Two Sunday Quotations-Michael Oakeshott

‘To the firm believer in this idea of ‘rationality,’ the spectacle of human behaviour (in himself and in others) departing from its norm may be expected to confirm his suspicion that ‘rational’ conduct of this sort is difficult, but not to shake his faith in its possibility and desirability.  He will deplore the unregulated conduct which, because it is externally unregulated, he will think of as ‘irrational.’  But it will always be difficult for him to entertain the notion that what he identified as ‘rational’ conduct is in fact impossible, not because it is liable to be swamped by ‘insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men,’ but because it involves a misrepresentation of the nature of human conduct.’

and:

‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.

Related On This Site: Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Russian Hackers, A Link On el-Sisi’s Egypt & A Little Less Mephistopheles For This Kindergarten

This blog believes fundamental conflicts within the West, fermenting within our institutions, foaming-over into our politics, invite the calculated meddling of those who think differently.

In the world of Statecraft, I’d prefer cold-eyed realism and calculated bastardry, when necessary, in the pursuit of American interests (ideally attached to decent human beings with checked, limited powers).  Overreach and hubris is easy.  Humility and good strategy is hard.

It’d be nice if Russia wasn’t being run as a kleptocracy by an ex-KGB agent, incentivizing a lot of bright hackers with little economic opportunity into the service of State propaganda and espionage…but:

C.S. Dickey:  ‘Putin Outfoxes Obama, Lies In Wait For Trump

Populist steam seems to be translating directly into policy these days.  Maybe it’s a kind of passive-aggressive placation of outrage in the service of ‘optics’.

That would be short-sighted and petty.


Link from a reader:  The Deep State in Egypt has been controlled by the military for a long time…’Egypt’s Failed Revolution.’

Many Westerners will probably go ahead and double-down on certain radical/semi-radical Western ideals just as those ideals are failing to translate into effective strategy by an exiting American administration.

Better keep James Taylor handy.

From Abu Muqawama: ‘Mubarak And Me’From Michael Totten: ‘The New Egyptian Underground’Michael Totten At The American Interest: “A Leaner, Meaner Brotherhood”

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Gore Vidal had a line that stuck with me in his review of Italo Calvino.

‘For the last year, Calvino had been looking forward to his fall and winter at Harvard. He even began to bone up on “literary theory.” He knew perfectly well what a mephitic kindergarten our English departments have become.

Well, that might be a little much.

Personally, I like to read people who don’t really think like me, especially when they satirize bureaucratic bloat and puffery as they find them.

I like folks on the outside looking in…tracing the shape of something.

Why do we have so many administrators, regulators, and overseers within our institutions?:

Incentives matter. A vigorous freedom and skeptical citizenry is hard to maintain, but vital nonetheless.

Climb aboard and hang-on, dazzled as you may be by the thrill of the thing.

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Thanks, Thomas Sowell

At age 86, here’s his last syndicated column.

In honor of the event, here’s an interview that’s stayed with me:

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Sowell discusses his constrained/unconstrained formulation from a Conflict Of Visions as he and the interlocutor test it out (on current politics as well).

Sowell suggests those that adhere to the constrained vision believe that human nature is flawed, the basis for all else, and must be constrained by checks and balances, which also spring from human nature. These institutional checks and balances move forward much like our legal system (or separation of powers), and on a case by case basis with some respect for the actual experience of the people involved, though questions of law and fact for example, will often decide the outcome. He compares/contrasts the French and American Revolutions.

The unconstrained vision seeks to use the political/legal system to enact justice, fairness, equality etc and other ideals which are assumed to be universal, and in the best interests of all, but whose pursuit often ends up creating just as much inequity, injustice and unfairness, and often lines the pockets of just those pursuing the ideals in the process (addition: or at least the kind of idealism that invests in one person or a group of people is kept in check by our separation of powers).

Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Thomas Sowell at The National Review: ‘The Inconvenient Truth About Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown:’

It’s Still A Little Surreal-Progressivism, Trump, Putin & All That

Adam Garfinkle at the American Interest:  ‘The Anti-Cold War:‘ (comments are worth a read).

The Cold War was very dangerous, no doubt about it. We were all lucky to have gotten through it without a global conflagration. The anti-Cold War may be more dangerous still. So how lucky are you feeling?

There are a lot of ideas in the article, some of which may not be founded in bedrock, but which are quite interesting nonetheless.

My two cents (founded in the clay soil found here in my backyard, as I engage in fever dream):

If I’m Putin, I came up in the KGB, and became proficient in the often ruthless and efficient tactics practiced by the KGB up until and after the Soviet collapse.  Intel analysis, deflection, corruption-management and misdirection are second-nature.  Diplomacy is usually just a game of submission, especially with the former satellites.  There are some very hard men around me, and I’m a hard man, too.

My country is wounded, but still has its pride, and I play it up for political gain and to solidify my position and those most loyal to me, making myself very wealthy and powerful in the process.

I’ve got genuine problems: The Baltics joined NATO, and many in Ukraine are trying to do the same. Chechnya is a mess and terrorizing Moscow from time to time. History is still going, oil-prices are down, and birth-rates don’t look so good.

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Two more cents (that makes four) on the progressive/Trump dynamic, and how this might influence foreign policy:

Progressive ideology in America has suddenly lost a lot of influence:

Such ideology is not antithetical to Communism, and usually collectivist, activist, and suspicious of free flows of capital and American business interests coming to the fore in American foreign policy, progressives easily unite against nationalist/conservative/neo-conservative interventionist claims to authority.

One major goal of progressives is to defeat the ‘oppressor,’ and his morally illegitimate claims to rule through use of the American military…sometimes in quite radical fashion.

The greatest leverage can often be had through international institutions, because they are typically the path of least resistance for the ideological/rationalistic goals of Progressivism:   A better world is possible if people with shared progressive ideals can gain political power and influence enough to implement goals which claim liberation and radical liberation towards some knowable endpoint.

Progressives often claim the mantle of (S)cience, (P)eace, (R)eason and Enlightenment authority, but given the stuff of human nature, progressive political ideology tends to traffic in:

-Making sacred the ‘-isms’ (environmentalism, racism, sexism etc.and deploying them, when necessary, against all enemies).

-Cultivating shared moral sentiments and solidarity under shared political ideals, and unsurprisingly, often organizing hatred and re-sentiment against any who would oppose progressive goals…identifying such opponents as potentially ‘evil’).

With the election of Trump, a lot of people who share progressive goals have lost a lot of power/influence rather suddenly.

Trump as I see him:

A guy who’s probably harbored political ambitions for a while, and who has spent a majority of his life in the real estate/NYC real estate game.  That world seems pretty tough, where knowing the right people, leveraging capital, risk, personal, political and business connections is key.  I don’t know if I’d trust doing business with the man (not like I’d ever have the chance).

He’s clearly spent a lot of time on self-promotion and brand management, and seized on the profound populist resentment against D.C. more broadly in speech after speech, especially as it related to immigration. He ran openly against a lot of dominant ‘narratives’ found in the current media landscape (promising to absolve the cloud of racial guilt hanging over many heads), and was openly, refreshingly anti-PC.

A nationalistic, business-minded pragmatist capable of compromise and patience..drastically setting a new course for American interests?

A mildly authoritarian protectionist and absurd showman; a semi-celebrity who really won’t get over his desire for attention and who could really f**k things up?

What to hope for?

What to work towards?

Any thoughts and comments are welcomeas previously posted:

More on the Nemtsov killing: Don’t speak out.

Julia Ioffe at her site: ‘The Bizarre End To Vladimir Putin’s Bizarre Marriage:

‘An odd moment in the announcement came when Putin mentioned his confirmed children, two adult daughters whom we’ve never really seen, though there were reports in 2010 that one of them was marrying the son of a South Korean admiral.’

A reader passed along a video of Bill Browder, who made a billion, lost much of it, and got a look at Russian politics, money, and power up close. The way he describes it: Corruption all the way to the top.

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What goes around, comes around-An oldie but a goodie-George Kennan: ‘The Sources Of Soviet Conduct

60 Minutes had an interview with ‘Jack Barsky,‘ an East-German Soviet spy who ended up living in America. To hell with it!

From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’,,,Eric Postner back in 2008: The Bear Is Back

I wonder if any American operatives went under deep cover to Dschingis Khan concerts to better understand the German soul and its sentimental ties to Moscow:

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Here’s Putin, back in the 80’s, meeting Reagan. Ho hum, just a tourist, snapping some photos and meeting, how do you say, your premier.

Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animal

Q & A with Mark Lilla via The Chronicle of Higher Ed:

‘They’re too obsessed with identity. There’s a subtle distinction. Diversity as a social goal and aim of social reform is an excellent thing. But identity politics today isn’t about group belonging; it’s about personal identity.’

Taking a stand against identity politics at Columbia must take some courage, for cries of ‘Heretic!’ can be heard over rooftops maintained by the Office of the Physical Plant.

On that note, revisiting Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler might be instructive.

For my part, someone called me a Postmodern Conservative the other day, and I’d just like to say that there are many identities juxtaposed at the intersectionality of bodies in space. Dominant narratives, meta-narratives, and counter-narratives serve to liber…

Merry Christmas!

In the drunk tank…!

Some previous links on this site for your intellectual (dis)pleasure:

-The Sokal hoax…Alan Sokal has apparently been busy ruminating since his paper, and Simon Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.

-A quote from Leo Strauss’ Wikipedia page:  From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:

“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.’

Deep in the German weeds…it’s all just nothing, man, and nothing needs to change:

Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities, via a lot of German philosophical idealism:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Keep politics (and business) out of academia, when you can?-Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

-Just read for its own sake, man, it doesn’t need an endpoint, because art’s pretty useful and useless: Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

-Tim Kavanaugh at Reason: Every Man A Derrida

Two Links On Obamacare: Megan McArdle & Ricard Epstein

Megan McArdle from December 5th, 2016:

‘For Obamacare’s critics, of course, allowing the exchanges to collapse under their own weight might be politically preferable to passing a bill that can then be blamed for the inevitable denouement. Republicans are now discovering the unhappy truth first learned by the Obama administration: Talking about what you’d like to do with America’s convoluted health-care system is a lot easier and more enjoyable than actually doing it.’


Richard Epstein revisits some of his original predictions, and explains his reasoning as to why the exchanges would inevitably collapse.

In order to implement the ACA, you first must control markets, making deals with the insurance companies to get them in by offering taxpayer (other people’s) money and promising them captive consumers and competitive advantages. This will centralize and bureaucratize the health-care industry and naturally continue many of the market distortions in place. Then you must force younger, healthier people into involuntary arrangements which often work against many of their interests.

Political influence and populist sentiment are the main levers in pursuit of your vision of a better society.

Of course, if much of your identity is dependent upon a political ideology and moral belief system which promises equality and fairness through redistribution of the ‘fixed economic pie’, then these details are post-hoc…your fight is righteous and your enemies the cause of most if not all failures of policy design.

Previously: Charlie Martin here:

‘Whatever solution we look for though, the really important point is this: the whole basis of Obamacare, the notion that we can have more people, getting more benefits, and pay less, is just impossible. The arithmetic doesn’t work. And if you think that’s “unfair,” I’m sorry.’

Epstein on Obamacare’s Moral Blindness, the Obamacare Quagmire, and Watching Obamacare Unravel.

Still Looking For Alternatives-Charlie Martin At PJ Media: ‘Obamacare vs. Arithmetic’

Avik Roy At Forbes: ‘Democrats’ New Argument: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Doubles Individual Health Insurance Premiums’Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Health-Care Costs Are Driven By Technology, Not Presidents’