The Leftist Philosophy That’s Even Older Than Joe Biden

Don’t be fooled: postmodernism is the oldest, lamest trick in the book.

Wearing a face mask to reduce the risk posed by the coronavirus, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden talks with members of the United Steelworkers union in a supporter's back yard September 09, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Biden is campaigning in Michigan, which President Donald Trump won in 2016 by less than 11,000 votes, the narrowest margin of victory in state's presidential election history. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If you’ve been punishing yourself by following the rare public statements of Joe Biden (those few of them coherent enough to be “followed”), you may have noticed an intriguing emphasis on such words as truth and transparency. “The American people deserve transparency from their leaders,” said Biden after releasing his tax returns. And again: “it’s about electing leaders who tell the truth,” he said after Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson endorsed his candidacy.

If you are wondering how Joe can talk about such things as “transparency” when he has spent a good chunk of this month simply refusing to talk to the public, you are not alone. What does it even mean to “tell the truth” if you’re not speaking to anybody after 10 A.M.?

We’ll find out in the debates how much of this has to do with Biden’s increasing struggle to deliver coherent sentences, but there’s something deeper going on here too. To insist on every available media channel that Democrats are the Party of Truth, while simultaneously obscuring from view the most important aspects of your candidacy, is to reveal something important about the modern American Left.

Long before this election, the Left became enamored of a philosophy called “postmodernism.” The most relevant postmodern thinker for our purposes is Michel Foucault, a Frenchman who argued throughout the second half of the 20th century that language is more about power than it is about truth. Or rather, as he wrote in Discipline and Punish, Foucault believed that in modern society “the deployment of force and the establishment of truth” are one and the same thing.

What this means is that “truth” isn’t the objective world outside of us — it’s not something we experience and describe. It’s the decisions strong people make and back up with violence — it’s something we create and enforce.

These ideas have helped give a veneer of academic legitimacy to every major progressive excess since the ’70s.

That is why the Left can claim, unblushingly and in the teeth of all empirical evidence to the contrary, that if someone claims forcefully enough to be the opposite sex, they will in fact become the opposite sex, and must be viewed as such.

It is why Joe Biden can insist that he is the candidate of transparency even as he hides in his basement.

It is why the New York Times feels perfectly comfortable calling for news outlets to censor Trump if he thinks he’s won the election.

Note the connection between postmodern “truth,” which is fungible, and political power, which is hard and fast: if they can muzzle you, threaten you with violent riots, and force you to comply, then the imaginary world they demand will have been summoned magically into being. This philosophy allows the Democrats currently seeking election to run on platforms that have almost nothing to do with reality and everything to do with the threat of force.

Like Foucault, the rioters and agitators of the Left present these ideas as radically new. They are not. They are the oldest intellectual tricks in the book, protozoan holdovers from before Socrates enlightened the ancient Greek world. Back then, wandering gurus like Heraclitus insisted that “all things are in flux,” so that no stable truth could be known or counted on.

Thrasymachus, who famously argued with Socrates in a conversation Plato portrays in his Republic, took this pre-truth philosophy one step further when he asserted that “justice is simply the will of the stronger.” If you don’t believe in objective truth, that’s the natural conclusion.

It’s old and atavistic nonsense, dredged up from the backwaters of intellectual prehistory where it should have stayed. This zombie philosophy is the one currently animating our withered husk of a Democratic candidate. If he wins it will be that philosophy — not Joe Biden, really — that takes power. It will be the equivalent of a new dark ages. It can’t be allowed to happen.

Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and assistant editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Wire.

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