Updated: Jun 26
“The free man is not he who thinks all opinions equally true or false; that is not freedom but feeble-mindedness.” –G.K. Chesterton
In his 2004 book Explaining Postmodernism (available as a free audiobook on YouTube), Dr. Stephen R.C. Hicks presents something of a “for want of a nail” breakdown of the radioactive fallout postmodernism has produced in the West:
“Having rejected reason, we will not expect ourselves or others to behave reasonably. Having put our passions to the fore, we will act and react more crudely and range-of-the-moment. Having lost our sense of ourselves as individuals, we will seek our identities in our groups. Having little in common with different groups, we will see them as competitive enemies. Having abandoned recourse to rational and neutral standards, violent competition will seem practical. And having abandoned peaceful conflict resolution, prudence will dictate that only the most ruthless will survive.”
The fallout is considerable. According to a 2021 study conducted by the Cultural Research Center at ACU, 54% of Americans “believe that all truth is subjective and that there are no moral absolutes.” Kurt Andersen, writing for The Atlantic, emphasized that America is hardly over the “national nervous breakdown” it suffered in the 1960s (i.e. when postmodernism really took off); that we have had a new rule written into our “mental operating systems: “Do your own thing, find your own reality, it’s all relative.”
Some have suggested that postmodernism is a nothing more than a bogeyman for classical liberals and the right. It is in reality an incarnated and agential bogeyman, which haunts the classroom rather than hiding beneath the bed. What’s more: its purpose is not to chasten youths and produce good behavior, but the exact opposite. After all, it doesn’t simply reject philosophy, but the predicates of Western philosophy, ethics, science, math, history, and general understanding, including the foundational Logos.
A paper published nearly twenty-years-ago in the National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, which delineated “national strategies for implementing postmodern thinking” in the American public education system, readily admitted that “postmodernism is a set of strategic practices that erase limits or norms to abide by placed upon people in society.” (Note: competency and rationality are now regarded as two such bygone norms.) The cause of this initiative and others like it since, which have been equal parts pervasive and successful, is not simply to standardize by a low standard, but to eliminate all standards. In effect, many educators are called not to educate, but to benight—to miseducate.
The miseducational age is the successor to the “anti-educational age”, which Chesterton saw unfurling in his own time. In his essay “On Education”, reprinted in a collection entitled All I Survey, first published in 1933, he remarked of the anti-educational age: “[It is] the time in which earnest philosophers are really doubting whether it is right to teach anybody anything; even how to avoid taking poison or falling off precipices.” A century later, things have degraded immensely. The pretense of earnestness has certainly been abandoned by many a school board and in many a school. With this descriptor, so too should the title kindly applied by Chesterton be dropped in the case of the miseducator. After all, the Greek philosophia means a “love of knowledge”: a love which the more zealous among the postmodernists can make no room for in their hearts or minds. In the place of this particular love (i.e. for knowledge) we do not necessarily find hatred or indifference, but rather skepticism.
Postmodernism was indeed born of skepticism and born in the universities’ humanities departments; where it was determined there was no single correct interpretation of a given work (or even of a single line from any given work), such as Shakespeare's Hamlet or Milton's Paradise Lost. This thinking was eventually applied to virtually every other subject and concept, such that today it is unclear, for example—at least to the postmodernist or the miseducated—what precisely constitutes a woman. Postmodernism, metaphysically, is “anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality…substitut[ing] instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality.”
Postmodernism was born of skepticism but energized by failure. It is this failure, discussed below, which accounts for why the postmodernist simultaneously rejects reality and abandons rationality, yet frequently manages to be a dogmatist of an odd sort.
The supermajority of postmodernists are leftists, which on face seems contradictory, granted leftism taken separately advances some fairly pointed claims about reality, particularly regarding society, economy, and politics. It is worth first noting here that by “leftist,” we are not referring to liberals, but relying on the Leddihnian sense, which harkens back to the historical grouping and placement of radicals, socialists, and anarchists on the left side of the horseshoe arrangement in 18th Century French parliament. The ideological descendants of Babeuf and, a generation later, of Marx and Proudhon—whether of the Maoist, Khmer, Soviet, or hardline American socialist variety—jettisoned reason in the mid-20th-Century to preserve their leftism.
