Some Links On Robert Kagan’s New Book: ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World’

Our author reviews Robert Kagan’s new book ‘The Jungle Grows Back: America And Our Imperiled World.’

The piece contains liberal pushback (the search for a center?) against what’s argued to be Kagan’s proselytizing neo-conservatism:

‘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:

Also On This Site: Taking on the telos of progress and questioning  modern liberal assumptions with a largely nihilistic approach (progress is learned but doesn’t stay learned in human affairs; the lesson of various 20th centry writers and one of the main purposes of a humanities education): Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’…Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’…Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

People on the Left and a more moderate middle, and from libertarian conservative backgrounds are increasingly challenging core ideological assumptions of far Left doctrines having crept into so many institutions.  They must defend their own disciplines and be of exemplary character: Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview…Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’…Charles Murray From ‘The Happiness Of People’…The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Repost-Looking For Liberals In The Postmodern Wilderness-Jordan Peterson & Stephen Hicks

A restatement of Anglican, British conservatism with deep Kantian, Hegelian roots: Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’…Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

The Religious Conservative American right advocating a step back from a common Constitutional project?: Two Links To Rod Dreher On How To Live And What To Do... Another view of the 60’s radicalism on campus: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-A Link And Some Thoughts: Phillip Blond At First Things-Politics After Liberalism

Blond reviews this book by John Milbank & Adrian Pabst: ‘The Politics Of Virtue: Post-Liberalism And The Human Future‘ (PDF here).

Is it necessary to reclaim secular idealism from many secular idealists? Or at least, might it be necessary to provide an alternative to much unthinking liberal idealism which has come to govern many of our institutions?

Blond has ideas for conservatism in Great Britain, anyways:

‘Among the ideas that compete to determine the world’s future, one can count Catholicism, Islam, and (until recently) Marxism. But only one is dominant, hegemonic, and all-pervasive—liberalism.’

Blond’s apparent challenge to this form of liberalism is a return to the Catholic Church (if it ain’t exactly a neoclassical return to Platonic idealism):

Hmmmm….:

‘The Catholic Church must reenter the political fray, not as a chaplain to left or right but as the herald of a new order.’

As an American, let me offer a brief family anecdote: I was raised by lapsed Catholics (Irish-Catholics mostly, thoroughly American, a little cynical, often skeptical and suspicious of authority). In that spirit, perhaps the below offers some insight into why many Boomers might have drifted away from the Catholic Church if not always towards secular humanist ideals:

There’s a Catholic girls’ high-school weekend retreat with the nuns, and the girls and the nuns are having a decent time of it. One of the girls is epileptic and starts to have seizures. The situation gets pretty serious, and, unfortunately, the nuns don’t handle it too well. In the telling, there’s much fear and diddling-around. Confusion sets-in. Time passes. The girl with epilepsy is halfway-abandoned for a bit. Although the poor girl eventually recovers, there’s a deeper suspicion of medical advancements lurking somewhere in the background. The nuns manage to impress a parochial mediocrity; a lack of calm, actionable knowledge and understanding.

Frankly, many people are happy to hit young girls in the knuckles in order to reinforce metaphysical ideas and correct behavior, the truth or falsehood of the ideas long ago internalized and no longer questioned. As long as many people get some kind of standing, purpose and security in the world, they’re happy to pay it forward.

As for me, I can’t say I don’t see a lot of parochial mediocrity and a lack of calm and knowledge in many federal bureaucracies these days (people with real power and authority over our lives, supposedly well-meaning). This is to say nothing of corporate HR departments and amongst many academics and the media. Pay insufficient tribute to the latest moral idea, and become a member of a clear minority. Refuse to gather around the high ideals and the increasingly complex rules that come with them (climate change, multiculturalism, diversity, human rights etc.) and be seen as morally suspect.

———–

This is why I tend to welcome critiques of liberalism, but also continued satire when it comes to the Catholic Church, too (it’d sure be nice to have equal application and some backbone when it comes to Islam, especially when cartoonists get murdered for cartoons).

That’s what satire is for.

It doesn’t seem like much has changed regarding human nature, either, least of all within the Church (nor the increasingly predictable, increasingly pathetic Boomer vilification of the Church). Perhaps ‘love’ isn’t all you need.

Imagine critizing the radical discontents of the Left, which often drive the latest moral ideas within high-liberal thought; standing-up to some obviously contradictory and true-believing rightesousness?

***Beyond ‘strategic’ politics and philosophy, there are plenty of reasons like the rapid technological advancements and change going-on in our lives (genuine progress and a lot of choice in matters we haven’t always had). There are many downward pressures from global marketplaces, supply chains and mobile labor, too. Perhaps it’s harder to be local these days, and decent and derive the meaning one needs from friends, neighbors, and the kinds of constraints and rewards one has while living in the same place.

———-

Possibly related on this site:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly, and he believes there’s going to be some authority in your life, but you’ve got be particularly careful about which kind, and which rules govern that relationship with authority:

Full piece here:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion.‘

From Fellini’s ‘Roma.’ Fellini presents a kind of sinister and surreal Papal fashion show.

At least it isn’t a ‘bunga-bunga‘ party (maybe don’t leave models of governance to modern Italy?).

David Brooks here.

On Blond:

“Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.”

Are we really in a Platonic decline, the kind of which required The Republic?: Are you a gold, silver or bronze medalist?

That’s a little scary.

A Podcast From Britain: E30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Quote found here——Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“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.”

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

Schlock Troops: ‘Steel Isn’t Strong, Boy, Flesh Is Stronger’-Some Links

Via David Thompson-‘The Manhoff Archives

Just one guy taking a look at the world he found himself in and taking some photos and videos along the way:

‘Major Martin Manhoff spent more than two years in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, serving as assistant army attaché at the U.S. Embassy, which was located just off Red Square at the beginning of his time in Moscow.’

Paul Berman at Tablet:  ‘The Left And The Jews: A Tale Of Three Countries

‘In the early spring of this year, an angry dispute broke out in the United Kingdom between the mainstream Jewish communal organizations and the leader of the radical left, currently head of the Labour Party, who is Jeremy Corbyn; and a couple of days later, a roughly similar dispute broke out in France between the equivalent French Jewish organization and Corbyn’s counterpart on the French left, who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and the double outbreak suggested a trend, which raises a question. It is about America and the Democratic Party.’

I suppose we’ll see.

Movements of radical and revolutionary liberation depend upon the removal of injustice, and solidarity around certain ideals.  It seems as more individuals think in terms of group identity and identity politics, ‘the system’ becomes that which unites such identity groups against a common enemy, even if they come to have influence within ‘the system. ‘

Personally, I see ‘the system’ as largely comprised of everyday people engaged in maintaining the laws, traditions and institutions upon which we all depend. Such people often have their own reasons, thoughts and feelings as they go about their duties.  Such activities are best done locally.  Public trust in federal institutions is dangerously low at the moment, for many good reasons.

We could be in for a bad patch, indeed.

It seems more than fair to critique the laws, traditions and institutions which can and have brutally oppressed and excluded some, but how do the ideas and doctrines of radical liberation actually engage the energies and beliefs of the people within them?  What are some consequences of these ideas in practice, shorter and longer-term?  Why is authoritarianism so often claimed in enemies but never within these movements themselves (oh so human a characteristic…but a hallmark here), exacerbating authoritarian tendencies?

At its best, it seems to me the melting pot model engages the reasons people can become nasty, tribal, groupish, and violent towards one another, saying something like:  ‘Follow the laws, become a citizen, learn the language, defend the country and get ahead.  If you can’t get yourself ahead, get your kids ahead.’

There are obvious shortcomings of defending home and hearth, and that which is familiar and loved within such a model.  It doesn’t necessarily scale, and people being what we so often are, can easily resist change and outsiders and new ideas when what’s new might enrich us.  All of us can dwell in the natural ignorance of the head and the nostalgic sentiments of the heart for too long, and sometimes we can just be plain wrong.

Yet, the liberty allowed to pursue one’s own ends in such a fashion and the wisdom of seeing human nature more as it is, seem much more humane and capable of political stability and economic opportunity.

If you’re still with me, forget all the above, Dear Reader.

Clear your mind and focus on a single image.  Allow this image to occupy your thoughts.

Relax as the image becomes a single, ancient eye. Now open this eye, a lizard’s eye, and see the New World.

