Whence Liberalism? Deneen & Fukuyama Debate & Some Past Links

Patrick Deenen and Francis Fukuyama had a debate at Michigan State.

Here’s Deneen’s take on the event [at] the Postliberal Order:

Fukuyama advanced three main claims, all of which he asserted were drawn not from the more abstruse realms of political theory (at a conference dominated by Straussian political theorists), but grounded in empirical observations about the world. His three main claims were:

  1. Liberalism arose in the aftermath of the Reformation as a solution to the wars of religion, and provided a way of arriving at peace and political stability without requiring metaphysical or theological agreement by citizens. 
  2. What we today regard as the ills of liberalism (economic and social) in fact are pathologies that do not necessarily arise from a healthy liberal order. They are, rather, contingent and accidental and thus can be cured without killing off the patient. 
  3. Liberalism should look to its many past accomplishments for evidence of future results. Because liberalism abandoned an effort to achieve “the common good,” it allowed for the flourishing of individual goods that culminated in a wealthy, tolerant, and peaceful political order. Its ability to provide prosperity and peace are proven by appeal to evidence and reality.

On this site, see: At the Bari Weiss substack: Frank Fukuyama, Walter Russell Mead, and Niall Ferguson have a discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Straussians likely see a long fall away from virtue, from Natural right, from the reason/revelation distinction into the flawed logic of moral relativism and the triumph of a post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under reason alone (addition: and the 1st and 2nd crises of modernity); the successes and dangers of historicism:  From Volokh: Harvey Mansfield Reviews ‘The Executive Unbound’From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy on these new ‘blasphemy laws:’

In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:

If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’

-Via an interview with Ken Minogue from 2006:

‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?

KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

On this site, see:

Repost: Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

Rainbows: Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.

A new strand of radical chic is all about ‘it’s not race, it’s class’ traditional Marxism, combined with lots of Democratic Socialist sympathies (Bernie over so many ‘neo-liberal‘ sellouts).

Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Don’t Worry, Man, This Will All Work Out-Update & Repost-Kay Hymowitz In The City Journal: Child-Man In The Promised Land?

Full article here.  (Originally posted over a dozen years ago now, and I suspect more people are paying attention to the problems raised).

The basic idea:  Many young and young(ish) American men are free of the social obligations to commit to women, get married, have kids, and thus languish in a suspended state of man-childishness.

How did they get here?  By the radical and excessive cultural changes the last 40 years have brought about:  I’m assuming the excesses of feminism, the excesses of equality, which form a solid part of majority pop culture opinion and have often been institutionalized.

Young men especially need a culture that can help them define worthy aspirations. Adults don’t emerge. They’re made.”

Hymowitz is arguing that the culture is failing young men in an important way, and it’s doing so by abandoning certain cultural values and the depth and wisdom those values sustain.

See Also:  Kay Hymowitz In The The City Journal: Love In The Time Of Darwinism

From Will Wilkinson-A Response To Kay Hymowitz: ‘The “Menaissance” and Its Dickscontents’Kay Hymowitz In The The City Journal: Love In The Time Of DarwinismKay Hymowitz In The City Journal: Child-Man In The Promised Land?Kay Hymowitz At The City Journal: ‘How Brooklyn Got Its Groove Back’

From The Chronicle Of Higher Ed Via A & L Daily: Christina Hoff Sommers “Persistent Myths In Feminist Scholarship”Wendy Kaminer At The Atlantic: ‘Sexual Harassment And The Loneliness Of The Civil Libertarian Feminist’

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

Philip Brand Reviews Kay Hymowitz At Real Clear Books: ‘Women on Top, Men at the Bottom’.

Man-children? A war against men? The products of feminism? An erosion of religious values?:

‘The thrust of Manning Up is different. In her new book, Hymowitz puts economic conditions first — along with the increasing professional accomplishments of women. Preadulthood, she says, is “an adjustment to huge shifts in the economy, one that makes a college education essential to achieving or maintaining a middle-class life.”

That’s preadulthood for men:

‘Preadulthood — most common among men in their twenties, though it can easily extend to one’s thirties and beyond — is a consequence of two related economic trends that are reshaping the coming-of-age experience for young Americans, both men and women. The first trend is the extended period of training — college and beyond — deemed necessary to succeed in the modern economy. The second trend is women’s participation and flourishing in the new economy.’

