The Cold War is Not Over: Europe and the Post-Modern Left

EMail me your thoughts


The conflict between America and "old" Europe over the war in Iraq has revealed an enormous gap in perception between these erstwhile allies and has led to a furious debate over the implications of this gap in the Post-9/11 world. Speculation abounds regarding the "hidden" motives of the leaders of each of the countries involved in this conflict as people seek to make sense of the depth and vitriol of the conflict.  Indeed, in the run-up to war, it was clear that George Bush and Tony Blair could barely comprehend France's resolute opposition to implementing Resolution 1441.  Similarly, the depth and size of the anti-American outpouring in Europe seemed to defy all previous conceptions of the relationship between the U.S., Germany and France. 

In this article, I argue that George Bush and Tony Blair's appeal to common ideals in their attempt to recruit Europe to the task of reshaping the Middle East is fundamentally mistaken: such common ideals do not exist.  Indeed, I will argue that the Cold War is not over, that the U.S. has not won the "war" and that the battles that lie ahead will be far more difficult to pin down than even the asymmetric warfare of the Islamic terrorists. These battles will not be fought with guns and missiles but will take place in the sphere of ideology.  The core issue around which these battles will be joined is the very definition of what it means to be a free society.  Among the European masses and across the spectrum of academic intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic, the position of classical liberalism - the founding ideology of the United States - has already lost.  Thus, while the U.S. has won a protracted battle against one manifestation of a larger philosophical challenge to American political ideals (the "Cold War" against the Soviet Union), it is losing the broader battle taking place in the hearts and minds of people the world over.

A Framework for Anti-Americanism

The Fall of the Soviet Union

When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989, America and the West appropriately rejoiced over the fall of one of the most repressive regimes in modern history. The Soviet Union had been born in blood, come of age in terror and repression and reached maturity as an expansionist nuclear power.  Considered from a historical perspective, the fall of the Soviet Union from this pinnacle occurred at breathtaking speed.  The world's political and intellectual elite were forced to retreat from a refusal to believe it possible, to a refusal to believe it probable, to a shocked recognition that it had already occurred in less than a decade. 

Given the sheer size, scope and power of the Soviet Union, its shattering would surely not have occurred if not for an even more materially powerful rival in the West whose very existence laid lie to the promises of Communist utopia.  After the fall, many in the West celebrated not just because an opposing military power had been eliminated but also because the fall represented the defeat of a powerful but deadly philosophical ideal: Communism.  In the years that have passed since then, it has become a comfortable belief in America that the remaining holdouts of Communism; China, Cuba, and North Korea, remain in power by simply ignoring the philosophical contradictions in Communism and corruptly enforcing their will at the point of a gun.  The remaining Communist Political Parties in Europe, it is claimed, are manned by those too senseless to realize they are dead and too stubborn to fall over.  More to the present point, it is a popular belief in Western Conservative circles - the philosophical inheritors of Locke's ideal of a Liberal Democratic state - that the fall of the Soviets discredited the entire enterprise of Marxist leftism.  If the extreme manifestation of Marxism failed, they reason, then "Marxism Lite" is bound to fail as well - albeit more slowly since they both suffer from the same inherent contradictions. 

In this view, the Conservatives woefully underestimated the justification for and power of the philosophical challenge that remains.  In particular, Marxists in academia, in European political parties and in power are not isolated, rootless entities. In contrast, they swim in a sea of support as broad and as deep as that enjoyed by Democratic Capitalists.  Indeed, the assumptions they share with the broader political left are more important than the distinctions between them. 

More to the present point, the fall of the Soviet Union freed the various Socialist and Green movements in Europe to oppose America directly without the fear of appearing to side with the Soviets.  That is, the fall of the wall did not cause the Left to revise their theories of the good society, it ironically emboldened them to attack America’s implicit theory of society more directly. 

America and Europe After 9/11

In the days immediately following 9/11, America and much of the world found a common bond in their horror at what had happened in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.  The outpouring of support convinced nearly all Americans that the world would stand by its side as it sought to eliminate the scourge of extremist terrorism.  In the abstract, this was absolutely true.  From a practical perspective, however, this missed an important point: in order to stand together to eliminate terrorism, the world must share a common view of a "good" society or else the very definition of terrorism itself will remain in play.  A suicide mission to strike down a ruthless, subhuman oppressor will strike supporters as an almost Gandhian sacrifice.  A mass murderer sacrificing himself in support of a medieval theocratic alternative to liberal modernity will obviously not.  The question is: is liberal capitalism a subhuman oppressor or the essence of modernity?  Is the Western way of life good?

