‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’
On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:
‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.” Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good. It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘
Excellent, as always.
‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.
From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’
Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.
Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:
‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment. To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate. If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’
A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:
‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking. In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’
A little authoritative and paternal, but a Romantic poet. A modernist, brilliant with language but precise in meaning, abstract, somewhat philosophical. They say he had a deathbed conversion. Here’s another line of his:
“The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“
And then just to frustrate matters more:
Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.
‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”
I wonder what this would mean when applied to American foreign policy, the Cold War, and Western influence when it comes to world order at the moment…this call for a return to tradition, local politics and religion.
Scruton saw postmodern nihilism as one of the greatest threats to Western civilization right now. Is the Hegelian conceptual framework really a good one to hang the Lebenswelt upon, and a kind of finding yourself in the eyes of others and the works of the world?
My current frustration: The rush away from tradition, towards liberation, and towards the Left has rearranged many of our institutional arrangements and ‘what’s cool’ away from duty, responsibility, much common sense, and many elements of the American past.
It’s not clear at all that what’s replacing such traditions won’t be worse, and not better, especially when you measure people as capable of great evil and good, and mobs as dangerous, and liberation as not liberty.
It’d be nice if many liberal idealists said ‘I didn’t realize the postmodern problems were so deep, the cost of simply ‘change for its own sake’ so steep, in terms of institutional stewardship, speech, and liberty.
If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.
Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on. After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.
While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida. He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling. There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room. Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.
I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.
In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried. When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).
It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.
I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.
It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.
It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.
Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.
**Note: One must remain non-hostile to Christianity in order to earn ire beneath the new liberal ideals, ideologies, and ideologues. I think a respect for tradition is a must for anyone, ultimately, responsible for gatekeeping (learning from and upholding a tradition which extends into the past).
Sure, such folks (politicans, especially) pay lip-service to the latest moral cause, but they also have duties to the dead, the living, and to their own families. I”m expecting some sort of rift between liberal idealists and activist/radicals to manifest more often in American politics going forwards. That said, such a coalition will still mobilize against anything traditional, religious and conservative most of the time.
Our author finds Paglia a welcome, often contrary, voice of the Boomer generation. Peterson and Paglia remain true in their own experiences and principles against prevailing orthodoxies (Peterson from frontier-town Canada, and Paglia teaching at the Philadelphia University Of The Arts). Paglia, perhaps, can be a good thermometer for the radical, heated core of 60’s activism (everything must go, utopia awaits).
‘Behind that devotion to heterodoxy lies something softer. She [Paglia] admitted that she’s chosen to censor herself in front of her students, no longer teaching them, for example, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, which was for years an important part of her course “The Art of Song Lyric.’
I had a very competent, very good professor tell me she stopped teaching Sylvia Plath for somewhat similar reasons. It was too much for some students.
‘In her slender 1998 book The Birds, for example, published by the British Film Institute, she [Paglia] writes that the Hitchcock classic is “in the main line of British Romanticism, descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femmes fatales of Coleridge.”
One could do worse than study British Romanticism (Wordsworth, Keats, Mad Bad Byron), despite the problems that come in glorifying (M)an and (H)umanity. Some people are so busy glorifying (M)an they treat actual men appallingly. The record isn’t always so (I)deal.
‘Cosmic reality is both wondrous and terrifying to her. “The sublime,” she said, “opens up the vastness of the universe, in which human beings and their works are small and nothing!” The world may be less enchanted than it was when Paglia was a child, but she still stands in awe of it. Her life’s work has been to share that message with others.’
There’s plenty to share, and, for what it’s worth, John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba can induce a sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):
I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-myself (ducking away from busy streets, into the quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling and looking for patterns).
Dear Reader, I’m accustomed to my own little corner of the internet, where I traffic in low-traffic. I synthesize many of my own experiences, ideas and other people’s thoughts into occasional bursts of competency.
In the video below, Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson discuss a shared view that post-structuralism (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) has impoverished much of the humanities. As Paglia notes, the older-school New Criticism at least had some devotion to truth in its close textual readings.
She might share some similar intellectual ground with Peterson in using Nietzsche’s nihilist toolkit to examine many modern problems in the arts and where people are finding meaning in their lives (the move from Schopenhauer’s Will To Nietzsche’s Will To Power). Deploying Nietzsche’s Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, too, into pop culture gives Paglia some depth as she tries to synthesize high and low (Madonna, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock). Despite her affinity for actual 60’s Marxist radicals which I don’t share (many of whom LSD’d their way into oblivion), Paglia pushes against many feminists and careerists from this radical point-of-view.
She’s a popularizer appealing to a large audience and a contrarian in the sense of the word for which I have some respect.
In fact, both have an ability to appreciate and understand many knowledge claims made by many Englightment and post-Enlightenment fields of study. One shouldn’t have to become anti-empiricist (including nihilism), nor anti-humanist, in seeking a good humanities education.
