural criticism, because postmodern skepticism might well explain this odd phenomenon.

  22. It is telling that Matt McMcanus is apparently unable to name any prominent ‘postmodern conservatives’ at all.

    What really seems to incense Matt is not postmodernism, but populism. In this he is one with every liberal opinion-maker in this country.

    What he calls “postmodern conservatism” is populist reaction. (But he’s invented that term, dammit, and he’s going to hitch his wagon to it!) And he speaks like any other liberal opinion-maker in calling the movement “repellent”, “insidious” and “highly dangerous” (oh Matt, such moral courage!) But notice – he doesn’t attack leftwing postmodernism – which is thoroughly mainstream – in such terms. He’s very polite when it comes to those thinkers and those thoughts (including leftwing identity politics). No, the problem, to Matt, is “postmodern conservatism”. That’s why it’s so important to him to trace its intellectual history to the beginnings of the modern age. The results are tenuous at best, as should be evidenced by this comment by him:

    ‘If you think about it, it is a nuanced but not massive leap from “trust the good sense of the common man to look after his community’s interests over the abstract intellectualism of the schoolmen” to “liberal elites on university campuses are out of touch with real people and use fake news to try and undermine what we’re doing.’

    That’s very deep, Matt. But I suggest you keep digging.

    I encourage everyone to re-read the last paragraph of this article, but replace “postmodern conservative” with “postmodern progressive”. Now, which rings more true? Who came up with the idea of class warfare, anyway? Do you know, Matt?

    In another article, he writes that postmodern conservatives “see themselves as under constant threat by the New Left—cultural Marxists—and their allies. This struggle is often connoted in existential terms, or as Dennis Prager put it, in the sense that the United States is moving towards a second Civil War. This motivates postmodern conservatives to seize control of the state and the political agenda, in order to use its still substantial powers to refashion the world in their image and clamp down on threatening groups.”

    What ‘postmodern conservatives’ have seized control of the state, Matt? Is Trump “clamping down on threatening groups”? No, Trump, like all politicians, is an image of a disaffected Middle America – and what he engages in are gesture politics. Call them ‘dog whistles’ if you like. They are nothing more.

    Who else sees themselves as under constant threat? Oh yes, progressives – like you, Matt. You, after all, are the one calling populist reactions “highly dangerous”. You also put quotation marks around the word “elite” whenever you use it. Clearly, you are not one of those uncouth ignoramuses who complain about leftwing postmodernism and political correctness.

    Also, “a struggle connoted in existential terms”… hmmm. What about “love vs. hate”? Where have I heard that cosmic, quasi-religious narrative before?

    Matt goes on: “It also means that postmodern conservatives regard many sources of epistemic and meta-ethical authority, who challenge their identity and its affiliated values, as enemies to be dismissed or crushed, rather than interlocutors and fellow citizens to dialogue with.”

    “Enemies to be dismissed or crushed, rather than…fellow citizens to dialogue with”? Have you ever been called a “bigot”, Matt? What about a “racist”? Probably not. You are, after all, politically correct.

    “In practice, postmodern conservatives also tend to engage in hyper-partisan displays of posturing; politics as a kind of competitive entertainment.”

    “Hyper-partisan displays of posturing”? This is really too much.

    As everyone here knows by now, progressives have a tendency to project all their own faults and sins on their enemies – resulting in, of course, enemies that are largely imaginary (like Antifa’s “Nazis”). Whether they do this unconsciously, or consciously as part of a strategy, I can’t say for certain, and I don’t think Matt will enlighten us on that point. But here is that tendency in full dress. (To get the truth, you just have to reverse everything he says.)

    “The result is an ugly and highly polarized political environment characterized by attacks on the media and intellectuals, alongside more substantial crackdowns on immigration and other alien figures.”

    What about attacks on white people, men, and rural and average Americans? Do “crackdowns” on immigration really bother you? Elsewhere you said open immigration was a capitalist project, and you seem to be against capitalism. Capitalism is the root problem, in your opinion. Do you believe in the end of history, Matt? Do you believe capitalism “wills the evil, but produces the good”?

    If you were a little more open about your own political beliefs, Matt, we would all here at Quillette, I’m sure, appreciate it very much.

  23. 1) Yes I dont care for much postmodern philosophy, and said so quite clearly in this essay. I have also written about that elsewhere. 2) I’ve named a number of them, from Donald Trump to Viktor Obran and Marie Le Pen. Many of these references appear in the articles you reference, so you should know that.

  24. Also your observation that “to get at the truth, just invert everything he says” suggests that a great deal about the antagonistic and binary reasoning I claim characterizes conservatism today is quite accurate.

  25. What you named, Matt, are politicians. Politicians are not thinkers. A politician like Trump is an image crafted to correspond to a national mood, and the national mood of the Trump moment was popular reaction against the current liberal, global-capitalist order.

    Postmodernism, being a cultural condition, affects everyone. (One can make an argument, however, that it affects ‘conservatives’ the least, insofar as conservatives are conservative, and behind the times.) But your critique is partisan – excessively so. It’s not an objective analysis. It’s a partisan attack. You say things like, “What characterizes conservative thought today is its antagonistic reasoning”. You refuse to admit (or will you now?) that the mainstream progressive ideology of political correctness, with its narratives of history as race war, as sex war, etc., is excessively antagonistic. Everything you accuse ‘postmodern conservatism’ of being can be said, with far more justice in my opinion, to apply to postmodern progressivism and liberalism, which is, after all, now the official political ideology of global capitalism. And whereas you can point to a few politicians who are exploiting a popular reaction for their own cynical profit, I can point to a mountain of thinkers and their books (and I’m not talking about the serious thinkers who have just been misinterpreted), as well as opinion makers, academics, etc.

  26. Sure but that is my point. Politicians like Trump, or Orban, or Le Pen are not agents. As I’ve characterized them elsewhere, and as I highlighted at the start of this article, they are symptoms of a more general malaise. And as I have highlighted when saying “we have seen the impacts of this culture on the left, and now, the right” it is acknowledging much of what you say; these cultural trends first impacted more progressive ideologies and are now impacting conservative thinking.

    Moreover I am not really sure what your argument is. If you wanted to say “everything I accuse postmodern conservatism” of can be said about the left then fine, I would agree with you. In fact I have said so before on this very website…

    https://quillette.com/2018/06/13/post-postmodernism-on-the-left/

    …and in this article when I highlight my own personal distaste for specifically post-modern outlooks. So I am not sure what you are really disagreeing with. It seems like you are just annoyed because you think that, even if what I say applies to conservatism up to a point, it also applies to the left and more acutely. If so then you can read my own writings on this point…

    https://www.mironline.ca/conservatives-on-freedom-of-speech/

    …or plenty of other authors on Quillette. But if you are concerned about the influence of post-modern culture on politics, then it is a very notable fact right now that the President of the world’s most powerful country is very much a product of that culture. This at least warrants discussion and concern. Particularly when he is using those powers to gradually efface binary between truth and falsehood, rendering it increasingly meaningless in politics.

    So in the future I would appreciate your reading what I said more carefully, and with less of a compulsion to simply say “well whatever else, the other side is worse.”

  27. Matt, now that I know a little more of what you believe, I can say with certainty that I’m just not with you. I’m not on your side. I’m sure you’ve read T.E. Hulme’s essay “Romanticism and Classicism”. In his terms you’re a Romantic. I’m not.

    “They had been taught by Rousseau that man was by nature good, that it was only bad laws and customs that had suppressed him. Remove all these and the infinite possibilities of man would have a chance. This is what made them think that something positive could come out of disorder, this is what created the religious enthusiasm. Here is the root of all romanticism: that man, the individual, is an infinite reservoir of possibilities; and if you can so rearrange society by the destruction of oppressive order then these possibilities will have a chance and you will get Progress.”

    And this is you:

    “Whether and how they choose to alter their world becomes a matter of choice rather than being determined by arrangements and institutions in a socio-historical context.”

    “Where individuals enjoy less dignity, it is the consequence of inadequate and even hostile acts or omissions by social institutions which have a responsibility to care for them.”

