Deconstructing Critical Theory: The Guise of Oppression
The image above is of one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century: the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault is often named among a group of philosophers, including Jacques Derrida and Jean-Francois Lyotard, under the label of postmodernism. Postmodernism, as a distinct philosophical movement responding to the prior movement of modernism, is quite complex, and this post will be partially an attempt to succinctly summarize the details of the movement. Foucault's work is still studied and commented on heavily today among philosophers, so it is important to mention him.
What is a "guise?" This word is not often used and can be misunderstood. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, the word means "a way in which somebody/something appears, often in a way that is different from usual or that hides the truth about them/it." So the guise of objectivity is a kind of cover, something which obscures the true nature of a thing (in this case, oppression and power). In this post, I'll be discussing the sixth element of critical theory from Neil Shenvi's article on the topic:
Oppressor groups hide their oppression under the guise of objectivity.
Remember that in this series, I have used labels to more concisely list the elements of critical theory in a way that is easier to remember. The other five elements are as such:
Metaphysical: oppressor and oppressed
Postmodern: hegemonic power
Political: solidarity through oppression
Moral: freeing oppressed groups
Epistemological: lived experience
This element is a little difficult to label. In one sense, it can also be considered a postmodern element, since it is directly derived from postmodernist philosophy like that of Michel Foucault. I could call it "Postmodern II." In another sense, it could be considered another political element, since it claims that claims of objective truth are actually tools for the political oppression of others. This element politicizes all truth claims. I could call it "Political II." This underscores the point that the sixth element represents a kind of "junction" between postmodern theory and Marxist theory by denying the reality of objective truth while claiming that its function is oppression of the dominant group over the subjected group. For this reason, I'll call this element the junction.
Until now, we have discussed Marxism and postmodernism somewhat separately. The metaphysical, political, and moral elements are Marxist in their roots. The postmodern and epistemological elements stem to a greater degree from postmodernism. The psychologist and public intellectual, Jordan Peterson, has famously termed the same sort of worldview as critical theory postmodern Marxism, a term that has been criticized for the contradiction implicit in putting the two theories together.
What is the contradiction? Postmodernism, according to Jean-Francois Lyotard, can be summarized as a state of "incredulity towards metanarratives," where a metanarrative is a grand, unified understanding of the world and history that gives people a sense of direction and purpose. In many ways, postmodernism was a reaction to the failure (and evil) of secular metanarratives such as fascism, Nazism, and Marxism. Marxism is one of the metanarratives that postmodernism criticizes. So how can the two be put together?
I think that the answer to this lies in the sixth element. The sixth element posits that political strife in a society is the result of warring metanarratives since metanarratives function as the way to gain power over a subjugated group of people. As I've already indicated, Michel Foucault is very influential in positing that supposedly objective claims are actually functions of power. But before we address Foucault in detail, let's discuss the difference between objectivity and subjectivity.
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity
There is much confusion these days about how we are to understand the terms "objective" and "subjective." In my undergraduate philosophy courses in a secular university, these terms were often criticized as unclear and unhelpful. Yet the distinction is crucial for understanding the nature of truth, truth claims, and how a person's perspective affects their worldview. In the previous post in this series, we saw this in the distinction between lived experience and objective evidence.
Put simply, "objective" and "subjective" mean, respectively, "relative to the object" and "relative to the subject." Of course, that doesn't give us much in terms of precision, but it will help us in understanding the difference in emphasis. Generally, the "object" is an external thing, referred to in the third person, that lies outside the perspective of the subject. The subject is often conceived as a person with a first-person perspective accessible only to that subject and no other.
As we discussed in the previous post, experiential knowledge or "what it's like" knowledge concerns knowledge of experiences that one has only as long as one has had that experience. If a friend has had an experience that I have not had, then he can relay to me what it's like to have that experience, but I have to experience the thing for myself to know what it's like to have that experience. On top of this, there is an extra layer of experiential knowledge that is "what it's like for me to have that experience," which the friend can relay to me as well. But, in this case, it is impossible for me to know what it's like for my friend to have that experience, since I am not my friend. Therefore, some knowledge is subjective. That is, some knowledge is relative to a particular subject and accessible only to that subject.
There are at least two senses in which these terms can be understood. The first concerns the nature of the truth of a claim, and the second concerns perspective. These are, in my experience discussing this topic with others, often misunderstood. Let's take the two in turn.
Objectivity and subjectivity with respect to the nature of the truth of a claim. Let's consider two questions that one may ask about broccoli. First, is broccoli good for you? Second, does broccoli taste good? The first question is for the dietician or nutritionist and is answered with a study of the chemistry of the food and how it interacts with the human body. If the answer is yes, then it is yes even for the small child who hates broccoli and always spits it out when fed it. The second question, however, is not a question for the dietician or nutritionist specifically. It's a question for everyone to answer, and the answer is, "It depends on the person." Some people think that broccoli tastes good, and others think that it tastes terrible. That is because the only answer one can give is that broccoli tastes good or not for this person or for that person. If the answer is yes for Sam, then this doesn't necessarily mean that the answer is yes for John. John may not like the taste of broccoli.
The difference between these two questions is that the former is ultimately about the object (broccoli), whereas the latter is ultimately about the subject (Sam, John, etc.). The latter's answer depends on the subject in a way that the former's does not. So the truth of the statement, "Broccoli tastes good," is subjective. It depends on who you ask.
Objectivity and subjectivity with respect to perspective. Let's consider Sam and John again. Let's say that both are considering whether or not they should support socialized healthcare, something akin to what we see in Canada or the U.K. Let's say that Sam thinks of this issue by reading up on the best research about the effects of these policies in other countries and what scholars predict would take place if such policies were enacted in the United States. On this basis, she attempts to come to the best conclusion by following the evidence. John, on the other hand, considers the issue by thinking about a terrible situation in his family. Years ago, his grandmother had a serious and sudden medical emergency that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to resolve and, since she couldn't afford medical insurance, she had to pay entirely out of pocket. She struggled to pay the mountain of medical bills until the day she died. Whenever John remembers this terrible series of events, he becomes emotional, and he considers how many other people must go through the same situation because of the current system of healthcare. This feeling of compassion leads him to eagerly support a change in the current system of healthcare and to support socialized healthcare.
At first blush, it is obvious that Sam and John approach this issue of public policy differently. Sam approaches the issue objectively by considering it in a dispassionate and detached way, weighing evidence and seeing where it points. John approaches the issue subjectively by considering his own personal experience and how others' experiences affect them in similar ways. This use of the terms "objective" and "subjective" refer to perspective. When considering a certain claim, what kind of perspective should someone take? That is what's at issue here.
The two senses of objective and subjective that I've explained above relate to each other. Depending on the nature of the truth of a statement, a certain perspective is more appropriate for discovering the truth of the statement. Very often, this is the case in politics. Many politicians make emotional appeals to support policies that are evidentially unviable. From a rhetorical standpoint, an emotional appeal can obscure the evidential weakness of one's argument. To approach an issue of objective truth in a subjective way is inappropriate and unlikely to lead one to knowledge of the issue. We understand this perfectly well when the tables are turned. If Sam were to tell John that "broccoli tastes great," it would be completely inappropriate for John to tell her that she is wrong. Since broccoli tastes great to her, this expression of preference is neither right nor wrong in an objective sense, and Sam isn't wrong just because John doesn't like the taste of broccoli.
Therefore, it is inappropriate to address an issue of objective truth from a subjective perspective, and vice versa. This point is very important when we consider the postmodern claim that the oppressor hides behind the guise of objectivity.
Michel Foucault's Philosophy
Like any postmodern theorist, Foucault can be very difficult to understand. For this reason, I found the article on his work from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy very helpful. Foucault is known for his work on a variety of topics, such as history (particularly the history of thought), medicine, psychology, and criminal justice. What unites his work is a critique of the supposedly "objective" or "universal" claims of the sciences. Consider this quote from the SEP article (emphasis is mine):
"Since its beginnings with Socrates, philosophy has typically involved the project of questioning the accepted knowledge of the day. Later, Locke, Hume, and especially, Kant developed a distinctively modern idea of philosophy as the critique of knowledge. Kant’s great epistemological innovation was to maintain that the same critique that revealed the limits of our knowing powers could also reveal necessary conditions for their exercise... Foucault, however, suggests the need to invert this Kantian move. Rather than asking what, in the apparently contingent, is actually necessary, he suggests asking what, in the apparently necessary, might be contingent. The focus of his questioning is the modern human sciences (biological, psychological, social). These purport to offer universal scientific truths about human nature that are, in fact, often mere expressions of ethical and political commitments of a particular society. Foucault's 'critical philosophy' undermines such claims by exhibiting how they are the outcome of contingent historical forces, not scientifically grounded truths."
This is a lengthy quote, so it needs some extra explanation. Prior to the Enlightenment, philosophy had typically been centered on metaphysics. Aristotle, in his book called Metaphysics, called "first philosophy" the "study of being as being." The essential nature of existent objects was the primary focus of ancient and medieval philosophy. With the Enlightenment came a wave of skepticism concerning whether knowledge of the essential nature of a thing (the "thing in itself," as Kant called it) was even possible. The rationalism of medieval philosophy gave away to the empiricism of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Rationalism held that knowledge of the essential nature of an object was possible because of human reason and that human reason was the starting place for gaining knowledge. Empiricism held that the starting place was experience and that, therefore, knowledge of the essential nature of things was likely impossible.
Much of this skepticism about metaphysics came about for two reasons. First, the rationalists of the medieval era had infamously come up with theories involving entirely imperceivable objects spun out of the exercise of reason divorced from experience. This mess of implausible and contradictory theories was taken to be evidence against rationalism. Second, the advent of modern science, and fields whose methods were entirely grounded in experience, and its success was a staggering intellectual development that begged for philosophical reflection. Its success, over and against the perceived lack of intellectual progress in the medieval age, was taken as evidence of the superiority of empiricism.
The problem with these approaches, put simply, was that rationalism granted too much and empiricism not enough. Rationalism seemed to lead one to believe in a whole host of immaterial objects, all generated by the mind. Empiricism, however, led to skepticism about the most commonsense objects and processes that we believed existed, such as causation. Some empiricists, such as Hume, bit the bullet and denied that we could know whether one event causes another to occur.
Immanuel Kant thought that neither approach was fully adequate and sought to bridge the two. His view called transcendental idealism, is an exceptionally complex theory that he explicates in his book A Critique of Pure Reason. Very simply, transcendental idealism holds that some capacities of the mind construct the world in which we experience the real existence of objects. So human experience is a complex interaction between the mind's construction of the universe and real external objects. Because of this, we shouldn't be skeptical of the existence of things, such as space, time, and causation, whose existence cannot be established empirically. These things, taken to be necessary objects in rationalism, are the result of the existence of a contingently existent mind. (For an explanation of metaphysical contingency and necessity, see my post on the Argument From Contingency.) For this reason, the article states that "Kant’s great epistemological innovation was to maintain that the same critique that revealed the limits of our knowing powers could also reveal necessary conditions for their exercise." It is the limits of the mind, according to Kant, that reveal that the mind constructs the necessary components of the universe that it takes itself to inhabit.
After Kant, who lived in the 18th century, much of Western philosophy still had to deal with these perceived limits to what we could know. Hegel saw first-person experience as central in the study of philosophy, pioneering an emerging philosophical field called phenomenology. Hegel, and those in line with his thought, followed Kant's idealism and the idea that the mind constructs the world. The tradition formed out of responses to Hegel, named after the region of continental Europe where it was most influential, is called continental philosophy. In the U.S. and Great Britain, the success of the sciences motivated a movement to conform philosophical study to the sciences. The result was a philosophical tradition that attempted to solve philosophical problems with appeals to the philosophy of language and logic. In other words, these philosophers saw analysis as central in the study of philosophy, and because of this, the tradition is called analytic philosophy. These traditions have little in common, but they have in common a generally anti-metaphysical outlook. Whichever tradition one followed, metaphysics was not what one studied as a serious philosopher.
