The claim is that requiring citizens to provide ID when they show up to vote is unjust, racist and oppressive. It’s a rule only to be used for unjust and self-interested ends (as it was in some parts of the South in 1965). In fact, Joe Biden’s signed an Executive Order (because that’s what Presidents do now, especially when they can’t find any bipartisan agreement).
For despite all the charged rhetoric, all the anachronistic analogies, requiring voter identification remains a simple requirement — one that, as it happens, is practised across Europe during elections. That America cannot unite around it — and even dismiss it as racist — is a tragedy.
The larger point of agreement: Having the people in charge of administering laws, claiming that even the most basic laws like providing ID, are inherently unjust and racist…is not a good place to be. Also, increasingly impotent Executive Orders are ‘part of the furniture.’
Walter Russell Mead on Vladimir Putin’s 5,000 word essay on uniting the Russians and the Ukrainians (Mead’s essay is behind a paywall). It’s the Kievan Rus after all. You know, where the Vikings sailed and settled East and South down the Rivers and eventually became Russians. Putin’s probably not going to let it drift away.
‘In order to understand why it is that the world gets to see, unfiltered by either Cuban or Western media, the reality of this isolated island nation, you need to understand the strange and utterly mangled state of Cuban internet.‘
People are disappeared, starved, bereft of hope and immiserated under Communist leadership, while that leadership becomes increasingly evil; a fact which many in the West cannot bear, because it cuts too close to their own hopes.
Don’t worry though. Oh, how some people care about (M)ankind.
‘The past 50 years or so have seen a cultural revolution in western society comparable in scope to the Reformation. Most of us have known only that period of transition, when morality and norms were up for debate, but perhaps it is now over. Perhaps we have returned to the sort of world we lived in when England last reached a final, in 1966 – a world of strictly enforced social mores.‘
Oh, there will be rules.
Theodore Dalrymple spends a lot of time in France, and comments on regional elections (Macron vs Le Pen, 2022)
Many folks have explained why Communist revolutions begin in violence and end in such misery, and why so many followers cling to these doctrines with a sort of religious fervor, selectively blind hope, and continued loyalty.
Or at least some folks held their ground and documented the mess:
‘The preceding days have demonstrated that information peddled by Castro’s legion of academic and celebrity apologists has deeply penetrated the mainstream media consciousness, with credulous reporting sundry revolutionary “successes” of the regime: not so good on free speech, but oh-so-enviable on health care and education.’
‘And how does Reuters describe Castro? After 50 years of brutal one-party rule, to apply the appellation “dictator” seems a rather contentious issue: “Vilified by opponents as a totalitarian dictator, Castro is admired in many Third World nations for standing up to the United States and providing free education and health care.” And again, we return to education and health care.’
Democratic socialism, and social democracy, are often just the distance some folks have migrated from their previous ideological commitments (tolerating market reforms and ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy out of necessity, not necessarily a change of heart nor mind).
For others it may be the distance they’ve unconsciously drifted towards such ideas more recently.
For other brave souls, it may be the distance required to stick one’s fingers into the political breezes which blow over the floor of the EU, in order to ‘stay engaged’:
Remember, this [was] the non-elected President of the EU Commission.
‘He told me about what happened at his sister’s elementary school a few years after Castro took over.
“Do you want ice cream and dulces (sweets),” his sister’s teacher, a staunch Fidelista, asked the class.
“Yes!” the kids said.
“Okay, then,” she said. “Put your hands together, bow your heads, and pray to God that he brings you ice cream and dulces.”
Nothing happened, of course. God did not did not provide the children with ice cream or dulces.
“Now,” the teacher said. “Put your hands together and pray to Fidel that the Revolution gives you ice cream and sweets.”
The kids closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They prayed to Fidel Castro. And when the kids raised their heads and opened their eyes, ice cream and dulces had miraculously appeared on the teacher’s desk.’
Gloria Estefan offers a window into Cuban culture, music, honor, and immigration as it mixes with American culture.
As previously posted:
Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.
Christopher Hitchens took a helicopter ride with Sean Penn, and that tracksuit-wearing strongman of the people, Hugo Chavez-Hugo Boss:
It’s a long way out of socialist and revolutionary solidarity, which continually occupies the South American mind. One more revolution: Adam Kirsch takes a look at Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dream Of The Peruvian.
