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

What Is Postmodernism?

Written by: on October 6, 2023

What Is Postmodernism?

The terms “postmodern,” “postmodernism,” and “postmodernist” are associated with literary criticism, architecture, painting, and philosophy and have come into use at different times and for different purposes. Postmodernism, is best described as an historical period stretching from the 1960s to the present.

Simplifying Hick’s Book

The six chapters that make up Explaining Postmodernism can be divided conveniently into two groups of three chapters, each group pivoting on a hypothesis about postmodernism. Postmodernism is a comprehensive intellectual and cultural movement defined by certain fundamental metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical premises that brought together intellectual developments in the mid-twentieth century in many areas, including philosophy, politics, and the physical sciences (p. 21).

Hicks makes it clear from the work of a few Sixties-era French theorists, postmodernism has a distinguished lineage that can be traced back to Kant, Rousseau, and Marx. Hicks’s first hypothesis about postmodernism is “Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason.”

18th Century Problems in A Modern Era

We can identify with the social problems of the eighteenth-century and the writings of Rousseau, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill. Each of these authors help form the foundation of the United States Government of a society based on these three great minds. From history, and the study of political science that we see how much these writers impacted the world.

Hicks asks, is the relativism primary and the absolutist politics secondary? Are the absolutist politics primary, advanced by the rhetoric of relativism? In the end, Hicks suggests that “both the relativism and the absolutism coexist in postmodernism, but the contradictions between them simply do not matter psychologically to those who hold them . . . because for them ultimately nothing matters.” (pp. 186, 192, emphasis in original)

Hicks supports this thesis with verve and imagination, quoting postmodernists to convict them out of their own mouths. In a fitting irony, he uses the nihilists’ own Saint Nietzsche against them, applying Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment as a diagnostic tool for explaining postmodernist strategies. Nietzsche, of course, used ressentiment in his account of master and slave morality. It is worth quoting Hicks at length:

Slave morality is the morality of the weak . . . . Weaklings are chronically passive, mostly because they are afraid of the strong. As a result, they cannot get what they want out of life. They become envious of the strong, and they also secretly start to hate themselves for being so cowardly and weak. But no one can live thinking he or she is hateful. And so the weak invent a rationalization—a rationalization that tells them they are the good and the moral because they are weak, humble, and passive. . . . And, of course, the opposites of those things are evil—aggressiveness is evil, and so is pride, and so is independence, and so is being physically and materially successful. (p. 193)

Hicks’s remarks in this context are further illustrations of postmodernism’s descent into nihilism: “To the postmodern mind, the cruel lessons of the modern world are that reality is inaccessible, that nothing can be known, that human potential is nothing, and that ethical and political ideals have come to nothing. The psychological response to the loss of everything is anger and despair.” (p. 198)


Hicks does an incredible job explaining a difficult topic. We can see the many correlations in his writing in today’s struggles as a society and the result of anger and despair with the master and slave relationship in our own society. We can come to the understanding that this is one of the main reasons God gives us free will to choose Him and His ways. It is in human nature to rebel against authority.

[1] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. (Tempe, AZ: Scholarly Publishing, Inc., 2004)


About the Author


Greg McMullen

Pastor Greg resides in Lake Stevens WA and pastors a small rural church in the Machias area . The Well Church has a large food ministry in which many different cultures come each week to gather food and counsel. The Church has a small school that is bearing good fruit. Pastor Greg has a large family of 10 children and enjoys fishing and hiking.

3 responses to “What Is Postmodernism?”

  1. mm Becca Hald says:

    Greg, great summary of Hicks. I like your conclusion about free will, that God gives us the choice and the struggle is with our human nature to rebel. How do you respond to people who believe Nietzsche and say that there is no God or that God cannot be benevolent because how could a loving God allow so much suffering in the world?

  2. Becca,
    Bless you. To be honest with you, I say as little as possible and move on to someone who wants to hear about Jesus or be fathered in the Way. Unless I feel the Holy Spirit, I move on.

  3. Alana Hayes says:

    Prior to having to read this book had you had much interaction with any post modernism concepts?

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