Sowell is pretty old-school, and he’s got a big problem with the new schools (not the nieuw school, mind you):
‘Many schools are closed because of the corona virus and the teachers unions. And many schools in minority neighborhoods failed to teach children enough math and English, back when they were still open. So it is incredible that school authorities have time to spend on ideological crusades like removing names and statues from schools.‘
Moving along, what can I say about recent Capitol events, and the clear failures of so many institutions and leaders? What can I say that you might not be thinking yourself?
If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m something of a depressive realist, and that I tend to use many models: The one found in Plato’s Republic (timarchy–>oligarchy–>democracy–>tyranny–>see step 1), the Straussian reaction to Nietzschean nihilism, and the Idealist philosophy of Michael Oakeshott as picked up by Kenneth Minogue, to name a few. This generally puts me center-right, or small ‘c’ conservative here in America.
I’m also a bit of a loner, a would-be artist using the blog as a means to seek solitude and connection. I’m grateful to have readers. So, thank you.
The ride for all of us may be pretty bumpy up ahead. But, we’re all in this together, and we still, I presume, love our country.
Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
One path through the postmodern landscape lies in cultivating some appreciation for math and the sciences, direct observation and statistical analysis within the social sciences, and plumbing the depths of a good humanities education (you know, the stuff universities pretty much ought to be teaching).
Receiving or pursuing such an education doesn’t necessarily require religious belief, nor does it necessarily dislodge religious belief.
Aside from the craziness of love, dedication to family, the pressures of work and career, the inevitably of sickness and death, such cultivation can prevent against the sublimity of nihilist and existentialist despair, the Romance of collective primitivism, and the dangers of ideological possession (quick to judge, quick to be judged, forever resentful).
Many readers of this blog don’t necessarily share my views on the importance of limited government and economic growth, tolerance for religious belief and skepticism regarding political idealism (joining an ‘-Ism’ is only the beginning, as hopes soon follow into politics and visions of the good, the true and the beautiful).
You have your reasons.
In the meantime, here are some links gathered over the years from the New Atheists and many independent-minded thinkers of the Left pushing against many excesses of the American and Global Left.
It’s pretty clear to me that many mainstream publications and political debates occur downstream of many intellectual debates.
-James Lindsay offers a cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.
‘So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’
One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:
‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”
Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining). Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.
Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering. These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?
Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause. Progress is complicated.
[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists. Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.
The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.
In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism). Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.
Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.
Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists. One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.
It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature. Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution. Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius. Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.
To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields: A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.
As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:
There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire. My ignorance shows.
A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.
Recommended. The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:
A briefer introduction here:
Girard and Libertarian thought?:
The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.
Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent. The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation. But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?
This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching. From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.
Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.
‘The entire National Guard has been deployed to the US Capitol after a woman was shot inside when President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building and violently clashed with police in a bid to stop Joe Biden’s victory being certified. ‘
I’m not sure where we are at the moment, but I still think we get worse before it gets better on the level of laws, system and order. Here’s to hoping such depressive realism isn’t accurate. We’ve been heading towards many systems’ failure for a while.
No this quote isn’t intended as directly predictive, but history sure can rhyme, even in the rather alien world of the Greeks (individual rights weren’t really a thing):
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
From another angle:
Another angle: Right and left extremists, both potentially violent, and a much lower trust society is how we become a lot more like Europe. We’re well on our way. A more innocent, idealistic, more nationalistic and patriotic period in American life is likely not coming back. At least not in the same form, anyways.
After this event, I expect a pretty strong Federal response and crackdown, highly politicized and cut-off from much populist energy. Right away this will involve an authoritarian center-Left response (more surveillance, more technocracy, something like the Patriot Act), and then a more center-Right response once powers shift again and once such laws become part of the furniture. As mentioned, so much for lower security and higher trust.
For the past year, I’ve witnessed the same dynamics of extreme Left and Right occur in Seattle, with Antifa and various right wing groups fighting and play-fighting in the streets. That dynamic has now gone mainstream, and to the highest levels.
The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t advocate for too many young people to join a military run by the current institutional leadership without serious thought. You may have your reasons, but think twice:
‘That is precisely what today’s moment cries out for: Kennan’s humility rather than a new crusade against a new Evil Empire. It cries out for a skeptical liberalism that sees the world as it is rather than going looking for new monsters to destroy.’
Our ideological troubles spring, I have argued before, from liberalism’s lack of perceived legitimacy. Authoritarianism emerges as a symptom either where the liberal approach to organizing society has failed to take root, or where an established liberalism is seen to be overreaching unopposed. We ought to be on the lookout for these failures of liberalism—for “the appeals to core elements of human nature that liberalism does not always satisfy,”
There’s lots of stuff in the piece for regular readers of this blog (Mention of Edmund Burke, Isaiah Berlin etc.).
The author finishes with the area of most shared agreement [between himself] and Kagan (a view of ‘teleological’ progressivism as dangerously narrow and very authoritarian itself; delegitimizing and destabilizing Western liberalism from within).
It’s going to be harder to deal with the rest of the world when these core elements of debate rage within Western hearts, minds and institutions:
‘The Jungle Grows Back is an important book insofar as it contains all the debates outlined above within it. And Kagan opens the space for these ideas to breathe a little by rightly dismissing teleological progressivism in his book’s opening pages—a great service that makes reading the book a richer experience than it otherwise might have been. But a more moderate, and therefore much wiser, conclusion is passed over by an author whose commitment to his priors prevents him from seeing what a gem he might have had on his hands. It’s too bad.’
Kagan discusses the book here with what I’d describe as an evolutionary psychologist/soft-ish Marxist:
‘Hou[e]llebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):
As previously posted:
Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.
Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).
‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’
On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:
‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘
Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.
Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?
And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?
From the comments:
‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.
Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.
Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’
Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:
‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’
As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.
I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.
Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“
Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.
***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.
–The F.I.R.E is, perhaps, the new ACLU. As for the old ACLU these days? A free-speech mission, becoming a legal business, devolving into an anti-speech racket is something to behold.
You stand up for the neo-Nazis right to speak and assemble, because you may need those rights, too. Did you think you’d drive on by?
-Melanie Phillips writes on watering-down the Holocaust. Keeping these horrible truths in view requires dedication and a sense of mission, she argues, not necessarily another exculpatory shrine. Hmmm….
Many people, volunteering as our betters in the U.S., have been busy institutionalizing a rather anti-establishment ethos. The problem is, many of these people are now the establishment. Many 60’s boomers (hanging in there, baby) are something like idealists. ‘This’ll all work out’ is something I’ve come to doubt much more through age, experience and time, though I doubt I was ever fully not doubting.
Some of this, of course, is just age, experience and time. The rest comes from observing the clusterf**k of our politics, media and public-square discourse these days.
Times come and go: I remember visiting my father’s small, Connecticut hometown. Many factories (spooled-thread, fabric, cutting tools) had become derelict. ‘What did they used to make there?’ we’d ask, driving along, visiting his old haunts. The shallower valleys, stony soil and New England village greens were foreign to me. We’d pass by busted, boarded-up windows and out-of-use smokestacks. ‘Did they actually make these things by hand?’
Most of that industry never came back.
Now imagine losing larger: The rise and fall of automobile manufacturing in Detroit, and all the supply chains throughout Ohio; whole towns dwindling down. Much of that industry isn’t coming back.
Wherever you are, you should keep building yourself up, your loved ones, and all within your orbit.
Perhaps if you imagine Seattle in about 100 years or so, with a few boarded up Amazon buildings and some locals huddled in an abandoned ‘hot yoga’ studio, it will become true.
Such is the price of innovation, it seems, and all sorts of people are offering remedies (politicians want your vote, companies your skills and potential, Christians generally want your soul, and Leftists want you to join ‘The People’s Revolutionary Movement. Ignore the Bodies’.
Ah, well. Some people offer you ideas, and books, and want parts of your time and mind.