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How modern is post-modern?

An argument for a dear friend of mine.

We're playing those mind games together
Pushing the barriers planting seeds
Playing the mind guerrilla
Chanting the Mantra peace on earth
We all been playing those mind games forever
Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil
Doing the mind guerrilla
Some call it magic the search for the grail
John Lennon (1973)


"May you live in interesting times", this old Chinese proverb applies to these times, too. In academic circles, however, it is thought we are not living in interesting, but in post-modern times (Lyotard 1984). That is to say, some of us are not modern anymore, but have gone beyond modernity. Where is the rest of us now, I am asking? Are we simply modern because we are old-fashioned and do not realize our being out-of-time? Or are we beyond modernity because we have never been in these modern times? Or are we in post-modern times because MTV tells us that everything happening today is certainly not of yesterday and thus, we are post-modern because yesterdays were the modern times?

Are we trading fashionable word-games for insight and enlightenment? Does it mean we are living already beyond Charlie Chaplin's Modern times?

This paper discusses some of the issues raised in the debate of post-modern times. It particularly demonstrates that history does not follow fashion but structures and patterns set out in the course of economic, political and societal development.

The main thesis of this paper is that we have lived, are living and will be living in times being as old-fashioned as they have ever been. Modernism is still the prevailing thought style because the principles of our living and working conditions have not changed for the past 100 years or even more. The French philosopher René Descartes, some 400 years ago, had outlined the thought style of these modern times when stating: I think, therefore I am. He introduced rationality being the fundament of mind.

The term modern relates to the Latin word modernus thereby meaning just now. Modern times are the times we are currently living thereby assuming relations to the past, the present and the near future. Modern times have been out there all of the time depending on the point of view people were holding. There is nothing modern about modern times, let alone about post-modern times a term suggesting to being a contradictio in adjecto. If you declare time being post-modern you simply abandon time. This does not seem to be reasonable. The term post-modern qualifies for what Gregory Bateson (1988) called, using the Yiddish word, kuddelmuddel - it mixes different issues and comes up with a term representing rather nothing but a big mess of different concepts, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

When we talk about modernity we refer to different sequences of historical time and their related concepts of mind. Philosophy, for example, may consider its breakthrough to modernity beginning with Descartes in the 17th century. Economy has a different time-table favoring the 18th and 19th century. Technology certainly favors the 20th century, although the 19th century laid the technological ground for our current times. Medicine, probably, would also say that its modern times only began in the 20th century.

Astrology, on the other hand, may assume that there were no modern times at all because it has been always fashionable. And the religions? I really do not know what they think about modernity or even post-modernity.

What I am saying is that the term modernity does not carry much weight as regards meaning. It is a formal term related to raw temporal structures, not even to historical or cultural ones. It simply does not bear any meaning to say we are living in modern or even post-modern times. If you listen to politicians, they always refer to their actions being directed to modernity. They mean their actions are different from the ones currently carried out. Modernity in their terms simply means assumed or suggested difference. There is no proof of the difference, it is just claimed by using the term modernity. And, by the way, politicians' modern times become quickly post-modern ones as soon as the next election is set to be happening.

Now, here comes Pauline Vaillancourt Rosenau (1994) with here paper on Health politics meet post-modernism: Its meaning and implications for community health organization which intends to shed some light on the meaning of post-modernism in general and to health especially. In the following sections I will discuss some of her crucial assumptions and concepts without going into the relations to health, health promotion or prevention.

The history of social sciences

While post-modernism is fairly precise about what it rejects, unlike other comprehensive critical frameworks such as Marxism or supply-side economics, it is reluctant to offer a coherent, concise alternative (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 304).

Marxism is a tour de force regarding the critique of economics, politics, culture, you name it. Marxism is about what it rejects, and has been rather unspecific on what it is standing for, unfortunately. The historic-materialistic analysis of society aims at the critique of its hidden principles of structures, procedures, and players. It was Marx who introduced the methodology of critical analysis regarding societies following the paths Immanuel Kant had laid with his Critique of pure reason regarding the mind and Hegel's critical comments on it leading to the controversy with Karl Marx.

