‘Prolegomenon to a natural history of the human species’: Explanatory critique (1979–1986)
MH: The 1980s saw the crystallisation of the postmodern as a global discourse. In your later written assessments of postmodernism, you praise it for its critique of abstract universality and its emphasis on difference and diversity, its critique of modernity and Eurocentrism, but strongly criticise it for its rejection of any kind of universality and its consequent actualism and for its judgemental relativism. Fredric Jameson already in 1984 offered in effect a real definition: ‘the cultural logic of late capitalism’.1 Your own work was very much devoted to moving beyond that logic. While postmodernism’s political trajectory was rightwards in the direction of anti-communism/anti-Marxism and an endism that saw liberal democracy and capitalism as unsurpassable, that is, counterrevolutionary,2 you continued to work metacritically within the conatus to freedom linking Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Marx and remained committed to a form of revolutionary socialism. Thus while postmodernism was rejecting the European Enlightenment holus bolus, you (while by no means uncritical of it) were elaborating versions of several of its ‘grand narratives’: those of emancipation through the advance of knowledge and, in your work towards Dialectic, of the tendential rational directionality of geo-history, issuing in the possibility of a new eudaimonian enlightenment. While postmodernism was prone to view ethical categories as mystificatory traces of power relations, you were bent on elaborating an ethics grounded in truth. You must have felt you were swimming against the tide, if not kicking against the pricks?