Thursday, 30 June 2016

Khmer Rouge: The Marxists Who Sacrificed Millions To Establish An Agrarian Utopia

L to R: Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary
The Khmer Rouge (1975—1979), led by Marxist Pol Pot, killed two million people in Cambodia—one-fourth of the total population. Aiming to establish a classless agrarian utopia where there was complete rejection of capitalism, the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the cities, all the industries, hospitals and schools, and every speck of modernity in Cambodia.

All this in just four years! The entire upper class of Cambodian society was wiped out.

When Pol Pot acquired power in 1975, after the bloody civil war, he declared that Cambodia would make a fresh start at “Year Zero.” He ordered that the entire country would be isolated from rest of the world, especially from Western influence. He abolished money and private property, then used his revolutionary militia to force the evacuation of the cities.  They forced everyone to move into the countryside and do back-breaking work in collective farms.

In 1975, Ayn Rand spoke about the barbarism of the Khmer Rouge in her article, "The Lessons of Vietnam" (The Voice of Reason). Here’s an excerpt:
“Since the Khmer Rouge are peasants who feel hatred for cities, the inhabitants of Phnom Penh—its entire population without exceptions—were ordered to march out of the city and go on marching until they reached uninhabited countryside, where they were to start farming on their own, without knowledge, tools, or seed. This order applied to everyone: young and old, rich and poor, men, women, and children, the well and the ill, even the crippled and, according to a news report, even the hospital patients who had just had their legs amputated. Everyone was ordered to walk. They walked.”
Pol Pot and his Marxist comrades believed that modern education is evil because it leads to inequality in the society. They ordered anyone who seemed like an intellectual to be killed. There were many instances of people being condemned because they were wearing glasses, or they knew a foreign language. Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-class were tortured and executed in the collective farms and the special prisons.
Skulls of Victims on Display in S-21 Museum
A popular Khmer Rouge slogan of that time read: “What is rotten must be removed.” They exterminated anyone who did not fit their social ideal either by execution or simply by starvation and working people to death in the fields. The areas where people were killed and buried became known as the "killing fields." In order to save bullets, those being killed were often hit over the head with clubs, before being hurled into the mass-graves.

People Being Forced out of Phnom Penh
The Security Prison-21 (S-21) that the Khmer Rouge operated was so deadly that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived. Whenever a new prisoner was brought to S-21 he was made aware of 10 rules:
    1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.
    2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
    3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
    4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
    5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
    6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
    7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
    8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
    9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.
    10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge. 
There were 150 detention centers like S-21 in Cambodia.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Book Review — Trump: The Art of The Deal

Trump: The Art of The Deal 
By Donald J. Trump with Tony Schwartz
Ballantine Books

You read The Art of The Deal almost surprised at how little effort Trump puts into any deal that he strikes. In the book, he does some blunt talk; he calls his detractors “phonies and hypocrites” and even “life’s losers,” but he doesn’t elucidate his strategy for making successful deals. The book doesn't live up to its billing.

But he did make those magnificent buildings, so he must have a strategy—he must have the vision for real-estate development. He doesn't talk about all that in the book.

You get the feeling that many of Trump’s projects are successful because he has a knack for managing the politicians, the media, the celebrities and the tycoons. He doesn't squander his resources or time on developing a great business plan. His name recognition, his image as a successful tycoon, his exposure on the media, and his contacts with the politicians and celebrities, beckon more seductively to those with whom he is negotiating.

He usually doesn't award much importance to the intellectuals or artists. He prefers to evaluate people on the basis of their material accomplishments. About academics, he says: “My father could run circles around most academics.” He suggests that instead of relying on experts or intellectuals one should listen to one’s gut feeling. “Listen to your gut,” he says, “no matter how good something sounds on paper.”

About a painter, who, according to Trump, is highly successful and well-known, he writes: “I get a great kick out of this guy because, unlike some artists I’ve met, he’s totally unpretentious.” Apparently, in Trump’s world, being unpretentious means that the person has the ability to effortlessly and pointlessly make huge sums of money. Here’s an excerpt:

“A few months back he invited me to come to his studio. We were standing around talking, when all of a sudden he said to me, “Do you want to see me earn twenty-five thousand dollars before lunch?” “Sure,” I said, having no idea what he meant. He picked up a large open bucket of paint and splashed some on a piece of canvass stretched on the floor. Then he picked up another bucket, containing a different color, and splashed some of that on the canvas. He did this four times, and it took him perhaps two minutes. When he was done, he turned to me and said, 'Well, that’s it. I’ve earned twenty-five thousand dollars. Lets’s go to lunch.'”