There have been many changes going on in American society, which include getting women into the workforce and into college. I suspect this has partially required the erosion of traditional and religious familial hierarchies and the institutions growing out of them as a model for civil society.

There’s also the ideological radicalism and excesses of a lot of feminist doctrine, and many emerging new rules of behavior between the sexes, often enforced ad hoc, which further erode authority and claims to authority.

Naturally, social and religious conservatives are less happy with this state of affairs, and there is legitimate criticism that the State will fill the role the family they once held as a model for civil society, especially among lower income folks.

Obviously, we’re not going back to 1962, but men are not just born, they’re made, and now that the culture and institutions that made them is receding, what is taking their place?

Some will see these developments as a steps towards a better world, others as clear steps towards a worse one.  I’m just trying to step back for a moment.

In response to Megan McArdle’s post “America’s New Mandarins,” it might be worth revisiting Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Murray got there first:

—————

Helen Smith, wife of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, had a then new book out entitled ‘Men On Strike, Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream-and Why It Matters‘ which suggests the old incentives combined with the new culture is incentivizing men to sit on the sidelines:

—————-

Jordan Peterson is pushing back against claims of equality of outcome.  Freedom, responsibility and moral behavior are not tied directly back to the Bible, but through an attention to psychological/social science research data and schools of thought which have emerged and developed during the last one hundred and fifty years.  This, including his own experience as a clinical psychologist.

He’s still persona non-grata amongst many commited to gender equality and group identity:

Via a reader: Heather Heying, evolutionary biologist, and wife of Bret Weinstein, offers reasonable insight.

The sexes obviously can work together collaboratively, but I’m guessing neither a vast majority of women, nor some plurality of men, desire a return to previous traditional and religiously conservative sex roles, especially in the workplace.

After hollowing out much of what came before, some folks make everything rationalistic (rational man) and commodified (technology and the market). But notice liberation is not freedom, nor responsibility. In the hole created, there often just floods in identity politics, the ‘-Isms’, and more space for collectivist and socialistic (State) solutions. Did folks tell you the price of progress, and living in a ‘modern’ society.

Fukuyama, W.R. Mead and Niall Ferguson Discuss Ukraine

At the Bari Weiss substack: Frank Fukuyama, Walter Russell Mead, and Niall Ferguson have a discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As for the John Mearsheimer talk previously linked (I myself have reservations about some elements of such a view), Mearsheimer seems to have gotten a good many things right. Other people have gotten things right, too. The strong anti-Mearsheimer reaction (overreaction?) leads me to suspect that this could be as much about domestic strategic politics, some of his other views, and acceptable opinion in the U.S.

What do you potentially want the West to defend? Would you stand up to defend it (or more likely, your children)? If, culturally and politically, you have less trust in your institutions as an individual, isn’t this same weakness reflected within intellectual debates?

What’s probably true: The sooner we think about some of these questions, and with whom we enter into a potentially fighting alliance (an Anglosphere, trade and the old Westphalian model? the ‘global liberal’ vision?), the less dumb war there will probably be. There will very likely be war(s), however.

My current take on domestic politics is roughly what I’ve written (some of it bound to be wrong):

Conservative, traditional and religious Americans have likely moved from a majority to a plurality/minority in most cultural/political spaces (more requiring of minority protections, also more conspiratorial). These are the people more likely to defend home and hearth and more likely to join and support the military during the Cold War (along with higher Southern representation). 

I understand Neo-Conservatism as the drive to extend American military and global interests by advancing humanistic ideas and secular humanism (liberals/secular humanists mugged by ‘reality’). Such folks are more likely to have been in influential policy/intellectual positions, not necessarily doing the warfighting. 

Cold War patriotic liberals, just as were many old school liberals, have been increasingly challenged from the activist Left, and that activist Left now has a lot of cultural/political influence. Old school Democrats were generally about unions and a certain amount of patriotism (Cuban Missile Crisis). Many New Democrats are about pronouns in the postmodern soup and the Green New Deal. This presses upwards upon the liberal international and global worldview. This dynamic seems to occupy the folks in charge at the moment (dovetailing with elements of the Eurozone), pivoting from the Health/Safety COVID worldview to defending human and Western interests. 

It’s been…strange to see Susan Glasser at the New Yorker become rabidly pro-Ukraine and a war hawk, but…here we are

Related On This Site: Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Is there a causal connection between a move away from religion and the moral structure it provides….and a bigger state?From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

Some Anti-modernism: From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

Repost: A Bit Apart, But Still Standing Around Hoping Many People Would Hesitate More Often-A Few Links And Thoughts On Leo Strauss and Rene Girard

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.

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

From Nextbook: Philosopher Of Science Hilary Putnam On The Jewish Faith

Postmodern Pushback-Some New Links & Lots Of Old Links Gathered Throughout The Years

The Public Square (Meet The New Authority), COVID Origins & Safetyism-Some Links

Carlo Lancellotti put up this quotation by Augusto Del Noce:

‘Its historical perspective is, essentially, the following: in history there has been a permanent break coinciding with the Second World War; what was defeated was not just Fascism and Nazism, but the whole old European tradition; and Fascism and Nazism must be interpreted as phenomena caused by fear of historical progress … As a consequence of this judgment, those who draw inspiration from tradition are always “reactionaries” or “Fascists” (two terms that are stupidly equated), whether they know it or not.

Out?: The old town square, where patriotism, freedom of thought and expression, and statues, were more secure (and more religiously influenced, Catholics included)

In?: ‘History’ has a right side, and you’d better get on it. Pick a team…for now. If you have more resources, pick a cause (or fund them). Squares are oppressive.

I’m glad some people are dedicated to discovering the truth. How many other research labs are taking big risks? Who runs them? What about downstream technology in the hands of anyone/any group/any autocrat/any guerilla with a grievance?

Which benefits have already come?

More two cents: Impulses to consolidate power, tighten laws and restrict freedoms come during times of crisis and consequence (people are gonna die immediately). Wars, among other things, can mobilize people society-wide towards victory (also survival).

What if the crisis is a virus? The folks in more amenable to counter-culture liberal idealism are now running many of our institutions during this particular crisis. Their highest goods are often ideals like ‘democracy’, ‘safety’ and ‘communal-health-in-a-modern-society-by-inclusion-of-the-most-marginalized’. (these are the ideas they run on and the statements they tend to issue, anyways).

Behind the scenes, it’s usually the same mixture of principle, self-interest, favor-repayment, coalitions strategy, paybacks, ambition, fear, vanity, personal relationships etc.

This often affects how they wield authority.

It also probably affects how a lot of people are viewing their (S)elves, Nature, and giving the central dramatic meaning to their lives (this virus reaffirms a belief in the ideals).

At least with Christians, violence is limited in principle.

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works of Joseph Conrad.

‘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.’

Russian and Chinese interests and leadership, as well localism within interconnected networks, might be evidence working against many Western Universalist claims. Distance-shortening technologies won’t simply manifest a world any one of us, alone, or in groups, might be working towards.

It looks to me more like liberalism in the U.S. has been heading towards rule with technocratic elements, bureaucratic elements, liberation elements, and a rather authoritarian hand.

Freedom is next!

Now, what about Safetyism? Might it be a sub-category of above described liberal thinking?

Wear a mask! Don’t go outside! Cars are dangerous! Put that helmet on, mister.

No, really, put it on.

Matthew Crawford discusses:

Love In The Time Of Brain-Scans-The Science Of Romantic Poets

How many post-Romantic, Modern and Postmodern hopes can be hung upon the coatrack of (S)cience?

Perhaps we’ll find out. Dear Reader, let me know if this is you:

Whoa I wasn’t expecting this…the butterflies, I can’t stop thinking about her….am I…in love?

Oh my God, it’s over. This is it. She’s gone. We’re through. I’m a failure. All is black.

Recovery Step 1: It says here I’ve been changed at the physiological level and many behavioral scientists, with theoretical brilliance and empirical rigor, agree ‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all‘.

Step 2: Prairie voles. A French philosopher. I’m not alone.

Step 3 (Optional,Inferred) Since I got my free brain-scan down at the clinic to address the suffering of loving, living and losing in a modern society, I’d better lobby Congress to make sure brain scans are free for everybody.

Has the danger, foolishness and chaos of being in love changed much? Is the comfort, wisdom and order of a committed relationship really so different?

In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27

I envy not in any moods 
         The captive void of noble rage, 
         The linnet born within the cage, 
That never knew the summer woods: 

I envy not the beast that takes 
         His license in the field of time, 
         Unfetter’d by the sense of crime, 
To whom a conscience never wakes; 

Nor, what may count itself as blest, 
         The heart that never plighted troth 
         But stagnates in the weeds of sloth; 
Nor any want-begotten rest. 

I hold it true, whate’er befall; 
         I feel it, when I sorrow most; 
         ‘Tis better to have loved and lost 
Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The full poem demonstrates where some Romantics and Moderns went wild and bad:

…loverhood
will swing your soul like a broken bell
deep in a forsaken wood…

We’re probably not as far from the below as you might think…the more you think about it:

Repost-Watching The Shadows Go By: A Few Links & Thoughts On Romantic Primitivism, Culture & Political Idealism

Let me project some of my own interpretations onto the cave wall.

Photo taken by Nikola Solic (a fine photographer) of a display at the Neanderthal Musuem in Krapina, Croatia.

For many Westerners, perhaps there is no longer a God revealing Himself to Man, but there are expanding fields of knowledge and human endeavors able to light the way forwards onto a future of hope and progress; backwards onto human origins.

In the popular media (such as in the publications displaying the photo above), perhaps this knowledge can align with current popular sentiment and belief. An imprimatur, of sorts.

Such thinking can also coincide with a rather Romantic Idealization of Nature; a vision of Man without dominion over Nature, necessarily, but rather men, women, children and an ever growing list of humans (and animals, even) living both frustratingly apart, but also interconnected within Nature, following Nature’s lead alone and with each other.

Most people, I suspect, often without such specialized knowledge (not specifically trained in the sciences), require a lot of moral oughts and shoulds regarding how to live and what to do.

Furthermore, people tend to organize into groups united by shared principles and beliefs, and so often, in the modern world, beneath political ideals and political ideologies. Even if these political ideals and ideologies aren’t explict moral philosophies, necessarily, they can certainly end-up engaging the moral sentiments, basic human desires and motivations of the people within them.

Such movements are certainly understood by many of their members as posessing truth and knowledge enough to write the laws and rules we all must follow, prescribing our own personal moral behavior enough to align us with the people who ought to be in charge of us.

Perhaps the poet or Romantic genius can help guide Man into the Self and the Self into Nature. The poet/thinker’s example can be full of grief, anguish and Nature’s brutality, indeed, but it can also offer moments of self-actualization, beauty, consolation and transcendence. It can be taught as part of a civilizing hierarchy or canon, a reef of traditions and structure enough to develop seriously good artists and produce quite a few educated citizens.

I suspect there’s always been a tension between the poet/artist and the Man of Science and Mathematics; people generally more concerned in seeking the underlying order and patterns within Nature, discovering the probabilistic and mathematical laws able to accurately describe and predict the strange world in which we seem to find ourselves. Such laws can be beautiful, and symmetrical, and true just for their own sake, sure, but like a good poem, a mathematical law remains curiously silent about how to live and what to do.

Addition: Perhaps, I might add, but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about just which dangers accompany such lights, and which problems endure.

The late Roger Sandall, here:

The claim that “open societies” are now increasingly threatened would probably meet with little argument. But what is the nature of the threat, and what are its roots? Here less agreement might be found. Some would say an essentially religious clash of civilizations is the main cause, and point to the growing struggle between Islam and the West.

Others might point to Russia under President Putin, finding evidence of a long-standing political tradition that owes relatively little to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has always found liberty odious.

And then there’s a third and troubling possibility — that from an evolutionary perspective, taking a long view of our historic and prehistoric origins, open societies where voluntaristic principles prevail are new forms of human association only recently arrived from the distant tribal past, and in the more violent trouble spots around the world they never arrived at all.’

The late Ken Minogue:

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial. Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony. In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’

-Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Related: A definition of humanism:

‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

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“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-From The Chronicle Of Higher Ed: “Misguided Nostalgia For Our Paleo Past”

Full piece here.

The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution’s producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life forms, too, not just to people.’

There’s a lot of confusion out there in the popular mind, apparently.  Fascinating discoveries going on right now in genetics, genome research, and evolutionary biology, to name a few.

Because nobody asked, I tend to be skeptical of the Noble Savage,  Rousseau’s State of Nature, and some products of the Nietzschean, tragic, romantic tradition in Europe.  There are also lots of folks milling around America seeking a kind of collectivist utopian harmony in nature, as well.

It can be a long ways to travel to get from Darwin back to God and organized religion (too far for many people) and this blog remains generally agnostic, defensive of the broad, but fragile, traditions necessary for civil society and individual liberty.

