Philosophical ideas take time to percolate into the streets. But powerful
ones precipitate in a matter of decades as ideologies and manage to provoke social
upheavals. Such dire results lead to the original ideas’ ending up in humanity’s
intellectual dustbin.

Consider some examples from modern history. In the early 19th century
Hegel started the ball rolling when he identified conflict as the dynamic heart
of human history and hyped up the State as the embodiment of a people’s spirit.
This, philosopher Karl Popper has argued, served as a remote foundation for future
totalitarian regimes that would lead the German nation on to a quest for world
dominance.

Nietzsche subsequently rejected Hegel’s hyper-rationalist views, but his
own ideas followed a similar roller-coaster trajectory. Only a few decades
after his death, his exaltation of the “Übermensch” and the “will
to power” found its way into the minds of Nazi ideologues and played its
part in plunging Hitler’s Germany into a disastrous second world war — after
which, naturally, all forms of absolutist worldviews, whether rationalistic or
voluntaristic, fell into discredit and were replaced (in the later 20th century)
by milder forms like scepticism, “soft thinking”, emotionalism and
irrationality.

A parallel story may be told of Marx’s materialistic rendering of Hegel’s
dialectical philosophy. It led –less than a half-century after Marx’s demise–
to the rise of Communism in Russia, and later on in China and several Latin
American countries… only to be discredited by the breakdown of
Communist-style economies at the end of the 1980s. (This left liberal
capitalism as practically the only functional socio-economic formula — till
the global financial crisis broke in 2007 and revealed the horrid face of a
capitalism turned into a “no-holds-barred, come-what-may”
money-garnering activity).

Now, in the summer of 2011, Britons have witnessed, shocked, the
empirical effects of a way of thought whose principles are “no truth, just
opinions”, “anything goes”, “me first”, “having
is more than being”. As Rebekah Hebbert has pointed out in MercatorNet,
we’re actually witnessing the bankruptcy of postmodern ideology, though (much
as I don’t like being a prophet of doom) the aftershocks will probably continue
to be felt for years to come. Just think of similar recent events in France and
Spain.

While it’s true that we humans often err in judging philosophical ideas
for what they’re worth, common sense at least lets us perform an a posteriori
(or should I say post mortem?) critique. The time for a re-evaluation –complete
with status downgrade!– of a worldview whose hallmarks are relativism, individualism,
license, and materialism, is, I hold, now upon us — in fact thrust violently
upon us, whether we like it or not. For postmodernism’s real-life consequences,
seen live on TV or Twitter or directly as bleeding flesh on British tarmac, now
impel us to conclude, “We’ve been had!”, and to start looking for sounder
alternatives. (Something with nicer consequences, please! — even if we have to
call it something like, er, post-postmodernism. )

In this quest, it might help to consider the other notable event of this
summer: the meeting of a million and a half young people with Benedict XVI in
Madrid for World Youth Day, with its admixture of commitment and fun, vitality and
serenity, challenge and hope. Most participants’ faces contrast starkly with
the brooding visages of Hegel, Nietzsche, Hitler, Marx, and Stalin, not to
mention the shifty looks and hooded faces of the UK rioters and looters. I
mean, hey, look –those young people in Madrid (quite a few non-Christians
among them, too) seem able to behave well and have fun at the same time! Isn’t
there something to be learned from that?


J. José Alviar is
Professor of Systematic Theology at the University Navarra,
Spain.