The Philosophy Behind Our Culture Wars and the Advancing Nihilism: Post-Modernism
And how to cast it into the dustbin of history.
In my last article, "The Advancing Nihilism and the Rot of Post-Modernism in the West," I submitted that the culture wars taking place in the streets and universities across the United States and parts of Europe were symptoms of a larger moral pandemic whose philosophic roots both spawned and legitimized anarchical impulses run amok. I pointed out that moral relativism advances the idea that there are no objective criteria to adjudicate among competing truth claims. Its ruling principle is subjectivism. What one feels is the truth constitutes the truth. Logic and reason, according to the more radical school of subjectivism, is the creation of racist and imperialist white constructs. But if nihilism is the logical concomitant of relativism, one must now ask: what is the school and the philosophical foundation of relativism? What first foundational principles underscore the relativism that gives rise to the nihilism in the streets and in our educational systems?
That school of thought is postmodernism. If you want to see the connection between calls for a decolonized syllabus and indiscriminate vandalism of all statues because they are simply representations of the past and representative of men of a racial orientation; if you want to see metaphysical rage directed aimlessly at the universe, anger directed at everyone but no one in particular, look no further than the school of postmodernism--a vicious anti-reason and, therefore, anti-life phenomenon that robs human beings of a particular method of cognition. It deprives them of integrating fundamental principles in order to offer clear and lucid thinking that leads to intelligible and reasonable actions. It cuts away at the idea of an objective reality and replaces it with an unbridled and amorphous, necrotic lump of feelings that are treated as tools of cognition. But these feelings are only the fears, prejudices and projections of chronically anxious people for whom truth is a death knell, as it emancipates them from their self-curated silos and forces them into a universe that cares only about facts, not feelings or wishful thinking.
Hence, hacking mindlessly at statues, “decolonizing syllabi,” and ridding educational courses of canonical dead white educators cannot magically bring about a new world order. And the perpetrators know it. So they resort to wanton destruction and nihilism. Ideas have consequences; and further, all actions, even nihilistic ones, are antecedently traceable back to some philosophical set of principles. Postmodern nihilism is the ruling school of thought guiding human actions today and destroying our civilization. Its ruling principles deserve to be elucidated and delineated clearly.
We may begin by contrasting it with the philosophy of The Enlightenment. This was a movement that sought to understand the world and humanity on a new rational basis. What is its fundamental premise? Human experience, whether in the natural world or in social life, is accessible to human reason and explicable in rational terms. It is equally accessible to all persons regardless of existential differences among humans. The Enlightenment project promulgated the idea that reason can locate truth with calendrical exactitude that is accessible to all human beings as human beings regardless of tribal, ascriptive identity. The Enlightenment project whose humanistic philosophic systems provided the legal, moral and political vocabularies for the abolition of slavery and the inclusion of persons who had been excluded from the human community within the domain of the ethical, admits another truism: moral learning does occur. It motivates the ethical behaviors of men and women who are driven to end oppression and injustice wherever they find them.
Post-modernism, on the other hand, is a disciplinary movement that questions the validity of modern science and offers strong resistance to any truth claims. Its defenders assert that truth claims are discriminatory and oppressive on the grounds that they are totalizing, hegemonic and definitive. Truth claims that are proven to be true are just those things, however. They become universal and prescriptive for all human beings based on our shared rational nature.
Post modernism rejects humanism and, above all, rejects what I would term as the greatest moral, political achievement so far in history: representative liberal democracy. Post-modernism hails a de-centering approach to all spheres of life or knowledge and categories. De-centering refers to an absence of everything and anything at the center of a thought system, or any overriding truth. It prefers concentrating at the margins. It privileges a form of skepticism that has little to do with suspending judgment until further evidence or judicious analysis and inspection of evidence reveal truth. It adopts an anti-foundational stance that discounts serious qualitative differences among viewpoints and then champions equal treatment of all. This, of course, exists in theory only. With a hysterical virulence, unusual in those who champion skepticism and tolerance, emotion-driven factionalism is the logical outcome of the post-modern’s anti-conceptual approach to issues. And so, its defenders will assert that any offense to their sensibilities is evil and must be expunged from the universe. Viewpoints and their attendant materialization as actions in the world are justified by an appeal to private feelings and personal experiences. Post-modernism disqualifies objective appraisers from judging any viewpoint and actions in the world ethically. The post-modernist recommendation of a multitude of incompatible juxtaposed logics, all in perpetual movement without the possibility of permanent resolution or recommendation results in chaos. It fosters a culture in which whims, caprices, fiats and feelings serve as the only fundamental criteria for legitimizing “truth” and actions. External appraisal is seen as a form of macro-aggression when applied to actions committed by groups, and micro-aggression when formulated against individuals.
With a multiplicity of divergent logics, incommensurable and irreconcilable systems, we can see that post-modernism provides a convenient cover for any subjective and personal quest for power, violation of rights and basic human lawlessness. Even the concept of law is regarded as oppressive constructs designed by those who wish to exercise dominion over the marginalized. When an individual or group’s behavior or philosophic viewpoint is evaluated by objective criteria governed under the invariable laws of logic, persons rendering judgments are indicted on charges of cognitive imperialism, and sometimes of racism. Too often they are deemed culturally disqualified to make any moral judgments against those who fall outside their racial, ethnic or national group.
By default and by design, the end result of this philosophy is nihilism and political or psychological anarchy. Today, in the form of not just the maladies I have mentioned, but in manifestations of Cancel Culture, endless accusations of cultural appropriation, and successful efforts to suppress offending speech, we are witnessing the wholesale death of our civilization by this philosophy. The result, if not challenged, is beyond nihilism, myopic parochialism and shrunken imaginations. Because this philosophy is an attack against individualism, reason, progress, and the notion of truth itself, its deadliest consequence is a form of moral inversion of human beings. The process by which we become moral inverts is made possible by two factors. The first is by consciously resorting to a pre-socialized entity which evacuates the moral attributes that suffuse the soul—without which we become feral animals. The second is more common—and it occurs by default or, also, by conscious intent. It is to ingest the philosophic principles of a belief system that constitutes an erosion of moral identity. Post-modernism by casting aspersion and crippling skepticism on values as such is a death philosophy.
In the West it is important not just to rediscover the Enlightenment values that have informed our republic and crafted moral personalities in all of us. We must consciously find those who are purveyors of this deadly moral virus and extinguish them in ways that are legal but culturally and morally forceful. We stop being apologists for Enlightenment values, inoculate ourselves with them and, with implacable certainty, advance and enforce those values that enable us to flourish and thrive. We will be surprised to realize how soon our adversaries will be felled, largely because their survival relied on our silence and our willful sanction of their ethically bankrupt systems. Few today fight for the virtues of individualism, respect for the inviolable and inalienable rights of people to be sovereign and self-governing entities in their lives, and the unassailable, universal first principles that apply to all human beings. It is the philosophy that founded the United States of America and the unquestionable commitment to respecting the intrinsic dignity and moral worth of each person who gets said worth and value from God that must be adhered to categorically.
To those who may be unconsciously living by, but do not yet understand, the magnificent founding philosophy of our great republic, an amazing adventure awaits. They will realize that its moral beauty is so stylized and beautifully constructed that learning it will be its own reward. But also, this unheralded philosophy of America which millions of people around the world aspire to practice is, when integrated in one’s life and consistently practiced, the single most potent way of casting post-modernism into the dustbin of history as the unintelligible, ignoble junk it is.
Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His areas of specialization include ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy and American politics. He is the author of several books, including “We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People” (Bombardier Books/Post Hill Press). Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.
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