‘We can only live with strangers and perverts if we refrain from making their lives our business. This restraint has a considerable cost, of which contemporary “communitarians” are well aware. Some advocates of the Great Society seem to suggest that one can do anything one wants to in such a society as long as, following Mill, one does not harm another.‘
Which reminds me: Yesterday’s liberationists are today’s would-be authoritarians. Yesterday’s utterances are today’s chalkboard rules, echoing in the minds of the young.
Come on out to Peace Pavilion West. Dale Lonagan was born the child of a leading climate-change bureaucrat and the U.N. journalist sent to cover him. People say he ran with Frank Lloyd Wright and Charlie Manson.
The Great Man of History emerges between memory and dream. Sometimes he comes on horseback. Dale is this savior in shadow, (S)cientist and (W)orld (C)itizen, leading us all into the Light Of Reason. He waits for every one of us, on the horizon, where sunny utopian promise meets harsh reality.
‘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‘.
Some people don’t, and won’t, think like we do. And the ‘We’ is in question.
The chase for cool is always going on, and many people currently chasing cool seem a bit pathetic. Maybe even bathetic and a little lost (why, that could be me). Not enough respect for knowledge, hard work, and tradition, tends to make unmoored people. Unmoored people tend to chase trends, radical trends even, despite often being the square people in the room.
The term ‘hipster’ may not cover the phenomenon, but I suspect enough of the iceberg has flipped that much counter-culture has become culture. Suddenly, some conservative ideas have become counter-culture (some conservative ideas should never be cool). Many liberal ideas are dominant and in authority (pretty uncool, man).
The post 60’s boomer, ‘bobo,’ ‘fauxhemian,’ aesthetic, if there be such a thing, currently strikes me as too-precious. Sometimes ‘Inauthentic’, even, and we all know that authentic and cool strut hand-in-hand.
But, dear Reader, you are more than the sum of the labels I happen to paste over your face.
Let me try and give some examples:
-Paying homage to (A)rt and (S)cience, but in an aspiring fashion. ‘David Attenborough/Neil Degrasse Tyson/Andy Warhol is my spirit animal.‘
–COVID-19 masktaskers. Creeping authoritarianism and stale, bureaucratic rule-following…aren’t so cool. The search for truth, the latest science, and the disease/treatment are real things. So are real medical professionals and .09% of [infected] people actually dying. The geopolitics could become quite consequential, quite quickly. But not over-inflated children claiming to be heroes while demanding attention. Not tech-companies chasing profit-motives while claiming high ideals and ‘how much they care.’ Not a lot of 2nd and 3rd rate people defending their turf and telling other people what to do.
Which reminds me: ALL ARTISTS AND GRAPHIC DESIGNERS ARE WELCOME TO SUBMIT THEIR ‘TESTY-COOL’ DESIGNS BY JULY 31ST!
***Sperm-counts are reported to be at all time lows in the United States. Follow ‘Testy-Cool’s’ cross-country campaign to ‘Stay Cool This Summer.’ ‘Testy-Cool’ is an HHS approved, workshop-focused $18 million dollar new mascot. 38% of teenagers say they’d like to see more of ‘Testy-Cool’.
–Pretty much anything on NPR (the obtuseness of some idealists + the hectoring moralism of most activists + production values from 1968-1996)-Most would love to force you to pay them to talk about ‘culture’ all day while discussing your motives for not liking ‘culture.’
–Anything about Banksy. See this New Yorker piece. ‘I think I’m going to kill myself!’
As to Twitter, this is my semi-functional theory:
–The platform selects for loud ignorance. Twitter has a significant visual component, with some textual elements, and limited characters. Around any topic, a few nodes (popular accounts) will cluster across a larger distribution. For most users, it ain’t really a place to converse, nor think too much, but rather to gain new information through the aggregation function performed by these popular nodes (especially in the political sphere).
The format rewards brevity, pith, and some wit, but also cashes in on selling the idea of influence. It’s quite a cesspool, really, and I usually feel like I’m pissing into the wind; the rewards probably not worth the costs unless one just uses Twitter as a distribution network of one’s own.
Furthermore, the most popular accounts don’t necessarily seem to be the most knowledgeable, thoughtful, nor accurate and truthful (they could be, I suppose), but rather the nodes who use the platorm most effectively, efficiently dominating information distribution; coalescing the public sentiment surrounding their topic.