The history of German philosophy is a history of improving the methodology of critique. After Marx, or even simultaneously, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche delivered philosophical works contrary to Marx's societal approach, however in line with the tradition of critical approaches characteristic for German philosophy. In terms of educational philosophy similar developments took place: Schleiermacher referred to the living conditions regarding education while Herder took a rather individualistic, if not romantic, approach at the fundaments of education. All of them started their deliberations with a critique of prevailing beliefs, thoughts and, as they would say, misconceptions. French philosophers of those times had already developed a rather cynical idea of the relations between society and the individual; their critique of society is well-known. Their English counterparts were like the Germans, however to a certain degree much more pragmatic; but still, the basic of their work was always a critique of societal conditions.

In the twentieth century, the critical approach prevailed. Max Weber, for example, wrote critiques on the religious, cultural and social implications of the economic system (Weber 1947, 1958). Talcott Parsons (1951) continued this tradition of sociology even though he outlined a different understanding of the social system. Others, summarized under the label of critical theory, having done nothing else but precisely analyzing social, cultural, economic and technological issues regarding the development of society (Bronner & Kellner 1989, Habermas 1988, Horkheimer & Adorno 1947, Kellner 1989).

As far as anthropology is concerned, the critical approach to culture and society is constituent to this discipline (Hall 1977, 1984).

As far as economics is concerned, supply-side economics are impersonated by Paul Samuelson (1983) or Milton Friedman (1982) having nothing to do with being critical; they simply state what is best for those having access to markets. Market economy of every kind is not critical but affirmative as current conditions are concerned. The economic debate rather focused on what one can achieve than which factors hinder the participation of the people in economic affairs (Etzioni 1988). As Amitai Etzioni demonstrates in his book, economic theory is basically a critical theory if it involves the idea of economy being beneficial not only to individual but also to social welfare.


The history of social sciences demonstrates that these disciplines have been funded too often because they were expected to provide knowledge and skills regarding the control of human beings. In sociology, e.g., theories regarding the process of socialization have been developed aiming at the social control of the individual and his/her social groups of reference. In psychology, behaviorism and even social-cognitive theory aim at the psychological, social and cultural control of the individual. In economics, market theory aims at the differentiation between those allocating them to the system and subsequently may becoming successful and those questioning the structure of the market (why do we have trade unions?).

There is just one thing we can learn from the history of social sciences (with exception of a few examples): all of them are too often in the business of blaming the victim.

Sciences of all kinds are fairly incomprehensible to a certain extent. Do we really understand Einstein's theory of relativity? I admit, I don't. Science has always been a very exclusive speech community, or you may say, it reflects specific thought styles besides the specific lifestyles of scientists or academics. It is a characteristic of science that it differs from the everyday world. If it would be the same, there would be no need to call it science. This is not to say that I am in favor of elitism, it is just a statement of a matter of fact.

The basic fundaments of social science do not require a specific ScienceSpeak. Social scientists may choose this language to demonstrate their capabilities; it may be their low self-esteem leading to this rather irritating bubble of language not comprehensible for the ordinary citizen. Basically, social sciences do not have to follow this path - and there are numerous studies having avoided this type of experts' arrogance.

However, social sciences do not necessarily undertake their business having the common citizen in mind. As analytical sciences they address issues beyond the course of everyday life as far as its moral sense is concerned. To analyze always means to distance oneself from the object of analysis. It does not mean to distance oneself to an extent that the object of analysis is no more recognizable. However, as social scientists, we always pretend to distance ourselves from the social situation although we are always part of it. This is paradoxical, however, it has been noted so many times in the literature that we know of our limits when we are trying to be scientific:

... we were far too concerned with 'defectology', and far too little with 'narratology', the neglected and needed science of the concrete ... It is this narrative or symbolic power which gives a sense of the world - a concrete reality in the imaginative form of symbol and story - when abstract thought can provide nothing at all (Sacks 1986, 174-175).

Take the scientific studies of symbolic interactionism, and particularly the works of Erving Goffman. You will hardly find wordings difficult to comprehend by ordinary people. On the contrary, those qualitative studies bringing people to speak their minds were heavily criticized by those scientists involved in proving the efficiency of social science by studies using quantitative methodologies. The latter received the research grants because it was clear that their study results would not be meaningful to the political agencies. Goffman and many of his colleagues simply had to rely on their own resources to undertake the research they did.

I do not see how social sciences could ever possibly contribute to the political atomization of the population as is assumed by post-modernism (Eckermann 1994). The population is atomized by politics, not by sciences. And even if scientist have contributed to politics and thus subsequently to the alleged atomization, I would still hold the priority area of political atomization is the political, not the scientific arena.

As far as I can see, social sciences do not differ much from other scientific disciplines. Physics, for example, had gone way too far in the Manhattan Project, but it has come back and has established pretty reasonable measures to prevent themselves from getting involved into anything like that. Yet, these preventive measures do not operate successfully. Star wars is a good example. We see similar processes with the Human Genome Project. And even with AIDS-related bio-chemical research we can detect that scientists are close to ethical bankruptcy. Also, in ecological sciences we are witness of interest-based "research" helping companies and governments continuing the deforestation of tropical forests or the mining of ecologically important areas or the fishing of the oceans to an extent that there may be no fish there anymore in a few years of time.

Social sciences have always been used by governments, i.e. by politics. The same is true regarding all other scientific disciplines. There is not a specific ethical bankruptcy of social sciences - if there is any, then there is a total bankruptcy of all sciences particularly regarding governmental influences on the agenda of research and teaching. Sciences are not value-free, they are interest-loaded to the utmost extent. If you declare social sciences ethically bankrupt, you are doing nothing else but to acknowlede the political interest in scientific conduct (Adorno et al. ). This acknowledgment, however, applies to the whole scientific community - and there is no way out of here as long science is mainly funded by governments. Perhaps there is no way out of it at all, because particularly private donors expect specific results when investing in science.

If there is any use of the term ethically bankrupt in the context of science as assumed by post-modernism, then we may state that a society is ethically bankrupt if it does not allow scientists to ask the questions they feel needed to be asked. If a society is not able anymore to face the truth - then it is bankrupt, and science can hardly do anything about it because it is part of society.

Post-modernists seem to like the idea that critics should be held accountable for providing solutions regarding their criticism. Noone asks for "coherent, consistent alternatives" in these days anymore - except for conservatives who cannot stand the fact that their world may be criticized without telling them the recipe of fixing the deficits. The rest of us has learned the lesson that reality is diverse, mostly inconsistent and only slightly coherent.

However, that does not liberate us from presenting rather coherent proposals as far as our argument is concerned. If post-modernism means to promote the idea of all kinds of thoughts regarding a specific issue, then it promotes the idea of randomness of thoughts and subsequently of scientific standards.

Post-modernism's basic belief

Post-modernism is not an entirely original viewpoint. It brings together elements presented in many other perspectives and melds them into a variety of different post-modern orientations. Post-modernist would not see this creation, which they call pastiche, as violating their promise not to put back together what they deconstruct, because they make no claims for what emerges (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 306).

The funny thing about post-modernism is that it uses the same word-games as any other philosophical approach or theoretical concept. It has to do so because it claims to be "not an entirely original viewpoint" thereby meaning that it collects its ideas and thoughts from other disciplines and brews an alleged new mixture of thoughts.

Post-modernism claims to have a viewpoint? It has rather a variety of viewpoints but certainly not a or one viewpoint because that would go against its strictest belief: anything goes; Paul Feyerabend (1975) coined that famous philosophical statement; he was not a post-modernist but a philosopher claiming to be anarchistic as far the development of knowledge is concerned. Is it a viewpoint at all? What do we see from that point of view?

If post-modernism rejects the idea of being based on values of whatever origin and/or kind, but insists of being spontaneous, creative, etc., why does it undertake the collection of ideas and putting them into a new set of orientations? It does not make sense to claim being hygienically free of what the moderns are supposed to be infected with - and ending up presenting nothing but an eclectic mish-mash of more or less value-loaded concepts labeled post-modernism. There is the rub. Post-modernists say, only modernists need labels, however post-modernists do not. Then, why do they call themselves post-modernists?

I can hardly see the relevance of a philosophical statement claiming to be against everything and do not give a thought on what the effects of its statement may be. To me, this is pure ignorance to the extent that it plays into the hands of those in power. The post-modern approach implies the negligence of real power structures because it refers to individual superiority against society.