Through my indirect experience, most of the people who serve are called. Honor, duty and sacrifice figure heavily. Smashing things, adventure, skill-development and money tend to be important variables, too. Over time, money and stability become more important, as they do for anyone aging up, or through, an institution. Few of us spend time imagining waking up every morning, with thirteen intricate steps to put on a prosthetic, seeing what the day holds.
That’s where our duty comes in, as fellow citizens, to make the losses more bearable.
From where I stand: Yes, the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, NPR, and most major media outlets are in a process of negotiation/conflict with elements of a radical and activist Left. Some will follow the logic towards Good/Evil with their own countrymen, in a pose of childish and irrational rebellion (utopia always better to any reality). Others will settle into some kind of protagonism/antagonism with new authority; major Tech companies having to make and enforce rules, in relation with many lawmakers.
If you didn’t solve the problems of authority/hierarchy, totalizing and authority-beholden types beneath your Ideals, well…you haven’t solved those problems.
You’ve probably noticed this, too-Deeper and emergent Western thinking, along humanistic lines, is becoming more dominant: Conceptualizing the main purposes of war as advancing humanistic ideals (War vs Peace, (G)lobal (M)an vs the (I)nhumane) motivates much American institutional authority and leadership. No institution has avoided the rising waters of presumed freedom, diversity and inclusion, pushed often by liberation activists (making the personal political). I’m not sure of all the deeper currents and reasons, but this seems pretty unstable.
To be a ‘Kennedy Liberal’, Nationalistic and proud, has begun to emit a curious odor, a moral stench in the culture-at-large (as long ago has anything Christian, traditional, patriotic, and proud).
Perhaps it’s true: Today’s liberal idealist might well find himself where yesterday’s ‘neo-conservative’ found himself, willing to underwrite the Western project, with American military force if necessary, to vindicate highest ideals.
This blog’s thinking: The cultural revolution of the 60’s is a more consequential beast than most Boomer’s and Gen X’ers have realized. We’ve pretty much all of us internalized elements of these ideas, doing with them as we will.
If you are joining the armed services, for reasons of honor, duty, and sacrifice, you’d probably do okay to think about these elements of American leadership and political authority.
Robert Kaplan makes the argument that geography and history are destiny in Pakistan’s case:
‘Pakistan encompasses the frontier of the subcontinent, a region that even the British were unable to incorporate into their bureaucracy, running it instead as a military fiefdom, making deals with the tribes. Thus, Pakistan did not inherit the stabilizing civilian institutions that India did. Winston Churchill’s first book as a young man, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, wonderfully captures the challenges facing colonial border troops in British India. As the young author then concluded, the only way to function in this part of the world is through “a system of gradual advance, of political intrigue among the tribes, of subsidies and small expeditions.’
‘The term AfPak itself, popularized by the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, indicates two failed states — otherwise, they would share a strong border and would not have to be conjoined in one word. Let me provide the real meaning of AfPak, as defined by geography and history: It is a rump Islamic greater Punjab — the tip of the demographic spear of the Indian subcontinent toward which all trade routes between southern Central Asia and the Indus Valley are drawn — exerting its power over Pashtunistan and Baluchistan, just as Punjab has since time immemorial.’
‘Liberals engage the right mood by contemplating the experiences of those they take to be oppressed, in what I have called “suffering situations.” You might think this an admirable altruism amid the selfish indifference of the mass of mankind, and there is no doubt that it has often been sincere and that it could at times mitigate some real evils. But the crucial word here is “abstract.” The emotions are elicited by an image, as in the craft of advertising. The people who cultivate these feelings are usually not those who actually devote their time and energies to helping the needy around them, but rather a class of person—liberal journalists, politicians, social workers, academics, charity bureaucrats, administrators, etc.—who focus on the global picture.’
I would add that while I have my doubts about the religious true-believer and salvationist, I have particular doubts about the Neo-Romantic Environmentalist, the secular, progressive do-gooder, and the high liberal globalist shuttling between academy and government.
‘The centerpiece of Miller’s argument is the making and appreciating of art. Miller’s idea of art, as we might expect, is wide-ranging and popular, drawn more from everywhere in culture: dancing, body-decoration, clothing, jewellery, hair-styling, architecture, furniture, gardens, cars, images such as calendars and paintings, creative uses of language, popular entertainments from religious festivals to TV soaps, music of all kinds, and on and on. Miller’s discussion is less focused on the high-art culture of modernism and postmodernism, since it anyway distinguishes itself against popular taste.‘
Of course, there will be all manner of reductionism (art=sex) and popularized idiocy (Bach + brain-scan = pop-neuroscience) to follow.
