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Is Postmodernism Neo-Marxist?

Session 8

Is Postmodernism Neo-Marxist?

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Session 8

Is Postmodernism Neo-Marxist? Yes, No, and Sort-of

By Stephen R. C. Hicks
Hicks is a professor of philosophy at Rockford University and a Senior Scholar at TAS. We here summarize his analysis of how postmodernism both shares and departs from Marxism. 

1. Biographically, leading postmoderns—Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Rorty, for example—were of the far left, some joining the Communist Party.

2. Yet they also came to reject key elements of Marxism, sometimes on political grounds—e.g., Soviet socialism’s totalitarianism—and sometimes for philosophical reasons—e.g., Marxism’s materialism and its “scientific socialism” claim.

3. Even so, postmodernism retained some key Marxist themes, including collective exploitation, revolutionary power, and its adversarial rejection of Western civilization. For example, Derrida said that “deconstruction [i.e., postmodern linguistics] never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism.”

4. While Marxists argue that economics is fundamental, postmoderns “argue that economic clashes are but one aspect of a multi-dimensional cultural clash,” including ethnic, sex and gender, race, and religion conflicts. 

5. Postmoderns reject Marxist claims to truth or that there’s one theory that can scientifically explain and predict reality. Instead, “they substitute narrative language for theory language. Science is merely another story we tell, and it's not any better or worse than any other stories.” Science is merely a “Eurocentric” or “male-dominating” or “white” way of thinking. 

6. At the same time, postmoderns agree with Marxists that individuals are conditioned by group memberships and that different groups have fundamentally different beliefs and values that cannot be rationally mediated. Consequently, social reality is and can only be a “zero-sum power struggle for dominance.”

7. But against the followers of Friedrich Nietzsche who side with the strong in the power struggle, postmoderns retain Marxism’s identification with “those on the losing end, who are being exploited or oppressed—our sympathies should lie with them.”

8. In that social battle, just as Marxists advocate violence, postmoderns “are harsh in their rhetoric and willing to take activist steps by revolutionary physicalist means rather than argument and discussion.”

Listen to Hicks’s “Is Postmodernism Neo-Marxist? Yes, No & Sort Of” here. Summary 2021.
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