I hope to show that the American brand of liberal capitalism stands discredited in the eyes of the dominant philosophical tradition of Europe and much of American academia.  This tradition, called the Post-Modern Left for lack of a better term, offers an alternative, conflicting view of the social good. In this tradition, there is little moral difference between the failed, "victim" states in the Middle East and the failed, "aggressor" state of America and thus little reason to favor one over the other.  Indeed, the sheer strength of the American beast makes it clear to the Post-Modern Left that America is the greater long-term threat.  It is thus not surprising that when George Bush escalated the war beyond the punishment of al Queda and their Taliban sympathizers and into an attempt to remake the political culture of the entire Middle East, opposition rose dramatically.  In a very real sense, Bush did "squander the good will" of the world community because he was clearly bent on imposing a political vision on the region that would be acceptable to Washington.  This was not a failure of diplomacy so much as the inevitable outcome of any attempt by America to widen its sphere of influence - and by proxy the influence of liberal capitalism - at the expense of rival forms of political organization such as those offered by the Post-Modern Left.

As important as this rivalry is, however, the most corrosive and inflammatory criticisms have been reserved for George Bush the person.  To understand why Bush's moral certainty and his unyielding commitment earn him a special place in the inner circle of post-modern hell, we must delve into the foundations of this school of thought and how they are manifested in the real world. As I will argue, when protestors carry signs to the effect that "America is the terrorist" or "Bush = Hitler", they are not simply being stupid.  They are reflecting - in a crass and foggy way - a fundamental conclusion of the Post-Modern philosophical tradition.

In the final analysis, the root cause of this clash of ideals, and the reason that Europeans find a choice between America and Islamofascism a bit of a toss-up, is that America and France (and Germany) are not philosophical allies.  Indeed, the French are defending a specific European ideal from American depredation.  They are shuttling this ideal through the dark night of Islamic terrorism in much the same way that they did during the Soviet phase of the Cold War.  In that phase, they sensed that the Soviets, for all of their crude, blustering stupidities, were still the best counter-weight to American ideals.  Thus, they cooperated fitfully in denying the Soviets military hegemony over Western Europe but at no point did they defend American ideals as more broadly stated.  Similarly, they may fear the Islamic Fascists and Baathists in the abstract but they have a greater fear of Anglo-American ideals in their concrete, McWorld reality.  America is the bigger threat.

America's View of Anti-Americanism

Before discussing foundations, it is useful to examine how America has explained virulent anti-Americanism to itself.  The most popular explanation has been that the opposition to America is rooted in France's desire to reclaim its position of political preeminence.  In this view, Germany, led by the weak and ineffective Schroder, has tagged along to bask in pan-Europeanism and Chirac's popularity.  It is argued that, by building a European superstate with France in the lead, Chirac hopes to roll back American hegemony and reestablish French prestige and power.  Such a renascent France would create the international political structures necessary to lead the world as a diplomatic superpower and thus render impotent America's advantage in military power.

The problems with this explanation are manifold: it does not explain the mass expression of political opposition to American policies in the "European street", it does not account for similar behavior within the intellectual and cultural "elite" in America, and it assumes that Chirac is too shortsighted to see that America will surely shrug off such international constraints in time.

In a similar vein, political writer Steven Den Beste has suggested that France has opposed an invasion of Iraq because it fears embarrassing revelations about French complicity in arming and supporting Iraq in the face of UN mandates to the contrary.  While Den Beste and others making this point may be correct in the details, they miss the larger point: why would the French have thought it in their interest to betray its supposed American allies?  While simple realpolitik is a reasonable answer, this still doesn't account for the intensity of the opposition and its breadth within the European masses. To put forth this explanation, one has to assume that the French and German electorate that fill the streets baying for American withdrawal are merely sheep, willing to take to the streets to help their leaders avoid "embarrassment."  Thus, this argument as well fails to acknowledge or account for the underlying root of anti-Americanism.

In contrast to the popular explanations, I argue that Chirac has not led the charge for French renascence of late but that he has merely ridden popular opinion.  In less than a year, Chirac has risen from his ignominious reputation as the "supermenteur" (super liar) of France to be one of the most popular politicians in all of Europe largely on the strength of his anti-American stance.  That is, while the popular American press searches for clues to Chirac's hidden motivations, they miss the simple fact that he has enjoyed an unprecedented political gains at home by acting in this fashion. 

The Western Tradition, Rousseau, and Post-Modernism

The Western Tradition and Democratic Capitalism

"Two centuries ago, when liberal republicanism was overthrowing the "Old Regime" in Europe and America, these questions concerning moral and civic foundations received a rich response.  The response was elaborated in grounding treatises of poetical philosophy written by thinkers who characterized themselves as the bringers of the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason.  These philosophers of modernity, from Spinoza and Locke to Kant and even Hegel, spoke not simply of human rights but emphatically of "natural rights," issuing in moral "laws of nature and of nature's God," and accompanied by such foundational concepts as the "state of nature," the "social compact," and the "categorical imperative." (Pangle, 1992).

I will assume that the reader is familiar with at least the outlines of the Anglo-American political tradition.  There are two observations to make that are germane to the present case: the Enlightenment thinkers assumed the existence of "laws of nature and of nature's God" and they operated very consciously within the bounds of a sober and realistic appraisal of human nature. That is, these men saw themselves as discoverers, not prophets.  As Isaiah Berlin said of Montesquieu:

"Montesquieu advocated constitutionalism, the preservation of civil liberties, the abolition of slavery, gradualism, moderation, peace, internationalism, social and economic justice with due respect to national and local tradition. He believed in justice and the rule of law; detested all forms of extremism and fanaticism; put his faith in the balance of power and the division of authority as a weapon against despotic rule by individuals or groups or majorities; and approved of social equality, but not the point which it threatened individual liberty; and out of liberty, but not to the point where it threatened to disrupt orderly government."  (Berlin, Against the Current, 2001).