You get what you pay for, I suppose.
–The biases of Twitter creators and curatorslean towards loud activist ignorance: In my experience as a user, I don’t know how firmly activist beliefs are held amongst actual designers and programmers at the top, but ideological capture is likely significant, especially in the administrative and bureaucratic functions.
Thus, some top-end design and aggregation, across all those different topics, pools of sentiment and individual users, is done by people who probably share a particular blend of Left-leaning moral, political and ideological views (creating special rules for special users).
‘Liberals engage the right mood by contemplating the experiences of those they take to be oppressed, in what I have called “suffering situations.” You might think this an admirable altruism amid the selfish indifference of the mass of mankind, and there is no doubt that it has often been sincere and that it could at times mitigate some real evils. But the crucial word here is “abstract.” The emotions are elicited by an image, as in the craft of advertising. The people who cultivate these feelings are usually not those who actually devote their time and energies to helping the needy around them, but rather a class of person—liberal journalists, politicians, social workers, academics, charity bureaucrats, administrators, etc.—who focus on the global picture.’
I would add that while I have my doubts about the religious true-believer and salvationist, I have particular doubts about the Neo-Romantic Environmentalist, the secular, progressive do-gooder, and the high liberal globalist shuttling between academy and government.
‘The centerpiece of Miller’s argument is the making and appreciating of art. Miller’s idea of art, as we might expect, is wide-ranging and popular, drawn more from everywhere in culture: dancing, body-decoration, clothing, jewellery, hair-styling, architecture, furniture, gardens, cars, images such as calendars and paintings, creative uses of language, popular entertainments from religious festivals to TV soaps, music of all kinds, and on and on. Miller’s discussion is less focused on the high-art culture of modernism and postmodernism, since it anyway distinguishes itself against popular taste.‘
Of course, there will be all manner of reductionism (art=sex) and popularized idiocy (Bach + brain-scan = pop-neuroscience) to follow.
There’s something about both our cultural tilt towards (S)cience-ifying every aspect of life (stretching out these new fields of knowledge) as well as the popularized explanatory journalism (Jesus Christ not another think-piece) which are worth thinking about.
Witnessing the outcomes and consequences of such truth and knowledge claims downstream, some quite possibly more true than others, invites skepticism.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
Don’t worry, ‘ethics’ on the fly, in universities and in journalism is everywhere these days, and beneath that, some crazy new true-believers.
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebribrification of art):
There’s always been a bit of the showman about Jeff Koons; the kind of young man who could put on a bow tie and try to give many museum-goers their time/money/aspirations’ worth at the membership desk.
This blog forgives people trying to explain what their art ‘means,’ exactly, but confesses to pleasure in seeing Koons put on the spot under the suspicious eye of an ornery old Robert Hughes.
I don’t fault Koons for finding himself firmly within modernism, searching for universal forms and broader historical context within those confines, but I admit it’s nice to see him held to account for his bullshit, and perhaps the broader, deeper bullshit he shares with many modern and postmodern artists: Pursuing novelty and recognition and thus making art into a business and often commercializing it, aiming for celebrity while offering meta-critiques on celebrity, making the personal and private very public (masturbation into social commentary, sex into meta-critques of religious shame, ‘culture’ and pornography).
Two quotes by Hughes that stood out:
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
Aside from the above, there’s something that strikes me as not just late 20th century-modern about Koons, but also very American
At one point, before his slide into hard-drug use, Biden meets with King Abdullah of Jordan on behalf of refugees (an opportunity derived, he says, from “nepotism, in the best way possible”).’
Cox closes some (A)uthentic (S)elfhood distance between herself and Hunter Biden (measured in units of gritty, 12-step fellowship).
‘I kept thinking of that experience reading Biden’s book. I wish that Biden could acquire that kid’s gift of grace that’s born of humility, of receiving and giving help because we’re all in the exact same place. We all fall the same distance to the bottom.’
The bottom is wherever you say it is:–This topic has become so predictable, so bland, that even Hunter Biden is getting in on the action. First, the fall from grace, then the public redemption and appeal for forgiveness. Addiction’s a disease, just like cancer. We need more awareness and more social programs. Then comes a publicity tour. Some social media couch-sitting, maybe. The Romans had baths and we Americans have warm, therapeutic tongue-baths, open to the public.
