Monday, August 09, 2004

Hicks' Explaining Postmodernism

Here's a quick review I posted at for Stephen Hicks' Explaining Postmodernism

When speaking with a colleague about this book, he was surprised to find out that Postmodernism has such a storied history including the likes of Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell. And many readers also will be surprised to see the intellectual pedigree that Postmodernism boasts. Of course, Dr. Hicks isn't arguing that Kant or Russell were Postmodernists--but what he does in this quick and highly readable book is to show how Postmodernism evolved out of the ideas and historical trends of the last few hundred years in philosophy. Tracing the development of various ideas in epistemology and politics, Hicks finds the roots of Postmodernism in Kant, Rousseau, and other Counter-Enlightenment thinkers. The primary thesis of this book is that "the failure of epistemology made postmodernism possible, and the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary." The history of modern epistemology has, by and large, failed at defending reason as one's means of knowing the world. The failure of socialism, both economically and morally, lead to, as Hicks calls it, a "crisis of faith" among many in the Left. In order to maintain their belief in the superiority of socialism over capitalism, many theorists used the failures of epistemology to eschew reason, reality, and truth. One now no longer has to deal with the evidence that shows the superiority of capitalism. Thus, we end up with the nihilistic, skeptical, and relativistic Postmodernism dominating much of academia and the political left.

Dr. Hicks is able to condense abstract and complicated ideas for a non-philosopher to understand without losing the essence of the ideas. He competently and clearly presents the ideas and positions without ever degenerating into ad hominem or resorting to polemics. As such, I highly recommend this wonderfully written and highly readable work to anyone--philosopher or not--with an interest in the history of ideas or an interest in understanding postmodernism.

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