Postmodernity, Critical (Race) Theory, Cultural Marxism, and You: Part 2

Are you a Cultural Marxist? Are they? How would you know?

The first column in this series defined postmodernity, a form of society in which, I suggested, we all now currently reside.

I am not claiming that all of us all the time think as postmodernists. Engineers and physicians, at least on the job, think as heirs of the (modern) Enlightenment, while historians and social scientists think in terms of (modern) historical consciousness. Instead, I have argued that postmodernity is now common, even typical, in our society.

In the current controversies over “cancel culture,” “BLM,” “critical race theory,” and the like, the philosophical school known as “Critical Theory” bobs up frequently. Critical Theory is sometimes depicted as an early form of postmodernism that gives rise to these other cultural developments.

But it mostly isn’t.

Critical Theory refers to a group of twentieth-century German philosophers known as the Frankfurt School. The most famous among them are Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Jürgen Habermas—the last of whom is still productive in his 90s.

The “critical” in Critical Theory echoes Karl Marx’s famous dictum: “”Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” (Theses on Feuerbach, 1845). Critical Theory has combined philosophy and the social sciences so as to expose the true workings of modern life and to formulate a way toward a better future than the paths offered by communism, fascism, or democracy wedded to runaway capitalism.

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Postmodernity, Critical (Race) Theory, Cultural Marxism, and You: Part 1

When I was a student in the 1970s and 1980s, postmodernity and Critical Theory were still cool. Soon, however, they became conventional—at least in the academy. But now?  Now they’re significant to everybody, because they’re everywhere.

A column this short cannot possibly do academic justice to such interesting and paradoxical phenomena. But since pundits from Jordan Peterson to Tim Keller are offering their takes on these complex matters, readers of this column might yet profit from a short glossary of terms. Over the next three weeks I’ll define postmodernity, critical theory and cultural Marxism, and critical race theory. And in the fourth week of this little series, I’ll offer a few reflections on what these cultural currents mean for the typical reader.

The “post-“ in “postmodernity” means simply “what comes after the modern.” What comes after the modern, it turns out, is both much more of the same (hence the term hypermodernity) and something completely different (hence the term postmodernity).

So what is the “modern” after which comes postmodernity?

The postmodern experience differs from the modern experience—the culture experienced by the West since the seventeenth century or so and now by much of the rest of the world—in two main respects: fragmentation and doubt. Let’s compare those two qualities with modern differentiation and confidence.

Sociologists give us the term differentiation, the process by which various social sectors and roles become progressively distinct and separate from each other in modernity. Family life, education, health care, politics, recreation, religion—all become separate spheres with their own values, their own objectives, and usually even their own buildings, uniforms, and jargons.

A modern person gets out of bed in his pyjamas on a Monday morning and quickly changes into different clothes to exercise at the nearby gym. After a workout, breakfast, and a shower, he changes his appearance again and goes to a different place to work. After work, he likely changes his look once more to go out with friends for drinks and dinner. And then he changes clothes again to participate in a Bible study, or attend a support group, or assist a local charity. Once home, he changes once more (notice the way we easily use the word “changes”) to be with his domestic partner(s).

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Franklin Graham, John MacArthur, and Church-and-State

A few friends have seen this post on Facebook and asked me to re-post it here to make it easier for them to share.

Franklin Graham quotes California pastor John MacArthur ( = the dim quoting the dim) to encourage people in southern California to defy government guidelines and return to church: “It has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship.”

Let’s just say a few quick things about that:

1. It has always been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship—except in those relatively rare and modern cases in which a country’s constitution forbids it from doing so. The history of England, to pick a country not entirely foreign to American sensibilities, includes all four of those prerogatives, since it has a . . . state church. And so on.

2. It remains the prerogative of even American civil governments to enforce a variety of constraints on worship. Here are a few: (1) building codes in church structures; (2) health and safety codes governing use of those structures; (3) child protection rules governing who can be hired to care for children; (4) noise bylaws to protect the surrounding community; (5) forbiddance of hate speech, speech that incites violence, speech that endangers the public and more….

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