The top is wherever you say it is: –I’m pretty sure one’s life will be immeasurably better by not spending it smoking crack or becoming an alcoholic. Shocking! I try and take people as I find them, and hope they do the same with me. Over-sharing is probably not a sign of an organized life, but nearly everybody deserves a little grace.
Also, think of the suffering you can avoid by not reading Hunter Biden’s ghostwriter or Ana-Marie Cox.
A few more thoughts (they’re totally free, after all): Many modernists tended towards genius-level artistry; looking inwards and spinning the suffering of life (reducing life) into form, coherence and a lot of truth. Then focusing outwards onto the world.
At the very least, this made some really interesting architecture, but also an architecture which divorced many people working inside these buildings, from many elements of their pasts, and day-to-day life.
Here’s an interesting presentation. There are some good reasons to re-evaluate things:
For the postmoderns, this task became harder, I’d argue, as the ground became more barren. Inner often becomes outer; all reduced to a (N)ow of (S)elf. That said, there are many geniuses and a lot of good art to inspire. For the post-post-moderns, there is some good stuff out there, too, but questions of epistemology and ontology remain nearly open.
How to live and what to do? Further downstream, in the current social, political and institutional worlds, you’re on your own, unless maybe you gain notoriety through celebrity. Beyond your family and friends, you’ll probably have to join a political tribe. Join a majority and find out later it was just a minority! Invest your money in a (C)ause.
Most of us, most of the time, can’t handle the kind of isolation that comes from such intellectual provenance. I think such insight has a lot of predictive value.
It’s almost enough to make a guy religious!
Let’s conserve weirdos, and innovation, free thought and free inquiry (now that new majorities are forming)?
Is this my political tribe, or can I just float free, as a (S)elf, upon the surface of so many dangerous currents?
No one was harder than Billy Idol. While exploring his (S)elf, he’s nearly died many times over, and was banned from Thailand!
The most morally righteous (not necessarily right) can be found most vocally pushing ‘Climate Justice’. The conflict between Conceptions of (S)cience as a tool of the ‘oppressor’, AND as intellectual justification for technocratic, dirigiste, authoritarian and Statist rule is never fully resolved, nor does it have to be. The (S)cience is clear. ‘We’ must act now!
When your own moral philosophy fails to resolve deeper problems regarding human nature, proper epistemological and metaphysical foundations, and the consent of the governed, you don’t necessarily have to resolve these conflicts. Rather, you just have to gather in the public square (pursuing a kind of ‘Rapture’).
This is a fairly influential coalition, now more visible in Congress and the Senate on the Democratic side of the aisle. Through recent legislation, they are now trying to consolidate political and economic power. The political economy is where we all lose our most important freedoms (to think and speak against authority, to get a job, to try a new venture, to manage our own time and energy). This is where new rules and ‘rule-following punishers’ will be made.
This blog has been seeking to anchor liberal thinking in more tried-and-true moral philosophies of J.S. Mill, Scottish Enlightenment empiricism, and a return to neo-classical thought, for starters.
“For today’s ecologists, their hope of regeneration presupposes a return to primitivism, and thus, whether they wish to enunciate it or not, concomitant anarchy, the burning before the replanting, the cutting down of the dead tree. The father of the movement is an utter rejection of all that is, and for at least three millennia all that was.”
Libertarians would generally see many environmentalists as a threat to their definition of liberty.
-Another environmentalist root comes by way of the’ Tragic Earth’ romantic lament, which may have as much to do with the rise and fall of post-modernism in American Universities as it does with Nature, and the restless attempt to fill the post-modern void in a post-Nietzschean world. I think part of this is due to the collapse of the modern liberal arts curriculum to its current state, which has followed excessive relativism and multi-culturalism to some of its logical conclusions. The “science is settled” may be appealing to many in filling that void. Of course, good poems and poets transcend the often strange things good poets can believe, but I suspect this has something to do with it. Al Gore has probably been influenced by this school of thought, though he is a politician, carbon-credit-salesman, and a poet.
Whatever your view of the science, its transition and use for ideological, economic and political purposes should give intelligent people pause, not just those who see threats to liberty.
Self-reliance may still be a better intellectual American influence, even with some downside to pragmatism.
I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!
Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them. This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability. Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.
Some poets, even, and there’s certainly not any postmodern mysticism, anti-science rationalism and irrationalism to be found around and about:
‘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, overwhelm- ing the planet.’
‘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.’
Older folks are left to display one’s virtue, good behavior and rule-following among the living. That Tesla sure is sleek. Show off that new canvas bag. Scowl at the plastic one. This binds people up together and keeps social harmony. The knowledge is here, all that’s left is the wise, equal, and just enforcement of new rules. Don’t you want to be good?
Maybe we can turn this thing around after all, discovering that Romantically primitive modern Eden upon the horizon. We must act.
Alas, young, true believers, reformers and the narrowly righteous see deeper, of course, through the hypocrisy of a more settled complacency. Tim Black at Spiked: “The Ongoing Creation Of Greta Thunberg.“
They can become heroes to some, rather pathetic ciphers to others:
‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’
And by no means are those on the political Left, often seeking radical revolution and ‘Capitalism’s’ overthrow for the new ‘scientific’ Socialism to come, involved here. Institutions are clearly not susceptible to committed ideologues, operating upon failed theories of (H)istory, forcing themselves into institutions (which radicals don’t normally recognize as having moral legitimacy, unless and until it’s their moral legitimacy).
What if you have an opposing, or different view to a majority? Isn’t that the point of free speech?
‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘
At Peace Pavilion West, breathing restrictions help keep the Collective healthy. Put the canvas bag over your head when entering the Human Pagoda. Zero-carbon. Zero-oxygen. Zero-waste. Namaste. Be safe.
From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’
It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.
‘Communes being communal, they are invariably seen as uniquely virtuous, fair and compassionate forms of association. Yet they rarely turn out that way. Discipline and authority are always a problem.’
What do rich folks and the children of many rich folks happen to believe these days? Does it happen to be more vaguely Communal? Many are definitely (S)elf-Oriented, or have bathed in the waters of such thinking.
How might this bear on the consent of the governed, and those difficult things which must be carried to maintain the Republic?
What are you carrying, Dear Reader?
Gore Vidal from a while ago did a thing called a ‘book review’: ‘Rich Kids’. Words can become delightful daggers.
The fact that I seldom actually finish reading anything that he writes probably has to do with my own perhaps irrational conviction that Dr. Coles’s heart is so entirely in all the right places (mouth, boots, upon the sleeve) that nothing he has to say will ever surprise me despite the fact that he has traveled far and reasonably wide because “One hopes; one hopes against hope that somehow it will make a little difference; only a little, but still some, if people mostly unknown to almost all of us get better known to more of us.”
Liberalism, and many rationalists, New Atheists, and other bright types often overlook some basics about human nature; just why Churches undergo schisms, why (S)cience might not be enough, and the many darknesses of the human heart. The rationalists/irrationalists have many causal relationships.
Perhaps the postmodern ground has been cleared, and the appeal to property, free-markets, collective duties and personal liberation won’t exactly cut it against points further Left. The call to adventure, and purpose, is partly what drives violent ideologues, anti-humanists and the same old Communists. The existential void and the abyss are deep.
Activists, the most impassioned and zealous, are definitely seeking to remake the world, and other people, through politics and law.
And if they’re wrong about a particular policy or law?
When knowledge claims are insufficient, and disagreement reasonable, the failure to maintain open dialogue is a failure which many liberals I know will be loathe to acknowledge, offloading onto the same old targets: Anyone conserving anything.
Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science. He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.
At least, he says the following:
I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’
A potentially interesting thought: Let’s all take a moment to recall Jeffrey Dahmer, shall we?
What if through the social sciences and American institutional innovation (IQ tests for the military, academic placement testing), there dripped-down a battery of tests given to all American schoolchildren. After an hour or two taken out of a child’s day, a thick envelope would arrive at home a few weeks later; to be examined or unexamined by the parents and/or child:
While possessing above-average intellience, JEFFREY scored high for violent imagery and/or ideation. JEFFREYmight display a predilection to become fixated on objects, animals and/or other living things in his attempts to understand and navigate the world. Providing positive and rewarding outlets for JEFFREY will likely enhance learning opportunities and the chance to develop fruitful interpersonal relationships.
Oh, there are a few more out there…
As posted, someone’s going to be running our institutions and making rules out of a presumed universal and common sense set of knowledge claims:
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
Carlo Lancellotti, keeping alive the flame of Augusto Del Noce, from the comments section of this post by Rod Dreher.
This blog checks in on various Catholic points of view, often wondering: Liberalism-What is it? What are its flaws? Where are some views from the outside?:
‘There is much discussion today about the dissociation of political and economic liberalism. But it is also true that the ideas are necessarily linked in the naturalistic and Enlightenment foundation of liberalism, which is the foundation of current liberalism. For it, a link is established between liberalism and an optimistic appraisal of human nature; one has faith in the marvelous fruits that the liberation of human nature from all external bonds will bring. On this basis a dissociation of political and economic liberalism is clearly impossible. It becomes possible only if the concept of freedom is deduced not from optimism about nature, but from the consideration of the connection between truth and the person. In the same way that I think a Catholic awareness of the liberal implication of Catholic thought is necessary, I also think that a revival of liberalism is not possible without an awareness of its Christian foundation.’
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
From where I stand: Many people can be seen clamoring towards (S)cience these days (or at least claiming some of its authority), but the people doing science are, well, doing science. They might be informed by their political beliefs, but their political beliefs shouldn’t be present in their work. Natural philosophy, mathematics, statistical modeling, empirical research etc. go on in the public and private sector, despite potentially serious supply/demand and other structural issues.
Institutional capture, however, also continues, and incentives within institutions. Many Arts & Humanities departments have been over-run by the ‘studies’ types, especially within administrations.
Activist sexual, moral and political liberationists could be said to be the driving force behind much in American life right now. Such movements tend to attract true believers who punish their enemies, seeking administrative/bureaucratic control of our institutions and political life.
The postmodern roots are pretty deep. Good luck with your prognostications:
When it comes to the arts, do you know what’s coming next?:
It’s not so much that change is occuring, but in pointing out the change agents, and many ideas driving change, and questioning many such ideas opens one up to the mob.
Other critiques and criticisms along the same vein, gathered on this blog over the years:
This one’s stuck with me over the last few months:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
‘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.’
‘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 otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
Sociological theories of history, functioning as presumed ‘scientific’ maps of Man’s place in Nature, claiming knowledge of presumed rational ends (‘final solutions’), have proven to be the sources of monstrous totalitarianism.
Philosophy, at best, can perhaps work to point out such conflicts, while creating new ones of its own, presumably, in pursuit of truth.
Perhaps popular sentiment in the Marxian direction can, somewhat, explain popular movements attempting to medicalize, categorize all human behavior, and generally ‘banish’ evil from what is being called the modern world.
It’s not that I think these fields of knowledge (e.g. psychology and sociology) aren’t valid, nor that they aren’t making imporant discoveries, nor even that the synthesis of mathematics and empirical data within them isn’t progressing.
It’s rather that such disciplines attract many people sharing in a set of common principles, beliefs and sentiments, the stuff, really of human nature; people self-selecting for pre-existing ideological commitments while pursuing ends of their own.
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.’
‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attitude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.
But the project and principles of Hegel are quite alien to those of Kant; and so we must worry what Scruton seems to think they have in common. Well, we have just seen it. Removing “the ‘self’ from the beginning of knowledge” is where Scruton puts Kant, Hegel, and Wittgenstein all together. There is a sense, indeed, that we can construe Kant as having done this, but everything else is so different that it shocks the conscience to have Scruton’s affirmation of some kind of identity. Thus, the moral principle of the dignity and autonomy of the individual self, defined and established by Kant with such clarity and emphasis, is entirely missing from Hegel’s heteronomy, and, of course, it is not to be found, with any other principle of morality or ethics, in Wittgenstein, where the possibility of any such philosophical discipline is (famously, or infamously) ruled out. That Scruton seems insensible of this allows the suspicion that his “conservativism” is of the sort of Hegel himself, with Wittgenstein’s own silence on the subject defaulting to the existing moral and political order otherwise valorized by the Hegelian judicial positivism that made the Kingdom of Prussia the paradigm of ideal government.’
‘The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board.’
‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’
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).
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