Kenneth Minogue At The New Criterion: ‘The Self-Interested Society’

As originally posted ~ nine years ago now.

Full essay here.

Thanks to a reader for the link.   Deep but very readable.  How universal is the desire for individual freedom?:

‘Some people take the view that we in the West are fortunate to enjoy freedom, because it is a universal human aspiration that has been commonly frustrated in most societies. This is one of the more pernicious illusions we entertain about human kind. Most people have never lived in free societies, nor exhibited any desire or capacity for freedom’

and:

‘What most people seem to want, however, is to know exactly where they stand and to be secure in their understanding of their situation.’

Isn’t that last part a universal claim upon human nature?  If so, Minogue generally resisted the idea that evolutionary theories could be transferred successfully to Statecraft.

He is arguing that it’s easy to mistake your experiences and ideas within our Western tradition for that of peoples everywhere.

Maybe you’ve traveled and experienced the tribal taboos and family/kin loyalties of smaller bands and ethnic groups.  Maybe you’ve been up close to the transcendental submission of will in faith in Islam, uniting a patchwork of tribes and peoples under its claims with high honor ethic and a strong warrior tradition (the individual doesn’t choose whether to drink or have women work outside of the home).   Maybe you’ve seen the caste system in India, or the authoritarian feudal landownership structure in Pakistan, or the ancient, imperial Chinese structure with a Han core, now still a strong State structure charting some kind of course out of Communism.

What is unique about our traditions?

Towards the end of the essay:

‘The balance in our tradition between the rules we must respect because they are backed by the authority of law, and the free choice in the other elements of our life is one that free agents rightly will not wish to see disturbed.’

Food for thought.

Roger Kimball quoting Minogue:

‘The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Rulers are adding moral judgments to the expanding schedule of powers they exercise. Nor does the state deal merely with principles. It is actually telling its subjects to do very specific things. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?’

R.I.P.

——————–

Related On This Site:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

..Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New HumanismEd West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’

Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

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?’

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

The Anti-Rationalist:’

‘Rationalism, then, is an active drive in our civilization leading us to construe politics (and much else) as an activity of solving problems by applying to them the latest in expert knowledge. The problems are identified by rather grand abstractions, such as war, conflict, poverty, underdevelopment, and the rest. “The problem of poverty,” however, makes sense only if one imagines a set of puppets with nothing in common except the lack of a square meal. If that were the problem, the solution would indeed be obvious. In fact, of course, “the poor” are a highly miscellaneous set of people with thoughts, emotions, projects, and habits of their own. When rationalist benevolence collides with the actual inclinations of the poor, the result is frustration and disappointment at best. No matter: The bright-eyed rationalist will soon have another analysis, and another project, and off we go again in hot pursuit of a perfect world.’

And:

In that real world, however, something more is needed to succeed, something much harder to define. Oakeshott called this thing “practical knowledge”; it is often what we refer to as “common sense.” The dominant form taken by rationalism today can be studied in the American vogue for practical handbooks explaining how to succeed, which is perilous unless the reader has some “feel” for the skill in question. One of the great rationalist masterpieces of earlier times was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. Marvelous! What more do you need in life? All you have to do is follow Carnegie’s rules. But beware: If you lack common sense in following these rules, you come across as some dreadful kind of creep or sycophant. Modern politics often replays this cycle of bright idea followed by disappointment.’

From the most accessible book of Oakeshott’s:

‘But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

Watch out for the assumption of rational and knowable ends, and the one-stop-shop of modern doctrines promising radical liberation. All that’s left is to implement such knowledge into systems that will lead all men to some point outside of themselves.: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Positive and negative rights are also a part of Leo Strauss’ thinking (persona non-grata nowadays), and Strauss thought you were deluded if your were going to study politics from afar, as a “science.”  There has been much dispute about this: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Worse Incentives & Bad Knowledge In Bad Faith-What Worries Me Most

Dear Reader, I think I’m a reasonably normal person. My primary loyalties are to those I love most (and how politics might affect us). Should the terrorist threat become dangerous enough, no sitting President, nor anyone responsible for the security of American citizens at home, will allow organized terrorist organizations a staging area in Afpak. The lower probability, but higher consequences, of a terror attack here, will likely dictate some sort of action there (SpecOps, intel, cyber warfare, drones etc.). This can affect my family/loved ones directly (the attack and the laws and policy coming out of the threat, and the incentives for all of us dealing with the threat).