There’s something about both our cultural tilt towards (S)cience-ifying every aspect of life (stretching out these new fields of knowledge) as well as the popularized explanatory journalism (Jesus Christ not another think-piece) which are worth thinking about.
Witnessing the outcomes and consequences of such truth and knowledge claims downstream, some quite possibly more true than others, invites skepticism.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
Don’t worry, ‘ethics’ on the fly, in universities and in journalism is everywhere these days, and beneath that, some crazy new true-believers.
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebribrification of art):
There’s always been a bit of the showman about Jeff Koons; the kind of young man who could put on a bow tie and try to give many museum-goers their time/money/aspirations’ worth at the membership desk.
This blog forgives people trying to explain what their art ‘means,’ exactly, but confesses to pleasure in seeing Koons put on the spot under the suspicious eye of an ornery old Robert Hughes.
I don’t fault Koons for finding himself firmly within modernism, searching for universal forms and broader historical context within those confines, but I admit it’s nice to see him held to account for his bullshit, and perhaps the broader, deeper bullshit he shares with many modern and postmodern artists: Pursuing novelty and recognition and thus making art into a business and often commercializing it, aiming for celebrity while offering meta-critiques on celebrity, making the personal and private very public (masturbation into social commentary, sex into meta-critques of religious shame, ‘culture’ and pornography).
Two quotes by Hughes that stood out:
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
Aside from the above, there’s something that strikes me as not just late 20th century-modern about Koons, but also very American
‘Globalization is having very odd effects on our thinking, but none is more curious than the Olympian project of turning the West’s cultural plurality into a homogenized rationalism designed for export to, and domination over, the rest of the world‘
Charles Hill strikes me as a man with actual, real-world experience, and an interest in theory. A man who focused on his students, challenging them beyond what he saw as anemic ‘issue-based’ thinking. This is getting a lot of things right, in my opinion.
It’s a pretty rough, and ‘real’, world out there.
Yes, the Chinese leadership is playing a longer game with Taiwan, Hong-Kong, its historical borders and the Belt and Road initiative. This is a strategic, deeply authoritarian vision, ruthless at times, and quite adversarial to many American interests. A sizable number of Chinese folks probably don’t agree with their own leadership. Good luck with that, Chinese folks, American policy-makers, American allies, and anyone along the Belt and Road.
We all have interests, reasons, and hard choices to make.
At home and in the Anglosphere, I like Eric Kaufmann’s practical suggestions for restoring some balance in our universities.
It’s almost like we’ve had a couple of generations of relatively unrealistic, questionable stewardship about what’s important. When it comes to Self-knowledge (instead of (S)elf-Worship wrapped in liberation fantasies and New Age claptrap), people, all too often, are finding themselves captive to rules and expectations.
This way lies further opinioneering:
Joe Biden was the establishment alternative to a populist-Left Bernie (something like a Socialist). Socialism, if fully implemented, is immiserating, soul-crushing and murderous. Old dreams die hard. If we’re lucky, here at home, Bernie’s leadership would mean a politics of fewer jobs and freedoms, lots of incompetence, strikes, and more violence.
Biden, after becoming Obama’s VP and with Obama’s imprimatur, has courted as much of the black vote as he can. He is also seeking to maintain the black-leadership vote (SPLC, ‘race’-leaders, Civil Rights and BLM wrongs). A good amount of such thinking flirts with Democratic Socialism, ‘baptized Marxism,’ and supporting the rule of law…some of the time.
Channeling such interests has led to a spate of new executive gun orders. As for me, Dear Reader, I choose to see Joe Biden as a decrepit, glad-handing product of his times and places, guiding an overbuilt and semi-functional executive branch (the next guy will have many similar incentives). He’s what vanishingly remains of the ‘moderate’ old-school Democratic leadership, back when people talked about War Bonds.
Much left-liberal sentiment, these days, is finding release by blaming lot of current political and media failures, and the country’s failures, on psychologically comforting sources like Trump (for all his faults) and various tribal enemies. Or by pursuing policies like gun-control and Teacher’s Unions'(I be-LIEVE the CHIL-dren are our FU-ture….).