When the West had its suspicions confirmed about the horrors behind the Iron Curtain in February of 1956 via Nikita Khrushchev’s supposedly “secret speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—where he detailed the ghastly crimes committed during Stalin’s tenure—and then again later that year in November when the Hungarian Revolution was put down by the communists, the Left, particularly in America, had much soul-searching to do. As more information came out about the Reds and their crimes against humanity (e.g., via Solzhenitsyn and Shafarevich), and “it became impossible to believe in the morality of the Soviet Union,” some of the American Left “turned their devotion to” Communist China under Mao, who in short order butchered and starved tens of millions of people. As a result of these devastating blows to “socialism’s ability to claim a moral sanction,” each delivered in rapid succession, the Left seized upon a burgeoning literary critical theory behind and with which they could change their moral standards, hide behind esoteric language, and ditch the rationality that would paint their heroes and movement as murderous, monstrous, and dehumanizing.
The same leftism that made shambles of Eurasia was repackaged and rebranded here in the West. It was spared in construction from critique because it denied the epistemic and rational grounds for any penetrating, damning analysis, and was thus sustained to impose on another generation. One-hundred-million dead from socialism in one-hundred years? That’s, like, your opinion man.
The political energies invested into and protected by postmodernism explains the simultaneous incoherence and skew. Consider, as Hicks has, the consistent direction of that skew:
“On the one hand, all truth is relative; on the other hand, postmodernism tells it like it really is…All cultures are equally deserving of respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely destructive and bad…Values are subjective—but sexism and racism are really evil. Technology is bad and destructive—and it is unfair that some people have more technology than others. Tolerance is good and dominance is bad—but when postmodernists come to power, political correctness follows…There is a common pattern here: Subjectivism and relativism in one breath, dogmatic absolutism in the next.”
The contradictions and inconsistencies that abound in their unreasoning—almost always in service of a leftist agenda—do not phase the absolutist postmodernists who deny absolutes, but should phase the parents whose children they now miseducate.
The added benefit of miseducating youths, particularly from a leftist strategic vantage, is that the targets end up matriculating without the means to discern the truth for themselves; without the historical context for current events and decisions; without the confidence in or respect for reality necessary to change or engage it purposefully for the better; and without the cognitive means to emerge as independent individuals (making them ripe for conquest by and assimilation into identity groups). The common man’s common sense is abhorrent to the postmodernists, which is precisely why they need to eliminate it. Without it, he is at the mercy of the ruthless who Hicks spoke of above.
A person who does not believe in objective truths or in the discernibility of reality may be called many things. They might be regarded by their peers as a phenomenologist. Should they discount moral judgments as statements of fact, but rather as expressions of another’s feelings, they could rightly be called an emotivist. What they ought never be called is “teacher.”
We should become increasingly wary about our children’s miseducation by postmodernists (i.e. those who discount a unifying, rational, and discernible reality, and are allergic to reason). First, owing to their abandonment of rationality and their distrust of empirical data, they cannot effectively teach science, technology, math, and engineering, for all four of those depend upon rules, constants, certainties, and universals. Second and critically, postmodernists cannot teach the humanities, granted: their rejection of objective truth puts historical and anthropological comprehension firmly out of their reach; their relativism blinds them to differences in literary and artistic quality (prompting them in many cases to dump the canon); and their loathing for the West makes any effort to engage with the Classics an exercise in contempt.
The postmodernists are awfully fond of deconstruction, so they might appreciate this proposal: we must deconstruct the education system and re-staff it with people who are actually capable of teaching. We must end the age of miseducation.
Rather than imprisoning young minds in the unreason du jour, educators extolling the classics and the Truth can unlock students’ potential. Rather than weakening society with malformed minds, educators can strengthen it with discerning and thoughtful intellects grounded in a firm understanding of that which does not go away when one stops dreaming. (Joseph Pearce’s remarks in The Imaginative Conservative are well taken regarding the critical importance of “the unifying spirit of theology and philosophy” in the core curriculum.)
There is a rationality undergirding existence and our human nature—for it has a rational Creator—such that we can come to understand much about our world, the things in it, and about their interplay. It is our responsibility to the next generation, on whose shoulders the fate of the West will one day rest, that they are not miseducated; that they have the knowledge base and intellectual inheritance necessary to succeed in and for the West.