Join the Snake Cult! (and enjoy some prime Arnie ‘mittel-English’):

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

Repost-A Few Links From Around The Time Fidel Castro Died

A few years ago now…

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:

Robert Conquest At The Hoover Institution: ‘When Goodness Won’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

Michael Moynihan takes a look at how some in the Western media and in positions of influence have handled the death of what [was] essentially, a brutal dictator:

Still Stuck On Castro:

‘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:

‘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.

Michael Totten relays an anecdote here:

‘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.

——————

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

Related On This Site: What Will De Blasio’s New York Look Like?-Some LinksSandinistas At The NY Times: ‘A Mayoral Hopeful Now, de Blasio Was Once a Young Leftist’Two Links On Diane Ravitch & School Reform

Some Links & Thoughts-What Am I Missing?: Skeptical Humanist Criticism & Loyal Opposition

Roger Scruton from a few years ago, here:

‘That noble form of humanism has its roots in the Enlightenment, in Kant’s defense of the moral law, and in the progressivism of well-meaning Victorian sages. And the memory of it leads me to take an interest in something that calls itself “humanism,” and is now beginning to announce itself in Britain. This humanism is self-consciously “new,” like New Labour; it has its own journal, the New Humanist, and its own sages, the most prominent of whom is Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and vice-president of the British Humanist Association. It runs advertising campaigns and letter-writing campaigns and is militant in asserting the truth of its vision and its right to make converts. But the vision is not that of my parents. The new humanism spends little time exalting man as an ideal. It says nothing, or next to nothing, about faith, hope, and charity; is scathing about patriotism; and is dismissive of those rearguard actions in defense of the family, public spirit, and sexual restraint that animated my parents. Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness. My parents too thought belief in God to be a weakness. But they were reluctant to deprive other human beings of a moral prop that they seemed to need.’

Well, some humanists didn’t care much for the article.

This blog has been gathering thoughts over the years, something of a curio shelf of skeptical criticism and loyal opposition to much old and new humanism.  Admittedly, I have at least one foot in the water, so to speak.

Scruton on scientism in arts and the humanities:

‘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.’

There seem many uses for the terms scientism and rationalism should individuals accept a generally humanist, secularly liberal worldview.  There are many people untrained in the sciences, committed to some concept of (S)cience according to their moral lights.

Some of these folks might just as easily turn against the sciences and return to modern myth, Romantic primitivism and anti-science sentiment depending upon current political winds and changing ideological commitments.

It seems many profoundly thinking Atheists, scientific naturalists, critical and careful thinkers, for their part, in seeking truth, as well as ideas which can possibly scale and unite human beings together, also have their blind spots.

In helping to expose much folly and institutional rot on the political right, or within the Catholic Church or Islam (courage, people), for example, there tends to be more reluctant focus on what can happen beneath the banners of the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, anti-humanism).

It’s a rather strange game to seek capture of the institutions whose legitimacy one rejects according to one’s moral lights, believing in a totalizing ‘Patriarchy’ while unsurprisingly, finding totalitarianism around every corner:

Charles Murray lecture here.

‘Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticu-ously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government.And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.’

-Pg. 15 of 29

There is belief-level stuff going on here, but still with a kind of messianic self-regard and childish melodrama.  In such a state of mind, reasons don’t matter much.

How much do Swedes feel obligated to listen and act according to the wishes of such actors?

At least there has been more critical and courageous reaction on the Left and from within sciences and social sciences against the authoritarian and totalitarian roots of the radical Left; positive visions leading to monstrous ideological dead-ends and the constant hunt for ‘evil.’  Beware these agitiated minds and frenzied zeal.  Out of such personal dramas and collectivist, identity movements emerge many of the latest moral ideas, eventually absorbed into coventional and institutional wisdom.

Democratic institutions are rather fragile, alas, easily manipulable, and open to corruption and ‘tyranny of the majority’ scenarios in a Constitutional Republic such as ours.

‘The pedigree of every political ideology shows it to be the creature, not of premeditation in advance of political activity, but meditation upon a manner of politics. In short, politics comes first and a political ideology follows after;…’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Political Education. Bowes & Bowes, 1951. Print.