The hyposthasis of individualism, however, is a typical phenomenon of conservative politics thereby intending to cover up corporate and governmental actions in favor of the rich and in disfavor of the middle and the working class. Individualism has always been an argument of those who disliked the idea that societies contain large collectives not being supported as equally as the few individuals on the upper end of the social hierarchy have always been.


Post-modernists would be likely to embrace empowerment only if it were defined in terms of improving self-esteem, individual competence, self-confidence, self-awareness, self-development, improved quality of life ... or as "the ability to choose" and to "increase one's capacity to define, analyze, and act upon one's problems" (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 310).

The post-modernists' understanding of empowerment is a limited one because it emphasizes the individual dimension of empowerment in the sense of self-improvement. By doing so, it re-emphasizes the concept of self-made man, an altruistic idea of the individual being the caretaker of his/her fate regardless of circumstances and conditions. As has been demonstrated elsewhere (Romanyshyn & Whalen 1987), the ideological figure of the self-made man perfectly fits into the ideology of market economy with serious social and psychological results:

This dream embodies the promise that one can create oneself, fashion one's personality in whatever way one wishes. In effect, the self-made man is the creator of his own home, the one who 'makes his own place' in the world (Romanyshyn & Whalen 1987, 203-204)

The self-made man breaks free from the bonds of tradition and home only for the sake of creating an ideal home and thus weaving his own history. This figure denies the very thing he strives for, fleeing his historical roots in order to give birth to his own conception of himself. This soul's flight from home, from its origins and its past, characterizes the depressive soul (Romanyshyn & Whalen 1987, 207)

The misunderstanding of empowerment as being exclusively linked to the individual forms the most conservative types of politics. It also discloses the Darwinistic background of the label called post-modernism because the implication of this sort of self-improvement is the degradation of others in order to accomplish the individually set goals. There is no room for cooperation or solidarity in post-modernism - just pure egotistical pursue of selfish interests. Cooperation is only sought after in terms of one's own path to success, i.e., it is not cooperation that guides individual social action but exploitation of other individuals and their skills and relations.

The concept of the individual underlying post-modernism seems to be one of the lone ranger who strives through the wilderness of human society on his/her way to self-improvement - whatever the term self-improvement in this context may mean. What we see here, is the schwarzenegger-ization of philosophy and social sciences. It is the individual being the terminator rather than anything else.

Post-modern individuals?

Post-modern individuals are comfortable with personalized politics, free of totalizing global projects like those of socialism and capitalism (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 312).

Who are these individuals? The rich and famous? Is Ronald Reagan the first post-modernist? Where do these individuals live and how do they make a living? I suspect that even post-modernists have seen only a few who could be labeled post-modern individuals, i.e. people who really do not care about anything but their self-improvement because they are rich enough for not being forced to work and for not having to worry about anything but their beauty and health.

I question the notion that "post-modern individuals are comfortable with personalized politics" because I am not aware of one psychological study demonstrating this strange assumption. Of course, people relate to politicians and in this sense, politics are personalized. Individual political opinions bear personal experience but that does not make them personalized politics under any circumstances.

Politics may be defined as the art and science to guide or influence policy, i.e. politics take place in the public and they are guided by set goals and objectives which individuals, groups, and organizations follow. Politics are substantially social rather than individual because in politics the individual relates to others and vice versa. In essence, there is no "personalized politics" because this term is a contradictio in adjecto. Politics have always been social. It gains its significance for the individual because it is social, i.e., because it refers to more than just one individual. Politics never deal with the individual - the law does so many times although it is written regarding the collectivity. But politics are never written with the individual case in mind.

The characteristic of politics is that they have to be global to some extent. Politics are formulated to give sense and direction to the social organization of life. Without politics addressing global issues, there would be piecemeal approaches on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis to manage and cope with social, economic, ecological, cultural and political difficulties. A society which does not develop politics based on global concepts would not survive the day. The complexity of human relations and the relations between humans and their living conditions is so high that piecemeal approaches are hopelessly lost in the multitude of issues asking for (concerted) action.

