The original title of this post “Should Post Modernism Die?” created misunderstanding and has now been changed to better reflect the point I was trying to make.
Critiques of “Post Modernism” are not limited to the right or popular culture. For example, see Chomsky’s Critique of Focault or the response of multiple Pragmatists such as Hilary Putnam and Susan Haack to Richard Rorty’s efforts to reinterpret Dewey in light of Derrida’s writings. I will add as well, that in my own area, Institutional and Evolutionary Economics as well as among Post Keynesians, the introduction of varieties of post-modernism and literary interpretations of economics is not necessarily novel, but is to say the least, a touchy subject with many, including myself. Indeed, the premise among most, though certainly not all, economists who would label themselves “heterodox” is that the methods and practices of mainstream economics often exemplify bad science and a lack of realism. Thus the goal of much, though again not necessarily all, heterodox economics is to attempt to put economics on a better scientific foundation.
And as I noted below in my original post, we might do better to entirely abandon the term “post-modernism” precisely because it does encompass a diverse range of people and movements who do not in fact agree with each other on specifics. However, like a lot of vague and overworked terms, it is difficult to find a better one so the term will no doubt continue to be used.
That said, I still find the original article which I was responding to (see link below) to be useful and to raise a valid point. And here again, to be fair, I think that a reading of the article will show that the author made an honest effort to address the range and diversity of post-modernism and also to point out that the use of various theorists to justify identity politics is not necessarily consistent with the goals of those theorists. In addition, this author made an effort to address the important writings of various theorists directly.
For those of use who come out of the Analytic and Pragmatist traditions the arguments of those labeled “post-modernists” lead to a cul de sac from which there is no exit. As I have explained in conversation to people, I do not think that each and every point made by each and every person who has laid claim to the post-modern mantle is necessarily invalid. And I would hasten to add that the word “modernism” is equally vague, at least some aspects of post-modernism are latent in what is often referred to as high modernism or emerged as arguments when the more ambitious goals of some modernists could not be attained. But just because we cannot have everything, does not mean we can have nothing, or that our choices are inherently arbitrary.
I’m planning on my next installment on Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace sometime this weekend. In the interim, I came across this intriguing article No, Postmodernism is Not Dead in a journal I had not seen before named Aereo. To be frank, I have never had the patience to systematically wade through “Post-Modern” Theory. I put “Post-Modern” into scare quotes, because I have always thought the term was at best vague and ambiguous enough that nearly anything or anything could be deemed “Post-Modern”, including a lot of people or movements you might otherwise think of as “Modernist” (to use another incredibly vague term). This has notably given me a bit of a handicap since I have a general rule that before I start criticizing, I want to be sure that I fully understand so that my criticism is not directed against a straw person.
Consequently, aside from the occasional foray, I have always been a bit on the economistic side about reading Post Modernist writers: the marginal costs always seemed to very quickly eclipse the marginal benefits. Similarly, when I weighed the opportunity costs of devoting time to trying to read Post Modernist writers against more reading of Economic History and Political Economy, it has never seemed worth it. And as I have watched “the left”, which I have always considered myself part of, get further and further bogged down in the morass of identity politics and “intersectionalism”, I’ve scratched my head over how one goes from an epistemology of relativism that borders on skepticism, to being so certain and dogmatic about politics. I’ve had my suspicions.
This author provides an overview of how this happens. It appears at least that she has devoted significant time to actually trying to understand what various Post Modernist writers do and do not say. I’ll leave it to others to enlighten me if they believe she is presenting a straw person.
It does nevertheless explain to me I find the tone and rhetoric of the Social Justice Warriors to at best off putting, even though I strongly support human rights for everyone. I think this author hits the nail on the heard: those like me, who are in some meaningful sense, significantly influenced by Liberal theories of human rights, see equality and justice for all people as inclusive. I support legal recognition of gay marriage for example, due to my views on personal freedom and social equality. This is very different however than picking a side in a binary and making an arbitrary choice for one or more marginalized groups.
I’m interested in hearing the other side however.