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May 29, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

What are the best criticism’s of post modernist thinking in politics and institutions

I’m an ex-postmodernist myself, and as such, I think I may bring something unique to the table (note: I probably wouldn’t call myself a modernist either–probably somewhere in between). I still haven’t given up some of the values and insights it brings to the table, but it strikes me as a kind of theory that could only work in the academy in its more virulent and purist forms (when it becomes its own fundamentalism or orthydoxy). Here are a couple ideas to kick around:

1. Concrete examples of value conflicts. What would you do in a forced choice scenario? What do you do in the case of rape, genocide, or racism, so you stand on the sidelines? Moreover, Issues of the conduct of war (ie just war theory) and military intervention require the use of agreements and institutions to solve–our free floating identities can’t randomly solve these problems (as such a world of post-modernism would be comparatively worse).

2. Historical examples of the success of modernity. Civil rights, the end of slavery, and our Constitution.

3. Engaging institutions is key to reform and protections from tyrannical abuses of power. A strict adherence to post-modernism would deny the importance of institutions. I believe even Foucault, among others, admits that engaging institutions like the Prison is key to preventing its worst abuses. Using the “letter of the law” against itself has proven historical to be a way to hold institutions accountable and speak truth to power.

4. Institutional rights are the precondition to diversity. The security that modernity provides–even if tentative–is better than no protection at all. Also rights provide the preconditions for checks against powerful institutions be that capitalism or the government. Moreover, many of the values that modernity tries to appeal to are modernist and arose out of modernism.

5. Community, groups, and communication all require some basic level of agreement. We can’t be free floating identities and hyper-individualists. Post-modernism risks balkanization and enclaves of identity groups into separate areas and spheres. Mixing and establishing common ground is key.

6. Post-modernism leads the passivity and regression. Post-modernism applied to politics and most organizations would turn the clock back on the protections and good norms.

7. Life need reflection and action, not just reflection and questions. Post-modernism doesn’t provide decisions or answers, and we need both decisions and answers in life. Navel gazing without action isn’t very effective.

8. Direct contrast and comparison. Think about the insights of modernity versus the insights of post-modernity (in terms of the academy).
Modernism can capture many of post-modernism’s benefits. Many of the insights of post-modernism can be gleaned via modernism (ie listening, perspective taking, the need to move beyond bureaucracy, and various insights on human psychology, etc…).

9. Modernity is self-reflexive–it critiques itself. Although the limits of that critique **may** be limited–even then though, modernists have taken on capitalism and various industries of capital (tobacco, arms/militarism, and other predatory industries, etc…). For instance reason often critiques the worst abuses of reason.

10. Rhetorical violence is inevitable. The map is never going to fit the territory. Community and cultural norms are inevitable. Communities and associations are inevitable too. Disagreement in groups is inevitable. No resolution is going to solve the issue of rhetorical violence ultimately.

11. Historically neither the Enlightenment or Romanticism fully captures the human experience. However, institutions with respect and dignity and the precondition to each and that each in one sense serves as the check on the other. Similarly modernism and post-modernism are probably best both realized in some combination or permutation. Ultimately, this is an argument for more diversity of though and more integration of thought and in one sense grounded on Hegel’s dialectic. Having the tools of both–when not used at the extremes–but in some middle ground may be the most effective. Admittedly given my first 10 criticisms my balance is heavily in favor of modernity.

12. Justice, the Social Contract, and the Rule of Law. I think the biggest problem of post-modernism is generally when applied to institutions which are ideally to serve the common good of the populous, post-modernism doesn’t have an answer of how to create a viable living organization to protect minorities or the majority or to resolve their disputes. Rights and democracy–check the worst abuses of the rule of law–and institutions are required to do so.

Here are 4 big issues with post-modernism:
1. Post-modernism ultimately throws the baby out with the bath water–you need a more nuanced approach to the problems of humanity and the modern world–modernity can provide such a solution.
2. Concrete scenarios which call on empathy solves many of the problems associated with a(wouldn’t you rather have someone to establish fairness and justice rather than vigilantism?)
3. Power politics and self-interest are inevitable–a balanced institution which provides negative rights, democracy, and security is better than the alternative–which would essentially be the state of nature (SON).
4. Action combined with reflection is essential & modernity is generally self-reflexive.

I’ve provided suggestions of two types–thought experiments which can help you get past the thought patterns ideologically, but also some of the lines of reasoning which can be used to combat post-modernism ideologically.

My criticism has focused more on ethics, the academy, and institutions with perhaps some effect on culture–I’m sure other areas of post-modernism could be critiqued from other angles.

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