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Ideological Perspectives on Postmodernism: Origins, Agenda, and Implications It is not often that we see the often-esoteric constructs of the

academic world quickly thrust into the mainstream of contemporary life. It is not immediately obvious when Jacques Derrida first introduced his theories of deconstructivism that his ideas would soon have such an immediate impact on contemporary society. Yet the concept of postmodernism is one of these things. What we might call the "Postmodern Issue" is one that occupies a prominent place in sociological related religious writings, especially those concentrating on today's youth (a.k.a. Generation X). Many have written of the great importance of postmodernism in understanding the unique issues in current youth related work activities such as religious education and youth evangelism, as well as in regards to current issues facing some of our Churches, particularly those in urban areas with a younger clientele. Yet for all this the origin, nature, and implications of postmodernism remain curiously vague, even in books addressing itself to its implications for us. Overview and Origins of Postmodernism Understanding the nature and implications of postmodernism requires firstly an understanding of what postmodernism is and is not. It is often firstly thought that the term postmodern etc. is just a buzzword, which does not really have a clear definition. Popularly this is certainly true. A contemporary theologian described postmodernism as "the intellectual Velcro dragged across culture which can be used to characterize almost anything the users of the term happen to like." Umberto Eco said "I have the impression that it [postmodernism] is applied today to anything the users of the term may like. The definition of the term postmodern itself almost seems to be subjected to the deconstructivism and subjectivism of popular culture. In a formal sense however it is known to academics that postmodernism is a philosophy with a clearly delineated definition, ideal and body of thought. When the central nature and core of postmodernism is delineated, much of the misunderstanding arising from vulgarization of the term is eliminated. In spite of the obvious connotations of the term itself, the youthful context in which it is usually brought up or the vague and esoteric language in which its origins and nature are normatively referred to, postmodernism conceptually is not a very recent development at all. The roots of postmodernism historically reside in the 19th century, in the ideas of Hegel and Marx as developed by a group of leftist scholars most commonly known as the Frankfurt School. Though seemingly old, their work in the 30's and 40's contained all the essential parts of what later became known as postmodernism, re: "We believe that they all worked at a single task. That was to identify the underlying fault in modernism and, at their most ambitious, to offer up the approaches for correcting the fault. In both their critique of modernism and the elements of alternatives we see the germination, rich and various, of what would become identified as the postmodern" Scott Lamascus, in his paper "Faith, Higher Education, and Postmodernism: Is 'Christian Higher Education' an Oxymoron?" wrote, "Faculty at Christian universities must engage such (postmodern) thinking with vigorous pedagogies and creative scholarship. Otherwise our common project to invigorate a faith-informed curriculum falters and our students suffer". The logic and significance of postmodernism might suggest the advisability that Christian faculty similarly devote themselves to the single task of identifying the underlying faults in the postmodern world and, at their most ambitious, to offer up the approaches for correcting these faults. Such an approach however might strike many Christian College faculty, administrators, and students however as a trifle ambitious. Given that the

origins of postmodern theory and postmodern society may be found in the Frankfurt School, it might be appropriate to first review some basic aspects of the organization, theory, and agenda, of this group, and recognize how so much of its theories came to be reflected both in the theories of postmodernism and the present generation acknowledged to be a product of it. The Frankfurt School and "The Authoritarian Personality" It might be instructive to review the origins of the philosophers credited with basically creating today's "postmodern world". According to a Cornell University course the term Frankfurt School refers to: "a group of researchers associated with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt am Main, Ger., who applied Marxism to a radical interdisciplinary social theory. The Institute for Social Research (Institut fr Sozialforschung) was founded by Carl Grnberg in 1923 as an adjunct of the University of Frankfurt; it was the first Marxist-oriented research centre affiliated with a major German university. Max Horkheimer took over as director in 1930 and recruited many talented theorists, including T.W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin." (later Jurgen Habermas) The members of the Frankfurt School tried to develop a theory of society that was based on Marxism and Hegelian philosophy but which also utilized the insights of psychoanalysis, sociology, existential philosophy, and other disciplines. They used basic Marxist concepts to analyze the social relations within capitalist economic systems. This approach, which became known as "critical theory," yielded influential critiques of large corporations and monopolies, the role of technology, the industrialization of culture, and the decline of the individual within capitalist society. Fascism and authoritarianism were also prominent subjects of study. Much of this research was published in the institute's journal, Zeitschrift fr Sozialforschung (1932-41; "Journal for Social Research")." Among the better known publications originating from the Frankfurt School were Studies on Authority and the Family, by Erich Fromm and Dialectic of Enlightenment by Horkheimer and Adorno. The most influential work however was the seminal work The Authoritarian Personality of whom T.W. Adorno was first author. The was part of the Studies in Prejudice series sponsored by the Department of Scientific Research of the American Jewish Committee, which was under the general editorship of Max Horkheimer. The methodology used in the development of The Authoritarian Personality, while ostensively scientific, actually contains the core of the moral and political agenda it endowed postmodernism with. Recognition of the impact of The Authoritarian Personality when it was published and its continuing impact are essential in understanding the importance of the Frankfurt School in today's society, which as we have seen is labeled postmodern by many influential analysts. In the words of Nathan Glazer "No volume published since the war in the field of social science has had a greater impact on the direction of the actual empirical work being carried on in the universities today. The Authoritarian Personality is considered a true classic of research in social psychology, generating thousands of studies. However, careful analysis reveals the scientific basis for the book's theories is highly suspect. The Authoritarian Personality is a its core a speculative, philosophical body of work as has been noted by a number of reviewers. Its impact still remains, despite the fact its politicized nature has long been evident to psychologists. Altemeyer for instance notes "despite the unconvincing nature of the scientific evidence supporting it, the basic idea that anti-Semitism is the result of disturbed parent-child relationships has spread so widely through our culture it has become a stereotype". Roger Brown noted "The study called The

Authoritarian Personality has affected American life: the theory of prejudice it propounded has become part of the popular culture and a force against racial discrimination. Is it also true? You must be the judge.Cool objectivity has not been the hallmark of the tradition. Christopher Lasch noted "The purpose and design of Studies in Prejudice dictated the conclusion that prejudice, a psychological disorder rooted in the 'authoritarian' personality' structure, could only be eradicated by subjecting the American people to what amounted to collective psychotherapy - by treating them as inmates in an insane asylum.. By identifying the 'liberal personality' as the antithesis of the authoritarian personality, they equated mental health with an approved political position. They defended liberalism .. on the grounds that other positions had their roots in personal pathology." Both the clear and profound impact of the Frankfurt School on America and western thought in general, and its basic moral-political nature, even when cloaked in pseudo-scientific methodology, is seen in the Authoritarian Personality. The general philosophical thrust of the Frankfurt School may be seen in the subsequent developments of Frankfurt School ideology by Adorno and Horkheimer. The basic thrust of the Authoritarian Personality may be seen to be the general dialectics against western familial, social, and religious authority, which are equated with proto-fascism. The developing line of the Frankfurt School which blends into postmodernism, was to reject not only socially based authority, but any authority, philosophical, scientific, or ideological, of a objective or universal nature, as Adorno felt such would be an attack on the "unique particularity" of individual humans, which "should be respected in its ungeneralized historical uniqueness". The former communist was now an advocate of radical individualism for western society. Critical Theory to Postmodernism - Constancy Midst Deconstruction The debt postmodernism and multiculturalist owes to critical theory is quite evident when reviewing such key doctrines such as "post-colonial theory", a "hermeneutic of suspicion" resisting any universals, and criticism of the oppressiveness of empirical science. Concerning this debt, Michel Foucalt, the uniquely influentially postmodernist, stated "If I had known about the Frankfurt School in time, I would have been saved a great deal of work. I would not have said a certain amount of nonsense and would not have taken so many false trails trying not to get lost, when the Frankfurt School had already cleared the way". The work of postmodernism in rejecting any attempt to construct universals is perhaps best seen in the work of Jacques Derrida. His philosophy of deconstructivism attacks the ontology of perhaps the last and ultimate human universal - language itself. Deconstructivism is often seen with puzzlement, or dismissed as "nutty" or "stupid". In fact however attacking the linguistic roots of a culture is one of the best ways of rendering it impotent and ineffective. It is characteristic in defense of tout autre, the "wholly other", by attacking the very basis of the western society that confers this otherness on nonwestern elements. Caputo summarizes the moral-political agenda of deconstructivism, which in its opposition to western-traditional authority and cultural unity, parallels that of the Frankfurt School. "The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and tongue..The idea is to disarm the bombs...of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger, against Jews and Arabs and immigrants, ..all of whom.are wholly other. Contrary to the claims of Derrida's more careless critics, the passion of deconstruction is deeply political, for deconstruction is a relentless, if sometimes indirect, discourse on democracy, on a democracy to come. Derrida's democracy is a radically pluralistic polity that resists the terror of an organic, ethnic, spiritual unity, of the natural bonds of the nation (natus, natio), which grinds to dust

everything that is not a kin of the ruling kind and genus (Geschlect). He dreams of a nation without nationalist or nativist closure, of a community without identity, of a non-identical community that cannot say I, or we, for, after all, the very idea of community is to fortify (munis, muneris) ourselves in common with one another. His work is driven by a sense of the consumate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the "we" of "Christian Europe" or of a "Christian politics", lethal compounds that spell death of Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other. The heaving and sighing of this Christian European spirit is a lethal air for Jews and Arabs, for all les Juifs, even if they go back to father Abraham, a way of gassing them according to both the letter and the spirit." This basic agenda of deconstructivism can be readily seen to be that of postmodernism as well, the demolition of western authority structures capable of bestowing organic unity on a community of any sort - social, ethnic, political, religious - and with it of bestowing this sense of "otherness" on those who fall outside the community. It may also be seen to be a deeply political agenda, in a way integral to its nature. Whatever the proper political response to postmodernism is, it may be safely assumed that any response to postmodernism must in some way take into account and deal with this fundamentally political nature of postmodernist ideologies. If postmodernism truly is the mindset of the 90's, and represents a basic revolution in modern thinking, then any response must properly understand and articulate these political origins and implications with clarity and frankness. It is this politically informed understanding and perspective on the nature of postmodernist influenced thinking that is so lacking in much modern discourse and writing on postmodernism. Source: