A Problem of Philosophy

In the last issue of Ny Tid there was a recension titled “Är Trump postmodern? Nej!”. It is a text which had also appeared in very similar form some time earlier in one Sunday edition of HBL. Already then I felt some wish to comment on it, and now I felt that wish again. But as I was somehow unable to find the text in Ny Tid’s web edition (which would have made it easy to add a comment to it), I have to write the comment in this blog.

In the text, it is reported that Nora Hämäläinen had successfully defended a number of French postmodern philosophers (among them Michel Foucault) against the accusation that they had prepared the public for the spread of the political claims, lies and methods of the extreme political Right, including Trump’s. And as she is an academic philosopher who has read those philosophers (and was presumably sufficiently well trained to understand them) I do tend to believe that what she says/writes about them is essentially true.

BUT: In this same context comes very obstinately to my mind the following anecdote: During a philosophical conference the American philosopher John Searle (whom I know to be in the habit of writing a very clear and easy-to-understand style) has some coffee break together with Michel Foucault, and says this: “Michel, if one sits and talks with you like this, everything you say is so perfectly clear and reasonable. But if one has to read what you write, Oh God !!!” In reply to which Foucault is regretfully explaining that he unluckily cannot help being just a French philosopher and that in France one is not taken serious as a philosopher if not “at least one third of one’s production is completely impenetrable rubbish”. Which will of course very easily lead to misunderstandings, also such misunderstandings which can result in the claim that Trump were “postmodern” … . But whose fault is this now? Could we perhaps put the blame on those French “kulturmänniskor” who lap up the “rubbish”, the publishers which eagerly feed them what they want, and perhaps also the academic philosophers who do not object to this not-so-helpful business? Of course one could hope that with the help of clearer psychological ideas (which ARE available) it could become easier to understand what is going on between philosophers and their audiences (in a way not dissimilar to what is going on between a demagogue and his followers), and also what the philosophers actually mean by their terms. But I do have a strong feeling that those kulturmänniskor would strongly object, claiming that this invasion of psychology would make much of philosophy simply trivial – with which they actually might be correct: if one understands the terms too clearly, the grand feelings might have to give way to simple and rather sober insights … . And it would then become a simple matter of taste what one prefers, grand feelings or insights. Only, to think that one has grand feelings and is STILL correct, that might become more difficult … .

And as to Trump and other extreme political Rightists, there will be really not so many among them who have actually read Foucault or other philosophers. Whatever they think about those philosophers will be just the result of rumors (which have been emanating from the above-described “kultur” business). And that Trump is with the full support of his party and his followers “lying like a horse is trotting”, that I ascribe less to the influence of some philosophers but rather to the politicians’ experience how very easy it was to get any with ANY lies in the recent past, e.g. after 9/11, where practically ALL the media were spreading and defending (even rather desperately so) an official version of the events which just had (still has) that small mistake that it is incompatible with the laws of even classical mechanics (more specifically with the laws of free fall).

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