Postmodern Neomarxism

When a tweet encourages half a dozen replyguys missing the point, it evidently needs a bit more exposition.



There’s a moment in the Žižek-Peterson debate where Žižek asks Peterson who the Marxists are that he’s referring to. (I don’t know if it’s “the most important moment” as this YouTube video claims but it has been clipped here most usefully.)

First, Peterson asks Žižek why he identifies as a Marxist. Žižek replies by saying that he’d more readily identify himself as a Hegelian, but he greatly admires Marx for his thorough critique of political economy and the prescience of his predictions for the future of capitalism. Whereas his grand political rallying cries, like The Communist Manifesto — for Peterson at least — may leave much to be desired, there is plenty more depth in his more thorough political critques that, Žižek seems to suggest, Peterson the social scientist might be more impressed with if he’d take his head out of his arse and read more closely what he is doggedly critiquing.

What is interesting is that, in the same breath, Žižek also seems to charge many contemporary Marxists with the same lack of scholarly rigour. They too have only read The Communist Manifesto, and it shows. They might, contra Peterson, support it, but their reading is nonetheless doomed to being as superficial as Peterson’s is.

Soon after this jibe is made, Žižek declares his bemusement at who Peterson is identifying as a Marxist in this sense. “Where did you find the data?” he asks. “I don’t see it.” He continues:

You designate your “enemy” … or the thing you are fighting against … as “postmodern neomarxism”. I know what you mean: all this from political correctness, excesses of whatever, spirit of envy, and so on and so on. Do you think that they are really [Marxists]? … I would ask you here: give me some names or whatever? Where are the Marxists here? … Show me any of the big names of political correctness [who are Marxists]. I think they fear [Marxism] like a good vampire fears garlic.

My problem would be this one: what you describe as “postmodern neomarxism” — where is really the Marxist element in it? They are for equality … within cultural struggles — proper names, what do we call each other — do you see in them, in political correctness and so on, any genuine will to change society? I don’t see it. I think it’s a hypermoralisation which is a silent admission of defeat.

In hearing this, I couldn’t help but think that Peterson’s derogatory designation is in fact — albeit accidentally — accurate.

I’ve written something about this before — the strange tendency that has led some BreadTubers to defend some bizarre conception of “postmodernism”, simply because Peterson uses it as an insult. Peterson evidently doesn’t know what he’s talking about but, in attempting to affirm his insults in the form of opportunistic clickbaity YouTube critiques of Peterson, many BreadTubers have done nothing more than reveal their own impotence.

Postmodernism is not your friend, but in adopting it as an indirect identifier, many BreadTubers have, in fact, demonstrated how what they do is already a product of the “cultural logics of late capitalism”, as Jameson succinctly defined it. Their moralisations are rarely well-constructed ethical standpoints; they are rather positions that they have adopted uncritically because they have been selected for them by market forces. (This is as apparent in the latest Contrapoints videos, in which she is reduced to a caricature of herself doing conceptual trend reports — her latest video on “cringe” takes this, cringefully, to another level — to Justin Murphy’s final form as a shill dressing up business studies lessons as insightful philosophy — which just makes him an economist, at this point, I guess? Anyway…)

In this same sense, “neomarxism” is as strangely accurate a term as “neoliberalism”. Neoliberalism is no more the “new” liberalism as neomarxism designates a “new” Marxism. The neo- prefix doesn’t stand for “the new” in any sense but a capitalist one, where “new” is synonymous with “remake”; superficial but shiny, made explicitly for the market. (In other words, the neo- prefix is precisely a condensed qualifier designating a market-capitalist bastardisation of modernist cultural tendencies.)

Seen in this way, “postmodern neomarxism” is a pretty useful phrase for qualifying what’s wrong with much of the public intellectual left. It’s just a shame that Peterson didn’t mean it in that way.

4 thoughts on “Postmodern Neomarxism

  1. he didn’t see it that way because he sees the Marxist ideology the same you see Nazism.
    He basically argues that they’re the same, just on the opposite ends and since it predates the WW2 and since Nazis did some really nasty shit, noone paid attention to the much worse and stealthier way a different beast has entered the ideological field. That’s what he’s arguing for. If you’re open to listen that’s what he teaches in his lectures.

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    1. That’s precisely why his argument is irrelevant, especially when rehearsed in front of someone like Zizek who has done a great deal to consider the tensions of “the idea of communism” long past the fall of the Soviet Union. “The Communist Manifesto” isn’t “Mein Kampf”. Indeed, Marx wrote on the emancipation of the Jewry 100 years before the Nazi’s came to power. To equate the two, and then to claim that equivalency is a question of historicism, only compounds the embarrassment of suggesting his lectures have anything at all to offer someone (genuinely) interested in the history of ideas and our consciousness of them.

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  2. I believe Jordan Peterson’s reliance on Hicks and his book on postmodernism, which is both a characterization and critique, are faulty signifiers for what could instead be called naive relativists, since this is really what both Peterson and Hicks are critiquing. As a bonus it leaves out marxism which is what I believe Zizek was trying to point out by question Peterson during the debate.

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