Maybe we’re not headed for endless Peace, here:

‘Their [realists’] concern is that utopian aspirations towards a new peaceful world order will simply absolutize conflicts and make them more intractable. National interests are in some degree negotiable; rights, in principle, are not. International organizations such as the United Nations have not been conspicuously successful in bringing peace, and it is likely that the states of the world would become extremely nervous of any move to give the UN the overwhelming power needed to do this.

Ken Minogue, found here, passed along by a reader.

As posted: Fred Siegel, at The New Criterion, takes a look at the influence of German thought on American politics and populism, from Nietzsche via H.L Mencken, to the Frankfurt School, to Richard Hofstader via Paul Krugman:

Populism, IV: The German victory over American populism

He puts forth the idea that the German influence has eroded something significant about American popular thought, leading to his analysis of our current politics:

Obama was ‘post-Constitutional,’ and Trump is the post Tea-Party, post Anglo-egalitarian populist response:

‘The Germans have won: Mencken and the Frankfurt School each in their own way have displaced civic egalitarianism. Their disdain has become commonplace among upper-middle- class liberals. This might not have produced the current nausea if the pretensions of our professionals were matched by their managerial competence. It isn’t, and the German victory is moving us towards a soft civil war.’

Nein!

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Repost-Roger Kimball At Arma Virumque: ‘Santayana On Liberalism And Other Matters Of Interest’

Full essay here.

Worth a read:

‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’

and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:

‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’

For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always. The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.

Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city. It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times. Very austere. It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:

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Quote found here:

‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’

That Catholic influence can also get a little intense:

‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’

Maybe they got a little carried away during the Reconquest.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarSome Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

British conservatism with a fair amount of German idealist influence: Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

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

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

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

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

Via A Reader-Link To 60 Minutes Australia On China In The South Pacific

Hmmm…that could be worth watching.

If you live in a society which hasn’t developed a profound and enduring concept of the individual in relation to the group, moral philosophies dedicated to the defense of individual liberty, laws emerging from the free association of individuals entering and leaving contracts with authority and with each other, well…,you might be living under a post-ish Communist centralized party apparatus laid atop a few-thousand year-old hierarchy laid atop a rapidly changing chaotic civilization.

Christopher Balding (via Marginal Revolution) has some thoughts about China during his nine years living there, and the turn taken under Xi:

‘I want to make perfectly clear that any complaints I wrote about in any forum are reflective only of my concerns about the illiberal, authoritarian communist government of China and not the Chinese people. Most professor colleagues, even those I would consider pro-Party, were good colleagues whom I enjoyed talking, debating(yes, it happens behind closed doors and I learned a lot from them)…’

As posted:

Tyler Cowen from his blog: ‘The Rise And Fall Of The Chinese Economy

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From a George F Kennan article written in 1948 on China.

My how times have changed!:

‘From the analysis in this paper of demographic and economic factors it is concluded that for years to come China will probably be plagued by (1) an implacable population pressure, which is likely to result in (2) a general standard of living around and below the subsistence level, which in turn will tend to cause (3) popular unrest (4) economic backwardness, (5) cultural lag, and (6) an uncontrolled crude birth rate.

The political alternatives which this vicious cycle will permit for China’s future are chaos or authoritarianism. Democracy cannot take root in so harsh an environment.

Authoritarianism may be able to break the cycle by drastic means, such as forcible “socialization”. At best, such measures could be put into effect only at heavy and long protracted cost to the whole social structure; at worst they could provoke such rebellion as to recreate a state of chaos.’

As previously posted:

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Interesting piece here.

Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:

‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Also On This Site: TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

Two Links-Brexit & Speech On Campus & Hitchens On Speech Again

Walter Russell Mead At the WSJ (behind a paywall) on European politics and Brexit (British exit from the European Union) below:

One angle: Most technology reduces distances, but not necessarily ignorance, and increases communication, but not necessarily understanding.

The EU started out as a trade union, but also, in seeking to protect its members and advance its interests, has been levying serious fines on American tech companies.  Controlling flows of information upwards towards mercantilism is an obvious result (Eurocrats and big players make and approve the rules, supposedly in favor of ‘the little guy’ but only so far as the moral lights and sentiments of the Eurocrats and big players can envision, if they spend much time envisioning).