    “Unger calls on us to reject this “false necessity” and recognize that all socio-historical contexts, as the product of deliberate human activity and even design, are ultimately characterized by their plasticity. We can deploy our “context transcending” powers to reshape them according to our will and interests. Of course, being a critical legal scholar, Unger argues that we should reshape them to be considerably more egalitarian and democratic. ”

    And finally:

    “The model of human rights which flows from my conception of human dignity is oriented around the central idea that individuals should be made as capable of transcending the socio-historical contexts that govern them as possible. One of the most important ways this can be achieved is when individuals are authors of the political institutions which govern them. The other is through engaging in redistributive efforts to ensure that all individuals enjoy an equal set of what I call expressive capabilities, except when inequalities flow from their morally significant choices. ”

    Matt, everything you want is already here, in the current neoliberal, world market system. Look around you. What we have now is the practical manifestation of your utopian vision.

    We have individualistic liberty out the wazoo (thanks to atomization, commodification, etc.).
    We have egalitarian redistribution (welfare, the internet, all the money we spend on retards, half-wits, the crippled, etc.) We have a democratic ethos (yet you still complain about anti-intellectualism). We empower the “marginalized” (our worship of women and blacks). We have an official ideology that is anti-nature (science) and anti-tradition (progressivism). We teach young people to that it’s okay to be gay or to switch gender (the body is just part of your socio-historical context after all.) And on and on and on.

    Honestly, Matt, what more do you want? Why are you so unhappy with what we have now?
    It seems to be the instantiation of so much of what you appear to desire. So what went wrong?

    Oh, I know, human nature! Average people! ….Conservatives!

    Hence….The Rise Of Postmodern Conservatism

  28. Michael says

    My girlfriend said, after wading through this literary swamp, “Why keep looking up a cat’s arse?”
    I have to say, she has a point.

    • Because that’s the only way you learn about anatomy and what makes an animal sick. The same is true in a social context.

  29. I can’t wait to inform my redneck fishermen friends here on the coast of Maine that they too are postmodernists . . . albeit conservative ones. And Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre proto-postmodernists? Who knew?
    They say that to a hammer the whole world looks like a nail. Apparently for those who think reality is a social construct the whole world is chock full reality constructors. In the postmodern mind the affirmation of traditional values is just one of an infinite number of possible value systems. Thus even those who reject the relativity of values are lined up under the authority of the value relativists. No doubt, as the author maintains, there are self-proclaimed conservatives whose thinking could be described in the language of postmodernism. But, it seems to me, there are more fundamental issues involved.
    The putative intellectual godfather of postmodernism itself, Friedrich Nietzsche, provides an explanation of today’s divisions which might prove useful. Nietzsche observed the emergence in the modern world of a new kind of sensibility he called the theoretic world view. This theoretic orientation to reality, says Nietzsche, “. . . believes that it can correct the world by knowledge, guide life by science, and confine the individual within a limited sphere of solvable problems.” Sounds like a pretty accurate description of the modern world to me. And so-called postmodernism is simply the most extreme manifestation of this faith in human ideas to construct reality (which, by the way, Martin Heidegger called, “the final delusion”).
    In contrast to the theoretic world view Nietzsche describes what he calls the tragic world view which is guided by a much more limited faith in human ideas. The tragic universe is one of conflict and suffering, everything is interconnected, and human ideas are limited. This tragic sensibility, understanding the fragility and limits of human ideas, respects tradition and can usually be called “conservative”. More recently, authors like Thomas Sowell and Victor Davis Hanson have articulated quite similar distinctions as Nietzsche’s tragic and theoretic world views. And Jordan Peterson seems to be affirming a tragic understanding of reality (even my redneck friends know who Jordan Peterson is). Moreover, Nietzsche’s postmodern acolytes seem to have forgotten that Nietzsche repeated affirmed himself to be, not a theorist, but a tragic philosopher.
    Today’s so-called populist uprisings can be understood in light of the distinctions between the theoretic and the tragic sensibility. I think it is misleading to think of populism as a particular set of beliefs or ideology. Populism as a sensibility is an intuitive revulsion of the excesses and disfunctionalities of the dominant theoretic world view. Populism is a kind of civilizational gag reflex. Populism is fueled by people who tend to subscribe to a more tragic or conservative sensibility.
    Populism, as it takes political form is both a source of danger and of hope. It is dangerous because the resentments of populism can be exploited by demagogues. But it is a source of hope because it is amenable to affirmation of its own values such as self-reliance and equality before the law. This populist energy requires leadership and respect, not condescension and derision.
    The author correctly suggests that conservative scapegoating is misdirected but seems oblivious to the more elemental and, I would argue, justifiable, revulsion of the dominant Progressive order. My redneck friends see a world full of overeducated, self- righteous, hypocritical snobs who think they know how to run everyone’s lives. They see people in power who disregard the law when it suits them and who are disconnected from the consequences of their own ideas. And anyone who complains is labelled a bigot, racist, xenophobe etc. All of this is perpetuated by a condescending, let-them-eat-facts media establishment. As more than one conservative friend has observed, these are people devoid of “common sense”.
    Rather than parsing the influences of postmodernism, we might ponder whether the very notion that reality is determined by human ideas a viable understanding of reality. Is postmodernism itself just one more of a long line of human vanities in the tragic spectacle of human history?

  30. Sure but you’d also note that your down to earth friends, much like my own back in Stittsville, are hardly the rednecks of yesteryear. They’re people who go fishing in the morning, paint cars in the afternoon, and then go on Facebook to “like” memes dissing “Liberals” at night. The kind of Nietzschian tragic sensibility about a world lost has itself become an ideological product, propagated and disseminated through modern technologies and commodified by individual’s like Jordan Peterson. If you don’t believe me, consider how Peterson himself became famous (Youtube) and how the endless and tiring debates about him are propogated and exacerbated via mediums like this one. Or take these populist uprisings. Trump may claim to have some embedded connection to the people, but the primary way he forms that are through mediums like Twitter, Fox News, and of course his reputation as a reality TV star. And these are just two examplesl; they could multiplied ad infinitum.

    So this Emersonian idea that there are more authentic people with a tragic and down to earth sensibility is probably outdated. As Marhsall McLuhan put it, Sputnik got rid of that world back in the 1950s when it helped established the fractured digital realities almost everyone now participate ins. While there might be a few outliers, and conservatives were integrated into this culture later than others, they are now as much its product as the progressives they claim to despise. Even the reaction against PC culture has a distinctly hyper-real guise, where the great victories are often spectral rather than concrete for actual citizens (the NFL forced players to kneel to the National Anthem, Trump trolled the Liberals) etc, etc. What isn’t recognized is that these very activities to try to bring culture back to what it was before actually undermine it-people want homogeneity and common sense and vote for someone whose big claim to fame is using Twitter to divide and undermine.

  31. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I appreciate that you take the time to respond.

    I agree that our modern reality has been altered in dramatic ways and this has all kinds of radical effects on how we think and act. If anything, I suspect you are underestimating these effects. As our modern reality is continually objectified by the forces of science, technology and industry our consciousness adapts. The more reality is objectified the more we experience ourselves as subjective powers. The more abstracted or protected we are from forces greater than ourselves the more likely we are to deny their existence. This process culminates in human beings who actually believe human ideas make reality – Schopenhauer once said “the world is my idea”, today we insist the world is our idea. Again, this is Heidegger’s “final delusion”.

    What I’m arguing is that this postmodern or theoretical sensibility is not so much a case of simply accepting the reality in which we find ourselves, but is a more or less a symptom peculiar to our age. Moreover, this sensibility in many ways blinds us to reality and prevents us from seeing that reality functions, as it always has, as a whole. Modern human society or what you call “postmodern culture” is now presumed to be a thing in itself, no longer subject to the kinds of forces all other societies felt compelled to acknowledge. This presumption is what the great Roberto Calasso calls “the Religion of Society”.

    My own affirmation of a tragic unified universe is not for some nostalgic desire for “a world lost” as you suggest. It has to do with the here and now. I affirm a tragic universe because that seems to best explain what I experience and observe. Among other things, I’ve frequently observed highly educated people in the grip of ideas which seem to have little or no relationship to actual reality. It’s not a coincidence that the unfolding drama of these ideas over the years bears a distinct resemblance to the tragic visions of the likes of Aeschylus and Sophocles. The hubris of Obama generates its nemesis in the form of Donald Trump.

    There are apparently those of us who believe that the universe pretty much operates as it always has and then there are those of us who seem to believe that we have indeed escaped nature and history. We’ll see which provides a more compelling vision as reality continues to unfold.

  32. X. Citoyen says

    X. Citoyen: A friend of mine from Carp (not Stittsville, where all the savages live) took up the bohemian lifestyle for many years. His parents, who were Evangelicals and much displeased by his ways, suddenly died in a car accident. He told me he had come in that moment to understand the tragic sense of life, and, seeing the need for hope, he returned to his parents’ faith.

    Matt McManus: How did hear about the “tragic sense of life”?

    XC: Maybe he watched some Youtube videos by Jordan Peterson.

    MM: Aha! Perterson has commodified the tragic sense of life by talking about it in Youtube videos; therefore, your friend is an inauthentic product of postmodernism!

    XC: Oh wait. It wasn’t Peterson. I recall him saying he read Boethius’s “Consolation of Philosophy.”

    MM: Did this happen before or after Sputnik?

    XC: After.

    MM: Aha! The world became a fractured digital universe after Sputnik; therefore, your friend is an inauthentic product of postmodernism!

    XC: Wait a minute. Who isn’t an inauthentic product of postmodernism?

    MM: No one! We all are! The fractured digital universe and foundational skepticism makes us so!

    XC: How is learning about the tragic sense of life from Youtube videos in 2018 any different from learning it, say, at your grandfather’s knee in 1718?

    MM: It’s been commodified, that’s how. And don’t forget foundational skepticism. Your friend turned to Evangelicalism because Derrida and Foucault destabilized the culture.

    XC: “Commodification” means make into a product for sale. Putting your thoughts in a book commodifies them, so I don’t see what’s changed. I suppose you could cite the other pejorative sense of commodification, which refers to the sort of bowdlerization of, say, philosophy in pop philosophy books. But bowdlerization means changing the content, dumbing it down; it has nothing to do with the medium. Assuming you don’t mean Peterson bowdlerized the tragic sense of life, what’s the essential change from knees or books to Youtube?

    As for the Evangelical turn, people have been converting or taking up the pious life for centuries. People have also been writing skeptical treatises, plays, and stories—and far more radical and persuasive skeptical treatises—since ancient times. Yet the quasi-skeptical (more accurately antinomian) postmodern skepticism of a handful of elite academics is somehow a destabilizing force that exerts an influence in everyone’s lives—so much so that their orientation to the world is profoundly shaped by it.

    It seems to me that you’re equating the spread of technology with the spread of postmodern skepticism, as if everyone with a TV or internet connection has been deeply affected by po-mo skepticism. To me this claim needs more support than Mcluhan’s word on it.

    • Excellent. I myself do not see a tragic view of life as simply one “theory” or “idea” among many theories or ideas. For me this is how reality appears to function. Moreover, it seems to me the tragic view is the most modest and restrained of all views. The postmodern skeptical relativist conception of reality would have us all kneel down before this Orwellian assertion: All ideas are equal and the idea that all ideas are equal is the most equal of all.

    • I have considerably more support. Would recommend taking a look at my articles “What is Postmodernism? Part II” for Merion West and the latest piece on post-modern conservatism for Areo
      Btw I have quite enjoyed our back on forths via this medium. Please feel free to email me if you would like to have a more substantive discussion.

  33. chatnoir50 says

    I’ve watched with increasing incredulity at the flowering of multiple new terms that have been generated over the past few decades. ‘New Labour’, ‘neocon’, ‘neoliberal’, ‘alt-left’ and ‘alt-right’ and then the redefinition of liberal and conservative (has anyone generated a listing and appropriate definitions?). The current terms that are giving me a pain in the proverbial are Postmodernism, Intersectionality and Identitarian .

    Philosophers and Sociologists love to redefine the world in their own particular way and invent new words, terms and definitions to suit their very own world views. And then they go off and redefine traditional words and phrases to suit their own misapprehensions and string together whole books full of their meaningless and ill-defined deductions.

    The idea that intersectionality is something new and just discovered and is a tool used by postmodernists is a fallacy (think class war). We have been tribal since year zero … even the lobster sticks around with his own clan, tribe, or group. But what is new, 1960 onward, is the way that group identity is used in a new or different way by postmodernists as a tool to generate divisions and power centres. The assault upon the individual and individualism through their attack upon the values of western culture (these values I consider to be built upon the consequences of the Enlightenment, the Rule of Law and Natural Rights (only 3 are needed, the rule of law can take care of the rest); is their real target because of the patent failure of socialism in all its forms or manifestations, be it communism or fascism or religion.

    When I worked I built teams or tribes to solve complex problems, or projects, and when the project was finished I dissolved the tribe back to talented and valuable individuals and then reconstituted another and different team or tribe to address another and different project. That is the way to value and understand the worth of individuals. However, the idea that society is constituted upon Oppressor and Oppressed, as I understand postmodernists view the world, that “Brownie” points are gathered from the intersectionality of the group identities that you can link into; is a dystopian hell and possibly the beginning of the end of objective standards.

    The pretence that we now have ‘Postmodern Conservatism’ is arrant nonsense. Conservatism has always been to varying degrees tribal or group think, because that is the way of human nature. What we now have is the repeated failure of the pseudo-elites who held political sway, to listen to the people and to address the real concerns and aspirations that the people legitimately hold. This failure has given rise to the identitarians of another sort to exploit that failure These others are not necessarily conservative nor even right wing but invariable tend to identify with the aspirations of the people in general and promise to fulfil or deliver upon the aspirations. The problem is that some of these identitarians carry loosely concealed baggage that goes with another form of socialism.

    • Sure it has always been about that, but as I emphasized in my article postmodern conservatism is a new strand amongst these older ideas. Why is it wrong to consequently develop more analytically precise terminology to describe novel developments?

      • Chartnoir50 says

        It’s not a new strand. It’s a new vehicle. Not necessarily more precise terminology but certainly more fashionable. And it enables the coiners of the new words and the new definitions to claim some sort of glory / notoriety or just plain chalk-marks on the wall for having been the inventors of the new word or definition.

  34. I agree with others who have called this argument a straw-man and go further to assert it is wrong to consider the trumpian position post-modern at all.

    As the author points out, the post-modern left has cynically and hypocritically leveraged post-modern frameworks to push race-based identity power politics, the ultimate result of which we see in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

    It is not irrational or post-modern, but perfectly rational to stem efforts to import foreign identity groups. Doing so stems the growth of this nefarious camp’s power, forcing them to the table to argue their points on merit rather than identity.

  35. peterschaeffer says

    The idea that postmodern conservatism arose on its own, rather than as a reaction to left is not well routed in the historical record. The historical record is quite clear. Academia and the media adopted left-wing postmodernism well before Trump and right. From an earlier post.

    Like it or not but “diversity of gender, ethnicity, and background” has produced a left-wing PC tyranny of thought and ideas where dissent is not tolerated. Universities (and the media) n the US and Europe are about as tolerant of new ideas as they were in Stalinist Russia. The relentless suppression of “deviant’ ideas has reached such proportions that an academic, Jonathan Haidt has actually started something called “Heterodox Academy” to promote free expression of ideas.

    However, you don’t need to take my word for the intolerance and repression that dominate elite academia. From Larry Summers.

    “Now, I’m somebody who believes very strongly in diversity, who resists racism in all of its many incarnations, who thinks that there is a great deal that’s unjust in American society that needs to be combated, but it seems to be that there is a kind of creeping totalitarianism in terms of what kind of ideas are acceptable and are debatable on college campuses.”