People on the right, and myself more often, place higher value on defeating external threats. We’re more likely to route decision-making through a few nodes against these external threats (or tens of thousands of nodes in the current, bloated, semi-woke monstrosity of a Pentagon and contractor complex). I hope it’s in as good faith as possible.

The common defense is the primary reason we have a government in the first place.

People on the Left, as I see things, generally will see the primary threat within the West (the oppressor), and/or rally their troops against the threats to health/education and the institutions in which they gather (COVID safetyism and authoritarian impulses through the health/education industrial complex, for example).

My next ring of loyalty is to those few I know who’ve served in Afpak who are friends and fellow citizens. They volunteered and heard the call. They saw, and sometimes did, some shit…to keep us safer here. This is a thankless task. I live in a country of laws and borders. It’s a place. This place is my home. It comes with freedoms and responsibilities.

My next ring of loyalty (concentric rings) are to those standing up for policy and who claim to speak in my name as politicians and lawmakers, and maybe those who stand up for Afghanistan (Afghanis) with the help of our troops. This loyalty is much more negotiable for me personally, and lately, much more negotiable than ever in my lifetime. I simply don’t really trust our politics to handle immigration reasonably at the moment.

This saddens me, because some honorable, decent people are getting chopped up as a result.

The fact which worries me most: Our political leadership is especially sclerotic, failing in many important ways, for many important reasons. The Afghanistan withdrawal disaster was a conscious decision, and a clusterfuck.

Politics, to some extent, corrupts military leadership. The longer ex-generals hang around the political sphere, the less honor and respect they tend to wield. The longer politicians hang around Washington (especially past their sell-by date), the less honor and respect they hopefully wield (there’s probably a point of ideal ripeness/rottenness). At this point, the rank and file has more reasons than ever to question our political and military leadership. And we’re not even at the bottom of woke yet, with many illiberal and righteous actors leveraging bad knowledge in bad faith (as I see things).

The more conflicts that pile up from the bottom of a military hierarchy, and the more reasons anyone on the bottom has to question, bypass, endure or challenge the hierarchy itself, the more brittle the hierarchy.

Dear Reader, this worries me most.

Repost-It’s Harder To Swim Against The Prevailing Currents Of Group Identity

Shelby Steele and his son, Eli, have made a film about Ferguson, and Michael Brown:

WhatKilledMichaelBrown.Com

See the interview below for a discussion of what Steele has lived through and how he came to doubt the rise of Identity and power politics during the 1960’s (people speaking out against the dominant ‘narratives’ actually are in a minority these days, and subject to censure by many new gatekeepers):

As I see things, establishing facts while arguing and applying the law (A Nation Of Laws) is one of the cornerstones of our Republic.

Legitimate moral authority, institutional competence and public trust are hard to come by, and will likely be harder still in the years to come.

In my experience, there is some other value or ideal placed higher than law, fact and freedom of speech regarding the issues Steele discusses (Ideologies which support (V)ictims against (O)ppresors, (I)dentity above Citizenship, (E)quity or (S)ocial (J)ustice) above individual choice and equality under the law. The flaws in internal logic and real-world conflicts created in pursuit of many such ideas will always be resolved in the utopia to come.

I can think of many currents affecting this state of affairs, including postmodern drift (individuals isolated from all tradition and responsibility,.. narratives all the way down), the baptized Marxism of Reverend Wright’s church and the Democratic Socialism of Cornel West.

A lot of Steele’s thinking comes down to the support of what he calls ‘poetic truths’ over the establishment of empirical fact.

In fact, applying this thinking to the reparations debate, I’d say Ta Nehisi Coates was the voice of ‘poetic truth’, while Coleman Hughes’ was defending empirical fact:

From Quillette Magazine, a podcast:  Professor Wilfred Reilly discusses his new book Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About

Your moment of Zinn:  The 1776 project is a response to the 1619 project.