The idea that a leading painter will splash buckets of paint on a stretched canvas to create his work of art is implausible, but Trump presents it as a fact, and goes on to deliver his bromide on modern art: “a lot of modern art is a con, and…the most successful painters are often better salesmen and promoters than they are artists.” If he thinks that lot of modern art is con, then what kind of art, according to him, isn’t con?

Trump doesn't seem inclined towards art, but he gives ample evidence of his flashy taste in decor. When he saw the home of Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian billionaire, he was awed by the huge size of the rooms. He decided that he would make his then-under-construction penthouse apartment as flashy as Khashoggi’s home. He got two adjacent apartments in Trump Tower merged, so that he could have an eighty-foot long living room. He also got the living room embellished with 27 hand-carved Italian marble columns.

He has a simple way of looking at the world, those who back his deals are the life’s winners, and those who oppose him are the “life’s losers.”

“Even if I never went on the offensive, there are a lot of people gunning for me now. One of the problems when you become successful is that jealousy and envy inevitably follow. There are people—I categorize them as life’s losers—who get their sense of accomplishment and achievement from trying to stop others. As far as I’m concerned, if they had any real ability they wouldn’t be fighting me, they’d be doing something constructive themselves.”

Trump repeatedly refers to the media coverage, good or bad, that he has received. He understands the power of the media—he knows that generating controversy isn’t always a bad thing. He writes: “good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”

When he announced his plan to build the world’s tallest building, it became a media event. The building never got built, but Trump was satisfied by the media hype that he got.

“Then I announced I was going to build the world’s tallest building on the site. Instantly, it became a media event: the New York Times put it on the front page, Dan Rather announced it in the evening news, and George Will wrote a column about it in Newsweek. Every architecture critic had an opinion, and so did a lot of editorial writers. Not all of them liked the idea of the world’s tallest building. But the point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.”

The last sentence, in the above quote, makes you wonder, if Trump really believes that it’s only the media hype that creates value?

In recent years, the conservative columnist, George Will, has called Trump all kinds of names, and Trump has called Will “stupid,” a “political moron,” and a “disaster.” In one instance, Trump levelled the ultimate epithet on Will, by calling him “boring.” But in the 1980s both of them had lots of nice things to say about each other. George Will’s article on Trump’s world’s tallest tower project, is according to Trump, his favorite. As per the book, in his column, Will wrote:

“Trump, who believes that excesses can be a virtue, is as American as Manhattan’s skyline, which expresses the Republic’s erupting energies. He says the super-skyscraper is necessary because it is unnecessary. He believes architectural exuberance is good for us [and] he may have a point. Brashness, zest and élan are part of this country’s character.”

Trump goes on to suggest that his regret was that “George Will didn't have a seat on the City Planning Commission.” This may seem like a lighthearted comment, but Trump, in all probability, means it. If he had his way, the City Planning Commission would be full of people who will enthusiastically say, “Yes, yes, yes,” to his every real-estate project.

Trump speaks repeatedly about his ability to get the talented people to work for him. But he seems to suggest that he regards only those as “talented” who are in agreement with him. About Helmut Jahn, whom he hired as the architect for the world’s tallest tower project, Trump says: “What I liked most about Helmut was that he believed, as I did, that big can be beautiful. He liked spectacle.” Apparently liking what Trump liked was the necessary condition for Jahn to be hired.

Being a real-estate developer, Trump has frequent encounters with politicians. Not all politicians are helpful, but he knows that those who oppose him are “life’s losers.”

When New York City was planning to build its convention centre, they estimated that it would cost $260 million. Trump announced that he could build the convention centre for $110 million and save the city $150 million. Even though his proposal got some media coverage, the politicians didn't react to it. Then, Trump says, he discovered for the first time “that politicians don’t care too much what things cost. It’s not their money.”

But if the politicians are not caring about what things cost, then what is the way of stopping them from pouring public money down the drain? While Trump identifies some of the regulatory problems that the real estate sector faces, he does not provide any concrete political or social ideas for solving these problems. In the comments that he makes on certain politicians and government institutions, he sounds quite unexceptional and pedestrian.

