In the late 1950s the emergence of a ‘post-ideological era’ was announced for the first time. Helmut Schelsky discussed the idea that German sociology had developed in a non-ideological direction, eventually leading to a ‘nachideologischen Epoche’ in sociology. In a review of Schelsky’s book Ortsbestimmung der Deutschen Soziologie Raymond Aron argued that this post-ideological phase characterized not only German sociology, but also sociology elsewhere and probably society as a whole. This chapter presents a Begriffsgeschichte of ‘post-ideological’ in the 1950s and 1960s and subsequently analyses the use of the concept as an intellectual and political positioning tool. By focusing on Edward Shils, Raymond Aron and Daniel Bell, this chapter discusses post-ideology in dialogue with the emergence of the so-called ‘end-of-ideology thesis’ within the context of the Cold War. This contextual reading strikingly reveals how the term post-ideological did not merely describe the world, it was first and foremost a performative concept used to force a political and intellectual intervention. This chapter also shows something else: while announcing the post-ideological era, authors often expressed the idea that society would gradually develop from one stage to another and actively strived for such a development. This emphasis on the sequence of historical stages hints at something we could call a historicist worldview.
Highlighting the connections, resemblances, and sometimes notable differences between the post-constructions analysed in this volume, the epilogue brings together the strands of the earlier chapters. It shows how some post-concepts are closely related because of their performative quality while others can be linked to each other through a single author. This biographical element offers insight into the interconnectedness of post-concepts and shows how post-concepts were transferred across disciplinary, linguistic and geographical boundaries. Post-concepts are best regarded as products of intellectual interventions and positioning tools used to advocate a new stance vis-à-vis the root concept. By mapping some of these networks or conceptual webs, the epilogue concludes that post-constructions were not just descriptive linguistic tools, but strongly connected signifiers in post-war debates in the European and North-American humanities and social sciences alike. In the second part of the epilogue these observations will be applied to a recently popular post-concept: post-truth. By analysing the history, use and spread of post-truth, the epilogue demonstrates how the conceptual framework laid down in this book helps us to understand and to critically assess not only historical post-concepts but future ones as well.
What does it mean to live in an era of ‘posts’? At a time when ‘post-truth’ is on everyone’s lips, this volume seeks to uncover the logic of post-constructions – postmodernism, post-secularism, postfeminism, post-colonialism, post-capitalism, post-structuralism, post-humanism, post-tradition, post-Christian, post-Keynesian and post-ideology – across a wide array of contexts. It shows that ‘post’ does not simply mean ‘after.’ Although post-prefixes sometimes denote a particular periodization, especially in the case of mid-twentieth-century post-concepts, they more often convey critical dissociation from their root concept. In some cases, they even indicate a continuation of the root concept in an altered form. By surveying the range of meanings that post-prefixes convey, as well as how these meanings have changed over time and across multiple and shifting contexts, this volume sheds new light on how post-constructions work and on what purposes they serve. Moreover, by tracing them across the humanities and social sciences, the volume uncovers sometimes unexpected parallels and transfers between fields usually studied in isolation from each other.