    An Atlantic article (from 2005) ends with the following quote from civil-liberties lawyer, Harvey A. Silvergate.

    “”The modern university is the culmination of a 20-year trend of irrationalism marked by an increasingly totalitarian approach to highly politicized issues. Students are subjected to mandatory gender-and racial-sensitivity training akin to thought reform…. Faculty members and administrators are made to understand that their careers are at risk if they deviate from the accepted viewpoint.””

    Professor Alan Dershowitz strongly criticized the recent protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University, stating that “these students are book burners,” and “the fog of fascism is descending quickly over many American universities.”

    The bottom line is that universities abandoned freedom of thought for political correctness, one or more generations ago, and now the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. Let me quote from well-known author (Steven Pinker).

    “One trend is a stated contempt among many scholars for the concepts of truth, logic, and evidence. Another is a hypocritical divide between what intellectuals say in public and what they really believe. A third is the inevitable reaction: a culture of “politically incorrect” shock jocks who revel in anti-intellectualism and bigotry, emboldened by the knowledge that the intellectual establishment has forfeited claims to credibility in the eyes of the public.“

    Note that all of the above items predate the Trump presidency. Many go back almost two decades. Indeed, academic postmodernism began with Derrida and Foucault 50 years ago. Of course, none of this should be surprising, science doesn’t stand still and scientific advances have undermined the distortions of left rather relentlessly in recent decades.

    50 years ago, we didn’t have brain scans showing that men and women are biologically different. Now we do. 50 years we didn’t have DNA sequencing showing differences between populations. Now we do.

    In the time of Galileo, science undermined the dogma(s) of the dominant church. In our own time, science does the same thing. In our time the dominant church is the religion of “diversion, equity, and inclusion”. Science is not kind to our dominant religion and the left has abandoned science as a consequence.

    Of course, the problem is actually deeper than it sounds. Left postmodernism (Fake News) has been normalized to the extent that the left can get away with it unchallenged. Right postmodernism is endlessly denounced as Fake News. One example,Illegal Aliens are called by the PC left/media Undocumented Immigrants. Of course, that’s Fake News. They have plenty of documents and they are not immigrants.

    However, because the left controls public discourse, left-wing Fake News is normalized in a way that Trump never is.

  36. Postmodernism is just polysyllabic, pretentious whining that gives those imbibing it a licence to ignore science. Instead of doing fieldwork, making observations, generating, testing and trying to falsify causal models by actually investigating the world the postmodern can slurp “critique” from the comfort of their sofas and bathe in a fondly imagined moral superiority to those who actually go out and invent things that make the world better.

  37. martti_s says

    If there is such a thing as ‘postmodern conservatism’, it is totally delirious to give any credit of its birth to imported ex-communist philosophers or their verbal diarrhea. To get anywhere at all, we should look at the globalized world, listen to the rust belt, look at the slums, see what China does and how much the Islamist states respect their own written laws or contracts let alone the Western civilization. Why does all of Africa want to cross the Mediterranean to come to Europe, why do all the Latinos rush to the United States even if they have an America of their own?

    Now that should get you started…then have a good look at how the administration has stifled discussion of certain questions and how the self censorship of the main stream media has kept its followers and itself isolated from the material reality of the human race. Look at identity politics, Twitter tsunamis, witch hunts…

    And then you will realize that the ‘postmodern conservatism’ in fact has been about for a long time, only that it was called with another name. The virtual reality creates an impression that those who were liberals only two decades ago have now somehow turned to fascists, supremacists and worse.

    The world has changed, and ‘progress’ has a new face that looks bizarre, warped and devious unless you are viewing it through the correct lenses.

    You need to be analyzed if you do not want to wear them.