Implicit in the early formulations of liberal democracy was a model of man that Rousseau would come to call the bourgeois: the rational and industrious man (as Locke described him).  Bourgeois freedom is simply the state in which men, released from the chains of servitude, could pursue their own commercial and personal interests.  During the Scottish Enlightenment, this perspective came into its full flowering with Adam Smith's publication of the "Wealth of Nations."  For Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment, liberal democracy is built on an unconditional model of man as rational, universalist, and commercial.  Such an individual not only recognizes his own interests but, in his interactions with fellow citizens, recognizes their rational, universal rights as well.

Democratic Capitalism and the Judeo-Christian Tradition

The bourgeois model of economic, rational man is surely incomplete because, as Rousseau points out in works described below, it ignores or downplays the passions and even the irrationalities that lie at the core of our humanity.  More to Rousseau's point, society hardly needs to feed man's love for himself and his desire to be first among men.  A good and just society is one in which man's natural selfishness will either be redirected towards more noble ends by some implicit or explicit power. 

However, the actual model of social man developed by Locke and the writers of the Scottish enlightenment was broader than Rousseau acknowledged.  In particular, Christianity - and especially Calvinism - was inextricably linked to the rise of commercial culture in Northern Europe.  For Scottish thinkers such as Hutcheson and Lord Kames, faith provided the fundamental framework of trust necessary for the success of the Democratic Capitalist venture:

"All of them [the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers] embraced Hutcheson's main point, that the message of Christianity was above all a moral message....Unlike their French counterparts, the great minds of the Scottish Enlightenment never saw Christianity as their mortal enemy - not even Hume, the self-proclaimed skeptic.  For the clerical disciples of Hutcheson, Church and Enlightenment were natural allies, in much the same way as science and the humanities were not pitted against each other, but were two halves of the same intellectual enterprise." [Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, 69]

This being the case, the first chink in the armor of the liberal democratic tradition is the observation that any model that depends on the willingly assumed burden of faith is not unconditional.  That is, not all people will willingly take on this burden and so the model of man-in-society is not unconditional but rather depends on this assumption.  Of course, as experience has shown, there are practical reasons for pressing ahead with the Liberal Democratic tradition anyway since there are a variety of other mechanisms available in the modern state to ensure the integrity of the society.

Rousseau: Cleaving the Western Tradition

Rousseau stands astride all of our philosophical traditions because it is he alone that cleaved the Western tradition into Anglo-American and Continental (European) lines of thought. Rousseau was, to the core, an Enlightenment thinker himself.  But while his work reflected modern Enlightenment sensibilities and methods, it was essentially anti-modern in its primary line of inquiry:

"Rousseau's earliest formulations of this critique of modernity was in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, which exploded on the European scene with a force hardly credible to us today.  In it he made the first attack on the Enlightenment based on the very principles that motivation Enlightenment.  Simply put, he argued that the progress and dissemination of the sciences and arts, their emancipation from political and religious control, are noxious to decent community and its foundation, virtue" (from Bloom, 1990).

Rousseau was a complex philosopher and one cannot do him justice by distilling his thought into a single line of explanation.  He is variously the founder of Romanticism, of redistributionist Socialism, of philosophical Agrarianism, and of conservative Communitarianism.  No "ism" can do his thought justice despite his talent for spawning all of them.  It is possible to trace the roots of post-modernism, Communism, Socialism, Nazism, Transcendentalism and both Thoreau and avant-garde art to Rousseau.  And it is possible to do all of things because it was Rousseau who cleaved man's nature from the greatest engine of human material advancement in the history of mankind: science and the technology that it spawned.  The philosophers that followed Rousseau picked and chose among his arguments and, to a greater or lesser degree, from among the fruits of Enlightenment thought.  Marx, for example, accepted Rousseau's critique of Locke's economic man while remaining solidly Enlightenment in his appreciation for the role of science and technology.  Indeed, modern Radical Marxists - with their race and gender class theories and their rejection of "white male rationalism" - are closer in spirit to Rousseau than Marx himself.

At the core, Rousseau's critique involved the prediction that a "rational and industrious man" would inevitably descend into a self-absorbed brute willing to place his material condition and interests above those of his community in the struggle for power.  In this atomization and alienation from community and kin, Rousseau saw the dark seeds of a rejuvenated, mechanized and dehumanizing return to slavery for the great mass of men.  This time, rather than subjugation to royalty, the common man would be outstripped in time by those who were better or more ruthless in the aggregation of material goods.  With no constraints of patriotism, no ties to community and no incentive to participate in a whole greater than oneself, society would simply descend into the ruthless "struggle for primacy among individuals or groups who unite to manipulate the whole." [Bloom, 1990].  When you hear "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," it is Rousseau speaking to you through the ages.  In particular, Rousseau believed that if men under the influence of Enlightenment ideals succeed in seizing the reins of power, the ideals of freedom and self-determination would soon be crushed by crass materials interests.  Thus was born the ideals of radical egalitarianism.

In contrast to the Enlightenment view of a peaceful, commercial society where men cooperate in order to advance their common interests, Rousseau proposed a civil society built around the concept of a common will.  That is, in moments of sober self-assessment people can recognize which of their desires, appetites and behaviors are in the common good.  To create a society of common will - of freedom for all people - the people need only recognize and hew to the dictates of the general will rather than descending into the selfishness of their individual wills.  The struggle would then rise above a crass battle of all against all or rich against poor and would instead be elevated into a personal, moral experience of "self-overcoming."  With struggle taken out of the public sphere, people would be freed from the base "animal" desires and released into true human freedom.  This, wrote Rousseau, is the essence of "civilization."

As later elaborated by Marx, this reformed concept of freedom was to become a central point of dispute between Classical Liberal ("modern") and "Post Modern" philosophies:

"This kind of [capitalist] individual liberty the same time the most complete suppression of all individual liberty and total subjugation of individuality to social conditions which take the form of material forces - and even of all-powerful objects that are independent of the individuals creating them." [Marx, Grundrisse, pp. 131]


"Freedom... can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature." [Marx, Selected Writings, pp 496 - both quotes take from Machan, Capitalism and Individualism].

Like Rousseau, Marx and his later adherents believed that Capitalism would inevitably result in slavery for most and freedom only for the propertied.  To counteract this tendency, all philosophers traceable to Rousseau seek some degree of formal control over individual freedom in order to ensure that all people enjoy the material conditions necessary for "true" freedom.

Despite Rousseau's critique, America in the 18th century chose an almost pure Constitutional Republican form of government and guaranteed the sanctity of property rights.  In this, they mostly ignored Rousseau and placed their faith in Locke, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith.  Ironically, Thomas Jefferson was the most prominent supporter of the French Revolution in America and Rousseau's influence on Jefferson was reflected in his choice of language for the American Declaration of Independence. 

Rousseau's influence in Europe, as it emerged from Monarchy, was far greater. We have been living with the consequences ever since.

Rousseau and Christianity

By and large, Rousseau dismissed the role of Christianity as a moderating force in a commercial society despite its importance in forming the very foundations of Northern European commercial culture. In reading Rousseau, this is not surprising as it is clear that he had only a passing acquaintance with the Christian political tradition in general and Calvinism in particular:

"Christianity as a religion is entirely spiritual, occupied solely with heavenly things; the country of the Christian is not of this world. He does his duty, indeed, but does it with profound indifference to the good or ill success of his cares. Provided he has nothing to reproach himself with, it matters little to him whether things go well or ill here on earth. If the state is prosperous, he hardly dares to share in the public happiness, for fear he may grow proud of his country's glory; if the state is languishing, he blesses the hand of God that is hard upon His people." [Rousseau, The Social Contract, 437]

As noted above, Rousseau's opponents, such as Locke and, especially, the Scottish philosophers did not make this mistake.  In Rousseau's defense, at the time of his major works all of Europe lay exhausted by centuries of genocidal religious warfare. Seen from this perspective, his rejection of Christianity as a moderating force is not unreasonable.  Nevertheless, his call for transcendent values to harness the energies of men toward the "common will" - coupled with his rejection of Christianity as the engine of these values - became a central tenet of all of the ideologies descending from Rousseau. More to the present point, this philosophical stance of Rousseau's is perfectly reflected in the political sensibilities of the “post-Christian” European electorate. 

In reflection, Rousseau's rejection of Christianity was of enormous consequence for the Enlightenment project.  While it was reasonable for an 18th century philosopher to doubt that Christianity would be a moderating influence, it has, in retrospect, proven to be far more moderate in the years since Rousseau published his critique of Democratic Capitalism than it was in the centuries preceding his work.  In essence, Christianity looked upon the enormous bloodshed it had caused and, in exhaustion, was reformed so that it would submit itself to the control of a secular state.  The same cannot be said for the "common will" that Rousseau developed.  Far from being a moderating influence and a force for preventing the excesses of Capitalism, it became the most savage, bloody instrument of oppression in the history of mankind.

Rousseau's Hydra

In what may fairly be called the first "ideological" military conflict of history - the first based not in religious ideals but on philosophical ones - the French "citizen army" faced the professional Prussian forces at Valmy in 1792.  In a victory more psychological than military, the French army, roaring "Vive la nation! Vive la France" prevented an arguably superior Prussian force from marching on Paris to restore the monarchy.  As the Prussian army had marched into France, a mob in Paris had stormed the palace of the Tuileries and had taken prisoner the royal family and a large host of political prisoners.  While fearing the Prussians, the French were also intoxicated by the sense that they were to realize a new, radically egalitarian state.  This toxic brew erupted in the September Massacres in which over 1,000 prisoners were brutally hacked to death. As Fabre d'Eglantine declared:

"In the towns, let the blood of traitors be the first holocaust to Liberty, so that in advancing to meet the common enemy, we leave nothing behind to disquiet us."

As we'll see, only a true disciple of Rousseau could exult in a "holocaust to Liberty."  After the battle at Valmy was won, the French royal family itself was slain and, in time, The Terror was visited upon all of France.  One irony of the French Revolution is that the French state, which had become steadily more centralized in Paris in the century before the revolution became even more so in the years afterward. In contrast to Rousseau's philosophical ideal of small, intimate villages and a peaceful society built on the consent to a common will, France became centralized, militaristic and expansionistic.  The contrast with America could not have been greater.  America, living the very ideals that Rousseau had attacked, became a largely peaceful, agrarian society after its revolution albeit one with a strong focus on science and technology. 

As indicated above, Rousseau's thought was complex and multi-faceted.  Wherever his ideals have taken root, the adopting culture found in them a mirror of some aspect of its own cultural identity.  Pursuing this idealization of their identity and emboldened by the logic of the Common Will, many have descended into oppression and genocide.  In France, Rousseau's radical egalitarianism led to the bloodbath of "The Terror".  In Germany, via Nietzsche and later defended by Heidegger, Nazism rose on the foundation of romanticism and the will to power.  In Russia, via Marx and Lenin, Communism was born in egalitarianism and collectivism and rapidly descended into starvation and repression of a mammoth scale.  In China and Cambodia, again via Marx, agrarianism created the conditions for what was arguably the greatest mass murder in human history in the Great Leap forward in China and the Khmer Rouge's extermination of over 20% of Cambodia's population.  The conclusion is inescapable that Rousseau's multi-headed hydra is genocidal in its practice regardless of its justification in philosophy.  Nonetheless, Rousseau's philosophical descendents enjoy considerable support in both American and European academia and among the European media and political elite.  Genocide is no deterrent to this support: proponents such as Noam Chomsky continued to defend the Khmer Rouge despite unmistakable evidence that they had plunged Cambodia into mass murder.

The Current State of Post-Modernism

We can trace Rousseau's impact on prominent philosophers and economists to at least four modern bodies of inquiry.  In order to understand the Post-Modern Left as it exists today in both its strengths and its weaknesses, we will need to understand each of these areas of inquiry in some detail.  If you are primarily interested in conclusions, it would be quite reasonable to skip forward to the summary at the end of this section.

Political Philosophy: Among its foremost philosophical proponents - those who elaborate the details of the theory rather than march in the street - Post-Modernism has become almost a caricature of itself.  There remains no thread of moral force behind the Post-Modernist argument as proponents such as Lyotard, Vattimo and Rorty descend into barely lucid hedges about the importance of "weak thinking" and the morality of making no commitments:

"from the fact that there is no promise of 'outcome,' nor promise of decision, beyond the attempt to take to its extreme..the possibilities implied in the weakness, the tragic aspect of weak thinking can be attenuated.  The tragic, for one who is habituated to it, can thus lose its lacerating qualities." [Dal Lago, Thought as Oscillation, Critique, 1985, pp 89]

The irony here is staggering.  Rousseau criticized Democratic Capitalism for its lack of passion in the defense of the common good and its inability to reflect the greater aspirations of the soul.  His descendants now argue that the only moral stance is one of "weak thinking" and vacillation in the face of the complexities of life. These descendents are at least honest: they have been forced into this "weak-thinking" position because they have recognized and grappled with the atrocities spawned by their anti-democratic ideals. 

Despite this descent into the defense of essentially nothing, the Post-Modernist objection to the rationalist roots of Democratic Capitalism remains at the core of their ideology.  As Pangle observes:

" may seriously ask whether the warnings of the "weak thinkers" are not more properly directed against modern anti-rationalism than against the older forms of rationalism.  Was it traditional rationalism and traditional metaphysics (I include everything from Plato to natural law, to Montesquieuian constitutionalism) that lent the crucial veneer of "depth" and respectability to the Nazis?  Was it not precisely the leaders of the attack on Plato, natural law, and traditional metaphysics...who inspired and enflamed the student youth and the academic establishment in their devilishness [in Germany]?"  [Pangle, The Ennobling of Democracy, pp 54]

That is, despite nearly two and a half centuries of bloodshed in the pursuit of Rousseauean ideals, the Post-Modernist descendants of Rousseau remain committed to undermining Democratic Capitalism and casting misty eyes upon atrocities committed in their name.  Even Nazism was not vile enough for rejection by the modern father of Post-Modernism, Heidegger:

"I see the position of humanity in the world of global technology not as an inextricable and inescapable fate; rather I see the task of thinking precisely...helps humanity in general finally to achieve an adequate relationship to the essence of technology.  National Socialism (Nazism) certainly moved in that direction; but those people were far too limited in their thinking to achieve a really explicit relationship to what is going on today..." [Heidegger, Der Spiegel Interview, 1976].