Uncertainty, risks and defragmentation

The post-modern world is characterized by radically insurmountable uncertainty, indeterminacy, chaos, fragmentation, and discontinuity (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 312).

There is no post-modern world because the world is indivisible. There is only one world and it has been there all the same for more than the past 10 years or 10 centuries or 10 millennia, even though post-modernists may not like this thought. Chaos, fragmentation, discontinuity, etc. have always been part of the existence of the world. Environmental destruction, for example, has always happened in the world. What has changed since the beginning of industrialization is the extent of chaos, fragmentation, uncertainty, indeterminacy, discontinuity and destruction brought about by man himself. We are witness of an increasing amount of man-made disasters of all kinds. These disasters have increased since industrialization started. Basically, they are not new, but it is of course new that we are able to trigger off some of them deliberately. And we have done so more frequently than has been beneficial to our environment.

Whether chaos and fragmentation will increase, we can hardly predict. I suppose it does not matter which way the development of the world will go because the inconsistencies of life in general and human life in particular will always be there. There is no use in fatalistically stating that we should withdraw from politics unless it is "personalized politics". Such withdrawal would only contribute to the acceleration of the processes nobody, not even post-modernists, I assume, would like to see them happen at all.

Cause and effect

In the absence of cause and effect, the post-modern individual can not be held accountable because these things "just happen" (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 312).

Cause and effect are there as long as this world exists. There are huge chains of causes and effects being intermingled with each other, and we are unable to get them separated and work on single cause-effect-relations anymore. Nowadays, we have to face the fact that we are living in interconnected circumstances and probably time- and thought-worlds.

That does not liberate us from taking responsibility for a whole range of things that happen; they quite often happen, because we want them to happen. May I mention rape? Are post-modernists saying, "don't worry baby, it just happens"? This would be ridiculous to the utmost extent.

The idea that "everything is related to everything" (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 313) can hardly result in the statement "that responsibility cannot be precisely located" (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 313). If that were true, we would simply say that we would give up any responsibility at all. Thereby, we would admit being nothing more than mindless beings, probably nothing more than a bacteria. We know a lot about the connections within and between different sectors, segments or systems. We know how they work together, how they facilitate each others' existence. We know how they affect our individual and collective lives and living conditions. And we even know rather often who are the players of the political game that keep the systems functioning the way they do.

In other words, we are able to analyze our social system to the extent that we can demonstrate its functions, and its internal and external relations at least in a limited way. However, knowledge does not necessarily lead to action.

The hidden agenda of post-modernism

Behind the term post-modern, however, lies a hidden agenda. Those using the term claim our societies have changed in principle. They assume we have passed through the basic modern times of industrialism, technological development, social progress - and have reached a stage of socio-cultural and technological development permitting us to free ourselves from the burden of manual labor, class-struggle, sexual exploitation and environmental destruction. They assume that structures of society and patterns of social action have been developed to the extent that they have lost their direct connection to the economic sphere and its particular dynamics.

This is not the case. We are still living in the same old economic structures resulting in social classes, exploitation of humans, alienation, and specifically in gender discrimination. It seems to be ironic that the feminist movement picked up the term post-modern and relating it to its own issues thereby neglecting the fundaments of gender discrimination at least in developed countries. Our times have not been structurally changed compared to fifty or one-hundred years ago. The structural relations between employers and employees are still the same. The may be some legislation preventing employees from extreme exploitation, however this legislation does not work in times of unemployment.

As data from the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe, and several studies from Great Britain indicate, unemployed people are extremely vulnerable because they had already suffered from surplus-exploitation as long as they had an opportunity to work.

Taking all epidemiological evidence available, it clearly indicates that the poor are less well off than the rich, the less educated are less well off than the better educated, and women are less well off than males - regardless of any disease. Given these data, I wonder how one can speak seriously of post-modern times. Regarding the opportunities to participate in political decision-making, current societies have succeeded in excluding as many people as possible to get involved in these processes. The main reason is the scientification of politics, i.e. the power or even the arrogance of experts defining issues and ways and means of dealing with them. Town hall meetings, currently modern among US-American politicians, always demonstrate this type of arrogance. In case questions raised are not in favor of the candidate, s/he begins a sermon of highly complicated phrases thereby demonstrating his or her ability to cope with the vast amount of information needed to be gone through in order to elicit good policies. No ordinary citizen is capable to meet this challenge - and the discussion about the issue is usually terminated after the sermon.