It can also be a long way from Darwin to arrive at Natural Rights, Locke’s life, liberty and property, as well as Roman and classical ideas of law and even to Montesquieu.

Check out Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

Are there three wings of American movement conservatism: traditionalism, libertarianism, or neoconservatism? Are you looking for classical liberalism? Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

Related On This Site: What happens when you romanticize the aboriginal? Romantic primitivism: Roger Sandall: Marveling At The Aborigines, But Not Really Helping?Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’

The tragic, romantic German view…Robert Merry At The National Interest: ‘Spengler’s Ominous Prophecy’

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

Peter Levine discusses the Nietzsche connection here.

Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?:  Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?:  From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Darwin and the arts: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

You know, Plato addressed Thrasymachus in the Republic about the will of the stronger: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Might Makes Right’…Darwinian Conservatism’…From Edge: ‘Re: What Makes People Republican? By Jonathan Haidt’…Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Authority, Hierarchy And The Postmodern Soup-Some Brief Links & Thoughts

A reader sends a link: Curtis Yarvin is questioned by David Friedman in Yarvin’s debate with Robin Hanson over the truth claims of Futarchy.

Potential deeper subtexts-Monarchy vs anarcho-capitalism as forms of political arrangement and maybe some Hobbes v Locke in terms of property and incentives.

Hmmm….

Just as the Universitarian Universalists promote a mish-mash of secular humanism, ‘religion’-lite ethics and alignment with many progressive causes (rainbow flags aloft), some of what’s in the air is an undermining of legitimate forms of authority into the postmodern soup.

I’m pretty sure members of the activist Left have driven much of the social change beneath the banner of liberal ideals (rainbow flags aloft), and further entrenched an incredibly cynical and ruthless take on all forms of authority (generally people you don’t want in charge of anything).

Most radicals mostly see liberal idealism and pragmatism as obstacles to be defeated on the way to….liberation and revolutionary praxis.

From another reader: Has the Homo lineage, Homo Sapiens particularly, domesticated himself by forming coalitions of beta-males to resist the natural tendency towards one alpha male among a group of breeding females? Is utilizing fire (cooked food, protection) a primary means of this domestication? Have we carved out a little spot for guided evolution?

Bio-anthropology might have some insights.

The cleaner sciences tell us only about the laws of nature, and relatively little about the (how/why/what does it all mean?) questions we’re bound to ask about ourselves.

A minor aside: What’s with the academic and Romantic tendency to additionally celebrate broad and general categories like ‘women’ and ‘minorities’ under the idea of secular humanism (readers know I harbor skepticism towards the latest moral cause and the ‘-Isms’)?

I’d argue such skepticism is a political third-rail these days, but likely a longer-term good position to hold (you can support individuals and other people without such ideas).

I have feet in many camps, but I think each of us is subject to constant reinforcement and reification of our group’s basic beliefs (academics are no different). Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are…to some extent.

Of note: When the economic and military strength of one nation (let’s say America) is over-estimated and due for an update, and that of another (let’s say China with cutting-edge AI capabilities) also doesn’t match current many estimations, treaties, and alliances…watch out. Conflict is more likely.

My take: There are, and will be, rules, and authority. This emerges from deep within us. Leaders are stewards. Sometimes the authority’s pretty corrupt (serving the wants/needs of individuals claiming to serve all but incentivized to serve their faction while enriching themselves). There’s always some corruption and politics is a necessary evil. Existing institutions can easily be co-opted, and usually will, by less honorable, loud, and driven people.

We can all actively benefit, but must be very careful handling, coalitions of men. Men in committed marriages, having earned respect for their judgment and experience, with large networks of business and social connections, motivated by an urge towards decency and protection of their families, are often the ones you want in charge.

And even then we swap them out every few years.

It Seems Claiming To Be The Most Rational Locks One Into A Trap With The Irrationalists-Ah, Modernity-Some Links On The Highest Thing Around

Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall (like a tragic hero) if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him. Hobbes, the uncompromising rationalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out [27] clearly. The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.’

Minogue, Kenneth.  The Liberal Mind. Liberty Fund, 2001. Print. 

‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic.  And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies.  And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular.  For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.  Pg 31.

I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.

Larry Arnhart here.

‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism:  natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’

A deep and interesting argument.  Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.

Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

More Scruton here.

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.’

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism through post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Fries):

Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”