As if to illustrate the bankruptcy of the Post-Modern project, the American philosopher Rorty has acknowledged that he is left with a simple, Nietzschean "will to power" as the only source of energy for Post-Modern ideas. His own theories have been backed into a corner, he acknowledges, that is indistinguishable from what Heidegger "took to be the most degraded version of the nihilism in which metaphysics culminates."  [Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, pp 116].  In short, Post-Modern philosophy is left with nothing to say but that all values are relative, nothing can be known, and communication is pointless.  Nonetheless, these seem like weighty and impressive conclusions because of the density and complexity of post-modern prose and the movement’s historical pedigree.  They are also a perfect fit for the larger task of crafting a reactionary opposition to modern Democratic Capitalism.

Epistemology: Another important development in recent Post-Modernism was Paul Feyerabend's evolution from an important voice in the Philosophy of Science to his publication of "Against Method" in which he developed the idea of 'epistemological anarchism.'   While not a Post-Modern per se, Feyerabend gave voice to post-modern claims that science is simply a "white, male" enterprise having no privileged status or claim to truth. 

In the late 1950's, despite several twists and turns in his thinking in earlier years, Feyerabend argued cogently "against positivism and in favor of a scientific realist account of the relation between theory and experience, largely on grounds familiar from Karl Popper's falsificationist views." [Preston, John, "Paul Feyerabend", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =].  In addition, Feyerabend observed that science was often advanced through quite mundane interactions with the real world such as chance discovery, the pursuit of a personal intuition, or anger at being ridiculed by colleagues.  That is, pure theories like those found in the Philosophy of Science were not sufficient to describe the rich operation of this very human enterprise.  In this, he was surely correct.  However, in subsequent years, Feyerabend abandoned essentially all analysis of scientific reason and promoted the idea - to an adoring reception from the Post-Modern left - that all truth was relative and we can know nothing, for sure, about the world.  The title of his book "Farewell to Reason," published in 1987, captures the spirit of nearly all of Feyerabend's later thought.

The problem with Feyerabend's argumentation to the effect that there can be no progress in science and no knowledge of the world - and thus that all viewpoints are relative and equal - is that it simply flies in the face of our experience.  Feyerabend has been, for obvious reasons, unable to convince the great mass of humanity that his theory is a more accurate guide to their experience than the evidence of their own senses.  Despite his assertion that we cannot describe the real world accurately, we do it all the time and with enough accuracy that bridges remain standing, new medicines cure the sick, and new military weapons effectively destroy their targets.  Of course, Feyerabend has responses to these critiques but the very nature and complexity of the responses places one in mind of the absent-minded philosopher still babbling incoherently long after the party has moved on to discuss other issues in other rooms. 

At this point, the Post-Modernists are essentially the only people to continue paying attention to Feyerabend.  Given how easily his thought can be molded into support for a power play against the established Democratic Capitalist order by ethnic, gender and political groups, he remains an important figure in establishing the philosophical credentials for these groups. 

Literary Criticism / Deconstructionism: An even more fashionable tool for academic anti-modernism arose in the person of Jacques Derrida and the theory/practice associated with him: Deconstructionism.  Derrida points out that the very foundation of rationalism is built on a metaphysical commitment to a distinction between appearance and reality ('logocentrism' or, sometimes, 'phallogocentrism').  The obsession with 'reality': a 'true world' hidden from our eyes by the senses, by sin or by the structure of human understanding causes the Western tradition to make "what deconstructionists often call 'the traditional binary oppositions': true--false, original--derivative, unified--diverse, objective--subjective, and so on. " [Rorty, The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism -- vol.8 From Formalism to Poststructuralism. Cambridge University Press, 1995. URL=]

This statement is somewhat uncontroversial but Derrida's conclusion astonishes and horrifies:

"Derrida is trying for the position for which Heidegger had implicitly nominated himself, that of the first post-metaphysical thinker, the prophet of an age in which the reality--appearance distinction has entirely lost its hegemony over our thought."

"he turned from Heidegger's sentimental question ... to the quasi-political questions 'How can we subvert the intentions of texts which invoke metaphysical oppositions? How can we expose them as metaphysical?' He turned from Heidegger's preoccupation with the philosophical canon to the development of a technique which could be applied to almost any text, past or contemporary, literary, or philosophical. This was the technique which has come to be called 'deconstruction.' "

"Derrida says of the logocentric philosophers...: '[correspondence between word and reality] is the essence, or better, the telos [objective or ends] of language. No philosophy has ever renounced this Aristotelian ideal. This ideal is philosophy.' (Margins, p. 247) To succeed in twisting free of the logocentric tradition would be to write, and to read, in such a way as to renounce this ideal. To destroy the tradition would be to see all the texts of that tradition as self-delusive, because [it is] using language to do what language cannot do. Language itself, so to speak, can be relied upon to betray any attempt to transcend it (see Derrida, Writing, pp. 278-81). " [ibid]

In short - we cannot truly transcend language with language so we will write nonsense to point out that language itself is nonsense - to "twist free" of tradition.  Why does Derrida wish to "twist free"? So he can prove himself the "prophet of an age" in which the distinction between reality and appearance is lost?  One need only reflect on what has happened in past times when such a distinction is lost or purposely obscured (see more below). Invariably "truth" becomes a matter for political manipulation and control.  Of course, the Post-Modernists argue that this has already happened and we all suffer under the oppression of the Democratic Capitalist system. But this misses the point that the very act of Democratizing the instruments of truth-telling by the classical liberal philosophers led to an explosion of participation by the people in the creation of a world - the present world - that is more to their comfort, longevity and health.  In other words, even if they are right in their attempt to make nonsense of language (and the critiques of Derrida on this point have been blisteringly effective) the Post-Modern Deconstructionists offer nothing to the great mass of humanity except the prospect of kissing Derrida's feet as "the prophet" of a new age.  The nihilism and moral vacuity are manifest.

Economic Theory: Finally, the Marxist wing was rejuvenated by and continues to derive energy from Immanuel Wallerstein's epic The Modern World-System (Wallerstein, 1974).  In this work, Wallerstein significantly extended Paul Baran's idea that, while it is true that Capitalism eventually co-opted the workers within Capitalist societies, it did so only by shifting immiseration to the third world.  That is, modern Capitalism succeeds only to the degree that it sucks wealth out of third-world societies.  This is often called the Baran-Wallerstein revision It lies at the heart of the "Neo-Marxist" school, sometimes called simply "Radical Political Economy."   As with all of the lines of idealist thought descending from Rousseau, however, this thesis is less a rational investigation of global economics and more an attempt to preserve the ideological purity of Marxism.  In this, the Post-Modern Marxists have descended into mere anti-Capitalist propaganda whose primary goal is to radicalize the young and the willing.  The shame of this is that there are important critiques to be made of modern supra-national organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  But, as long as the left affiliates with the Post-Moderns and their obviously deceptive propaganda, any attempt that they mount to reform these organizations is easily discredited.

Summary: I have discussed Post-Modern political theory, epistemology, criticism and economic theory in four distinct treatments.  However, all of the thinkers in these lines of inquiry share the common objective of undermining the dominant Democratic Capitalist order.  This objective binds the players together in a web of both overlapping theory and political action.  The economic theorists provide energy and urgency to the philosophical attempt to construct an alternative theory of political life.  The epistemological attack on rationality opens the door to the dismissal of defenses of the Democratic tradition by conservative economists, literary critics, and political philosophers.  That is, if facts are presented to contradict the Post-Modern effort, they are easily dismissed as a manifestation of the "dominant, white, male patriarchy" and they are safely ignored in the attempt to build a "feminist economics" (or epistemology, etc.).  If a non-white or female makes the observation, they have simply been "co-opted by the dominant world model."  On the other side, an attempt to dispute the validity of "queer theory" or "ethnic studies" provides an inflammatory rationale for shouting down the critic as an obvious participant in the economic and philosophical oppression of third world peoples.

Thus, the Post-Modern project enjoys both the energy of moral outrage and a philosophical cover for its errors that prevents anyone from undercutting the outrage.  Attempts to point out its philosophical shortcomings are nearly useless because the expressions of this philosophy are maddeningly jargonesque and impenetrable.  In this, Post Modern Leftism is enormously attractive to any party having a gripe against the modern world.  Every failed state, every ethnic hustler, every ideological movement, every intellectual poseur, and every tyrannical thug has a stake in feeding and propagating this modern variant of Rousseau's Hydra.  Its energetic rise in modern Europe will prove to be one of the great ideological challenges of the 21st century.

Post-Modernism as Propaganda

Democratic Capitalism is unique in having both serious flaws and powerful mechanisms for addressing these flaws and co-opting the legitimate grievances of its critics.  The very nature of its adaptability has made it maddeningly difficult to undermine.  In response, the Post-Modern efforts have sharply increased the shrillness and urgency of their critique.  Indeed, the most recent "street" incarnation of Post-Modernism is simple katalepsis: the irrational, inflammatory lie against the forces of Democratic Capitalism.  A hatred for the modern and the successful as well as a sneering, derisive but ultimately impotent protest against the rise of the commercial age marks the current public debate. In this, we note that some things never change.  Again, Rousseau:

"If the sciences really better'd manners, if they taught man to spill his blood for his country, if they heighten'd his courage; the inhabitants of China ought to be wise, free, and invincible. - But if they are tainted with every vice, familiar with every crime; if neither the skill of their magistrates, nor the pretended wisdom of their laws, nor the vast multitude of people inhabiting that great extent of empire, could protect or defend them from the yoke of an ignorant Barbarian Tartar, of what use was all their art, all their skill, all their learning?" (from Discourse on Arts and Sciences, 1749)

This is, quite simply, an obfuscation of the meanest order.  Rousseau is arguing that the sciences are of no functional utility when he must have recognized that this was untrue.  Even as early as 1749, the military prowess of technologically advancing states was manifest.  Fast-forward to the present and we have Noam Chomsky:

"In other words, Western civilization was basing its plans on the assumption that they might lead to the death of several million innocent civilians -- not Taliban, whatever one thinks of the legitimacy of slaughtering Taliban recruits and supporters, but their victims." [Chomsky, The War in Afghanistan, Excerpted from Lakdawala lecture, New Delhi, December 2001]

Chomsky isn't wrong when he cites great suffering in Afghanistan and gross errors in the implementation of the Afghani post-war assistance.  He is, rather, discredited by his attempt to radically inflate the projected suffering and then blame Democratic Capitalism for Afghani suffering despite the obvious legacy of Islamic Fascism (which, of course, he also blames on the West).  His attempt to seize the high ground by imputing evil motives to democratic leaders, his willingness to create the compelling lie and the one-sided story, and his pose as a detached academic, all reflect the nihilism and rot at the core of Post-Modernism.  Nevertheless, as a propagandist, he is remarkably popular. 

Chomsky, like nearly all of Rousseau's intellectual descendents and Rousseau himself, is enamored of propaganda.  Should their ideological assumptions fail to rationally describe the real world it is easily enough dismissed as a limitation of rationality itself (pace Feyerabend).  A nihilistic focus on the Will to Power - on power itself - marks all living descendents of Rousseau's experiment even as some among them, like Rorty, struggle with the legacy of violence found in their tradition.  Among the initiated; the assorted leftists, anarchists, "queer theorists" and feminists, the pressure for ideological conformity is enormous.  Indeed, the pressure to remain on the "right side" of the anti-Capitalist debate is so strong that groups such as "Queers for Palestine" openly support Islamic thugs under whose rule their own members would surely be brutally harassed or even murdered.

There is little surprise here.  In all previous incarnations of anti-Capitalist power, ideological conformity was the centerpiece of political control.  In the former Soviet Union and its satellites, the crushing of dissent was so total as to inspire Czeslaw Milosz to write:

"OFFICIALLY, contradictions do not exist in the minds of the citizens in the people's democracies [the former Soviet empire].  Nobody dares to reveal them publicly.  And yet, the question of how to deal with them is posed in real life.  More than others, the members of the intellectual elite are aware of this problem. They solve it by becoming actors. ...A constant and universal masquerade creates an aura that is hard to bear, yet it grants the performers certain not inconsiderable satisfactions.  To say something is white when one thinks it is black, to smile inwardly when one is outwardly solemn, to hate when one manifests love...- these actions lead one to prize one's own cunning above all else...Acting on a comparable scale has not occurred often in the history of the human race." [Milosz, The Captive Mind, pp 54-57].

The Modern and Post-Modern West Today

Clearly, Europe does not march in monolithic lockstep with the Post-Modernist left.  However, the sheer scope of the European protests, the philosophical sentiments (crudely) presented by the protestors, organizers and press, and the massive public support for Chirac’s anti-Americanism make it clear that the Post-Modern Left exerts a very strong influence over European thought.  In America, while the Post-Modern Left has a sizable presence among the American intelligentsia, the country as a whole is a reasonably good, albeit evolved, example of Classical Liberalism.  Given these observations, it is clear that America's present conflict with Europe is not simply a function of disagreement over military intervention: they reflect fundamental differences in the dominant philosophical systems operating in each domain.  Furthermore, these two traditions - and thus America and Europe - cannot be reconciled: their disagreements reach down to their very foundations.  This "Cold War" of ideologies provides the energy that will continue to keep anti-Americanism bubbling in Europe for the foreseeable future.

In this new Cold War, America should not expect a fair debate or honest, balanced treatment in the European press or by "old Europe's" leaders and opinion makers.  As long as it walks the admittedly expansionistic path of remaking the Islamic World, it will continue to face inflammatory criticism and boiling resentment. As long as its economy outstrips those in Germany and France, it will be seen as exploitative and predatory.  The breadth of "progressive" Rousseauean idealism in the European polity and a long history of demonizing both Capitalism and Christianity make it "obvious" to many Europeans that America is acting shamefully in its effort against Iraq.  As the World War II generation, with its memories of American sacrifice for Europe, dies out, restraints upon this tendency to criticize America will continue to fall away.  By the same token, the shallowness of the hard left case and the intimate commercial relations between America and Europe will work to suppress the most virulent opposition to America.  Nevertheless, it is utterly predictable that the Iraqi war will inspire the hard left broadsheets and opinion makers - in Europe and America - to willfully exaggerate the suffering of Muslim civilians, to lie about death totals, and to print spit-spewing rants about American genocide.  It is simply the nature of political discourse in the ongoing Cold War that this should be so. 

The greater concern over the long term is the possibility of a return to ideological extremism among European governments.  It is chilling to hear Chirac warn prospective members of the European Union that they had "missed an opportunity to shut up" and even more disturbing to see the rise of an unelected governing body on the European Continent.  The small and large manifestations of ideological elitism, when understood in the philosophical context in which they are evolving, are disturbing portents for the future of Europe.