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The crisis of the postmodern worldview
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
August 16, 2012

Originally published December 9, 2004

The postmodern worldview is schizophrenic. It is split in two, and the two parts contradict one another. Francis Shaeffer taught us to think of it as a house with an upper story and a lower story. There is no stairway to connect the two stories. The upper story and the lower story are walled off from one another.

In the lower story is scientific materialism, which dogmatically asserts that the world is be a closed system that consists of nothing but matter and energy that are subject to the laws of cause and effect. A second dogmatic assertion follows hard upon the first — the only thing we can know with assurance is derived from empirical scientific methodology working in the lower story. Everything else is mere opinion, bias, subjective preference, and illusion, or so we are told. A third assertion is that man is a machine governed by blind laws of heredity and environment. Therefore, free will, reason, and moral conscience are illusions, or thus decrees the little man in the lower story.

There are no windows or doors in the lower story. The thought is cramped and blinkered. The feel of the place is claustrophobic like being trapped in a tomb. Pride and ignorance rule in these dark caverns. Pride comes from inflated presumption that only empirical science working in the lower story has the capacity for certain knowledge. The reputed "knowledge" is self-assured and brutally dogmatic. Ignorance comes from rooting out of all other forms of knowledge and leaving a few bare bones in the darkness. The meaning of those dry bones is largely misconstrued by the sweeping generalities and vain speculations of scientists. These speculations are exempt from authentic criticism because they are "science." Only specially certified men of science who share the same three brutal assumptions may review and criticize the speculations in special journals. The extreme dogmatism of our prestigious science establishment. about these narrow assertions has made this a great age of inhuman dogmatism, prejudice, and ignorance. No bigot of the Jim Crow era can come close to the sheer narrowness of mind, arrogance of presumption, or prejudice towards dissenters of our vaunted establishment science.

Intelligent postmodernists sometimes admit that no one can live their private lives in the lower story. This was a major premise of Francis Schaeffer. No one can function in the real world thinking they are merely a cog in a machine. No automaton can have reason, will, value, purpose, conscience, or self-consciousness. One must vault up into the upper story to furnish a place to live. No stairways of reason connect the two stories, so one must make a leap into the dark. No laws of science or nature can be allowed to intrude into the upper story, where a refuge of absolute freedom is to be established. Likewise, no universal moral law or cultural norm can be allowed to intrude upon and limit potential choices. Personal feelings, values, and choices, yes. Universal and timeless truth, no. No God of design may enter these chambers. A new "god" of haughty Self has taken up residence in the upper story with his own contingent designs and momentary agendas.

Each postmodern individual invents his own private upper-story world, his own self, his own values, and his own preferences, or so we are told. It is a personally-invented world. One makes it up on the fly as he goes along. And it is to be airtight and exempt from criticism, social norms, and moral laws. The upper story is just as insulated from moral criticism as the lower story is insulated from rational criticism. The standard defense of the upper-story anarchy will be "I have values." But this is a half-lie. The upper-story mind has transitory preferences. The strong preferences are presumed to be "values." In the sense of "I value it because I chose it and because it pleases me," I suppose these are values of a sort. In the sense of enduring truths and moral laws, these are not real values. The postmodernist will insist that the universal moral laws of the Christian are roughly the same thing. The postmodernist presumes that the Christian arbitrarily selects concepts from an old tradition and subjectively decides to "value" them. Therefore, the postmodernist will tell another half-lie: "My values are just as good as your values." His inevitable conclusion is that "No one should impose their values on others." This would be true if all values were only feelings, arbitrary preferences, opinions, tastes, and choices. But this is nonsense, of course. The universal moral law has objective existence, and universal applicability whether one values it or dreads it or denies it. We receive the moral law from a Higher Authority, we understand it by reason, and we are subject to judgment by that Authority in regard to it.

Postmodernists are "antinomian" (against law) and deny that any such law or higher authority exists. The thoroughgoing postmodernist believes that "good" and "evil" are arbitrary labels assigned subjectively to relative and equivocal situations. The postmodernist is the very prototype of an unprincipled man, a man without any fixed principles that cannot be rigged in his favor. He may give temporary allegiance to a "value" if it helps his agenda of the moment. Scoundrels have always been with us, but the postmodern carries the arts of dishonesty to new levels. He can be an unrestrained and unreformed malefactor and yet demand the right to be free from moral accountability except for those selective "values" he can bend to work for him.

On the political stage, wherever we see the rationalization of evil and the harsh criticism of good, we see postmodernism at work. The postmodern art of moral equivalence follows the formula, good = evil. For example, Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, tries to prove that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is just as good as America, or maybe better. Half of the Democratic Party leaders attended the movie and praised it. They were blind to the fallacy of good = evil. They are also blind as to why their party is in decline.

"Woe unto them who call evil, good, and good, evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!' (Isaiah 5:20).


In the lower story of the postmodern schism, there is bondage to a random and meaningless world of brutal deterministic forces. In the upper story, there is a formless chaos of narcissistic fantasies and impulses in perpetual flux. It is a fun-house world of warped mirrors, dissolving perspectives, and false turnings. One escapes the claustrophobic machine in the lower story to enter a surreal world of madness in the upper story. The mood, flux, and fantasy of the upper story is captured by some of the surreal paintings of Salvador Dali. He depicts a weird and dismal landscape with perverse and discordant images in the foreground and a monotonous perspective of a flat wasteland receding to an infinite horizon. An infinite horizon is impossible on a round planet. Ships sink below the horizon at three miles out when the observer stands with his feet touching the water. Dali's impossibly infinite desert horizon is both monotonous and alarming. Dali evokes what Sartre called "condemned to be free." One of the plays of Sartre was titled "No Exit." Absolute nihilistic freedom is a bondage from which there is no escape. The Romantic landscape painters used to use horizons to give one the delicious feeling of being set free. Dali's oppressive horizons give one the sense of a hellish freedom of futility and doom. This is the difference between living in the real world that God has made and living in a narcissistic world of one's own invention.

The Great Hypocrisy

The liberal postmodernist is the ultimate hypocrite. While he demands absolute freedom from moral restraints in his private upper-story world, he is sees nothing wrong with the most brutal and mindless group-think and the most controlling and oppressive codes of political correctness. He is blind to the anarchy/bondage contradiction.

In the upper story, the postmodernist is a god creating his own world. He is a jealous god who frets lest the Christian God gets a foothold in his surreal domain. But he is a cog in a machine in his lower-story world, which gives him the lowest possible view of man. He accepts no moral responsibility for his acts because his machine-like lower story informs him that all his ideas and actions are predetermined by cause and effect. Thus, the machine-like lower story is an enabler and rationalizer of his lawless upper story. He thinks all the events of the world of men are governed by "root causes" in a closed system of cause and effect. Group-think and strictly enforced codes of correct speech seem natural to him, because his lower-story world dogmatically imparts an extremely low view of man, and a mechanistic view of group dynamics. But his own lower story is blind to the surreal despair or demented orgy in his wild upper story. Thick ceilings and bricked off staircases prevent any intrusion from the lumbering machinery of analysis and judgment to enter the unrestrained party upstairs. This explains his blindness to his own hypocrisy.

If a postmodern liberal has real political power, he will tend to be self-indulgent and unruly in his private life, but dictatorial with others, and be perfectly blind to this contradiction. He will be what the Bible calls an evil ruler. Postmodern liberals yearn for executive power because of their itch to control, but are constitutionally unfitted for the responsible use of power. While Bill Clinton was secretly partying with pretty young interns (exhibiting upper-story anarchy), Hillary was trying to bring socialism to medicine (exhibiting a lower story urge to control.) If we ever have a postmodern dictator, the country will be turned into a prison while wild orgies are going on in the capital. Shades of Nero, Caligula, Sejanus, and Commodus.

The only stable features in the postmodern upper story are the supremacy of the arbitrary godlike will, the value of pampering and pandering to unrestrained feelings, and a narcissistic obsession with self. Just as the upper story is cut off from the lower story, it is also cut off from reality. By definition, the illusions of narcissism cannot exist unless they are sheltered from the light of reality.

The nature of the postmodern crisis

The lower zone assumptions about the world are in constant contradiction with reality. This is one reason why liberals cluster together in group-think communities in academia, government bureaucracies, the news media, entertainment, and the arts community. They get constant reinforcement of their deterministic and politically-correct views from their self-enclosed ant colony. The self-reinforcing group insulates them from reality.

The perpetual flux of the upper-story postmodernism reveals an obvious instability. The narcissistic fantasies of their upper-story life are severely endangered by exposure to stable human life lived in a wholesome and healthy manner. That is why they are reflexively anti-family. It also explains why the insecure narcissistic gays demand public recognition of their perverse lifestyle through the legal recognition of gay marriage. Their explosive wrath against any mention of the divine law is rooted in terror. Narcissistic fantasies are always on the verge of collapse and cannot endure a hint of criticism. One reason for the politically-correct speech codes is to prevent any dissent that carries with it a hint of criticism.

If postmodernism is entirely held up by artificial props, one wonders why it has not long since collapsed. Two inner reward mechanisms keep this deeply pathologic and malformed worldview in operation. Pandering to the godlike illusions of the upper story gives one the reward of pride in the self-deity which creates itself, and, of course, the gratification of the self-indulgent whims of hedonism. Asserting the superior knowledge of the automaton who lives in the lower story enables one to assert superiority over lesser mortals on the outside. A self-contained postmodern can be astonishingly arrogant and smug.

Although postmoderns enjoy an internally self-reinforcing system, there is an inner war which undercuts their confidence at every turn. Postmoderns can be the most insecure and terrified of men.

The lower-story message radically contradicts the upper-story message. One cannot be both a god who creates and a cog who is part of a machine. One cannot live in a world of infinitely receding perspective and be closed in a machine. A narcissistic self-concept radically contradicts how all one's fellows view one. They don't think that the narcissist is a god, even if they are narcissist god-pretenders themselves. Within the tight little group-think cult, there is a tremendous secret contempt and alienation. When a postmodern breaks out of one group-think circle and joins another one, he will be eager to tell the second group how rotten the first group was. Finally, the dogmatic assertions of the lower story are contradicted by all the lessons of experience life has to teach.

Why does not the world of postmodernism instantly fall like a house of cards? It is held up by two kinds of energy. The soulless energy of narcissism and an affiliated satanic energy. The diabolical realm is the great ally of narcissism. Sheer blindness prevents any self-examination or any awareness of the utter dishonesty and the gigantic contradictions and hypocrisies at play. Ignorance is bliss for the postmodern. But the postmodern life is not a real life. It substitutes cruel illusions for life. The postmodern world is not, and cannot be, sustainable over the long haul. One day, God will blow upon it and the house of cards will collapse. Our job is to see to it that civilization does not collapse with it. As they follow the ways of destruction, let us be busy at work rebuilding the ravaged culture.

"Ye see the distress we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and its gates are burned with fire; come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach" (Nehemiah 2:17).

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31