He ends the book in the typical Trump style, with effusive praise for himself. But he also indicates that he would like to move into politics. “In my life, there are two things I’ve found I’m very good at: overcoming obstacles and motivating good people to do their best work. One of the challenges ahead is how to use those skills as successfully in the service of others as I’ve done, up to now, on my own behalf.” On the whole The Art of The Deal offers a compelling and revealing portrait of Trump, the real-estate tycoon.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Critique of Amartya Sen’s Theory of Justice, by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen

Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen have written a critique of Amartya Sen’s book The Idea of Justice. The critique, "Why Justice? Which Justice? Impartiality or Objectivity?" has been published in The Independent Review.

Den Uyl and Rasmussen begin by pointing out that while Amartya Sen is known as an economist, he writes mostly on political and social philosophy. They state:

And although it may be news to some that a Nobel Laureate in economics is dealing with a basic issue of philosophy, it is no surprise to those who have followed the vast array of articles and books that Sen has produced over the years. He has dealt with questions of justice, inequality, and freedom for a long time. 

In the course of their 20-page critique, the authors provide an analysis and rebuttal of the major ideas that Amartya Sen has proposed in his book.

On Sen’s attempt to justify impersonalism, Den Uyl and Rasmussen have this to say:

One way to try to get around these concerns is to emphasize that Sen focuses primarily on justice in an interpersonal sense and to claim that interpersonal justice requires impersonal justice. In this regard, Sen follows John Rawls, who states in A Theory of Justice that “we think of the original position as the point of view from which noumenal selves see the world” (1971, 225). But does commitment to interpersonal living (even in a most open-ended and universal sense) require that one take on the viewpoint of a noumenal self or adopt ethical impersonalism? To say the least, it is highly unlikely that human beings are noumenal selves, and it seems that the goods and personal projects of individual human beings differ in real and legitimate ways. Hence, individuality matters with respect to morals and also in regard to making comparative judgments of justice that are supposed to apply to every human being. Regardless of how inconvenient individuality may be, political philosophers may not simply disregard it. Indeed, among political philosophers’ desiderata is an accommodation of both individualism’s moral propriety and human life’s profoundly social character. Thus, it is by no means clear how helpful Sen’s disregard of the individuality of persons and their lives is as an argumentative ploy.

They go on to state:

But this account simply does not work, and it smacks of a conformism that is antithetical to the very character of human flourishing. Certainly, to think of human flourishing without thinking of whose flourishing it is is not to think falsely, but to think that human flourishing can exist, or provide guidance for conduct, without being the flourishing of some individual or other is to think falsely. Moreover, it is false to regard the individual as simply a place-holder that instantiates the human good or various combinations of human capabilities. Such thinking turns human flourishing into an abstraction and denies it reality, and it forbids the very individuality of persons from entering into an account of human flourishing or playing a role in the judgments of practical reason. Indeed, to hold such a conception is to hold no conception of human flourishing at all.

Sen’s attempt to explain an ethical or political belief’s objectivity in terms of its ability to pass the scrutiny of the public-reasoning process does not suffice because although impartiality understood in an ordinary way is not controversial, it helps very little in providing a basis for determining what to select in making comparative judgments of justice. Moreover, if impartiality is understood in an impersonalist sense, it is unjustified and conflicts with the individualistic and personal features of human flourishing. We have, of course, an alternative way to understand the objectivity of an ethical or political belief: the realistic—and, for us, ultimately naturalistic—account of ethical objectivity that we champion. Such an approach to ethical objectivity is explicitly tethered to specific metaphysical and epistemological positions. Sen has chosen the particular route of public reasoning to account for ethical objectivity because he also has tethered himself to deep philosophical commitments.

Overall, the critique has many good ideas and it is worth reading.

It is also noteworthy that in the new book by Den Uyl and Rasmussen, The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics, the criticism of Amartya Sen has been expanded and integrated with the criticism of John Rawls, Martha Craven Nussbaum and others.


Douglas B. Rasmussen is a professor of philosophy at St. John’s University.
Douglas J. Den Uyl is vice president of educational programs and a senior fellow at the Liberty Fund.

Monday, 6 June 2016

On The Egalitarian Ideas in Amartya Sen’s Nobel Lecture

Amartya Sen is not a real economist; he is a social welfare warrior. The Nobel Prize that he won in 1998 was, as per the press release from The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, for “his contributions to welfare economics.” It is noteworthy that Sen’s Nobel Prize was not for “economics,” it was for “welfare economics,” which is a polite name for “public economics,” which, in turn, is a polite name for the so-called “trickle-down economics.”