Economy and individual adaptation

The history of science in general, and particularly the history of social sciences demonstrates the links between politics and science. In analyzing the term politics we may be aware of the fact that the political system and its representatives are subject of close scrutiny by the economical sector. There is an influence of the representatives of the economic sector on ways and means how politics are organized and performed in any country following the idea of market-economy. Those relations do not have to be necessarily personal ones. I do not suggest that CEOs bribe politicians directly. I do not even suggest they do it indirectly. However, what I suggest is that the policies of CEOs are in the mind of politicians on the national level. They have to be in their mind because politicians have to take care of their feelings, since they represent the economic power of the country. Where there's no economy, there's no taxes. Where there's no taxes, there's no governmental budget.

It is in the logic of our social system that the economy enjoys top priority. This has nothing to do with modernity or even post-modernity. It will stay this way regardless of cultural, social and/or political fashions. Those fashions represent certain thought styles being prevalent during certain periods of time.

Take capitalism, and you will see that the economic structure survived extremely different political systems and thought styles. In Germany, at least, it could cope with monarchy, the First World War, a parliamentary system, the fascist regime, the Second World War, and the next parliamentary system.

Economy does not change, because money does not change. Money is the overall medium that keeps societies together beyond all of the threats that may distract their political structure. Humans simply continue to live almost the same lives as money prevails to direct the economy.

The soft spot in the post-modern argument is its emphasis on human beings. Human beings basically do not change, they rather adapt according to their social-cognitive conceptions of action and thought (Bandura 1986). One may call this type of adaptation change, but it hardly is. The evolution of humans does not subscribe to the fact that we are a fundamentally creative or innovative species. Of course, we are conscientious, we are able to use our brain in manifold ways other species are not able to do accordingly.

But in essence, we simply adapt to the conditions we face. If it were not be true, it would be hardly understandable why we have been following politicians, i.e. power brokers, for such a long time. We seem to love to be led. That does not mean that some of use strive to become leaders themselves. This is simply part of evolution as has been demonstrated regarding other species.

The problem is not the adaptability of humans, but their willingness to do so. I do not speak in favor of socio-biology or even worse forms of biologism like fascism. What I am saying is simply that we have to be careful relying on human genius. Most of the time, it is not human genius where we assume it to be. Perhaps there is no such thing as human genius at all but only human mind fighting to cope with the adversaries of everyday life.

A new concept of subjectivity

I am pleading for a new understanding of the human psyche. This understanding has to connect to the work of Sigmund Freud, but it has also to take account of later developments in the analysis of the human psyche as being presented by the concept of critical psychology (Tolman & Maiers 1991). We are gaining a clearer understanding of the interrelations between society and psyche.

As far as health is concerned, for example, our knowledge improves regarding the connections between physical, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions of well-being (e.g., Freund & McGuire 1991). We know that societal conditions play a far major role as we have assumed. Nowadays that we know how invasive social factors are concerning individual and collective health (Blaxter 1990, Rose 1992), we should be clear that whenever there is any ethical bankruptcy, it is on the side of our institutional structures and their inherent procedures. Blaming the victim has never been an appropriate strategy of health policy.

We are subject of an organized way to frame our minds so that we fit in (Douglas 1986). Of course, our mind enables us to fight this frame and to create a different one more pleasing to ourselves. But we have to be clear that this fight needs social, mental, cultural, economic, political, and environmental conditions only few of the population enjoy.

In fact, I do believe we are back to square one. Nothing has really changed during the past centuries.

It is still the well-off people who can afford to think about social, economic, cultural, and ecological changes. No wonder that all of those academic and semi-academic journals are full of articles asking for changes. Ordinary people do not feel the need to change because they have suffered from their conditions for generations. And they are really involved to ensure their survival. Yes, that is true, even if we do not want to accept the fact. The economic data do not demonstrate anything different: most of the people really spend their money to maintain their household. They cannot afford books, computers or other fancy items social scientists take for granted. If there is any meaning in post-modern it may lie in the incapability of social scientists to relate to ordinary people or at least to get a glimpse of their living conditions and lifestyles.