It is what it is.
Oh, there will be politics. Where have you been seen?
In the meantime, many Country-Club Republicans have been seen a bit dazed, wandering local putting-greens, nursing martinis. Some Never-Trumpers have been seen posing as Democrats, sneering at rednecks and definitely seen as NOT RACIST. Some religious folks have gone woke, and some religious folks have gone crazy. Many traditionalists have been seen hiding out within traditions. Many folks in big-businesses and the corporate bureaucratic webs of influence, have been seen signaling professional wokeness as a matter of cultural relevance, and survival. A lot of people I know are interested in ‘Helping the Cause’ when they patronize a restaurant or buy a bit of stock (I be-LIEVE I WILL BE in the FU-ture…).
Once such right-of-center coalitions get into power, I’m expecting a fair amount of dipshittery and bad policy, too. There are always assholes and creeps in the mix. Politics is the art of the possible, after all. They’ll no doubt be a lot of finding release by blaming political and media enemies, and on psychologically comforting sources like The Left and Socialists (as real as I think these threats are to genuine freedoms).
Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be less government?
It’s probably too much to hope.
Political institutions, not too long ago, were still appealing to a profound American idealism with much more credibility than they have now. The call to higher things, these days, is very faint among better sorts, while the bellows are busy with hot emotions and worse people.
Socially and culturally, rural folks, gun-owners, and small-government types (me in this last category, definitely), are something of an out-group. The majority hasn’t held, and many longer trend lines have caught-up. Such folks are often mischaracterized and held to ridiculous double-standards. Sure, I don’t mind being someone it’s okay to piss on!
What a hot, glorious rain!
On a personal and professional level, I take people as they are, and hope they do the same for me. We’d probably get along in most situations.
With and increasingly sclerotic leadership bench (Bush–Clinton–Clinton–Younger Bush–Younger Bush–Obama–Obama–Trump–Biden), we’ve all got, needless to say, serious problems.
On that note, please enjoy some photos I’ve managed to take while out walking (not working, not with loved ones):
I’m getting to levels of passing incompetence with my iPhone 8:
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
‘When Hill came to Yale in 1992 — his wife, senior lecturer Norma Thompson, was a professor in the political science department — he already had a decorated record of foreign service. After graduating from Brown University and completing his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked foreign service postings in Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Vietnam. Among other positions, he served as a policy advisor at the State Department, an advisor for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, executive aide to Secretary of State George Shultz and an advisor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1992-1996 Secretary-General of the United Nations‘
It’s Yale, so I wonder with whom he’ll be replaced:
As to who’s minding our institutions, and where the logic has led: If you start in radical resentment and a rejection of legitimate authority, you cultivate radical resentment and a rejection of legitimate authority:
What’s advertised on the box isn’t what’s inside the box:
‘The initial training session is titled “Managing Bias.” The intent is to teach “participants…how biases affect their actions and impact others when left unchecked, including creating unhealthy work environments and reinforcing unjust practices.” Again, this may sound reasonable, until it becomes apparent that, to the academic left, nonconforming opinions are usually due to bias.‘
Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:
I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.
‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’
Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:
On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world. People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not. It’s a basic human activity.
I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics: Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological.
‘Ours does not promise to go down in literary history as a great age of religious poetry. Yet if contemporary poetry is not often religious, it is still intensely, covertly metaphysical.‘
For Heidegger, more than any other philosopher, looked to poetry as a model of what thinking should be. He used individual poems, especially the hymns of Hölderlin, to help explicate his own ideas about nature, technology, art, and history.‘
‘This is the dead end of Modernist culture, which sought to break down traditional values and rules but was unable to replace them with anything better. It left us in a cultural void where, as the New York Times piece puts it, everyone is afraid that “serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst.” In the second half of the 20th century, this corrosive Modernist skepticism brought us the ruling concept of contemporary popular culture: the “cool.” Remember the original meaning of the term. To be “cool” is to be emotionally cool, to refuse to be caught up in enthusiasm. Early on, this could be taken to mean a kind of manly reserve, the ability to be calm, cool, and collected in the face of strife, or to refuse to be carried away by momentary or trivial emotions. This is the sense in which James Bond was “cool.” But by the end of the 20th century, the culture of cool increasingly came to mean a studied lack of response to values. It meant refusing to be carried away by enthusiasm about anything.’
