One evening, my family found ourselves around a communal table (for lack of space) in a small-town Irish pub. With two red-faced British couples, also on vacation, in their fifties or so, we made conversation. Surrounded by locals, one of the Brits began to wax philosophic: ‘What do we think of the Irish?’ ‘Well…let’s say the Irish are really just British who’ve wandered off a bit’, gesturing to everyone around.
I remember…being quite shocked. I looked towards the face of the older tweed-coated gentleman, elbow to elbow next to me.
His eyes were blank, slightly downcast.
I then remember thinking: ‘Them’s fightin’ words, yessiree bob, or enough to get yourself into a real pickle back home.’ (my inner narrator is an old hobo/prospector).
Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).
-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.
***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.
Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed. Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.
‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.
He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’
Just one guy taking a look at the world he found himself in and taking some photos and videos along the way:
‘Major Martin Manhoff spent more than two years in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, serving as assistant army attaché at the U.S. Embassy, which was located just off Red Square at the beginning of his time in Moscow.’
‘In the early spring of this year, an angry dispute broke out in the United Kingdom between the mainstream Jewish communal organizations and the leader of the radical left, currently head of the Labour Party, who is Jeremy Corbyn; and a couple of days later, a roughly similar dispute broke out in France between the equivalent French Jewish organization and Corbyn’s counterpart on the French left, who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and the double outbreak suggested a trend, which raises a question. It is about America and the Democratic Party.’
Movements of radical and revolutionary liberation depend upon the removal of injustice, and solidarity around certain ideals. It seems as more individuals think in terms of group identity and identity politics, ‘the system’ becomes that which unites such identity groups against a common enemy, even if they come to have influence within ‘the system. ‘
Personally, I see ‘the system’ as largely comprised of everyday people engaged in maintaining the laws, traditions and institutions upon which we all depend. Such people often have their own reasons, thoughts and feelings as they go about their duties. Such activities are best done locally. Public trust in federal institutions is dangerously low at the moment, for many good reasons.
We could be in for a bad patch, indeed.
It seems more than fair to critique the laws, traditions and institutions which can and have brutally oppressed and excluded some, but how do the ideas and doctrines of radical liberation actually engage the energies and beliefs of the people within them? What are some consequences of these ideas in practice, shorter and longer-term? Why is authoritarianism so often claimed in enemies but never within these movements themselves (oh so human a characteristic…but a hallmark here), exacerbating authoritarian tendencies?
At its best, it seems to me the melting pot model engages the reasons people can become nasty, tribal, groupish, and violent towards one another, saying something like: ‘Follow the laws, become a citizen, learn the language, defend the country and get ahead. If you can’t get yourself ahead, get your kids ahead.’
There are obvious shortcomings of defending home and hearth, and that which is familiar and loved within such a model. It doesn’t necessarily scale, and people being what we so often are, can easily resist change and outsiders and new ideas when what’s new might enrich us. All of us can dwell in the natural ignorance of the head and the nostalgic sentiments of the heart for too long, and sometimes we can just be plain wrong.
Yet, the liberty allowed to pursue one’s own ends in such a fashion and the wisdom of seeing human nature more as it is, seem much more humane and capable of political stability and economic opportunity.
If you’re still with me, forget all the above, Dear Reader.
Clear your mind and focus on a single image. Allow this image to occupy your thoughts.
Relax as the image becomes a single, ancient eye. Now open this eye, a lizard’s eye, and see the New World.
Join the Snake Cult! (and enjoy some prime Arnie ‘mittel-English’):
I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.
‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’
What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?
Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…
A healthy skepticism regarding politics and politicians probably wouldn’t hurt people self-selecting towards certain ideals with the idea of re-designing, re-shaping and ‘modernizing’ our institutions. I harbor many doubts about some Englightenment thinkers’ universal knowledge claims, though I recognize the foundational structure of many such ideas within many of our institutions:
‘The scientific study of politics is, then a great but limited achievement of our century. Like any other form of understanding, it gains its power from its limitations, but it happens that the specific limitations of science in its fullest sense are restrictive in the understanding of human life. But political science often escapes this limitation by ignoring the strict requirements of science as a discipline. Much of its material is historical and descriptive, as indeed it must be if we are to recognize that any understanding of the government of modern states cannot be separated from the culture of the people who live in them.’
Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 93).
‘The tattoo in modern society is thus a subject of greater interest and deeper significance than might at first be supposed, a subject worthy of reflection and a possible departure point for an assessment of the soul of modern man.’
Being something of a coward, I wouldn’t approach a bunch of guys outside a biker bar asking just what in the hell’s going on with all those tattoos.
‘Prison tat?’ doesn’t seem like the best icebreaker while strolling the Vegas strip.
Maybe soothing isn’t always what you need or want from your (A)rt?
Some of the stuff is pretty ecstatic:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies. Burnt the fire of thine eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat, What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain, In what furnace was thy brain? What the anvil? what dread grasp, Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears And water’d heaven with their tears: Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
If you hadn’t noticed, many people claiming child-rearing should be monetized, and that every (S)elf is sacred, are probably not going to be satisfied with more commodification of children and atomization of (S)elf.
People want to believe stuff, act righteously in the world and be an important part of a group. We get the heroes we deserve:
There are other ideals most such folks I’ve spoken with hold higher as good, beautiful and true. Unfortunately for me, as I see the world, such ideals typically ‘labor in the negative.’
Solidarity, brother: These would include the grudge-holding and anti-corporatism of the Union Left, cartelizing the labor market, and placing onerous labor laws upon entire populations through collectivization (play the game or you don’t work and your vote won’t matter much at all). Good luck being an individual in this landscape.
Religions Of Man: Socialism and Communism claiming ‘scientific’ knowledge of (M)an’s ends (the people in charge, after the violent revolution, will know your ends better than you ever could). Global Workers of the World Unite! Your death was for the greater good.
There is no World, man. What does your body feel? Or take the postmodern relativism and nihilism spilling from our universities (there’s no objective reality) and existentialist chic increasingly found amongst our young. There are some very deep thinkers to inspire here, and great works of art, but where is this all heading? Should I even ask such a question, Man?
One-World Government(Surprisingly Fragile & Authoritarian): Or take the kind of ‘-Ismology’ and latest moral-cause crusades our politicians must increasingly surf into power (do they even believe some of this s**t?).
Meanwhile, the realities of local conflicts and populations consistently move in their own directions and deals with foul tinpot dictators continue (which probably feeds into the postmodern cynicism). A la Ken Minogue, I’ve been viewing such movements as containing a lot of over-extended utilitarian logic and ‘Olympianism.’ This scaling of liberal ideals congeals into a kind of authoritarian egalitarian paternalism. There’s much to guide us within the best of Civil Rights Activism, undeniably, but, what are the practical consequences should this ideal become the highest thing around?
Well, Dear Reader, one way around this seemingly inexorable pull of the modern and postmodern, and the atomization of (S)elf, is towards a kind of Hegelian-inspired ‘Romantic Conservatism’, or back to the family, the land, the local and of course, the universal found in God.
A rampaging modernity ignores the centrality for human beings of community, home and settlement and leaves behind nothing but atomised individuals, “living like ants within their metallic and functional shells.”
…This pervasive sense of homelessness can be overcome, Scruton believed: “underlying that sense of loss is the permanent belief that what has been lost can also be recaptured,” albeit in a modified form, “to reward us for all the toil of separation through which we are condemned by our original transgression.” And he saw this redemptive faith as “the romantic core of conservatism, as you find it—very differently expressed—in Burke and Hegel, in Coleridge, Ruskin, Dostoevsky and T.S. Eliot.” It was found also in F.R. Leavis, who insisted in The Great Tradition (1948) that superior literature displays “a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral intensity,” and found these qualities present pre-eminently in the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence. For Leavis, Scruton explained in The Philosopher on Dover Beach (1990):
In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.
Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’
However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?
‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.
First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.
Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’
Addition: As a friend points out: Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone. The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends. This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…
‘Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.’
Some people are trying to erode common sense until it becomes less common:
‘The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.’
Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:
“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”
Thanks: Includes anecdotes involving Virginia Woolf, Ludwig Wittgenstein and logical positivism, John Maynard Keynes, and a funny one with Winston Churchill; talk about being near the center of 20th-century intellectual life…
For those don’t mind order; honoring duties to family, heritage and country, while making few excuses for the always present corruption, favoritism, and self-interest found within any existing order, you might take a look at Oakeshott (a yellow-toothed, tweed-wearing limey).
The righteous mind, while making political action the primary pursuit of meaning in one’s life, tends to happen within the ‘labor of the negative.’
Truth, and its possibility in the postmodern soup, is too often a casualty.
‘Oakeshott was deeply learned and humane, and tended to see politics as an inferior—though very important—kind of activity. To put it differently, politics is “attending to the arrangements” of government, which matters very much. Yet real human fulfillment does not consist in winning political battles, or in preparing to win them, or even in the fighting. No doubt there are times for battle, as Oakeshott would have acknowledged. But he considered other social and contemplative activities far more vital to sustained human flourishing.‘
You know that kid they found up on Rte 9 yelling? Screaming at traffic then he collapsed?
Runaway blood boy from Pinecrest.
Starship Truthers: First, there is no city. Second, no rock ‘n roll..
Grace Slick and Marty Balin sold out so utterly, so profoundly, they managed to come out the other side. From hippie mud-parties full of dosed-out lost 60’s souls, to an 80’s transcendent popcraft which endures today, we, the Starship Truthers, contend that while influential, the entire catalogue of Jefferson Starship does not exist.
The Traveling Wilburys: Pure Potemkin-caravan supergroup snake-oil.
Get yer steaming piles of fake Americana horseshit right here, folks:
‘Well, it’s all right riding around in the breeze Well, it’s all right if you live the life you please Well, it’s all right doing the best you can Well, it’s all right as long as you lend a hand.’
Don’t be taken in.
Eddie Money was a good vocalist, and the unearned sentiment attached to second and third-hand nostalgia is so great…I actually find myself becoming nostalgic:
The pure heart of the 80’s may be coming into view.
Why do you need political opinion from a guy who takes mildly good photos? Dear Reader, my thoughts are so valuable, I’m giving them away for free!
My expectation: People on the radical left are okay with terrorism. It’s a logical consequence of the reasoning. Radicals terrorize and hold their own civilization hostage, if it comes down to it. Violence on the way towards revolution is justified.
So, when it comes to the Hamas terrorist network’s gruesome actions (Israel doesn’t have a right to exist per the Hamas charter), many on the Left are….pretty okay with the violence. It fits familiar grooves. Many on the Left have been gathering in universities, think tanks, media and org money piles, and they’ve been ostracizing and demonizing those who disagree as evil.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
I also expect many liberal idealists to still identify with the latest moral (C)ause bubbling up from points further Left; the activists understood as having their hearts in the ‘right place’. The radicals, sure, may go too far, but life is complex. Social science and concerned groups of global human citizens possess enough truth/knowledge to justify some social action.
One’s own intuition, manifesting as the latest moral cause, with downstream policy/social science imprimatur is enough to move large masses of liberal folks. It’s usually enough to move anyone within any kind of group, really, if the membership benefits seem good enough.
Don’t expect too much thought within such bubbles, and question your own thinking and emotions which lead you to strongly join such groups.
‘A new PBS documentary tries to excuse a murderous and totalitarian cult.
When his captors uncinched the noose around his neck and shoved him into a wooden chair, Alex Rackley might have assumed his ordeal was over. He had already endured a flurry of kicks and punches, the repeated crack of a wooden truncheon, ritual humiliation, and a mock lynching. But it wasn’t over. It was about to get much, much worse.’
‘. . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail—they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone.’
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
Regarding the above conversation between writer Bret Easton Ellis and mathematician Eric Weinstein: Both men tell coming-of-age tales as Gen Xer’s during the early 1980’s; a glamourized, somewhat nihilistic youth culture and a deep personal freedom.
I’ve been to L.A. a few times (Raymond Chandler kept me going when I was far away from my language) and David Hockney has captured some of the light and landscape of that particular place.
We all have likely have some contact with Los Angeles through the movies, and particular stylized visions of it:
‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!
Does L.A. or the music made there even have a center?:
More broadly, in interacting with many Millenials I often find myself thinking: What the hell happened to a rough and ready sense of independence, freedom and responsibility? Am I alone in my deeper sense of patriotism, gratitude and a skepticism regarding the new, emergent rules?
Freedom of Speech! America!
‘Whatever,’ comes the reply. ‘We’ll see.‘
Am I just living in a post-60’s and post-Boomer bubble myself? To some extent, yes. But I’d also like to point out just how many intellectuals are still looking for a ‘Brotherhood Of Man’.
Sometimes, the best you can hope for from the ‘change’ focused smart types is a defeated Modern skepticism, rather than revolutionary zeal and the global Church Of Mankind.
Weinstein’s argument as I understand it: Something fundamental shifted around 1972 in American economic and institutional life. It’s when a previously more explosive rate of economic growth stalled. Since that time, most folks within our academic, cultural and political institutions simply haven’t adjusted.
It’s harder to get into many housing markets now, and it’s harder to compete with global labor for jobs and academic positions. Our current politics is a clown-show (for many reasons). Much stagnation has ensued, and many of our current institutional hierarchies might just possess dark, unspoken ponzi knowledge at their hearts.
The sooner you got in, the better off you are.
If such a theory be true, these conditions can easily erode a basic sense of fairness, institutional trust and continuity. This could allow more space for the postmodern and nihilist drift both men discuss, and the growing desire for (S)elves looking for (C)ommunities and rules. EQUALITY now. More space for Socialism. Anarchy. More space for a retreat from the public square into one’s family and church.
Such a theory just might also stroke the egos of people who think of themselves as relatively independent, such as myself.
Dear Reader, I’ve got to watch out for that. I like to think of myself as ahead of some curves.
‘Increasingly the research seemed to show that interventions by government, universities and industry in the US labor market for scientists, especially after the University system stopped growing organically in the early 1970s were exceedingly problematic.’
A few more thoughts and personal experiences as an undergraduate English major which support the theory: There were plenty of talented undergrads, sure, but there were also clearly not enough slots to develop and mature their talents within the institutions.
A writing MFA? Don’t be a sucker.
The older the professor, usually the more rigorous and focused the teaching. The higher the expectations and the less existential questions of pedagogy there were. Fewer ontological questions of Self in the World emerged as confessional blank verse and personalized syllabi.
Later on, briefly (you should be as happy as I am I’m not a lawyer), I saw legal education displaying similar troubling trends, even though law requires a clearer logical and objective rigor: All the top-tier law grads were vying for teaching spots at second and third-tier law schools. If you started at a second or third-tier law school….good luck.
Don’t be a sucker, now. Find your (S)elf. Freedom is next.