What does all of this have to do with Foucault? Typically, this period of increasing scientific or empirical knowledge and the resulting skepticism concerning metaphysics is associated with modernism. Thus, the postmodern component of Foucault's work is to critique the supposedly objective fields of inquiry produced by modernism and the Enlightenment. Foucault is not the only or even the earliest philosopher to have questioned the supposed objectivity of the sciences in this way. Marxist theories before him had claimed that the bourgeoisie utilize the sciences to maintain their power. An early form of standpoint theory held that there was a form of knowing unique to the ruling class. But Foucault rejected the notion that any one ideology or theory could accurately describe all of the uses of knowledge for the sake of power. Because of this, if one reads Foucault, one will notice that at times he sounds like a Marxist. At others, he sounds like he is engaged in psychoanalysis. Theories like Marx's and Freud's were very popular at the time, but they tended to be monolithic and rigid explanations of human phenomena. Foucault saw himself as taking a more nuanced and multifaceted approach by not subscribing to any one theory or ideology. In other words, by rejecting the universal truth of any one metanarrative, Foucault saw himself as the better scholar.
This is a brief overview of a very complex history, and I understand that, for people who are not avid readers in philosophy, this overview can feel overwhelming. It's important for understanding critical theory how it stands in a long philosophical tradition that precedes it. My hope is that, by reading and re-reading this overview, you will be better equipped with knowledge as to how these developments came about, at least in summary. Now, I am finally ready to summarize Foucault's central philosophical claims and why they are important for understanding this element of critical theory. I will divide this summary into two parts: the typical view of the sciences and Foucault's view of the sciences. The reason for this is to describe the two in contrast to one another in order to show how radical Foucault's philosophy really is.
The typical view of the sciences. We are currently living in an age in which the sciences are the most trusted source of knowledge. In the United States in the early 20th century, the dominant philosophical tradition was analytic philosophy, and early analytic philosophers such as A.J. Ayer claimed that knowledge was only attainable either through logic or empirical science. This view, that science is either the best or only way of gaining knowledge, is called scientism today. Politically, calls to "trust the science" on issues such as climate change or COVID reflect this commitment our culture has to science as at least one of the best ways of gaining knowledge. Early analytic philosophers were almost universally atheists, so they were committed to the notion that the physical world was all there was to study. (Obviously, this prior commitment to atheism excluded the study of metaphysics.)
Because of its strict method and cross-cultural appeal, many today believe that science is the only truly objective field of inquiry. There is a belief in the neutrality of science and of scientists that help them to transcend any other moral, philosophical, theological, or political commitments. This relative "purity" of the sciences is something to which many people in the West are committed.
Foucault's view of the sciences. Foucault's philosophy stands in stark contrast to this notion of a neutral and objective science. Each of Foucault's major works address different fields in which there has been recent development historically:
The History of Sexuality: a study of how notions of sexuality have changed over time, particularly in such a way that enables it to be controlled by the state
Madness and Civilization: a study of the development of notions of mental health
Discipline and Punish: a study of the development of notions of justice, punishment, and criminality
The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences and The Archaeology of Knowledge: general treatises on the method and historiography Foucault utilizes to study the origins of the various sciences and the underlying philosophical ideas that they represent, as well as the functions they serve for the sake of power
The central philosophical concept in Foucault's work is power. Power is what a dominant person or group exercises over a subjugated person or group. Foucault was personally impacted by the plight of disadvantaged social groups within his own context, namely, mid-20th-century France. Because of this, much of his work focuses on how contingent historical events and factors, along with the philosophical developments that came about along with them, serve to aid people with power in dominating and subjugating those without it. For example, The History of Sexuality aims to show how the first use of the term "homosexual" was a way of labeling those who had sex with members of the same sex as insane and therefore justified institutionalizing them. Shifting views of sexuality were nothing more than tools for subjugating persons deemed homosexuals.
