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Postmodern Economics and Interventionism over Socialism

QUESTION: Postmodern Economics – Interventionism over Socialism


While many Postmodernists advocate a whole-hearted socialist agenda, others are critical of how socialism has been implemented in the past. Some Postmodern theorists go so far as to claim that Postmodernism is “fueled by the failure of Marxian-inspired State socialism.”1 In this regard, Mills writes that Foucault reacted against “...the purely economic and State-centered focus [of socialism and nationalism]...stressing that power needs to be reconceptualized and the role of the State, and the function of the economic, need a radical revisioning.”2 Toward the end of his life, Foucault even began encouraging his students to read “libertarian authors on the right like Friedrich A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.”3

Richard Rorty looked at the history of socialism and came to the conclusion that, practically speaking, it was a failure. Rorty writes, “Just about the only constructive suggestion Marx made, the abolition of private property, has been tried. It did not work.”4

Postmodern Economics – The Interventionist Approach
While the utopian promise of socialism has much emotional appeal, the actual results where socialism has been implemented were increased poverty and greater class division, in addition to the millions of citizens slaughtered in the attempt to maintain a state-run monopoly. Rorty criticizes socialism and offers an alternative. He writes, “Most people on my side of this...cultural war have given up on socialism in light of the history of nationalization enterprises and central planning in Central and Eastern Europe. We are willing to grant that welfare-state capitalism is the best we can hope for. Most of us who were brought up Trotskyite now feel forced to admit that Lenin and Trotsky did more harm than good.”5

Rorty is suggesting that an interventionist approach to economics works best. Interventionism is not a totally state-planned economy or a completely free market economy, but a combination of the two, where the state plays a role in redistributing wealth created in a partially or mostly free market environment. Rorty refers to this as welfare-state capitalism.

While most Postmodernists repudiate any references to purpose or goals, Rorty is different. He believes that economic theory should have the goal of alleviating human suffering. Rorty is so committed to this goal that he calls it the “transcultural imperative.”6 He sees an interventionist economy as the best way to decrease human suffering. As he told a college audience in 1999, “The non-West has a lot of justified complaints to make about the West, but it does owe a lot to Western ingenuity. The West is good at coming up with devices for lessening human suffering...These devices are used to prevent the strong from having their way with the weak and, thereby, to prevent the weak from suffering as much as they would have otherwise.”7


Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Anthony Thomson, “Post-Modernism and Social Justice,” citing Stuart Henry and Dragan Milovanovic, Constitutive Criminology: Beyond Postmodernism (London, UK: Sage, 1996), 4. Available online at
2 Robert Eaglestone, ed., Routledge Critical Thinkers (New York, NY: Routledge, 2003), 15
3 Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York, NY: New York Review Books, 2001), 153. Foucault’s biographer, Didier Eribon, wrote, Foucault “had been seen with an iron rod in his hands, ready to do battle with militant Communists; he had been seen throwing rocks at the police.” See Eribon’s Michel Foucault (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 209.
4 Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope, 214.
5 Richard Rorty, “Trotsky and Wild Orchids,” in Wild Orchids and Trotsky: Messages from American Universities, ed., Mark Edmundson (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1993), 47.
6 Ibid.
7 Richard Rorty, “The Communitarian Impulse,”¬scripts/RortyTXT.htm.

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