Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Seeking to Understand Postmodernists

Written by: on February 10, 2020

Stephen Ronald Craig Hicks (born August 19, 1960) is a Canadian-American philosopher. He is a Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University, Illinois. Hicks is the author of four books and a documentary. His Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault argues that postmodernism is best understood as a rhetorical strategy of intellectuals and academics on the far-left of the political spectrum developed in reaction to the failure of socialism and communism.[1] Matt McManus, in his review of Hicks’ subject work, is extremely critical of Hicks’ efforts in writing about the association of postmodern thinking with identity politics, growing skepticism about free speech, and other social trends. McManus goes on to praise Hicks for raising some valuable criticisms of left-wing activism and its strategic appeals to postmodern rhetoric. Regrettably, Explaining Postmodernism is full of misreadings, suppositions, rhetorical hyperbole, and even factual errors. Not surprisingly, McManus flat out declares that Hicks scholarship is unacceptably sloppy. Therefore, McManus contends that Hick’s work is insufficient as an intellectual guide to the development of postmodernism or a primer on contemporary left-wing thought.[2]

I am a bit undecided about how to proceed as my chosen reviewer (McManus) is so critical of Hicks’ scholarship in approaching this subject work. I am also saddled with the propensity to view philosophy as something that only intellectuals and academics care about, so what is the point of consideration from a global leadership perspective? However, in striving to learn from Nick Spencer’s methodological tenet, (“hear the past in its own key, rather than instinctively transposing it into one with which we are more familiar, and comfortable, today.[3]), I am choosing to see what I can observe and learn from this alien subject set in this alien landscape.

Hicks declares that language functions as the center of postmodern epistemology. Modern realists (perhaps like me) utilize consciousness (a subset of language) to become aware of reality and how to use this newfound awareness of reality as a guide to new actions. That is, consciousness is both cognitive and functional.[4] This alleged modern construct sounds like the premise of coaching, active listening, and powerful questions to aid the client in finding a new perspective of their current reality to move forward into their preferred future. According to Hicks, postmodern anti-realists never intend to connect with a non-linguistic reality; therefore, language only connects with more language (I honestly fail to see the point of this).[5] Therefore, most postmodernist language is simply a weapon for the cause. Hicks contends that postmodern rhetoric can not only be described as harsh but as a form of verbal weaponry and therefore needs to be explosive.[6] The intent of language as a weapon and not for communication to cultivate understanding leading to resolution is exceptionally problematic for me. While I am not confident that postmoderns have cornered the market for this approach, the “verbal weapons of mass destruction” approach typify our society’s communication (or lack thereof) of all significant social and cultural issues on all platforms.

Stephen Richards Covey (October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012) was an American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker. His most popular book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.[7] His materials were utilized as a corporate quality improvement program at the engineering and construction company, where I was employed from 1989 to 1991. Habit 5 is Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.[8] That is, we are all informed by and form our perspective based on our experiences. Understanding (and therefore, actions leading to resolution) will never progress until we first strive to listen and seek to understand the other’s experience. This has been my “guiding light” since beginning seminary in 2017 at the age of 61. Since then, I have continually been made uncomfortable (as an older white male) listening to and learning from the experiences of others. More importantly, when I examine why I am uncomfortable, it is because the experiences and understanding of others have challenged my preconceived opinions and views. Have I always responded with grace and kindness? No, but I am fortunate to have had professors who challenged me to continue to walk this well-worn path for learning and growing. I am not sure I have learned anymore about postmodernism, but I know I want to listen and learn from postmodernists.

[1] Wikipedia, accessed 02/06/2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hicks

[2] Matt McManus, “A Review of Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks” Aero Magazine October 17, 2018. https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/17/a-review-of-explaining-postmodernism-by-stephen-hicks/

[3] Nick Spencer, The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values (London, Great Britain: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2016) 4.

[4] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rosseau to Foucalt Rev.ed. (Roscoe, IL: Ocham’s Razor Publishing, 2011) 174.

[5] Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 175.

[6] Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 178.

[7]Wikipedia, accessed February 6, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Covey

[8] Habit 5 https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-5.html

About the Author

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

One response to “Seeking to Understand Postmodernists”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi Harry. Good honest reflection and acknowledgement of another reviewer. You are of course correct in asking what the ordinary person is supposed to do with philosophy. Ironically, not so long ago, no one ever knew what philosophers got up to in their ivory tower – except of course, philosophers. The problem started when aspects of philosophy started to gain traction in a postmodern context. At that point, once hidden philosophers were dragged into the public forum to critique ideas. The problem is, no one understands how they write or what they are actually saying. They also do something unfamiliar – they brutally critique each other theories and ideas with impunity, because that’s what they do – they live in the world of ideas, not on the world of leadership, politics or religion – they are like aliens. One of the problems with popular philosophical critics like McManus as they resort to slamming people and not merely ideas. And this of course builds socio-political popularity, something philosophers tended not to do in public. For most of us in leadership, we need to read summarises of ideas without the commentary. They are hard to find unfortunately, but they are there. We can then more ably make our own critique in our own context with the politcal baggage that comes with others reviews. So much fun.

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