MLK Playboy interview here.

Worth a read:

‘That night will never leave my memory. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life.’

—————–

A short story by Flannery O’Connor, as sent in by a reader:

‘He had not walked five hundred yards down the road when he saw, within reach of him, the plaster figure of a Negro sitting bent over on a low yellow brick fence that curved around a wide lawn. The Negro was about Nelson’s size and he was pitched forward at an unsteady angle because the putty that held him to the wall had cracked. One of his eyes was entirely white and he held a piece of brown watermelon.’

Redemption, mercy, original sin, and a decent short-story leaving you not knowing what to think, exactly.

================
Also As Sent In: Martin Luther King’s intellectual development came mainly through theology and seminary, social gospel (addressing social injustices), but also depended on various other sources, including Gandhi’s non-violent resistance (not acquiescence) to displace the force of the laws used against blacks for centuries. He welcomed a broad definition of rights enacted into law to include black folks, and a vast involvement of Federal authority…

And…where some of that energy has gone…further Left.

Cornel West.:

‘Being a leftist is a calling, not a career; it’s a vocation not a profession. It means you are concerned about structural violence, you are concerned about exploitation at the work place, you are concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, hatred against peoples of color, and the subordination of women.’

Related On This Site:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

They’ve got to keep up with the times:A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Causes & Rackets: About Those Foundations & Academies-Turning Piles Of Poetry Money Into Jargon

Via Joseph Massey via The Poetry Foundation:

You could kinda see this coming:

‘In the Letter of Commitment, the Foundation staff and the Board pledged action in response to the June Community Letter’s call for us to become proactively antiracist. The Foundation is grateful to these poetry communities for continuing to hold it accountable, as it speaks to a belief in the capacity for change. The Foundation holds itself accountable as well, and has begun to move forward with short- and long-term equity efforts.

Such bad use of language!

Blink if you can hear me.

The money which someone earned in the world, often passed down to those who didn’t earn the money, is further donated to those who haven’t earned the respect of poets. Often, the support a decent poet needs to get better is diverted to the loudest voices in the organization and wasteful, bureauratic, mastubatory ends.

I think the best response is just posting good poetry. Maybe it strikes you, maybe it doesn’t.

Meh:

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

As posted:

Alas, the Mellon Foundation?

‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’

Via Mellon’s Website bio, regarding Alexander’s work at the Ford Foundation:

There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’

I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal.  They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.

As posted:

Adam Kirsch On Elizabeth Alexander’s Bureaucratic Verse

Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony nor Elizabeth Alexander’s use of poetry to commerorate political power:

‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’

Also, as posted:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

And still also more on institutional capture and old piles of money, as posted:

Full review here.

Jack Shakely on Ken Stern:

‘Ken Stern knows an awful lot about nonprofits, having spent the better part of a decade as chief operating officer, then president of NPR, one of the best-known, and controversial, nonprofits in America.’

Charity has limits.

This blog likes to keep an eye on NPR, as they’re a child of the 60’s, and but for the work of LBJ’s Great Society lobbying to include ‘radio’ in the Public Television Act of 1967, they might not be around. Many NPR stories, in reaching out to the wider world, often return to the touchstones of feminism, environmentalism and some form of diversity multiculturalism. Amidst high standards for journalism and production values lies the tendency towards positive definitions of equality, justice and peace. They tend to assume their ideals are your ideals as they filter new input from the world.

In turn, many feminists, environmentalists, and multiculturalists/activists rely on foundation money and/or private donations, and/or public institutions, for survival. They aim for broad definitions of the public good, and seek to influence both the culture and political outcomes.

Everyone’s starting a non-profit these days:

‘The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities ‘With Charity for All’ documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits’

Non-profits have become big business, partially following the ‘greatness model’ that worked so well for the boomers, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, there are limits to any model, and we’ve got serious economic issues and a lot of political dysfunction. The money has to come from somewhere.

Shakely again:

‘To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation’

It may be as simple as following the money.

On Stern’s third point, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, Stern might agree with David Horowitz, of all people. He’s a red-diaper baby, an ex-Marxist activist cum anti-Leftist, anti-Communist crusader. Making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.

He had a then a new book out entitled: ‘The New Leviathan, How The Left Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics And Threatens America’s Future

Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:

——————–

Stern and Horowitz potentially agreeing on some regulation of non-profits makes for strange bedfellows. Obama, true to form, was seeking a permanent form of activism. Activists, and the political idealists with whom they often find common cause, often don’t produce anything of value independently, and must rely upon existing institutions for their support.

It’s worth thinking about who wants to be in charge, and why, and what that means for everyone else. Following the money never hurts, and it’s a necessary evil, just a politics is. If you tend to agree with the ideals, you tend to focus on the sausage, not how it’s getting made.

This blog wants to focus on what keeps our society open, healthy and dynamic, and what maintains our political and economic freedoms. The pie ought to be growing.

It’s 1968 all over again, see Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s…

Related On This Site: A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

Jack Shafer At Slate: ‘Nonprofit Journalism Comes At A Cost’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling. Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art. The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so… ….here’s a suggestion to keep aesthetic and political judgements apart-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment… ——–   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.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

A Roger Sandall Link To Designer Tribalism & Ken Minogue On Political Idealism

The late Australian Roger Sandall from Designer Tribalism-the communal great escape’:

Everybody wants out. City dwellers want out to the suburbs, suburbia wants out to the country, and tourists can’t go far enough searching for exotic locations and wide open skies. In America a recent strand of radical libertarianism takes this escapism to a new political level. It proposes autonomous islands in the sea, beyond the jurisdictional writ of the state — or any state you’ve ever heard of — where true individual liberty will be preserved on what appear to be decommissioned ocean-going oil rigs. 

Recommended.

Since that article (perhaps): There is now an enormous gap between American city and country life, along with populist revolts beneath both political parties. The large gap between Democrats and Republicans, and arguably a common vision of law and country, is now even larger; filtering down to everyone. It’s when everyone sees the problems, and no one says a word that I get worried.

I’d argue a more religious, more patriotic, pro rule-of-law and civic-minded majority is now perhaps only a minority, and there will likely be a more entrenched Left, pushing up against a ‘neo-liberal’ and increasingly authoritarian (big-tech, big gov’t) majority. The drivers of change on the Left tend to be violent radicals, utopians, and will concede to liberal idealists from time to time, but generally against a common enemy.

As to the loss of that more religious, more patriotic majority, It’s likely inversely related to the rise of the ‘woke’ religiosity fulfilling many of the human basics along with libertarian anarchy as ‘base-states’ for American civic life. The ‘wokeism’ tends to be revelatory (relying on anti-rational irrationalism, feelings, and ‘poetic truths’). It also tends to be anti-speech and deeply ideological, advocating violence when necessary (not limiting violence in principle).

Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

Human nature and the pressures of maintaining legitimate authority against reality haven’t changed all that much.

As posted:

From  Alien Powers:  The Pure Theory Of Ideology:

Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle.  The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies.  One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’

and:

‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’

Arnold Kling reviews the late Kenneth Minogue’sThe Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life,‘ and finishes with:

‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’

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

Seeds Of Collectivism & State Of Fear-Some Links

Stephen Hicks, Michael O’Fallon and James Lindsay have a discussion.

Mentioned: Hegel, Marx, the Existentialists, Rousseau, and trying to mold mankind within social constructionist philosophies:

Worth revisiting: Michael Crichton examines a lot of common knowledge surrounding environmental claims. A lot of these claims don’t add up.

A kind of Romantic Primitivism prevails (we must return to Nature and worship Her. We must return Man to a primitive state in order to mold Mankind with the right knowledge).

Also, I did a mock-up ad:

Three Quotations On Liberalism-Lionel Trilling, Michael Oakeshott & J.S. Mill

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

Trilling, Lionel.  The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society.  The Viking Press:  New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal.  What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?

A 20th century address of such problems:

But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

One of the more solid moral foundations for why you should be liberal still comes from J.S. Mill:

“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.

Watch out for the assumption of rational and knowable ends, and the one-stop-shop of modern doctrines promising radical liberation. All that’s left is to implement such knowledge into systems that will lead all men to some point outside of themselves.: -The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

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

Full post here.

Bonus quote:

“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”

Repost-The Two Clashing Meanings Of Free Speech-Whence Liberalism?

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

-1st amendment to the Constitution.

Teresa Bejan’s ‘The Two Clashing Meanings Of ‘Free Speech‘ piece at the Atlantic:

‘Recognizing the ancient ideas at work in these modern arguments puts those of us committed to America’s parrhesiastic tradition of speaking truth to power in a better position to defend it. It suggests that to defeat the modern proponents of isegoria—and remind the modern parrhesiastes what they are fighting for—one must go beyond the First Amendment to the other, orienting principle of American democracy behind it, namely equality. After all, the genius of the First Amendment lies in bringing isegoria and parrhesia together, by securing the equal right and liberty of citizens not simply to “exercise their reason” but to speak their minds. It does so because the alternative is to allow the powers-that-happen-to-be to grant that liberty as a license to some individuals while denying it to others.’

Further exploration in the video below…:

My brief summary (let me know what I may have gotten wrong): Bejan appeals to two ancient and somewhat conflicting Greek concepts in order to define two types of ‘free speech.’

Isegoria:  More associated with reason, argument, and debate.  You may feel, believe and think certain things to be true, but you’re a member/citizen of a Republic and you’ve got to martial your arguments and follow the rules (not all people may be members/citizens either, depending on the rules).  Many Enlightenment figures (Locke, Kant, Spinoza) appealed to reason more through isegoria according to Bejan (given the tricky course they had to navigate with the existing authority of the time).  Think first, speak later.

Parrhesia: More associated with open, honest and frank discussion, and with much less concern as to consequences:  ‘Say-it-all’ Socrates was voted to death by the People after all, despite his reasoning prowess. She brings up Diogenes (the lantern guy), who flaunted convention, tooks serious risks and even masturbated publicly. She brings up all the racy stuff even Quakers and various other sects said against each other in the early days of our Republic.

So, why create this particular framework, and why is it necessary to ‘go around’ the 1st amendment upon it in pursuit of Equality?: Perhaps one of Bejan’s aims is to resuscitate an American liberalism which would allow old-school liberals to appeal to young activists and a lot of young people influenced by activists, obliquely routing all back to the Constitution.  Only through becoming aware of their own assumptions can liberals better address the ‘hate-speech’ concept (with no Constitutional basis) which has taken root in our universities, for example.

Bejan relies on some data and some anecdotal evidence from her own teaching experience to justify a potential shift in public sentiment, requiring of her approach.  Such evidence might line-up with elements of libertarian/conservative critiques of liberalism, too, which tend to focus on liberals lacking a sufficiently profound moral framework to justify why liberals should make and enforce laws, and run our institutions, especially when those institutions are judged by outcomes, not intentions, bound as they are within a Constitutional framework.

So far, I’m not sure I’m persuaded by Bejan’s reasoning, for why not just stick to teaching, promoting and discussing the Constitution? Has Bejan really punched a hole back to the Greeks, or has she fashioned a tool-at-hand to grasp certain products of Enlightenment modernity to address more crises of modernity?

***In the video Bejan mentions, in non-Burkean, non-conservative fashion, our founding documents, the French Revolutionaries, and the U.N. charter as examples of rights-based thinking.  Of course, beyond debates about liberalism, there’s quite a lot of dispute about where our rights might come from in the first place (from God, from a Deity, from Nature, from Nature’s Laws, from past Laws and Charters, from knowledge gained through the Natural Sciences, from the latest Social Science, from coalitions of like-minded people, from majorities/pluralities of people, from top-down lists of rights and ideological platforms etc.)

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Found here.

I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas.

Yes, a modern Marxist: Brendan O’Neill At Spiked: ‘Why We Must Fight For Free Speech For People We Loathe:

‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech.’

