Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Understanding postmodernism

I've participated in a few discussions with fellow dissident rightists about postmodernism. There is an awareness that this is something to be understood. I'm therefore sharing a discussion about it made originally on Twitter by Helen Pluckrose. She is not a traditionalist but a secular humanist liberal, so she is on the opposite side of the fence to us. I have to give her credit, though, for making some of the distinctions between Marxism and postmodernism clear.

Helen believes that much of postmodernist thought derives from Foucault:

She believes also that Marxism greatly influenced postmodernism but that it is important to understand the distinctions:

She begins to discuss the particular differences here:

She gives the following example of an academic supporting a postmodernist approach. The academic is not concerned with students being able to assess how truthful a proposition is, based on evidence or quality of definitions or logic, but on being able to identify expressions of power within language:

Helen compares this postmodernist approach to the Marxist one, which is based more on a materialist, economic, class based understanding of the world. The following excerpt is from a World Socialist Website and it criticises from the Marxist perspective a campaign launched to reframe American history:

Sometimes those on the left just lump everyone on the right into the same category. They can't be bothered to understand the differences between, say, a classical liberal, a traditionalist or a white nationalist. We should try to avoid the same mistake. Helen Pluckrose, as a secular humanist liberal, admits that she finds some things to support in Marxism and some things in postmodernism, but also has criticisms of both. They are all connected to a degree in their political lineage but are not the same. It's easier, I think, to make effective criticisms of all of them if we understand the distinctions between them.


  1. Very good piece. It helps demonstrate how postmodernism is more destructive of civilisation than Marxism, because Marxism only brutalises people; postmodernism destroys thought and meaning and seeks to turn comprehensible reality into a kind of primordial sludge. Marxists may be evil, but they can put a man in orbit and land probes on the Moon. Postmodernism corrodes everything it touches, it's a kind of rot or rust that makes everything non-functional.

    1. Thanks. I agree with your observation but would add that the adoption of postmodernism by the left potentially makes the left vulnerable for the very reasons you describe. The more that postmodernism influences the left, the more off putting it is likely to be to those who still look toward comprehensible reality.

  2. I live in Texas, U.S.A., on the border between the woodlands of the east and the deserts of the west. When out in the wild, I may therefore encounter timber rattlesnakes or diamondback rattlesnakes. The two are different in ways of interest to herpetologists, but, to a hiker, there is no practical difference between a timber rattler and a diamondback. Both are aggressive when cornered, and both are poisonous.

    The Left is much more intellectual than the Right, and so much more given to hair-splitting debates, but there is no practical difference between these factions. Postmodernism is not identical to plain old Communism, but we should see the two doctrines as two phenotypes of one genotype. Postmodernism is just the form the genotype takes in a postindustrial society where most people work with symbols rather than things. Postmodern Leftists naturally use terms like "discourse" rather than "means of production" because so many of us nowadays are discoursers who produce nothing material.

    At the risk of introducing too many analogies, I also think we should not be taken in by "this year's model" from Leftist Motor Corporation. Under the hood it's the same car they have been selling for years, and we should not let ourselves be bamboozled when the salesman (or salesgal) who is playing up the new grill design or additional cup-holder.

  3. That is an absolutely fantastic summing up. Thank you for sharing this Mark.