The Nobel Lecture that Sen gave at the Nobel Award Ceremony, titled ‘The Possibility of Choice,’ was mostly focused on Kenneth Arrow’s so-called impossibility theorem, which suggests that it is impossible for a group to make decisions that would satisfy everyone's wishes.

Here is an excerpt from Sen’s Nobel Lecture.  

If there is a central question that can be seen as the motivating issue that inspires social choice theory, it is this: how can it be possible to arrive at cogent aggregative judgments about the society (for example, about "social welfare," or "the public interest," or "aggregate poverty"), given the diversity of preferences, concerns, and predicaments of the different individuals within the society? How can we find any rational basis for making such aggregative judgements as "the society prefers this to that," or "the society should choose this over that," or "this is socially right"? Is reasonable social choice at all possible, especially since, as Horace noted a long time ago, there may be "as many preferences as there are people”?

Further in the lecture, Sen posits the following questions:

When would majority rule yield unambiguous and consistent decisions? How can we judge how well a society as a whole is doing in the light of the disparate interests of its different members? How do we measure aggregate poverty in view of the varying predicaments and miseries of the diverse people that make up the society? How can we accommodate rights and liberties of persons while giving adequate recognition to their preferences? How do we apprise social valuations of public goods such as the natural environment, or epidemiological security?

The egalitarian questions that Sen proposes with the aplomb of a muddled welfarist are based on the notion that the concepts such as "social welfare," or "the public interest," or "aggregate poverty,” or “social choice,” or “socially right,” or “social valuations,” are valid. But this is not true. These are invalid concepts that Sen is using to conjure mythical questions.

There is nothing called social welfare: Society consists of individuals, whose interests can only be protected when individual rights and property rights are safeguarded by the constitution.

There is nothing called public interest: There is only the rational self-interest of the individual citizens.

There is nothing called aggregate poverty: There is only “poverty,” which is the result of government intervention in the economy. If the government stops meddling in the economy, people will find a way of improving their financial condition.

There is nothing called social choice, or socially right: The basic purpose of having rule of law, is to prevent any group of people from imposing on others their vision of what is “social choice” or “socially right.”

There is nothing called social valuation: Valuations ascribed through government orders are unreal. Only the free market is capable of discovering the financial value of anything.

In his Nobel Lecture, Sen offers a glimpse of his totalitarian ideas when he pontificates about his methodologies for identifying the so-called poor and deprived people who will be the recipients of his welfare largesse.

Do we get enough of a diagnosis of individual poverty by comparing the individual's income with a socially given poverty-line income? What about the person with an income well above the poverty line, who suffers from an expensive Illness (requiring, say, kidney dialysis)? Is deprivation not ultimately a lack of opportunity to lead a minimally acceptable life, which can be influenced by a number of considerations, including of course personal income, but also physical and environmental characteristics, and other variables (such as the availability and costs of medical and other facilities)?

In Sen’s egalitarian utopia, anyone suffering from an expensive illness will have the first claim on the earnings of other individuals in the society. This is a typical argument, which socialists use to make a case for state control of healthcare. However, government’s meddling in healthcare only leads to the creation of a huge bureaucracy, which stifles competition, makes innovation impossible, and paves way for a massive rise in the price of healthcare services.

Amartya Sen’s entire Nobel Lecture is full of socialist ideas which have failed so many times in so many countries. But with progressivism running amok in the world, such ideas are deemed important enough to be glorified with the prestigious Nobel Prize.

A look at Sen’s body of work makes it abundantly clear that he is a socialist. Among Indian economists, he is probably the biggest repository of socialist cliches. But the surprising thing is that he has never publicly confessed that he is a socialist. Journalists have asked him, on many occasions, if he was a socialist—a simple question that he can answer in yes, or no. But he always dodges such questions by claiming that he prefers not to be bound by any dogma.

In the speech that he gave at the Nobel Banquet, on December 10, 1998, he whined about the sheer injustice of people having the temerity to ask him if he was a socialist.

Here’s an excerpt from his speech at the Nobel Banquet:

Now a seriously silly thought. From this focus on open-minded reasoning, there is much that economists too can learn. The subject stands to lose a lot from dogmatic beliefs of one kind or another (for example, we are constantly asked: "Are you against or in favour of the market? Against or in favour of state action? Just answer the question - no qualifications, no 'ifs' and 'buts,' please!"). This is an invitation to replace analysis by slogans - to be guided by grand dogma, either of one kind, or of another.