Also:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’

On this site, see: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

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

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

A Modern Liberal, somewhat Aristotelian and classical?:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do:  From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’

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’

Gaia And The Red Wraiths Of Doom-Welcome To The Market

A curious mix of Handmaid’s Tale inspired-performance stuff (all dudes), and Extinction Rebellion Eco-Romanticide?

Welcome to Seattle!

Dear Reader, have you heard about Peace Pavilion West?

Our Leader, Dale, is the next ‘Great Man Of History’ as foretold in the Book Of Secular Revelations. His thoroughly (S)cientific visions align with the restless postmodern search for meaning and the (S)elf. Our Community mediates the pressures of global awareness and local identity, validating the feelings denied by existing hierarchies and rules.

After your personal has become political, and your politics has lost an election or two, the wind blows cold.

Ablute yourself with the waters of Gaia.

Some links and thoughts on such endless performance and protest, and making your highest good doomsaying, culty behavior.

From OldSchoolContemporary: ‘Kenneth Minogue’s Christophobia And The West‘:

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

Look out for the irrationalist response to the increasing authority of the secular liberal vision. Some of the worst reactions will come from both the Left, and the postmodern soup.

I have questionable thoughts about the following: The Board Of Directors for Theranos included a lot of foreign policy luminaries.

You’ve reached true equality when so many people have been conned by a woman. The deep voice is a nice touch, and probably some sign-o-the-times:


The following is absolutely, 100% true: Dale Lonagan is back in the news, and the usual ‘Cult Leader or Visionary of The Modern Age?’ rumors have resurfaced. I thought I’d add some color to this barely sketched tale of peace and progress (how did The Human Pagoda come to be)?
Not Dale Lonagan!:
218px-jim_jones_receives_the_martin_luther_king2c_jr-_humanitarian_award_-_january_1977_28229
By Nancy Wong – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44427361

The backstory (indoor gamin): Dale Lonagan is the illegitimate child of an international bureaucrat and the climate change journalist sent to cover him. Like so many orphans, Dale’s early life is one of hardship. He was abandoned and neglected, but fortunately for humanity, he was cast adrift within the bosom of collective progress.
The lad learned to survive within the corridors of diffuse economic and unelected bureaucratic power, selling stolen hand-soap at the bathrooms and cafeterias of 405 E. 42nd St.


O Global child, brilliant and wild, Earth calls before the Fall
512px-vincent_van_gogh_-_gamin_au_kc3a9pi_28camille_roulin292c_1888
Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]

For years, the boy knew only the touch of linoleum and cold marble, drifting off to sleep to the soft sursurrations of motions passing the floor.  How such bureaucratese might have nested in his brain is anyone’s guess, but I once heard him recite nineteen climate resolutions consecutively from memory.

***How the outside world may have looked to a young wharf child, peering out from within The International Style:
512px-united_nations_-_new_york2c_ny2c_usa_-_august_182c_2015_08
Giorgio Galeotti [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

‘I’d just grab the gallon bags off a the truck at the loading docks. The 10 gallons were bigger than my head. I’d stash ’em alongside my bed (a bed made of shredded U.N. resolutions). I slept myself the world.’

Enter Marine Stroop-Gruyere, Ambassador Minister Undersecretary for the Culture Of Peace. This committed global citizen noticed a young boy darting and wrapping himself awkwardly within a row of global flags.

He wore no socks, nor shoes, and the flags seemed to keep him warm.

After months of debates within her own heart and mind, she took action. She coaxed the young savage from a translator’s booth with morsels of locally sourced honey graham crackers sold for $13.99 a package. She took young Dale to her bosom. Stroop-Gruyere enrolled Dale in the United Nations Tour Guide Program.

After some months, Dale blossomed, soon becoming the youngest ‘Ambassador to The Public‘ in the history of the institution.

Year after year, watching the gavels lift and drop, seeing the commmittees come and go, a long view developed within this growing visionary leader’s heart and mind. Dale began to see that his thoughts, words and actions could make a difference.

He was becoming fully human.

To Be Continued