Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Is President Trump Applying Critical Theory Methods to Government?

James Lindsay, the preeminent student of Critical Theory, social justice and Postmodernism, is out with a new video.

In it, he puts out a fascinating theory that President Trump is applying Critical Theory to government.

Lindsay writes:
Max Horkheimer defined a “Critical Theory” in direct opposition to a “Traditional Theory” in a 1937 piece called Traditional and Critical Theory. Whereas a Traditional Theory is meant to be descriptive of some phenomenon, usually social, and aims to understand how it works and why it works that way, a Critical Theory should proceed from a prescriptive normative moral vision for society, describe how the item being critiqued fails that vision (usually in a systemic sense), and prescribe activism to subvert, dismantle, disrupt, overthrow, or change it—that is, generally, to break and then remake society in accordance with the particular critical theory’s prescribed vision.
In short, the goal of Critical Theory application is to deconstruct (blow-up) the current order of what is under examination.

Lindsay argues that this is what attracts many to Trump in that he is attempting to blow up the current government structure. This, indeed, is probably also the attraction of Trump among some libertarians.

He goes on to argue this Critical Theory application to government is also what triggers those who are anti-Trump. They are pro expanding the welfare-warfare state (Anti-Trump anarcho-capitalists are an exception).

This really fits perfectly, it explains why the Left and neo-conservatives both hate Trump. It is his Critical Theory approach to government.

Lindsay states (via Google transcript) in his video:

I don't care about the fact that the
guy is a walking irritant is enough to
get into orange man bad you can say
whatever you want about it but the
fact of the matter is that the guy is disrupting
norms left and center he's obnoxious in many
regards and you can't say he's not
because the people who supported most
love that about him and they say they
love that about him I point out for
example sometimes that Trump is...
playing the critical theory or
postmodern game and he they'll say how
and I said well you know this video that
he posted or this meme that he posted or
whatever that's actually that is
textbook Jacques Derrida
deconstruction of the Office of the
President and they say back to me well
it needs to be deconstructed so they
don't deny it the guy is is
intentionally violating these norms he's
doing it like crazy he is actually
deconstructing the Office of the
President and the people who put him in
office and who support him like that
he's doing it so let's not bullshit
about whether or not it's happening it's
certainly happening this was very
difficult for me to get used to this was
a lot of cognitive dissonance that the
stateliness of an office is high and
powerful as the presidency is going to
be occupied by somebody who's making a
joke out of it it's not a joke it's
important it matters and so this really
ate into me and until I understood that
it's a critical and post-modern game
that he's playing it's whether he's the
mastermind of it I don't know but he's
playing an intentionally anti expertise game
it makes his moves fairly predictable
the stuff that happens in its office
hasn't surprised me in a few months and
it stops stressing me out it's like oh
yeah of course that's what's going to
happen I can't necessarily predict what
he's going to do but when it happens it
of course it's what it is he's just
trying to piss on expertise why didn't
he wear a mask in front of the media
well he wanted to troll the media
because it's one of the things he does
the other thing is because it shows anti
expertise so you can get into all a
psychology about yeah I like to not
psychologize people if I can but
get in all the psychology about oh he's
trying to portray strength and
manliness an elder strong man crap and
this is fascism and blah blah blah blah
a lot of people do that
it's simpler than that the expert said
wear a mask he doesn't believe in the
experts his base doesn't believe in the
experts they don't want there to be
experts telling people what to do so he
doesn't wear a mask...
these kinds of people on both sides
social justice people for sure are doing
it all of them what we have to realize
is that as I said in a previous podcast
is that these people are playing a
different game than the rest of us are
playing right and if you don't know...
I would like to say that it's broadly
speaking the critical theorists and the
most broad understanding of that and I
understand that that's a complete
mindset and yes I filed Trump under the
critical theory banner the movement that
is called trumpism sometimes is a
fundamentally critical theory movement...
it is fundamentally critical theory it
is critical government studies if you
want to put it in like critical fat
studies critical gender studies critical
government studies as for critical
social justice that's of course my
expertise that's what I read all day
every day it is a whole worldview you.

I really think Lindsay is on to something here.

It points out the strengths and weaknesses of Trump from a libertarian perspective.

Once you understand that Trump is deconstructing government, you can understand why his appeal to small government types is attractive. But Critical Theory as far as I am concerned is a tactic rather than strong on foundational principles. And this is where Trump fails. He is good at the deconstruct but he as no foundational philosophy of freedom, so he will deconstruct some part of government only to replace it with something very similar.

This is the problem with Trump, he will never be the libertarian man because of his failure to have a solid (any?) freedom driving principle. But his presidency can teach us something. Critical Theory deconstruction of government can garner huge support.

It is what we need to shrink government and advance freedom and that is what we need not fear. Trump has taught us this can be done.

This is the primary reason I object to the current Libertarian Party campaign of Jo Jorgensen. She is not trying to blow up current coercive government policies. There is no Critical Government Theory in her campaign.

She is trying to pretend that she holds the core views of the lefty Critical Theorists. That is why she goes to BLM events, a 100% Critical Race Theory operation.

And this tweet is about as weak as a libertarian could get:
Rollback spending to 1998? What the hell? Let's roll it back to 1776, when there was no United States government.

 That's how you do critical government theory and apply it to freedom, you start ripping apart the entire statist structure.

It is time we take over Critical Theory and make it about freedom. Maybe we should call it Modern Critical Theory, that is, deconstruction applied to government.



  1. I read about half of the transcription, but then passed out from lack of oxygen, (without a mask!!)
    Somebody give that man a period! (calling J.K Rowling!)
    BTW, I hand my crown as King of the Ellipses to this guy...
    Anyhow, yeah, deconstructing is great, and yeah, replacing with SOME sort of principled structure would be great. Any candidates???

    1. The transcript is YouTube's auto captioning. It doesn't know how to punctuate yet.

  2. I think this may have some parallels Thaddeus Russell's defense of "post modernism" as "not incompatible" with libertarianism.

    Jordan Peterson's critique of po-mo is heavily based off Stephen Hicks. Hicks is or was a Randian, or at least, has often been so described.

    One of the more interesting recent defectors from the Marxist camp to libertarianism is Michael Rectenwald. He's the author of "Google Archipeligo - The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom", one of the most innovative books in the libertarian camp from recent years. He says some of the intellectual armor developed by the left can be repurposed as libertarian armor. I think the particular example he made was Louis Althusser's theory of ideology. (See Rectenwald, Google Archipeligo, Chapter 3 and )

    Althusser talks about "RSA" - Repressive State Apparatus - as well as "ISA" - Ideological State Apparatus.

    Libertarians have an easier time tackling RSA - say the military-industrial complex, than say the ISA. Much of the "ISA" can be seen as "Throne and Altar", at least the "altar" stuff as described in Rothbard's 'Anatomy of the State'. Unfortunately the modern state doesn't have an explicit "state church" as did feudal states. They do rely on a whole ideological / education / media / industrial complex that relies on "technocracy" and "non-ideological experts". The libertarian opposition to the modern "altar" - what has been called "The Cathedral" by 'Mencius Moldbug' has been less rigorous.

    Rothbard also argued in favor of libertarians becoming familiar with Leninism, not because he was a fan of Lenin, but as they had spent considerable effort thinking and developing ideas to change / overthrow 'the system' and that these tools were not exclusively the intellectual property of the left.(Rothbard's essay 'Towards a Theory of Strategy of Liberty' is sometimes described as Rothbard's 'Leninist' phase. )

    I think there is a parallel to guerilla warfare. Guerillas often start their insurgencies with arms lost or liberated from their opponents. So maybe this applies to intellectual conflict as well.

    1. Now THAT's what I call a comment. An excellent article in and of itself. I'll check out those references.
      BTW, Rectenwald was on Tom Woods' show a little while ago.

  3. Trump's actions may have some popular support but they do not deconstruct government. He has certainly crashed through various political protocols but never once come close to challenging central governments underlying idea that might makes right. In fact he is in many ways the epitome of might makes right. His supporters simply want deconstruction of support for existing special interests and construction of support for their special interests. The only lesson is that MMR continues to impede progress in human wealth and well being. Until MMR is challenged and replaced with sovereignty of the individual and voluntary action in the minds of the people, there will be no deconstruction of government.