In this way, Foucault's work destroys the typical view of the sciences by showing that they are neither neutral nor objective. Rather, they work as subtle but hugely successful means of subjugating oppressed minorities. Rather than being the one bastion of objective truth left, if Foucault is right, the use of the sciences is just as subjective, political and dependent on philosophical presuppositions as metaphysics. There is therefore nothing uniquely pure about the sciences.
With such a lengthy summary out of the way, let's bring back the element that I have called the "junction" between Marxism and postmodernism: oppressor groups hide their oppression under the guise of objectivity. In quite literal terms, all of Foucault's work is an attempt to affirm this claim. As I have explained in the first post in this series, the Marxism to which I'm referring is cultural Marxism, the result of the work of the Frankfurt School. Foucault's work is postmodern in the sense that it rejects the central philosophical presuppositions inherent in the modernist scheme, and it is Marxist in the sense that it claims that the guise of objectivity serves the political ends of the oppressive group, understood in culturally Marxist terms. Thus Foucault's philosophy serves us very well in understanding how these two worldviews come together in critical theory. Finally, with all of this in mind, how in the world can we address this biblically?
What the Bible Has to Say
In one sense, it seems enormously difficult to try to address this element according to the Christian worldview. As the previous summary shows, this blend of postmodernism and cultural Marxism has a history going back several hundred years, but of course, these philosophical developments are nonetheless recent compared to when the New Testament was written. So how could the Bible have anything to say to developments of the more recent past?
Perhaps we could get somewhere by considering carefully what it is Foucault is attacking. In one sense, it seems as if he's attacking the objectivity and neutrality of modern science, which is a product of the Enlightenment. To many (particularly scientists), this attack is offensive and even dangerous. But I think that Foucault and scholars like him, such as Judith Butler, are questioning a notion much deeper than the sciences. Think about it in this way. Foucault, in The History of Sexuality, argues that the institutionalization and then later criminalization of homosexuality was simply justification for subjugating persons who enjoyed having sex with members of the same sex. Indeed, prior to the advent of Christianity, ancient pagan cultures generally looked upon homosexual behavior favorably. The implicit assumption undergirding this analysis of sexuality is that ideas about sexuality are social constructs, dependent on the political, philosophical and religious motives of people in power and nothing more. In other words, there is nothing normative about sexuality, in the sense that there is no truth about sexuality that is natural in a pre-political sense. Ideas about sexuality are, from beginning to end, nothing more than the result of the imaginations of competing groups vying for political power.
Similarly, in Madness and Civilization, the implicit notion undergirding Foucault's analysis is that, whether or not there is a biological and neurological basis for mental health (as there clearly is) ideas about what is "sane" or "insane" are social constructs, tools for the oppression of those deemed insane. There is no normativity to one's mental makeup.
Judith Butler wrote on sexuality and gender and was influenced heavily by the work of Foucault. She has been enormously influential in affecting what has come to be termed "third-wave feminism." She claimed that gender was nothing more than a performance meant to conform to the social expectations surrounding gender. If a little girl was encouraged to wear dresses, look pretty, play with baby dolls in order to practice being a mother, and the like, these activities were nothing more than socially-acceptable performances. Similarly, little boys are taught to "fit the mold" of social expectations of masculinity when they play with guns, play fight, and act aggressively and assertively. The underlying notion, again, is that gender is entirely a social construct and that there is nothing natural to a girl's desire to be a mother or a boy's natural aggressiveness and strength. In fact, Butler referred to this forced separation between biology and gender as "de-naturalizing gender." Indeed, another key claim underlying her philosophy is that there is nothing about gender that is pre-political. All of what constitutes gender is politicized in her system. (These ideas about gender are the reason why people in our culture now refer to "sex assigned at birth" by checking the baby's genitalia. Since genitalia's association with sex is considered a social construct, even this is criticized.)