But it is not at all silly to inquire if Sen is for free markets or for state action. Questioning him about his economic ideology does not amount to replacing analysis by slogans. People have the right to know the truth about Amartya Sen’s economic ideology, because he is a very influential crony-economist. For decades he has been in the business of advising governments and international organizations on social welfare and famine control. He was an advisor to the Congress led regime, when it was in power in India for 10 years (2004 to 2014).

Every real economist knows that instead of helping the poor the welfare state perpetuates poverty. Countries that were once socialist or communist are now making efforts to open their markets and cut down on welfare, which they know from past experience has a disastrous impact on the economy. But all this doesn't matter to Sen, who has no moral qualms about being economical with facts while conjuring ideas for supporting welfarism. It's clear that he supports welfarism because he derives his sustenance from the mammaries of the welfare state.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Book Review — Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault

Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
Stephen Hicks
Ockham's Razor

The age in which we live, as understood by the leading intellectuals, is not the modern, it is the postmodern. The age of modernity is the age of reason and the postmodern intellectuals, being historically and philosophically opposed to modernity, speak about targeting the arrogance of reason. They want to attack the idea that we can comprehend reality only by applying reason.

What is the historical origin of the ideas which allow the intellectuals to attack reason, reject modernity, and embrace postmodernity? What are the political, social and cultural outcomes that the intellectuals want to achieve by embracing postmodernity? In Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, Stephen Hicks conducts a survey of the postmodernist movement which mainly through its dominance of the academia exercises critical intellectual influence on political, social and cultural issues.

Most post-Enlightenment era philosophers view the Enlightenment with suspicion, or at least a vague unease. Postmodernism represents the climax of the ideas of the counter-Enlightenment philosophers; it is another attempt to defeat the Enlightenment ideas by denying reason, values, and reality. To fuel unrest and confusion in capitalist societies, the postmodernists propose a toolkit of grievances—minorities issues, feminism, racism, income equality, free education and healthcare, higher minimum wage, animal rights, environmentalism, and the like.

Hicks explains that there is a clear change of guard in the intellectual scene and the “names of the postmodern vanguard are now familiar: Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Richard Rorty.” He describes these intellectuals as the leading strategists whose efforts have set the direction and tone of postmodernist movement.

Modernist philosophy, which has existed for several centuries, came to maturity in the Enlightenment. Hicks writes: “The Enlightenment philosophes quite rightly saw themselves as radical. The pre-modern Medieval worldview and the modern Enlightenment worldview were coherent, comprehensive—and entirely opposed—accounts of reality and the place of human beings within it.”

When postmodernism rejects modernism, it is essentially rejecting the Enlightenment ideas. Explaining the fundamental way in which postmodernism attacks the Enlightenment’s essential philosophical themes, Hicks says: “Postmodernism rejects the reason and the individualism that the entire Enlightenment world depends upon. And so it ends up attacking all of the consequences of the Enlightenment philosophy, from capitalism and liberal forms of government to science and technology.”

The postmodernists aim to re-shape the entire world in the same way as the Enlightenment project. For the achievement of such an ambition, individuals, across many generations, must be engaged for formulating the arguments and developing the intellectual strategies.

Hicks says that at the apex of the intellectual movement that has led to postmodernism there are figures like Georg Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant, and to a lesser extent David Hume. The ideas of these figures have been used by the likes of Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Karl Marx. These figures, in turn, provide philosophical support to the likes of Rorty, Foucault, Leotard, and Derrida.

The early counter-Enlightenment philosophers were horrified by the Enlightenment’s championing of reason and individualism—they saw such ideas leading to godless, spiritless, passionless, and amoral world. Many of them got inspired by the collectivist philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hume’s attack on reason was a source of inspiration. Hicks is of the view that because of the weaknesses in the Enlightenment account of reason, the Counter-Enlightenment philosophers were able to win support for their ideas of skepticism, subjectivism and relativism.

The epistemological battle between the Enlightenment ideas and the Counter-Enlightenment ideas has been going on for more than two centuries. Hicks calls Immanuel Kant “the most significant thinker of the Counter-Enlightenment.” He regards Kant as the main culprit behind postmodernism’s strong anti-realist and anti-reason stances. Kant has claimed that we cannot know the world as it is in itself—the Kantian postmodernists believe that there is no reality, rather we create reality through our discourses and scientific methods.

Hegel has also made significant contributions to the Counter-Enlightenment. He explicitly rejected Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction. The Hegelian theory of dialectical reason, which implies strong relativism, is fundamentally opposed to the Enlightenment idea of reason.

