From Revolution to Evolution
The dawn of the 20th century shed a new light on the translation of social theory into practice, in turn illuminating the deep and exploitable chasms that separate people in all identifiable dimensions. In centuries prior, contemporary theory had never found a vehicle fast enough to effect momentous change, and thus society’s patriarchal hierarchies were free to devolve in steady lockstep with the realization of human rights: enlightened reason progressively softened the rigidity of class boundaries, political systems begrudgingly matured from monarchical to democratic, and the forlorn masses gradually assumed the means to secure a comfortable existence.
With the advent of efficient communication and transportation networks, however, the interdependent relationship between economics and politics became all the more malleable, making it feasible for socioeconomic theory to spark real change with immediacy. The prime exemplar of this phenomenon is Marxism, which in infancy provided commendable commentary on the nature of history but soon morphed into blueprints for universally effectual autocracy. When constructed, such plans produced unspeakable horrors mendaciously veiled by egalitarian façades whose resplendency, ever bedazzling unreachable horizons, could never actually materialize. After spurring violent revolutions that accorded new definitions to destitution and death, Marxism lost its potency and buried itself in the graveyard of stumped philosophies. Its goal to capsize the capitalist West backfired…but it did not fail in totality. Today, its mutated offspring, postmodernism, grips the tillers of the Western ark with fervent fortitude and pernicious parade, exploiting interpersonal chasms more effectively than the gestalt of its ideological predecessors. Whereas Marxism revolted, postmodernism evolves, more readily infective in the souls of its hosts and promissory of a longevity that mocks the transience of pseudo communism. Usurped now is the era of economic revolution, wherein classes crusade for equitable stage; in its place is the age of social evolution, wherein intersectional groups compete for epistemological say.
A specter is haunting Europe.
To fully understand postmodernism, one must first comprehend the tenets of Marxism—namely, its synopsis, prescription, attraction and demise. In general, the Marxist doctrine hypothesizes that economics is the engine of history. More specifically, it proposes that the fundamental nature of the economy and its perpetual motion determine how individuals perceive freedom, rights, relationships and justice. This is reasonable, as man’s biological dependence on the acquisition of goods and pursuit of creativity naturally prejudices consciousness.
Ponder this: is the right to buy and drive a Lamborghini truly definitional of freedom? Marx would likely answer in the negative and suggest that the desire to operate shiny metal boxes on wheels is not fundamental to our nature but instead a response to voids spawned by the drudgery of wage-labor. His response is fair—most would agree that abstract lacks are materially irremediable. True freedom, he propounded, was the ability to control desire and stand impervious to the influence of an artificial economic construct.
Returning to the big picture, a Marxist seeks to understand historical truth. For that purpose, he or she reevaluates the past by partitioning it into segments characterized by unique economic bases that are undergirded by ideological superstructures facilitative of their legitimacy. Examples of economic bases include slavery, feudalism and capitalism, all of which developed superstructures that buoyed them; an exemplary superstructure is religion, which Marx affectionately equated to “opium for the masses” because it predicated righteousness on meekness and humility. Marxism then analyzes these historical segments foremost by focusing on the interclass relationships within them and subsequently by determining how their resultant strife informs historical change.
After briefly touching on economies that preceded capitalism, Karl Marx—one of two German coauthors of the Marxist doctrine and perhaps the most important figure of the last two centuries—defined it as a zero-sum game in which the owners of the means of production (bourgeoisie) oppressed the laborers they employed (proletariat) and used religion and government to secure the perpetuity and legitimacy of their oppression. Marx, along with his reluctantly industrial benefactor, Friedrich Engels, lamented that the mechanics of capitalism alienated wage-earners from the products of their labor, thereby distancing artisans from the art they created. In order to rectify these supposed realities, Marx encouraged the proletariat to collectivize and seize the means of production to requisition profits from the capitalists who financed their labor. And because Marx held governments accountable for these institutionalized oppressions, the natural vehicle for the commoner’s catharsis was his prescriptive seizure, and the only road in that direction was violent revolution.
