I can, incidentally, speak on this subject from personal experience. When I was an undergraduate I learnt a lot of this Postmodernist nonsense myself, and encountered it frequently at university, but I had the great benefit of learning a considerable amount of analytic philosophy (an acid under which Postmodernism dissolves) and listening to, and reading, no-nonsense Leftists who always understood it for the idiocy that it was and still is.
This subject is relevant to economics, because there are some actual Post Keynesians who seem to think that they can adopt a serious “Postmodernist” methodology and epistemology as a foundation of Post Keynesian economics. This, in my view, is a terrible delusion.
Some of the pernicious ideas that Postmodernism has given rise to are the following:
(1) the view that there is no such thing as objective truth;These ideas have led to intellectual catastrophe on the Left. They would be just as devastating to Post Keynesian economics, if seriously pursued as epistemological ideas. John King (2002: 195–196), for example, is absolutely right to point out that Postmodernist ideas are incompatible with core Post Keynesian principles, such as objective reality and objective truth, and even something as basic as Nicholas Kaldor’s “stylised facts” about modern capitalist economies.
(2) cultural relativism;
(3) following from (2) the view that there is no such thing as objective morality;
(4) the view that modern science is not true or just one “narrative” that is just as “valid” as any other, and
(5) the view that no text can have a fixed meaning intended by its author.
But here I just want to take a quick look over the intellectual origins of modern Postmodernism.
The origins of Postmodernism are complicated. In the mid-20th century, structuralism was the fashionable theory which had replaced existentialism and which had spread from linguistics to anthropology, psychoanalysis and literary theory.
But by the 1970s many French intellectuals, many of whom were former Marxists and communists, reacted against structuralism and Marxism and invented a new poststructuralist philosophy.
It is true that some of the big name philosophers who were associated with poststructuralism did not explicitly identify themselves as “postmodernists,” but we should not be fooled by this: the French Poststructuralist movement is a major source of modern Postmodernism.
Within French poststructuralism, there were at least two important strands, as follows:
(1) the strand derived from the work of Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), andBut numerous other influences flowed into the Postmodernism cacophony that you find in modern cultural studies, literature and philosophy departments in modern universities.
(2) the one associated with the work of Michel Foucault (1926–1984).
One stream that has entered into modern postmodernism is semiotics, which was in origin a discipline within structuralism but came to influence certain Poststructuralists like Lacan and Foucault.
A third, but underrated, influence on modern Postmodernism was Anglo-American New Criticism, which had been the dominant form of literary criticism in the English-speaking world until the late 1950s and early 1960s, but which, even though it has collapsed, also influenced the theory of textual “deconstruction” that has become an almost cult-like staple of modern postmodernism and cultural studies departments.
A fourth source of modern Postmodernist pretension is the pseudo-science of Freudian psychology and its bastard offspring Lacanian psychoanalysis and Lacanianism.
A fifth influence, though perhaps weaker than the ones above, was Theodor Adorno and the German Frankfurt School, whose social and cultural Marxism was a harbinger of many themes in modern Postmodernism.
Many people on the Left who think of themselves as intellectuals or who are (bizarrely) regarded widely as Leftist intellectuals have been brought up on a steady diet of Postmodernism nonsense: you can always spot them by their arcane and verbose jargon, and their frequent inability to explain what they mean in ordinary, straightforward language. The appalling cult of Postmodernist jargon was famously pilloried by the Postmodernism Generator, a computer program that can write a grammatically correct essay in the Postmodernist style, but is literally nonsense.
Postmodernism as a general philosophy, as the famous linguist Noam Chomsky has said, should go to the flames. It is as simple as that.
Maybe some few ideas can be salvaged from it, but I would be very surprised indeed if these were anything but trivial truths or things that other philosophers have already known for a long time.
Finally, here are some videos below on postmodernism. The first two are excellent videos in which Chomsky explains the history and absurdities of Postmodernism, and its terrible effects on attitudes to modern science and even intellectual life in the developing world.
The final one is from John Searle, from his own conversations with Foucault and Bourdieu, explaining why French poststructuralism is filled with such incomprehensible rubbish.
Aylesworth, Gary. 2005 (rev. 2015). “Postmodernism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
King, J. E. 2002. A History of Post Keynesian Economics since 1936. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA.