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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fullness or Dichotomy

Written by: on February 7, 2020

This week’s reading, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault  has been a struggle. While I understand how this book can be helpful and useful in certain contexts, I struggled to relate to this book on a personal, academic, or professional level. From reading reviews, it seems as though I am not the only one.

 

Stephen R. C. Hicks is a professor of Philosophy at the Rockford University, Executive Director for the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship, and Senior Scholar at the Atlas Society.[1] He wrote Explaining Postmodernism in 2004 and re-released an expanded edition in 2011. The book has a pretty robust description of modernism, which is designed to help the reader understand how postmodernism then comes to pass. Hicks views postmodernist philosophy as a strong reaction against the Enlightenment, citing the work of Kant and Rousseau in the 18th century. He says, “Postmodernism then becomes an activist strategy against the coalition of reason and power.”[2]

 

Reviews agree with Hicks overarching explanation of postmodernism, however some have reservations with who and how Hicks outlines the different ways postmodernism is lived out. Some find challenge with Hicks portrayal of Rousseau[3], others it’s Hicks portrayal of Kant[4], but nonetheless, there is much frustration around this book, which overall, I agree with.

 

Let me make this clear, I am not a philosopher, nor do I care to be. I am honestly quite confused by philosophy and find it to be more frustrating than liberating. This book was a perfect example of annoyance for me. I felt that this book really highlighted the dichotomy that is philosophy. I was struck most by Hicks contradictory statements as political strategies. He gives examples of postmodern contradictions like, “On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely destructive and bad.”[5] To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to do with this. I understand the concept of dialogue and extremes, but when I view statements like this, I have empathy for how people know or understand anything anymore. When I read Hicks in light of our other reading this semester, like Taylor and Noll, I am left wondering more and more about the mystery of faith. I love the imagination that Taylor referenced, and I feel a deep sense of loss for it, as we seek to understand and defend polarized positions. I feel a sense of loss for the imagination of faith and wonder where faith fits in black and white explanations of the world. Hicks, in his attempt to identify and locate postmodernism, in historical society, made me frustrated by humanity’s desire to explain everything away. Taylor says, “The big obvious contrast here is that for believers, the account of the place of fullness requires reference to God, that is, to something beyond human life and/or nature; where for unbelievers this is not the case; they rather will leave any account open, or understand fullness in terms of potentiality of human beings understood naturalistically.”[6] This sense of fullness that Taylor refers to is what I missed in Hicks. While I understand that he does not identify as religious, I find that those who push everything to the margins of the dichotomy spaces miss the fullness that comes from seeing the whole picture as one. Because of that, this book felt dry, stoic, and not relatable. Who knows, maybe I’m a postmodern skeptic myself.

________

[1] “Contact/Bibliography”, Stephen Hicks personal website. Accessed on February 6, 2020: https://www.stephenhicks.org/biography/

[2] Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to. Foucault (Ockham’s Razor Publishing, 2011), Loc. 478.

[3] Matt McManus, “A Review of Explaining Post Modernism by Stephen Hicks” Areo Magazine. October 17, 2018, Accessed February 6, 2020: https://areomagazine.com/2018/10/17/a-review-of-explaining-postmodernism-by-stephen-hicks/

[4] David Gordon, “Finding Meaning”, Mises Review 11, No. 3, Fall 2005: https://mises.org/library/explaining-postmodernism-skepticism-and-socialism-rousseau-foucault-stephen-r-c-hicks

[5] Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to. Foucault (Ockham’s Razor Publishing, 2011), Loc. 3972.

[6] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 7.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

8 responses to “Fullness or Dichotomy”

  1. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Karen,
    Thanks so much for an honest, vulnerable post. I concur with many of your experiences having read Hicks. Perhaps, Taylor’s faith informed scholarly approach displays for us the starkness of Hicks’ no-faith approach. Thanks again for your scholarship and your honesty.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Hahaha. Thanks for the laugh this morning with your honesty. These books can be very dry especially without the faith aspect that we all come to look for. It’s at these times I remember that 90% of the people we come in contact with could care less about us Academicians but then I remember the culture is usually 5 to 7 years behind what happens in Higher Education. So at least it will be relevant at some point in history.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      One can only hope! As a person in the Academy, I sometimes feel like it’s the other way around. We’re close to 10 years behind what everyone else is saying/doing. But those college students sure do keep me young!

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I love that you brought this back to fullness!! I was thinking of Taylor and the way his long and complicated work aimed to offer hope and life while I agree this one seemed to suck life from me. I have always felt like postmodernism actually re-introduced mystery by releasing us from the tyranny of certainty (I may lean one way here…lol). I see this potential given that a literary genre particularly aligned with postmodernity is magical realism which is full of the impossible and a break with the rational. What genre’s have helped you reengage wonder and mystery? Where did they stem from and how do they confirm or reject modern realism?

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hey there. So Heidegger and Hegel don’t spin your wheels. Well, that’s hardly surpising – you’re in good company, which is nealry everyone. I’m not a postmodernist because I do actually hold to the idea of verifiable truths and that not everything is variablly interpretable on the basis of current social or cultural identity constructs. It is quite possible to be universally wrong or right. I also do not buy the intellectual sustainability of intersectionality. However, I recognise that it doesn’t matter what I believe to other people because, quite franlky, they don’t care. However, where it can be a problem is when the variable and unverifiable beliefs of the masses conflict with the statements of those who see differently. Ironically, postmodern liberalism is beginning to resemble the inquisitions of the Catholic church. Galileo was the modernist thinker, and the premodern church locked him up. So it seems modernism is the meet between two anti-rational eras. Though Hicks is a hard read, along with philosophers like him, they are on the front line of human thinking and it’s socio-political outcomes, past and present. However, your point about faith is important because in truth, the catholic church is a polity outside politics and philosophy. I guess this philosophical pondering warns us about the faith conflicts we face when philosophy impinges on the accumulation of our historical faith journey.

  5. Karen,
    I agree with you that philosophy is not an area of interest and that made this book a difficult read for me. I appreciate your contrasting Charles Taylor’s sense of fullness as opposed to dry, stoic and unrelateable Hicks’ writing.

  6. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thanks, Karen for your reflection on Hicks’s philosophy of postmodernism. It’s true this book brings out multiple challenges especially to us from the African continent where we are still struggling to come to modernity. The community of faith is equally challenged but it’s very comfortable with some who find it easy to connect their faith through modernity. I still find it hard connecting the true faith of God with postmodernism theory. Karen, we are together with you with this book’s challenge to our Christian faith.

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