Then the world will be free for the common people, and the sounds of happiness will reach the deepest springs…
To justify its prescription, Marxism made three chronological predictions as to how capitalism—a system that Marx, to his credit, routinely lauded when comparing it to its predecessors—would ultimately and irreversibly collapse: (1) the proletariat would continue to expand as the middle class struggled to legitimize the bourgeoisie by delaying upward social mobility, while labor brought ever diminishing returns; (2) in consequence, the vast middle class that had hallmarked capitalism would dwindle, with a lavish few relishing while many at the bottom languished; and (3) the increasingly wealthy bourgeoisie would shrink proportionately with the expansion of the proletariat as fewer elites accrued vaster amounts of capital they could never possibly utilize in full. This chronology, posited Marx, would cause a catastrophic global depression from which capitalism could never recover. In its place, the populous proletariat, now immune to exploitation, would overthrow capitalist-favoring governments in worldwide unison and exert collective control over the means of production, price of labor, distribution of goods and allotment of property. Everybody would be equal in every way, happiness would be universal and, somehow, mankind would achieve infinite efficiency. Such tantalizing hallucinations inspired millions of peasants, serfs and intellectuals for obvious reasons.
Unfortunately for Marx’ legacy, this passionate zealotry found its strongest roots planted in agrarian Russia instead of industrialized Germany, the latter of which had a tested capitalist economy seemingly ripe for revolution. Russia, on the other hand, still clung to a feudalist model and needed to evolve to capitalism long before its denizens should sketch visions of utopia. Consequently, the Marxist doctrine was broadly misapplied, resulting in millions of deaths and rendering its application on the state level all but impracticable. All three of its major predictions were wrong: instead of dwindling, the middle class ballooned with new membership as liberal democracy and capitalism adjusted themselves in response to ideological competition; as a result, economic liberalism began to make resurgent comebacks in areas recoiling from autocracies that oppressed the individual more cruelly than capitalism ever could. By the mid-1960s, Marxism, barely sustained by pseudo-intellectual life support, threatened to disappear entirely. Its defenders, sullied by the disdain of moral defeat, went back to the drawing board and, in the spirit of historical revisionism, redrew it into a brand-new theory.
Successful revolutions are those which end up erasing all traces of themselves.
If the 20th century can be characterized as the exploitation of economic imbalance for authoritarian control, then one can attribute to the present the exploitation of historical social traits to cement the permanency of chaos. The mechanism for this purpose, postmodernism, moves to achieve this by attacking reason, truth and knowledge as weapons of social hierarchies, just as Marxism used class conflict as a bludgeon against the economic elite. Postmodernism’s core tenets are both easy to explain and simple to link to their Marxist counterparts: (1) epistemology is subjective, (2) human nature is socially constructed and incapable of being objectively defined, (3) ethics are variable and socially determined, and (4) politics and economics forever pursue an egalitarianism that never arrives.
The most significant blow postmodernism inflicts upon rationality is the eradication of objectivist epistemology. Whereas someone like Ayn Rand would define observation as a localizable event recording the nature of objective entities with realities independent of the observer, a postmodernist would reduce observation to a prejudiced act whose reliability depended on extrinsic social factors; as a result, vision, knowledge and interpretation become subjective and can never be universally verifiable. Michel Foucault, a proponent of the movement, explains this in language your author is incapable of understanding:
It is meaningless to speak in the name of Reason, Truth or Knowledge. Reason is the ultimate language of madness—there is nothing to guide or constrain our thoughts and feelings, so it is our prerogative to do or say whatever we feel like…deconstruction relieves the obligation to be right.
Once reason and truth are felled, the next domino is predictably that which underlies all experience: human nature and its history. Without truth, there is no accountable history; without knowledge, the nature of mankind plays according to the eyes of the beholder. An absolute invalidation of truth and historical consensus should level the epistemological playing field for all, and in consequence, meaning derives value from the lack of position and status. Thus the beneficiaries of society have everything to lose, and those without station have everything to gain—comparable to Marx’s elevation of the lower classes to righteous indignation—and truth loses its Platonic form to permit the supremacy of emotion.
Third to fall to postmodernism is the reliability of traditional institutions. Being that justice and the rule of law are only meaningful if applied blindly and objectively without considering the complex social matrices of individual actors, they become distorted when illuminated by a postmodern light, as objective evaluation is impossible without reason and truth, and reason and truth are no more than ill obtained tools of the privileged. Postmodernism, moreover, seeks to employ social lenses in order to reevaluate such institutions: it discredits tradition as artificial superfluity, presupposes justice to consider social inequities, and, in a desire to rectify past injustice, demotes the rule of law to an impotent suggestion.
Furthermore, where Marxism used economic inequality to distinguish opposing classes, postmodernism exploits social nuances to form intersectional collectives and dominance hierarchies inversely proportional to their historical relatives. This fact is playing out before our very eyes: traditional gender-roles have morphed into the intentional malice of men; posterity has become culpable for the sins of its ancestors; and wealth has been redefined as proof of exploitation.
Following in Marxist footsteps, the final target of postmodernism is traditional morality. It decries the family as a patriarchal weapon. It laughs at personal responsibility and celebrates promiscuity and licentiousness. It mocks the religious as fools conned by spiritual futility. In arrogant self-congratulation, postmodernists interpret such unwarranted destruction of historical ethics as continual liberation from an oppression that was eradicated decades ago. As a result of such meaninglessness, all forms of personal differences become vulnerable to exploitation, and society is asked to decay into subjectivity.
Frustratingly, and in accordance with the destruction of reason it prescribes, postmodernism posits that its core tenets cannot be argued, because argument requires logic, and logic requires reason; therefore, insofar as one believes them to be valid, so they are. (What an utterly profound insult to the diligent critic.) Conversely, postmodernism also maintains that it cannot be demonstrably provable because it doesn't need to be. And so the practitioner is relieved of all responsibility.
A mood can be a dangerous state of mind…it can crush reason under the weight of feeling.
Where postmodernism succeeds is oddly in its sentiment for contradiction. This is the most significant link to Marxism and perhaps the primary reason it has endured onslaught from a critical bevy. Mr. Marx, despite his hilarious personal hypocrisy, correctly noted that every economic system and accompanying ideological superstructures had fundamental inconsistencies that would eventually yield self-implosion and evolution into new paradigms—for example, the inequality created by capitalism would eventually destroy equity and all but eradicate social mobility, just as the drastic inefficiencies of slavery and feudalism permitted the emergence of industrialism. The only destination without contradiction was his communist utopia (which even he dismissed as unreachable), but since such a vision could never come to fruition, contradiction became intellectually acceptable, especially to those reaching into the future with feet planted in the past. Postmodernism goes further by not just entrenching multiple contradictions but fueling their perpetuity.
The first resides in postmodernism’s anti-philosophical nature: it self-identifies as an individually-dependent sociolinguistic toolkit for constructing reality, so even the most outrageous inconsistencies can be excused by the amorphous nature of subjectivity. Secondly, it rejects the notion of a reality independent of observation and contends that there is no valid perception thereof; so all perceptions are valid and invalid simultaneously, as validity itself is irrelevant to the postmodernist. Thirdly, instead of pursuing societal remedy or encouraging cultural libertarianism, it solidifies the existence of oppressed collectives by constantly reminding society of its superfluous intergroup composition, thereby awakening the possibility that intersectional strife might never abate. This is primarily exemplified by race: although society is righteous to lament past injustice, a blindfolded Lady Justice is required to effect justice; but according to postmodernism, society and its legal institutions must forever observe racial differences in constant reminder of ancestral sins—despite the fact that our mistaken forefathers used these exact constructions to justify the inequality so lamented. Fourthly, and finally, postmodernism seeks to simultaneously emphasize and retrench intersectional differences. This is the most significant contradiction. The end of history so envisioned by republican liberals and democratic socialists alike necessarily requires the ignorance of tribal identity, yet the postmodernist beseeches its emboldenment. As a result, history becomes a feedback loop of continual oppression and repression. Utopia is always the goal yet purposely unattainable due to the nugatory effects of a pervasive oppression that is always mentioned but never proved, thereby bringing about an apparent stability to the entropic nature of man—a false stability that the postmodern professor hypocritically adduces to justify his lack of reason.
The strobe of emotion has shrouded us in darkness.
As every textbook admits, the events of the 1900s flabbergasted all with the exposition of mankind’s darkest angels and cruelest demons. Imperial powers accelerated technology for the purpose of mass genocide. Industrial capitalists ruined lives by preferring profit to safe practice. Communist revolutionaries steamrolled millions in pursuit of egalitarianism. It is therefore excusable to practice nihilism—how could life have meaning when its hosts permit omnipresent evil? How could morality matter given the reality of grotesque dehumanization? When faced with these daunting questions, instead of pursuing answers through the collaborative development of ethical ideology, the sore losers of the 1900s sought to all but destroy the concept of philosophy and relieve themselves of the onus to explain the nature of humanity in provable terms. Regrettably, we are now in the age of subjectivity, malleability and relativism. Just as the 20th century was a bloody battlefield on which the promises of revolutionary change sought to fell longstanding tradition, the 21st century will continue to see emotion attempt to dethrone logic. Whether postmodernism prevails will depend on a consequential question: are we rational actors in an objective world, or are we truly irrational, guided by whims under the false pretense of reason? It is up to the reasonable to decide.