It is time in this era of genuine crisis for American democracy to take a bolder and less compromising look at the forces that have brought us here, in hopes that a sure path to recovery can be found and applied.
Donald Trump is the child of postmodernism, the movement of thought in the West forged by the hegemony of the despicable French social philosopher Michel Foucault, who was unleashed on American academia in the 1970s to trash the role of reason and science in our culture, and to replace it with a dogma that said only power and pleasure are the dominant drivers of our lives.
There have been two voices from academia that have been able to call out the destructive and anti-democratic nature of Foucault’s teachings, he being a touted lecturer at such culturally critical places as the University of California at Berkeley in mid-1970s.
One is the proponent of a return to the Enlightenment thinking which the American revolution and democratic experiment grew, the author of “Enlightenment Now;” Harvard’s Dr. Steven Pinker. The other is a British-born professor at Princeton who has written copious volumes on the Enlightenment and its connection to the American revolution and values of the American founders; Dr. Jonathan Israel.
It is Israel who has best grasped the insidious and destructive nature of Foucault’s assaults on reason and science, notwithstanding the academic environment in which both he and Pinker write. He nailed it, essentially, when he wrote in the introduction to his massive 2012 work, “Democratic Enlightenment,” citing Foucault by name.
Israel wrote: “Postmodernist thinkers have argued that [the Enlightenment’s] abstract universalism was ultimately destructive, that the relentless rationalism, concern with perfecting humanity and universalism of what they often disparagingly called ‘the Enlightenment project’ was responsible for the organized mass violence of the later French Revolution and the still greater horrors perpetrated by imperialism, Communism, Fascism, and Nazism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many argued that the assumption that humanity is ‘infinitely malleable,’ as James Schmidt put it, ‘provided the intellectual inspiration for attempts by totalitarian states to eradicate every trace of individuality from their subjects. Others insisted that the Enlightenment reduced complex moral dilemmas to a superficial level using simplistic solutions to iron out long-existing and deeply felt community differences and values. This multi-faceted indictment was lent added philosophical coherence by Michael Foucault’s overarching and powerful claim that the Enlightenment’s insistence on the primacy of reason was ultimately just a mask for the exercise of power. He maintained, often very convincingly, that Enlightenment was not just about liberation, but even more about new forms of constraint.
“Postmodernist theorists urge us to forget the Enlightenment’s quest for universal moral and political foundations, claiming different cultures should be left ‘to determine their own priorities and goals without our discriminating politically or morally between them.’…replacing the intellectual foundations forged by the Enlightenment with a fresh set of criteria framing a postmodern world built on multiculturalism, moral relativism, and the indeterminacy of truth.
“….Except for those willing to yield to Postmodernism and concede the death of reason and moral universalism, it remains an ongoing, live, and vital issue….the Enlightenment, I maintain, was the most important and profound intellectual, social, and cultural transformation of the Western world…and the most formative in shaping modernity.”
There it is, stated as plainly as possible to forecast the rise of Trump and all that he represents. “The primacy of reason was ultimately just a mask for the the exercise of power” and the “Enlightenment was not just about liberation, but even more about new forms of constraint.”
Or, as the totalitarian regime pictured by George Orwell in “1984” asserted to its slavish masses, “freedom is slavery” and “truth is lies.”
In recent decades, many academics have been fooled by the Postmodernist focus on multiculturalism, seeing it as a valued contribution by the school of thought. Yet, multiculturalism is in fact a cruel ploy to recruit oppressed masses into an anti-rational movement.
(To be continued).
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]