We are much too far away from where the real life is - but that, as I said before, is not a matter of being post-modern. That is basically a matter of our role in society. Or: that is what society thinks our role should be: let them study, but keep them away from the real world.

Power and social sciences

Social sciences have a peculiar relation to history in a way that provides history with the legitimatory power to present its perspective on the course of time. Social sciences have always been part of the societal conspiracy named openness, i.e. the negligence of memory. Democracy and other constitutional states of society have always claimed being the only constitutional order permitting people to express their free will. How come that social scientists have bought into that suggestion?

Two items are of relevance:

1. Social scientists have only a legitimation regarding their work as long as society permits them to work and is willing to accept the results of their work. In former times, society composed of social groups had not developed the feeling that their conduct should be subject of a special group of experts because society was run by religious groups and the aristocracy respectively insofar as they determined the good and evil of human existence. From on the onset of industrialization, the scientification of everyday-life had become a necessity in order to plan, implement and control the new complexity of production, distribution and consumption of commodities.

2. The historical development of societies for the past 400 years (and maybe more) has demonstrated two different facets:

  • the breakdown of familial structures as the fundaments of individual and collective existence, i.e. community existence, and
  • the institutionalization of abstract power agencies equipped with increasingly sophisticated technology thereby being enabled to execute their power according to abstract laws and the effective use of these technologies (Anders 1987a, 1987b, Beck 1986).

In the Middle Ages power came from the aristocracy and religious institutions; the secularization of power afterwards has led to a diffusion concerning the social and cultural origins of power-holders. There have been people in power with no other qualification than that they were elected to their position. The secularization of power opened up a whole area of job opportunities for those having been excluded from power before. This type of democratization, however, has not proven to be successful in many cases because it motivated those in economic power to execute their influence in all civic affairs related to their businesses. Working class and middle class people do not get involved in that system of power distribution because they lack the substantial ingredient: money. The result is a sort of democracy permitting those in economic power to run for governmental office in case they were unable to find someone else they could pay for running on behalf of them.

As a result, we can observe an aristocratization of democracy by the virtue of money. The Philippines are an excellent example for this condition (Manapat 1991). I wonder whether the same structure does not apply for so-called developed countries. When I read political comments about the United States of America, I get the feeling: it is just the same only covered up a bit better until it will be disclosed (Ermann & Lundman 1978, Greider 1992, Phillips 1991). In the Federal Republic of Germany, the close connections between money and power have been obvious for the past almost 50 years. The connection between science and power via money has been studied extensively (Barker & Peters 1993, v. Schomberg 1993). Externally funded research gives always power to the funding agency rather than to the researchers (Küppers et al. 1978, Mayntz 1985).

Now, post-modernism tells us that these relations are bad - fair enough. But it does not tell us how we are enabled to go around these relations and still receive funds for research. By just saying "No", nothing is accomplished. Post-modernists abstain from political action as long as it does not represent an example of "personalized politics", at least that is what they are saying. Is fund-raising not also an expression of "personalized politics" inasmuch as it involves persons who enter the political arena asking for funds for their research, even though this request involves more than just this one person?


Post-modernism is a philosophical current, a cultural force, a frame of mind ... (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 316)

A philosophical current? I would rather say, it represents a conservative political concept currently en vogue again (best regards from Newt Gingrich!). A cultural force? I do not see that. A frame of mind? Unfortunately, this may be true. I pity that because I thought we could go one step further and not several steps back. Post-modernism is a frame of mind of philosophers, social scientists and others having difficulties to acknowledge their limited and restricted roles they may play in public and political life. I am afraid to say that post-modernists are clever because they designed a label and put it on their foreheads, on journals, book-cloths and probably talk-shows all over the word - just to make sure that carnival lasts for 365 days a year.

However, there is relief in sight: "the post-modern span of attention is substantially shorter than was the modern" (Vaillancourt Rosenau 1994, 327). Every wave is new until it breaks - Neil Young once sang. I am rather sure that this wave of post-modernism is about to break soon because it has not much to offer we have not known before.


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Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001