Marxism is a cancer that has plagued societies across the globe in one form or another for well over a century, leaving behind a trail of death, destruction, and misery in the most appalling ways imaginable. The tyrants of the 20th century – Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Che, and Castro among others – settled once and for all what happens when the Marxist ideology is unleashed upon the world. Rather than usher in the promised utopia, what occurred was nothing short of hell on earth. Sadly, we were wrong to think that this cancer had been eradicated. Instead, it’s continued to mutate into various subsequent, seemingly benign, outgrowths, culminating in its current metastasized form in Postmodernism.
I’ve encountered this philosophy most prominently in a few of my Fordham classes, especially in English, Psychology, and Anthropology, in a manner that often reeks of ideological indoctrination. The borderline obsession with power, white privilege, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, “social justice,” systemic inequality, institutionalized racism, and toxic masculinity, etc. being pontificated as given facts that are off-limits to authentic debate was enough to trigger my intellectual “Spidey Sense.” So, I started asking questions and began trying to understand the ideology from which these concepts stemmed. What I learned was that at the heart of this Postmodernist philosophy is Marxism. While Classical Marxism and Postmodernism are not synonymous, Postmodernism embodies an evolution of many of Marxism’s central themes and politics that often operate more slyly behind the scenes, as compared to the overt revolutionary tactics of the Classical Marxists.
Marxism is not confined solely to the realm of economics; it also incorporates philosophy, history, and politics that are originally based in the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 1800s. While there are many important central tenants of the Marxist ideology, there are two that deserve particular emphasis in understanding how Marxism is embodied in Postmodernism.
Marxism stipulates that “class struggle is a central element in the analysis of social change in Western societies.” Marxism is fervently anti-capitalist, necessitating a “system of socialism of which the dominant feature is public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.” The Marxist theory of class struggle characterizes history as a battle between the proletariat (the working class) oppressed by the bourgeoisie (the elite) under the capitalist system, while also predicting that capitalism is inherently unsustainable, and would be inevitably overthrown by the proletariat. Where Enlightenment thinkers exalted the individual, Marxists exalted the collective, subjugating the individual as means to the collective’s ends.
Interwoven with class struggle is the concept of polylogism. The Enlightenment thinkers correctly demonstrated that:
… the logical structure of mind is unchangeable and common to all human beings. All human interrelations are based on this assumption of a uniform logical structure. We can speak to each other only because we can appeal to something common to all of us, namely, the logical structure of reason.
While individuals’ intellect and aptitudes differ, this logical structure of reason remains ever present in all individuals. All social and intellectual cooperation between people is predicated on this fundamental fact, without which human cooperation would be practically infeasible.
The Marxist doctrine and its subsequent followers completely rejected this self-evident and vital pillar of human interaction in favor of polylogism:
Marx and the Marxians, foremost among them the ‘proletarian philosopher’ Dietzgen, taught that thought is determined by the thinker’s class position. What thinking produces is not truth but ‘ideologies.’ This word means, in the context of Marxian philosophy, a disguise of the selfish interest of the social class to which the thinking individual is attached. It is therefore useless to discuss anything with people of another social class. Ideologies do not need to be refuted by discursive reasoning; they must be unmasked by denouncing the class position, the social background, of their authors. Thus Marxians do not discuss the merits of physical theories; they merely uncover the ‘bourgeois’ origin of the physicists.
Conveniently for them, the very same Marxists who promulgated this idea of polylogism exempted themselves from its rational conclusions:
The principle of polylogism would lead to the inference that Marxian teachings also are not objectively true but are only ‘ideological’ statements. But the Marxians deny it. They claim for their own doctrines the character of absolute truth. Thus Dietzgen teaches that ‘the ideas of proletarian logic are not party ideas but the outcome of logic pure and simple.’ The proletarian logic is not ‘ideology’ but absolute logic.
This ideological torch was carried on by the Frankfurt School in Germany during the Weimar Republic, seeking to build upon the ideas of Marxism while incorporating other disciplines such as Freudian psychoanalysis. One of the philosophical developments that links the Classical Marxists with the Postmodernist philosophy that followed it was the conceptual evolution of polylogism into critical theory, “a philosophical approach to culture, and especially to literature, that seeks to confront the social, historical, and ideological forces and structures that produce and constrain it.”
Critical theory was initially developed by Horkheimer in Traditional and Critical Theory in 1937. Horkheimer rejected traditional theory and the concept of objectivity in knowledge, writing, “The facts which our sense present to us are socially preformed in two ways: through the historical character of the object perceived and through the historical character of the perceiving organ.” The development of critical theory under the Frankfurt School also denoted a shift in applying Marxist doctrine more towards the realm of culture and less towards economics, a trend that the Postmodernists would continue.