Martin Heidegger absorbed the philosophy of Kant and Hegel and gave it a phenomenological twist. Heidegger proposed that by exploring his dark and anguished feelings of dread and guilt, he could approach Being. What Heidegger was aiming at was nihilism. Hicks points out: “So after abandoning reason and logic, after experiencing real boredom and terrifying dread, we unveil the final mystery of mysteries: Nothing. In the end, all is nothing and nothing is all. With Heidegger, we reach metaphysical nihilism.”

After a roundup of almost 220 years of philosophy, Hicks presents his first hypothesis on the origin of postmodernism: “Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason, those consequences being necessary given the history of epistemology since Kant.” He goes on to say that postmodernism is the “end result of the Counter-Enlightenment inaugurated by Kantian epistemology.”

Why are the postmodernists always Left leaning in their politics? In the chapter, “The Climate of Collectivism,” Hicks analyzes the connection between postmodern epistemology and postmodern politics. He points out: “Of the major names in the postmodernist movement, there is not a single figure who is not Left-wing in a serious way.” He posits that the postmodernism is an outcome of the same Counter-Enlightenment intellectual movement that gave rise to socialism and communism. Yesterday’s socialists are today’s postmodernists.

The socialists had to clamber aboard the postmodernist bandwagon, because, in theory, free-market thinkers have won the debate. All of socialism’s claims have been refuted. The capitalist nations are much more prosperous, productive and peaceful than the socialist nations. In context of the extreme leftist politics of the postmodernists, Hicks presents his second hypothesis on postmodernism: “Postmodernism is the academic far Left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and practice.”

On the role that Rousseau has played in development of political ideas for the Counter-Enlightenment, Hicks says: “Rousseau’s writings were the Bible of the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution, absorbed by many of the hopeful Russian revolutionaries of the late nineteenth century, and influential upon the more agrarian socialists of the twentieth century in China and Cambodia. In the theoretical world of academic socialism, Rousseau’s version of collectivism was eclipsed by Marx’s version for most of the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century. Yet a large part of the explanation of the postmodern thought is a shift toward Rousseauian themes by thinkers who were originally inspired by Marx but who are now increasingly disillusioned.”

During the 1950s, the radical Left was hoping that the Soviet Union would outstrip the capitalist West and serve as an exemplar of moral idealism and economic production, but the information from Soviet Union showed that their economy was in a disastrous shape and in the countryside people were starving to death.

It also became widely known that Stalin had millions of people tortured, subjected to inhuman deprivations and executed. Khrushchev exposed Stalin’s crimes in the “secret speech” that he made to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. On the other hand, the capitalist countries were having a booming economy and a massive rise in the standards of living for all. From the 1950s onwards, it became increasingly hard for the leftist intellectuals to argue that capitalism fails to provide for people’s needs. They had to devise new ideas for remaining relevant.

During the 1960s, the hardline Left tried to gain political power through terrorism. But the liberal capitalist governments were able to subdue the terrorists, killing some, imprisoning many, driving others underground more or less permanently. According to Hicks, the collapse of the terrorist wing of the hardline Left during the 1970s, finally drove the leftist intellectuals and their followers into postmodernism. The academia became the new postmodern bastion for the Left.

Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, and Rorty — the four intellectuals who came to prominence as the leaders of the postmodern movement were born in 1920s and 1930s, within a 7 year span. Describing their similar background, Hicks writes:

“All were well trained in philosophy at the best schools. All entered their academic careers in the 1950s. All were strongly committed to Left politics. All were well aware of the history of socialist theory and practice. All lived through the crises of socialism in the 1950s and 1960s. And come the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, all four had high standing in their professional academic disciplines and high standing among the intellectual Left.”

Explaining Postmodernism is an engaging book for those who wish to understand the modern left, which is the postmodern left. But this book also seeks to nourish the Enlightenment project, by explaining how the massive progress that mankind has made during the last 250 years is a result of the Enlightenment ideas. Even though the key ideas of the Enlightenment were philosophically incomplete and vulnerable, they have made such seminal improvements in human life. It is tempting to imagine the progress that the world will enjoy once the Enlightenment project is philosophically complete.

The book ends, as one would expect, with a suggestion for the way forward: “The Enlightenment was based on premises opposite to those of postmodernism, but while the Enlightenment was able to create a magnificent world on the basis of those premises, it articulated and defended them only incompletely. That weakness is the sole source of postmodernism’s power against it. Completing the articulation and defense of those promises is therefore essential to maintaining the forward progress of the Enlightenment vision and shielding it against postmodern strategies.”