  38. Person says

    “While Edmund Burke was not a postmodern theorist himself, it is impossible to deny the parallels between his thinking and postmodernism. Following Leo Strauss’s interpretation, I maintain that Burke’s primary importance lies in his argument that moral values are not the product of individual reasoning or Enlightenment science. Indeed, Burke seemed to argue that truth claims about universal moral values discovered or constructed through reason are doomed to fail. Instead, he claimed that particular values emerged as a historical consequence of specific communal identities developing unique traditions and cultural practices. These identities were entitled to maintain these unique traditions and practices without interference by rationalistic interlopers. As Ian Shapiro explains in The Moral Foundations of Politics, Burke was a critic of the Enlightenment who criticized abstract scientific systems in defense of a conservative ‘outlook’ which stressed the importance of particular identities and the moral relativity of values. This would have an important impact on subsequent conservative thought in the work of critics like Michael Oakeshott, Robert Bork, and Roger Scruton. Today, Burkean historicism has mutated into the postmodern conservative appeal to traditional identity as the locus of both descriptive truth claims about the world, and moral truth claims about values.”

    This is wrong but it’s a common misreading of Burke. Burke was not an anti-Enlightenment thinker, Burke wasn’t a reactionary, in fact he was a Whig and a reformer. Someone who actually was very much in favour of change – a state without the means of change, is a state without the means of its own preservation. He opposed the slave trade, Indian colonialism, property rights against the crown, supported the American Revolution and a supporter of the rights of Irish Catholics (very big back then). However, what Burke was saying is that traditions, norms and institutions had arisen and been inherited by those who came before us in search of foundational truths (which guarantee morality and freedom for all of us). Revolution that seeks to upend all of those things without thought for unintended consequences can lead to chaos. And as the French Revolution turned out, he was correct. That is the opposite of postmodernism which seeks to erase those things to the ground.

    • I believe you are correct that Burke was not an anti-Enlightenment thinker. It seems that much of postmodern thinking has posited this false dichotomy between rational and irrational, Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment. As I suggest above, I think Burke is a tragic thinker insofar as he recognizes the limits of human ideas and the ambiguous nature of existence. Postmodernism makes a fetish of ambiguity and seeks to draft all but the most rationalistic of thinkers into its army of skeptics.

  39. THERE IS NO POSTMODERN CONSERVATISM -ONLY ADOPTION OF LEFTIST TECHNIQUE OF Ridicule, shaming, rallying, straw manning, superstition, moralism, psychologism, pseudoscience, and the denial of truth and reason.

    CONFUSING EMPIRICAL METHOD WITH INTUITIONISTIC JUSTIFICATION
    Postmodern conservatism is an error that confuses the universal fictionalism of the left, with the universal empiricism of the right. In other words, no conservatives are postmodernists, they have merely adopted the TECHNIQUES of the Marxists-Feminists-Postmodernists in Rhetoric (industrialization of lying) and abandoned their tradition of Truth and Honor, because they have abandoned HOPE of the integration of the left into the ANGLO empirical enlightenment’s ambition of an aristocracy of everyone, versus the Semitic-Catholic authoritarian equality, and returned to their traditional Hierarchy of Priesthood, Aristocracy, Burgher, Craftsman, and Peasant, because the Academy, State, Media (priesthood fictional and equalitarian) is allied against the Aristocracy, Burgher, Craftsman (empirical and meritocratic – the parasitic top and bottom against the productive middle. and as such the natural markets for parasitism (pastoralists and women) against productivity (Farmers and men) continues its long march from 10000 bc to the present.

    THERE IS NOTHING NEW HERE.
    Islamism-Marxism-Feminism-Postmodernism weaponized against meritocracy in the modern world, is just version two of Judaism-Christianity-Islam weaponized against the aristocratic civilizations of the ancient world.

    THE DARK AGES REPEATED
    Whether the current generation of revolt (Islamism, Marxism, Feminism, Postmodernism) that makes use of supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and pseudo-rationalism, is to bring us to yet another dark age as did the revolt by Judaism-Christianity-Islam is yet to be seen. But if the current generations in the west are any indication our Empirical Enlightenment will be crushed just as it was in the past, through fraud and immigration, leaving, once again, only the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese to survive the worldwide decline, using the walls, warfare, and that form of nepotism we call ethnocentrism.

    Curt Doolittle, The Propertarian Institute, Kiev, Ukraine.

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