By the 1970s, as clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson pointed out, Marxism had proven to be such a failure that even the French intellectuals of the time, who were predominately devout Marxists, could not even deny it. One of the leaders of this Postmodernist movement was Jacques Derrida who claimed that Western society is phallogocentric, where the male-dominated structure (phallus) uses logic and reason (logos) as tools by those in power to centralize and assert their dominance over those they oppress. Postmodernists view the world through a lens of various collectives by rejecting logos, which necessitates the rejection of the individual, logic, and dialogue since these three concepts are derived from the concept of the logos. The Postmodernist concept of phallogocentrism and the Frankfurt School’s critical theory are corollaries from the Marxist concepts of polylogism and class struggle while continuing to exalt the collective over the individual.
Postmodernism also stipulates that there is no absolute truth. What complicates matters here is that, in a way, this concept rests on an actual fact. When Peterson appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience, he noted how Derrida and the other Postmodernists had correctly noted that the human mind has a nearly infinite amount of ways of interpreting a set of facts, aka “the frame problem,” which they applied to literature. They argued that there is a nearly infinite amount of ways to interpret a piece of literature, which is still technically true. However, the Postmodernists incorrectly asserted that, therefore, there is an infinite amount of equally valid ways to interpret the world and thus there can be no right way to interpret the world, hence the rejection of absolute truth. Peterson argues that the Postmodernists were especially wrong in this regard because the real-world places constraints on our various interpretations and that our goal from interpreting the world is to extract a set of tools that allows us to survive, minimize our suffering, and foster mutual cooperation.
What the Postmodernists did was essentially pull a Marxian sleight of hand. They argued that people interpret the world in ways that facilitate their quest for power over others. From this postulation comes the sleight of hand. No longer are the Marxists pitting the proletariat against the bourgeoise, but rather they now pit the oppressed against the oppressor based on identity whether by class, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., quickly culminating in the birth of the identity politics that we see today.
There is a greater cost inflicted by the Postmodernists’ rejection of logos because logos also serves as the mechanism that mediates between chaos and order. To essentially rip out logos is to not only rip out reason, dialogue, and individualism but also to rip out society’s value structure, removing the mechanism that helps prevent society from being thrust into nihilistic chaos.
Without a value structure, society has no means to conceive and test innovative ideas that could help improve the value structure and thus, society as a whole. Of course, every value structure has flaws, but simply demolishing the foundation is a categorically inferior alternative to striving to improve upon the value structure itself.
Many of the Postmodernists and their allies appear to lack gratitude for the thousands of years of suffering that facilitated the establishment of the basic virtues and societal norms that we take for granted today. The fruits of those sacrifices afford us the luxury of debating existential issues like these. Compared to a utopia, the world is obviously hellish; however, it’s a paradise compared to the historical standards of human history. A little bit of intellectual humility would go a long way or as Sowell puts it, “Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.”
The Postmodernist obsession with power, coupled with the rejection of logos are fundamentally at the heart of concepts like white privilege, cultural appropriation, and the redefining of racism, as the issues are viewed almost exclusively through the lens of collectivism with little – if any – role for individual agency. Furthermore, in many cases, to even dare question these concepts is to risk an onslaught of ad hominem attacks similar to those that Dietzgen and the Classical Marxists encouraged instead of addressing the argument using civil dialogue and objective evidence.
The Postmodernists, like the Classical Marxists, ignore the same inconvenient conclusion that one draws from their arguments: if people interpret the world to further their own power, this means that the Postmodernists are also merely seeking power, the power to control others. Exerting that power necessitates growing the size and scope of the state, subjugating the populace to yield to their subjective view of how society should be organized regardless of the consequences to individual liberty and well-being.
The Postmodernists, like the Classical Marxists, derive part of their power from the seductive temptation of abdicating individual responsibility in exchange for perpetual collective, victimhood. Eliminating the individual allows for the elimination of individual responsibility, chalking one’s condition in life up to the oppression of “society” or various collectives in “power” regardless of the “victim’s” actions. What’s ignored is that at the heart of all collectives are individuals. The inequalities, not to be conflated with inequities, of various collectives are predominately but not exclusively the result of a multitude of individual, purposeful actions. Acknowledging this distinction is impermissible as doing so would erode the source from which the anointed ones, as Thomas Sowell calls them, draw their power:
The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society.’
Why is all this even relevant? For many, the horrors of failed Marxist regimes seem to be confined to history books or delusions of “that wasn’t really socialism.” Sowell succinctly formulated that, “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.” Unfortunately, the heart of the ideology is still alive and well in our politics, much of our media and pop culture, and most significantly in our education system to various degrees. The end goal is still the same today as it was for the Classical Marxists except now the Postmodernists use their philosophy as a Trojan horse to advance the same agenda. Over the last few years, we’ve all become familiar with the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) and Antifa (“Anti-Fascist”) phenomena who conduct riots, attack speakers on college campuses, and label any dissenters as “Nazis” to name a few examples. Recognizing that this Neo-Marxist, Postmodernist philosophy is at work here is key to defeating it.