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Postmodernism

Postmodernism (alias post-modernism) is perhaps best understood as a reaction against modernism, with the slightly arrogant implication that we are discarding modernism as worn-out. Postmoderns see themselves as superior to moderns, even though they might not admit it.

Postmodernism has been said to be 'the end of grand narrative' and 'there are no big solutions, only small ones'. But climate change is putting paid to that; I foresee postmodernism collapsing because of climate change. But there are some things it is saying that should be heeded.

This page is NOT meant to be a scholarly discussion of postmodernism, but rather some random thoughts that might contribute to the debate about it.

Modernism

Modernism is a world-view in a package, which may perhaps be summed up as:

(Philosophically, modernism is a complete package covering, respectively, ontology, epistemology, life-and-world-view and normativity.) Each field has its modernist version, in which that pattern may be seen. Modernist economics, for example, assumes there is a set of iron laws of economics, which 'scientific method' can reveal, and modernist economists believe and live and think by those laws, and seek to get others to do so too. Modernist Christianity of the fundamentalist kind, for example, assumes there is a set of iron laws, which are stated as literal commands and doctrinal statements in the Bible, which we must all believe most avidly, and which we must make others believe, maybe using persuasion and various dubious techniques. Modernist Christianity of the liberal kind (which sees itself as the opposite of fundamentalism, but is not) assumes there is a set of laws of rationality and of textual criticism, which liberal theologians know, and embrace (feeling superior to those red-neck fundamentalists), and, though they claim to be tolerant (unlike those fundamentalists) are completely intolerant of those they believe to be intolerant. Atheism is a modernist view: the one truth is that there is no God, atheists are those elite who know this, they hold to it religiously, and do not like it when others are religious, so would like to impose it. And so on, in psychology, linguistics, sociology, business, art, juridics, ethics, etc.

But modernism is not just a world-view, but is a distorted one. It has a distinct flavour. It tends to focus on control and it usually results in dehumanization. Modernism tends to see everything as a kind of machine. Modernism is not good, it is not even neutral; it is harmful. That is why, after it had been in power for several decades, reactions arose against it. One of these reactions is postmodernism.

Postmodernism as Reaction Against Modernism

Postmodernism is a world-view package which stands in reaction against this package that is modernism. It tries to be of a flavour that is the opposite of that of modernism. Instead of control and dehumanization, postmodernism tries to focus on freedom and humanization. It rejects the idea of reality as machine. That is its flavour; but when people try to think about what postmodernism is, they tend to react against some of the four characteristics of modernism given above:

Postmodernism sees the sin of modernism as intolerance and narrowness, and sees itself as above this. In fact, postmodernists do tend to impose their views on others, not by the modernism way of dogma and persuastion, but by the more subtle ways of sneering at those modernists, and giving the strong impression that modernism is definitely inferior.

Postmodernist philosophers try to couch postmodernism in philosophical terms, such as 'the end of grand narrative'. (But, as has been pointed out, this belief is itself a grand narrative.) There is no big truth, big story, big solution, but merely a myriad of small views, small episodes, small solutions.

Now, many Christians oppose themselves to postmodernism because they focus on the first 'There is no one truth or story' - Christians believe that Jesus Christ is 'The Truth' and that there is one big story, and one big solution (Christ's death and resurrection). So, obviously, it seems, postmodernism must the The Enemy. But these Christians do not remember how modernism was its enemy 50 years ago, and they end up supporting modernism, with its attempts to control and dehumanize. Thus these Christians bring dishonour to the Name of Christ.

Nature-Freedom Ground-motive

Perhaps the clearest way to understand the relationship between modernism and postmodernism is in terms of ground-motives. It is the nature-freedom ground-motive that currently holds sway in Western thinking, and modernism may be seen as aligning itself with the nature pole, while postmodernism aligns itself with the freedom pole. Since the NFGM is not a truth, but is a false ground-motive, both modernism, postmodernism and the presumed opposition between them are false. Both hide the structure of reality, and prevent us seeing or understanding what is really going on. In reality, both freedom and control intertwine.

If this is so, then we should not take sides either for or against postmodernism. Those who take sides against it (which includes many Christians) tend to react back into modernism. But it is not that modernism of Good and postmodernism is Evil; both are, to an extent, Evil, but in different ways - because each absolutizes one pole and denies the other.

The problem is that we have absorbed a notion of truth, of knowledge, of embracing and of how our beliefs relate to others, that is founded on the nature-freedom ground-motive. Truth (which modernists acclaim and postmodernists deny) is seen by both as something in itself - but Dooyeweerd held "There is no truth in itself", because truth is never 'in itself' but is dependent on Meaning which refers beyond itself to the Origin. Knowledge is neither as modernists nor as postmodernists see it, but is our functioning in all the aspects.


Copyright (c) 2008 Andrew Basden.

This page is part of a collection that discusses issues that arise as a result of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

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Created: 5 January 2008 Last updated: 6 January 2008