What does it mean for certain aspects of reality to be "pre-political?" Consider these words for the Declaration of Independence, which you can find a full transcript of here:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Three claims are notable in this quote from the Declaration. First, all human beings have certain rights, which are unalienable. To say that these rights are unalienable is to say that they cannot be taken away. Whether or not another person or even a government accepts that persons are endowed with these rights, they are so endowed. In other words, the bearing of these rights is an objective reality that stands independently of anyone's acknowledgement of them. Second, God is the Creator of human beings and the One who has endowed human beings with such rights. Because an all-sufficient eternal being has endowed human beings with these rights, they are not dependent on some short-lived government for their continued existence. Third, governments are formed in order to recognize and protect these rights. Remember that the Declaration was written as a list of grievances against the King of England, the central notion being that, since King George III had failed to recognize and protect the rights of the colonists because of his arbitrary tyranny, the colonies had a right and duty to separate themselves from England and form a new government. Rights are a pre-political fact that any just government ought to recognize, rather than create.
This was enormously important because it provided the people of a nation with an objective standard by which they could judge their governing authorities. Since rights predated government, the government would be held to account for violating those rights. The history of the United States is largely one of our failures and successes in living up to those lofty ideals established in the Declaration, and some of our most important successes were reforms that were necessary in order to better live up to those ideals. So, the central philosophy of the United States assumes the existence of certain pre-political facts, facts which stand whether or not a society accepts them.
To recognize that certain aspects of reality are pre-political is to acknowledge that they are what they are independently of any culture or society's recognition of them. In other words, pre-political reality is not socially constructed, and to hold that a pre-political fact is a social construct is simply a contradiction in terms. So what about reality is pre-political?
For Christians who trust in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, it stands to reason that anything that God has created counts as an aspect of reality that is pre-political, something whose nature is not malleable in the way that critical theorists suppose. If we consider some of the groups on which critical theorists focus, we'll find groups whose nature is pre-political.
For instance, biological sex, in spite of the protestations of Judith Butler, is not a social construct. As Genesis 1:27 says, "Male and female God created them." It stands to reason that gender is pre-political as well, since anyone who gets to know men and women know that there are general differences between them. Though the specifics of gender expression differ in different cultures, Deuteronomy 22:5 tells us that men ought not dress like women and that such a thing is an "abomination" to the Lord. This verse assumes that there is a proper way in which men and women should dress, though this will of course differ with the culture. Sexuality is pre-political because God created it, first, for the reproduction and, second, for the delight of a man and woman bound together as "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). The one-flesh union that produces families is the basic building block for societies and therefore could not possibly be socially constructed. This entails that marriage as well, because it is deeply tied to God's design for sex, sexuality, and gender, is pre-political and not prone to the whims of cultures that desire to redefine it as something else.
Similarly, things such as mental illness and disability are not a social construct by nature because they assume that the body is intended to function a certain way according to its design. In other words, God's creation of the body entails a telos or goal for its function, and disfunction or disability, whether in the body or specifically the brain, constitutes a failure of the body to function in the way God intended it. How a culture responds to this reality depends on the culture, but the reality of mental illness and disability is not itself dependent on a society's understanding of it.
I am only covering these issues briefly because of limited space, but the fundamental point is this: only a perspective that has rejected God and His creation of the world can maintain what is put forward by critical theory. Think about it. If God does not exist, then there is no Being of ultimate authority who brought the world into existence. If no Being brought the world into existence, then there was no one with an idea of how the world ought to function in anyone's mind. The notion of any ultimate or objective telos in the world in destroyed by atheism. So how is it, then, that notions of sexuality, sex, marriage, gender, mental illness, disability, and the like come about? They are the results of people living together and are thus constructed out of whole cloth by societies. And, since there is no God who has determined which construction is correct, then there is no correct construction of reality. By contrast, if God does exist, then we have to come to terms with the world as He made it.
So Christianity conflicts with this element of critical theory at the deepest level, by contradicting its fundamental philosophical assumptions. Because we believe in a God who created "the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1), we cannot affirm that things such as sex, gender, sexuality, and the like are social constructs as long as He created these things.
Is there no truth to this element? Is there no sense in which those in power can hide behind the guise of objectivity? I think that Christians have a good answer to this, but the answer takes some nuance. As Christians who believe in a God who created all things, we cannot agree with critical theorists when they undermine the concept of objectivity. When the critical race theorist, for instance, says that to strive for objective truth is an element of "whiteness" and is inherently racist, we should reject that claim. We believe in a God who has created reality. In Him is truth, so we aim to discover the truth because we love Him. So, when critical theorists suppose that the problem with this or that person's claim is that they claim to be speaking about objective truth when objective truth doesn't exist, we ought to reject that argument.
Perhaps it will help to think of things this way. By grounding fundamental aspects of human nature and experience in social constructions, none of which are true or false, the critical theorist cannot coherently state that some claims are true and others false. This is clear; if the concept of objective truth is undermined, then no one has it. It is not something that can be known. The Christian, on the other hand, can coherently affirm that some claims are true and others false. And what we have seen is that the manipulation of falsehoods for political gain is historically common. In fact, it is one of the most common tools of tyranny.
Consider, for instance, the command of King Nebuchadnezzar to all of the people of Babylon to worship the golden statue he had built (Daniel 3). No God but the Lord of Israel exists (Deuteronomy 6:4), but it is politically expedient to command the worship of a god who always supports the king. When Daniel's friends refused to worship the statue, the king took this as justification for executing them. His lies had upheld his tyranny over the Jewish people, but the Lord showed Himself to be faithful in protecting them. In this case, falsehoods prop up a tyrant's oppression.
What about truth? Can truth be utilized for political gain in order to oppress others? Again, I think that this is not only obviously true but also that examples are readily available. Consider the mistreatment of Samaritans by the Jews. The Samaritans are mentioned in the gospels and were hated by the Jews because they had intermarried with the Greeks. The Jews of Jesus' day had a point; the Lord had commanded the Israelites not to intermarry with other nations in Deuteronomy 7:3-4, but this truth had justified strife and self-righteousness in the hearts of many of the Jews. Jesus illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that a Samaritan, if he or she acted with love toward his or her neighbor, was acceptable in God's sight. Though I'd be willing to say that this is less likely, truth can be politically expedient as well and be used to bring about oppression. Many today would rightly point to the harsh and self-righteous treatment of people who are attracted to members of the same sex as evidence of this (though they may not call it truth to condemn that behavior).
The nuance, which I don't see in Foucault, is that truth can be used for the sake of injustice where some true claims are emphasized over and above the truth of others. Both of the aforementioned examples illustrate this. The Samaritans in Jesus' day had no control over their parents' decisions and should not have been treated hatefully. Similarly, while sex with members of the same sex is sinful, that truth is not justification for prejudicial and unloving treatment of people who have committed those sins or are tempted to. This should give Christians hope. Even when truth is manipulated for political gain, the proclamation of truth to counteract that manipulation is readily available. For someone like Foucault, one social construct merely replaces another one. There is no hope, without God, for a stable understanding of justice and truth that can provide a real and lasting condemnation of tyranny. As Christians, we should rejoice in the fact that we have these answers and can proclaim them in order to see tyrants brought to their knees before the one God who exists. So, while we must reject the postmodern notion that several aspects of reality are social constructs, we can agree that claims are often used for political gain and for tyranny. But the proper response to this is to proclaim objective truth all the more loudly, not to reject the concept of objective truth altogether.
That's it for this post! I know that this one is another long one, but I hope that these blog post remain interesting and engaging, even if they go deeper than what may be comfortable for the typical reader. Working on this series has been tremendously helpful for me in getting my thoughts on critical theory together in a way that is coherent and communicable, so I hope that you will be helped by reading through it just as much as I have been helped by writing it.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series! In the next post, I will address the final element of critical theory: the concept of intersectionality, that individuals at the intersection of different oppressed groups experience oppression in a unique way. If you have questions or would like to reach out to me to discuss these things, feel free to comment here or to send me an email or message on Facebook. If this blog has been helpful and interesting for you, feel free to subscribe to be notified of any new posts. Finally, if this post would benefit anyone else, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks for reading!