You’ve seen the game some people start playing when they don’t have other things in which to believe. They play the everyone-is-Hitler-game. They share ‘literature’, torch courthouses and deploy violent individuals within mob anonymity. They don’t believe in legitimate authority.
Liberal leadership doesn’t seem to have a strategic response, other than keep pushing the ‘liberation’ narratives while accruing more authority.
Zhou’s response was that of a hedgehog. He had just one issue: Taiwan. “If this crucial question is not solved,” he told Kissinger at the outset, “then the whole question [of U.S.-China relations] will be difficult to resolve.‘
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.’
The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t advocate for too many young people to join a military run by the current institutional leadership without serious thought. You may have your reasons, but think twice:
‘That is precisely what today’s moment cries out for: Kennan’s humility rather than a new crusade against a new Evil Empire. It cries out for a skeptical liberalism that sees the world as it is rather than going looking for new monsters to destroy.’
Our ideological troubles spring, I have argued before, from liberalism’s lack of perceived legitimacy. Authoritarianism emerges as a symptom either where the liberal approach to organizing society has failed to take root, or where an established liberalism is seen to be overreaching unopposed. We ought to be on the lookout for these failures of liberalism—for “the appeals to core elements of human nature that liberalism does not always satisfy,”
There’s lots of stuff in the piece for regular readers of this blog (Mention of Edmund Burke, Isaiah Berlin etc.).
The author finishes with the area of most shared agreement [between himself] and Kagan (a view of ‘teleological’ progressivism as dangerously narrow and very authoritarian itself; delegitimizing and destabilizing Western liberalism from within).
It’s going to be harder to deal with the rest of the world when these core elements of debate rage within Western hearts, minds and institutions:
‘The Jungle Grows Back is an important book insofar as it contains all the debates outlined above within it. And Kagan opens the space for these ideas to breathe a little by rightly dismissing teleological progressivism in his book’s opening pages—a great service that makes reading the book a richer experience than it otherwise might have been. But a more moderate, and therefore much wiser, conclusion is passed over by an author whose commitment to his priors prevents him from seeing what a gem he might have had on his hands. It’s too bad.’
Kagan discusses the book here with what I’d describe as an evolutionary psychologist/soft-ish Marxist:
Is modern democracy the best form of government, and if so, how did we get here? Who is ‘we’ exactly? All of Europe and the U.S.?
How do we really know that we are progressing toward some telos, or evolving our modern democracy to some point outside ourselves, and that the rest of the world ought to be doing the same?
Via Hegel, Marx and Darwin?
‘Fukuyama believes democracy is the only system of government with a long-term future, a familiar idea emerges: as societies become more prosperous, the growing global middle class will demand more political freedom and governmental accountability. Effectively a restatement of Marx’s account of the historical role of the bourgeoisie, it is an idea we have all heard many, many times before. In fact the political record of the middle classes is decidedly mixed.’
‘While the book contains some useful insights, at the most fundamental level Political Order and Political Decay remains a morass of intellectual confusion and category mistakes. Slipping insensibly from arguments about the ethical standards by which governments are to be judged to speculative claims about the moving forces of modern history, Fukuyama blurs facts, values and theories into a dense neo-Hegelian fog. Liberal democracy may be in some sense universally desirable, as he maintains. That does not mean it will always be popular, still less that it is the normal destination of modern development.’
But he does acknowledge the following, which I’ve found reading Fukuyama, is that I come away enriched in many ways:
‘In some ways Political Order and Political Decay may be Fukuyama’s most impressive work to date. The upshot of his argument is that functioning democracy is impossible wherever an effective modern state is lacking. Since fractured and failed states are embedded in many parts of the world, the unavoidable implication is that hundreds of millions or billions of people will live without democracy for the foreseeable future.’
This blog much values Gray’s thinking as he upsets the apple-cart of many an assumption found in the modern West. If you’ve ever gazed upon the secular liberal political establishment, witnessing the gap between its ideals and daily operation, its claimed moral supremacy along with a lot of foreseeable moralism and bureaucratic bloat, then you might have some sympathy for such thinking.
As previously posted:
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?
Has John Gray turned away from value pluralism into a kind of ‘godless mysticism?’
Here’s Fukuyama summing up his book for an audience: