Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Postmodernism

On The Federalist blog is a recent essay identifying Pres. Donald Trump as an anti-postmodernist. (“Donald Trump is the First President to Turn Postmodernism Against Itself” by David Ernst, January 23, 2017, here .)  As interesting as it was, I have a different understanding of the anti-hero.

(This is based on my post on this subject at Rebirth of Reason here. )

Earlier on RoR, I suggested that The Thomas Crowne Affair from 1968 portrayed an anti-hero. Played by Steve McQueen, Thomas Crowne lost interest in his orchestrated heist. I contrasted that with the 1999 remake where the screenplay gave Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crowne a heroic stance.  See RoR here.)  There, I also pointed to Confessions of Felix Krull Confidence Man by Thomas Mann (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, which I read in a high school German class).  It is not that the anti-hero has bad values, but that he has none

Writing for The Federalist blog, David Ernst pointed to Tony Soprano as an example of the anti-hero.  (We tried the first episode of The Sopranos, and as much as I liked the ending, it was not compelling.) But I get the point from other stories in the genre such as Goodfellas and The Godfather. In the movie version of The Godfather, at Sonny's wedding, Michael's wife Kay Adams is taken aback by the gangsters around her.  "My father is just a powerful man, like a governor or a senator," Michael says.  "Governors and senators don't have people killed!" she protests.  "You're naive, Kay," he replies.  But if the dons did not care, if they put their men into losing battles just for the fun of it, if they walked away from a deal with all the money on the table because money means nothing, they would anti-heroes. In fact, Michael Corleone is a hero in the romantic sense. (As a side note, under Don Vito, the family never dealt in drugs. He found them immoral. Sonny took the family into drugs by disobeying his father; and his own lack of judgment, his lack of values, got him killed.)

Donald Trump does have values. He is not only not an Objectivist in any sense of the word, his values apparently are not even objective. (Your life is an absolute value. Your career is an objective value. You can choose from many, but to be good for you, your career must meet the absolute standard of promoting your life. In a discussion with her attorney, Henry Mark Holzer, on legal theory, Ayn Rand pointed out that Roman Law was objective. It was not primarily or even necessarily concerned with individual rights. But it was publicly posted for all to know, and it was uniformly enforced. For Rand, the evils in a dictatorship were reflected in arbitrary enforcement of secret laws.) 

The Federal article by David Ernst does make an interesting point, though. When Donald Trump gave money to Democrat Party candidates, no one complained.  My point here is that Donald Trump contributed to the party that buttered his bread. If he tossed contributions to any party, willy-nilly, that would have been anti-heroic.

On the matter of post-modernism, Objectivish writers have been cogent and incisive in pointing out that despite their protests of innocence, the postmodernists are not "value free." They are solidly ethno-centric. I refer to Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks reviewed on RoR . I did not read this book.  But I did have a graduate class in postmodernist theory; and later, here in Austin, at the local Ayn Rand Meet-Up, one of the others at our table, who did read it, spoke well to the truth.  

In my class (criminology theory), my classmates were going on and on about cultural relativism and all cultures being equal and all that.  So, I brought up the then-current investigation of insurance wholesalers by Eliot Spitzer, and the Bernie Madoff scandal.  "They just cheated other rich people. And it's the rules of their own game.  So why do you care? Don't they have a right to capitalist culture?"  Of course, no one had anything to say...

Postmodernists are not cultural relativists.  Postmodernism is an assault on reality, reason, and integrity in order to dominate anyone and everyone by the destruction of other people's values in order to impose their own rule.

De-construction (so-called) can be a valid intellectual tool -- if your goal is to understand how something is constructed. But "de-contruction" is an anti-concept. The concept is analysis.  Ayn Rand was excellent at "taking apart" the intellectual framework of modern politics, showing that collectivism rests on altruism which rests on mysticism. But her point was not to demonstrate that all ideas are meaningless mutterings taught by your local subjective culture. And it was not her goal to impose her own rule to fill the vacuum.

I have had a hard time getting people Galt's Gulch Online to understand why Ayn Rand valued the liberals of her time. She admired Adlai Stevenson, but disagreed completely with his politics. The liberals of that earlier time offered an intellectual approach to politics: they identified problems and offered solutions based on a theory of human action. She disagreed with all of the particulars.  But she also vehemently opposed the "me-too" traditional conservatives who had no ideas except to keep whatever it was we seem to have inherited from the past.  The liberals and progressives of the previous century were wrong in many particulars, but were right in their approach. When the conservatives of Europe wanted to ban comic books, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke up for freedom of the press.

That is a conflict of values, on both sides. The postmodernist anti-hero has no values because those who preach postmodernism want to impose their own rule for no other reason except to rule. Power is an end in itself. All of that was explained well in Ayn Rand's fiction and non-fiction. The most dramatic statement I know on that point is found in George Orwell’s 1984: “Imagine a boot stepping on a man’s face – forever.”  That is the goal of postmodernism.

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