These laws tend to be more restrictive than many American laws, but not nearly so restrictive as nearly all Chinese laws, where, apparently, Google has had to make concessions in order to create a search engine alongside the Chinese government.

On speech, and the moral sentiments being animated on parts of many campuses across the country: Greg Lukianoff via Reason: ‘Speech Code Hokey Pokey: How Campus Speech Codes Could Rebound

‘Yesterday, we showed how speech codes are consistently struck down by courts. Today, we look at two ongoing cases that threaten to curb that trend by expanding the doctrine of mootness while narrowing what qualifies to establish standing.’

As posted: Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine interviews Professor Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff on their new book: The Coddling Of The American Mind:  How Good Intentions & Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure

It’s worth revisiting a once very committed Trotskyist who came to the U.S. and quite iconoclastically kept searching for the truth, and on speech, spoke pretty eloquently:

Fire….fire…fire…fire:

A Few More Links On Ferguson On Kissinger And His Idealism

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).

-In writing an entire undergraduate thesis on Kant’s transcendental idealism, Ferguson sketches a Kissinger who bypassed the historical determinism of the Hegelians and the economic determinism of the Marxists.  Freedom has to be lived and experienced to thrive and be understood, and Kant gets closer to championing this conception of individual freedom than do many German thinkers downstream of Kant.

-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.

Interesting piece here:

‘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.’

As previously posted: – ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review. 

The Economist

Previously on this site:

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft here, long before any Iran dealing.

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

A Few Passing Thoughts On Conceptions Of Liberty Potentially Woven Into Current U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions

Let’s say within Western civilization there are many operational conceptions of liberty, woven into doctrines and movements, internalized into minds and informing various personal decisions (join this group or that-accept this boss’s instructions or not-date this guy/girl over that).

Such conceptions often come into conflict with religious beliefs, self-interest, duties and loyalties to family, to tradition and promises kept as citizens to other citizens.  They also come into conflict with competing factions and rival political interests.

Let’s also say, that, exhausted or not, overextended or not, ’empire’ or not, the United States has serious internal and structural conflicts over operational conceptions of liberty, woven into recent institutional, political and policy decisions.

How such conceptions might be affecting foreign policy is probably worth thinking about.  This blog believes that Barack Obama was a serious shift Leftwards politically, towards a kind of cooled liberation theology, peace idealism and identitarianism with many collectivist elements.  There may be many valid historical reasons for this turn of events (specific and institutional injustices, among others), though I think such a turn came with familiar disagreements over the interests of activist elements butting-heads with a more pragmatic, humanitarian, liberal internationalism.

I believe this has also led to the further disenfranchisement of many Tea-Party Republicans, limited-government supporters, and has helped hasten the profound populist movements within both parties profoundly unhappy with the status quo.

Despite and because of such shifts, it’s interesting to think in terms of what might be staying relatively the same, or at least, more slowly changing within ‘corridors of power.’

There are many legal constraints and similar logistical challenges placed in the lap of any sitting President.  There are unique unforeseen events which come to define any term.

Robert Kagan on American foreign policy similarities moving through time from Bush–>Obama–>Trump.

‘All this began to change as Putin came to worry about his own hold on power in Moscow. He was alarmed by the democratic revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004. But as McFaul notes, it was the disastrous Russian parliamentary elections of 2011 that had the greatest impact. The widespread protests against election irregularities and against Putin’s planned return to the presidency for a third term led him to revive the “old Soviet-era argument as his new source of legitimacy — defense of the motherland against the evil West, and especially the imperial, conniving, threatening United States.”

It seems U.S. foreign policy may be lacking a deeper, strategic vision for our place in the world and our stance towards Russia, in particular, with no end in sight to a divided political and civil debate.

In fact, I don’t know how bad it will get.  Here’s to hoping for the best, and expecting a pretty bad run, and meanwhile, for others in the world to act as they see fit.

What do you know?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

***Robert Kagan At Brookings: ‘The Twilight Of the Liberal World Order’

Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.

See Also:  Google books has ‘Political Order In Changing Societies‘ and ‘Who Are We?:  The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘  (previews)available.

Huntington’s page at Harvard here.

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’…Is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’