Many postmoderns (and some Nietzscheans, for that matter) dislike being called-out their on relative ignorance of the sciences. From mathematics to statistics, from chemistry to biology, from psychology and on down the line to history, many institutionalized folks imagine themselves often standing outside, and in radical opposition to, the civilization and institutions they are entrusted to maintain.
One of the reasons I suspect both Paglia and Peterson are in a currently ‘semi-banished’ cultural space is that they both openly claim a respect for the wisdom and depth found in the Bible (whatever your thoughts on the transcendent claims to truth and knowledge found therein). It appears both take a deeply tragic view of life and human nature, and both reject the rejection of traditions so much in vogue these days.
Notice this is enough to upset the apple-cart of many ‘-Ists,’ from feminists to gender activists to many Left-leaning coalitions of political utopians and social justice seekers, often seeking institutional authority while claiming all current institutional authority is illegitimate. Many such ideas have become very mainstream, indeed.
If you haven’t noticed such ‘-Ists,’ it seems they and I’d argue, too, that you maybe should be paying more attention.
‘Marxism, Dalrymple explains, answers several needs:
‘It has its arcana, which persuade believers that they have penetrated to secrets veiled from others, who are possessed of false consciousness.
It appeals to the strongest of all political passions, hatred, and justifies it.
It provides a highly intellectualised rationalisation of a discreditable but almost universal and ineradicable emotion: envy.
It forever puts the blame elsewhere, making self-examination unnecessary and self-knowledge impossible.
It explains everything.
It persuades believers that they have a special destiny in the world. For disgruntled intellectuals, nothing could be more gratifying.’
Aside from the radical doctrines, it’s apparent that many in the West have placed their hopes and aspirations into various flavors of political idealism. Man’s nature is assumed to be fundamentally good, for the most part, merely in need of liberation from previous traditions, injustices and illegitimate claims to authority.
It’s often taken for granted that such post-Enlightenment ideals have room for ever more individuals (or collectives/categories of individuals). All that’s required is working towards particular ends, usually against common enemies (salvation through individual Romantic conceptions of Nature, shared communally, for example, or the oft confused relation between Scientific truth/method and social/political goods).
For many political idealists in the modern world, the moral goods are good enough, the universal truths sufficiently universal, in justifying their own actions at any given time (the properly balanced ideal State has room for competing factions of political idealists, mind you, as many idealists believe the knowledge is available to design such systems from the top-down).
The below links are to whom I’m indebted in cobbling such posts together on alas…a blog:
‘Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.‘
For my piece, seeking poetic meaning, through the written and spoken word, moves many hearts and minds most deeply. Within such mediated and heightened, experiences of reality, many people forget their own senses and reason. A creative genius has created a work (a poem, a cathedral, your favorite song) where the creator’s senses and reason has become yours. You’re a bit like a walker on the forest floor; the creative genius the canopy overhead, filtering the sunlight to this tree and that. One need only look to revelation and myth, religious and ideological, to understand how powerful such works of the imagination are, and how such impulses within us, can be.
In the Romantic Age, this was channeled in specific directions.
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth’s Lake District ain’t necessarily the cloud in front of you. Those clouds have come and gone. You are not really a cloud (though for a moment maybe you were, within the mind’s eye, the cloud and the looker and the poet, while reading the poem).
Who’s more likely to be Romantically inspired? Well, some temperaments more than others, I’m guessing. All of us to some extent, however, in the modern world. I think people whose education has come through modern channels are more likely.
In my experience, sometimes it’s the rationalist, the data scientist, or the physicist, when the brain-draining day’s work is done, who becomes most inspired to identify with modern, collectivist and Romanticized thought. These folks are often among the brightest, and the ones working with hardest data, and the most rigorous standards of getting at the truth. But, such folks are human, after all. Often, they want comforting fictions over harsh truths. Ideal utopias dot the horizon. Some rationalists can also be painfully naive when it comes to the motives others have in a shared enterprise (a bureaucracy, a political coalition etc).
Reality, the reality of privation, violence and criminality are still with us. Some people choose violence for dominance and leverage over others. Some people develop skills which involve harming you. Many people in rough neighborhoods are happy to get over on you, and that’s about it. Many people in rough neighborhoods choose not to live this way and cultivate and strive to keep what’s good alive, moving forwards.
Some very educated people, with good backgrounds, can be absolute assholes, and even dangerously criminal. This shouldn’t come as entirely surprising. Higher intelligence is certainly no guarantee of character.
‘Poverty’ has become a kind of big, conceptual bowl into which the imaginings of a post-Christian, humanistic, ethic have gathered. Some people have turned these ideas into what I regard as a rather idealistic (and ideological) platform, actualizing such ideas through emergent thought.
I suppose we’ll see.
On that note:
I remain skeptical of much environmental thinking, primarily in the realms of politics, law and ad hoc ethics. Many people here aren’t actually doing science. Many such knowledge and truth claims are serving various masters. Such ideas have become the glue holding many coalitions of humanists, anti-humanists, idealists and ideologues together, mediating the natural worlds and those of (M)an.
‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘
‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.
There’s a kind of Neo-Romanticism going on, including religious impulses channeled through secular beliefs and in anti-capital, anti-technology and anti-human directions.
OUT: Old kooks
IN: New kooks
I’d like to remind folks that Peace Pavilion West, an Eco-Romantic Human Collective Going Back To Nature and Forward Towards Progress, is still accepting applications.
-Would you like to live in your OWN ecopodment as part of a living, working Community?
-Does 1,200 calories of guaranteed bug-paste and 8 glasses of fresh spring water a day sound good to you?
-Close your eyes: The day’s field labor is done. Honest sweat and natural musk mix with memory. Your mind, body and soul begin to rise towards the Cosmos, as each Community member joins hands, chanting Earthsong at dusk
True story: I was tutoring a girl in Seattle, and she was in the arts. Artists are often alone, more vulnerable, and she suddenly opened up about Climate Change.
This was one of the primary lenses through which she viewed the world, and it was predicting imminent disaster. Doom and gloom. The End Of The World Is Nigh. Her teachers and peers were eye deep in this acopalyptic thinking, and such ideas were clearly amplifying her anxiety.
I shared some of my interest in the Natural world, animals and experiences. We looked up some facts and discussed them for a bit. I told a bad joke or two. After both relaxing somewhat, I tried to suggest getting out a bit more and mixing it up. You got this.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
Full post here. (The link may not last long. For future reference, it is the Richard Bacon show on the BBC, Tue June 29th, 2:13:00).
Is agnosticism a convenient middle path…a cop out…a way to split the difference and not confront the balance of evidence?
Here’s a quote from Betrand Russell:
“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.
On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”
‘Used judiciously and with a suitably grim humour I think Plato can be a help. On the one hand he suggests that the issues raised by the relation of Showbiz to the rest of society have changed little over more than two thousand years. On the other, that the myriad effects of high-tech modern illusionism, both social and political, should not be too casually brushed aside.
The ‘is-ness’ of say, Unit Vector scaling (used in game dynamics) need not answer the many questions we might have about reality and the world (how should I behave? why am I here? what is my purpose? where is all this headed? when should I turn GTA off and go to bed?) but hopefully, such knowledge will simply produce people capable of understanding this knowledge and applying it, as well many others just enjoying a game.
Against the modern grain of having such questions asked solely by the religious, countered by the New Atheists and the secular, but also by the increasingly moralistic ‘-Ismologists’ and ‘Wokists’, it’s interesting to cast such a debate in more ancient terms.
Such framing can even provide breathing-room beneath the arguments flung over the table between analytic philosophers and many a postmodern nihilist.
Do Roger Scruton’s argments hold up, disassociating the arts and humanities from simply copying the Sciences, but also keeping the arts and humanities out of the hands of Marxist materialists, New Atheists, ideologues and ‘-Ismologists?’
‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.‘
Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather ‘scientism.’
And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:
‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead.’
This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.
Here are some quotations, coming from my reading lately (when I have time to share some of what I’m reading, but not all :). Basically, I’m working full-time and have lots of obligations that make life worth the living, quite apart from this blog:
‘We moderns (and especially those who think of themselves as post-moderns) are peculiarly liable to fall into confusion about the nature of politics: we have invented ingenious reasons for thinking that our ideas are superior to those of our ancestors. All cultures believe that their own ideas are the only right ones, but educated people today are unually locked into the prejudices of the present moment. The doctrine of progress, for example, suggested to many people that our convictions were grander than the obviously defective ideas of the past. Contemporary intellectual fashion does indeed reject the idea of progress, and emphasizes how much we bear the imprint of our place and time; it affirms that one culture is the equal of another. This has the appearance of a form of scepticism liberating us from the arrogance of our ancestors, for it seems to reduce our opinions to the same level as those of everyone else. That appearance is an illusion. Contemporary scepticism is a fake humility, masking a dogmatic conviction that our very openness makes our relativist humanism superior both to the dogmatism of the past and the intolerance of other cultures.’
Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 8).
I’ll just keep posting voices of dissent. What else is a blog for, exactly?:
A quote that stuck out:
‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’
Further onwards and as previously posted:
Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00:
‘This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.’
‘The doctrine of multiculturalism arose, at least in Holland, as a response to the immigration influx, believed initially to be temporary. The original purpose of multiculturalism was to preserve the culture of European “guest workers” so that when they returned home, having completed their labor contracts, they would not feel dislocated by their time away. The doctrine became a shibboleth of the Left, a useful tool of cultural dismantlement, only after family reunion in the name of humanitarianism became normal policy during the 1960s and the guest workers transformed into permanent residents.’
“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?
Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”
“It’s a mistake, I think, to condemn multiculturalism in general, just as it’s a mistake to praise multiculturalism in general. Rather, we should think about which forms of toleration, accommodation, and embrace of differing cultural values and behaviors are good for America — in the light of American legal and social traditions — and which are bad.‘
Here’s a quote from a previous post, at the request of a friend:
“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”