‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’
On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:
‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.” Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good. It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘
Excellent, as always.
‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.
From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’
Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.
Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:
‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment. To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate. If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’
A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:
‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking. In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’
‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”
I wonder what this would mean when applied to American foreign policy, the Cold War, and Western influence when it comes to world order at the moment…this call for a return to tradition, local politics and religion.
Scruton saw postmodern nihilism as one of the greatest threats to Western civilization right now. Is the Hegelian conceptual framework really a good one to hang the Lebenswelt upon, and a kind of finding yourself in the eyes of others and the works of the world?
My current frustration: The rush away from tradition, towards liberation, and towards the Left has rearranged many of our institutional arrangements and ‘what’s cool’ away from duty, responsibility, much common sense, and many elements of the American past.
It’s not clear at all that what’s replacing such traditions won’t be worse, and not better, especially when you measure people as capable of great evil and good, and mobs as dangerous, and liberation as not liberty.
It’d be nice if many liberal idealists said ‘I didn’t realize the postmodern problems were so deep, the cost of simply ‘change for its own sake’ so steep, in terms of institutional stewardship, speech, and liberty.
‘From the earliest days of his emergence, the Rationalist has taken an ominous interest in education. He has a respect for ‘brains,’ a great belief in training them, and is determined that cleverness shall be encouraged and shall receive its reward of power. But what is this education in which the Rationalist believes? It is certainly not an initiation into the moral and intellectual habits and achievements of his society, an entry into the partnership between present and past, a sharing of concrete knowledge; for the Rationalist, all this would be an education in nescience, both valueless and mischievous. It is a training in technique, a training, that is, in the half of knowledge which can be learnt from books when they are used as cribs. And the Rationalists’s affected interest in education escapes the suspicion of being a mere subterfuge for imposing himself more firmly upon society, only because it is clear that he is as deluded as his pupils. He sincerely believes that a training in technical knowledge is the only education worth while, because he is moved by the faith that there is now knowledge. He believes that a training in ‘public administration’ is the surest defence against the flattery of a demagogue and the lies of a dictator.’
Oakeshott, Michael. “Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 38).
‘The Rationalist, unaware of the local origins of the universal principles he thinks he has identified, disparages knowledge gained through experience and rejects it in favor of something called reason. Whether deductive or computational, this abstract reason is thought to guarantee a degree of certainty that experience and judgment cannot provide. The fallacy of Rationalism, in other words, is that the knowledge it identifies as rational is itself the product of experience and judgment. It consists of rules, methods, or techniques abstracted from practice, tools that, far from being substitutes for experience and judgment, cannot be effectively used in the absence of experience and judgment.’
We all have experiences and form judgments based upon them. Each of us, no matter how talented, can get only so far on technical manuals and textbooks alone. Deduction from principles and allegiance to those principles doesn’t necessarily guarantee any particular knowledge of politics, let alone the abstract category of ‘politics’ so commonly claimed by many in the modern world.
Maybe this applies to economics as well, dear reader:
I wonder if this can’t be applied to those who, in claiming loyalty to a particular set of ideas or political doctrines, claim not only the legitimacy of their feelings under such doctrines, but ‘feelings’ in general.
No one has ever felt before me!
Such claims usually travel under ideas of liberation (from tradition, from marriage, from existing relationships, from whatever ‘oppression’ was to be found internally or externally, personally or politically).
The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement
Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood Upon our side, we who were strong in love! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance! When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights, When most intent on making of herself A prime Enchantress—to assist the work Which then was going forward in her name! Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth, The beauty wore of promise, that which sets As at some moment might not be unfelt Among the bowers of paradise itself ) The budding rose above the rose full blown. What temper at the prospect did not wake To happiness unthought of? The inert Were roused, and lively natures rapt away! They who had fed their childhood upon dreams, The playfellows of fancy, who had made All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred Among the grandest objects of the sense, And dealt with whatsoever they found there As if they had within some lurking right To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood, Had watched all gentle motions, and to these Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild, And in the region of their peaceful selves;— Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire, And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish; Were called upon to exercise their skill, Not in Utopia, subterranean fields, Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where! But in the very world, which is the world Of all of us,—the place where in the end We find our happiness, or not at all!
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
Yoram Hozany takes two institutional data points, the NY Times and Princeton University, to argue that whatever you want to call it (‘Marxism’, ‘Neo-Marxism,’ Postmodern ‘Wokism’); these institutions increasingly have a new moral, ideological orthodoxy in place.
From Hazony’s reasoning then, it follows that this new moral, ideological orthodoxy is driven by committed and competing factions of radicals and true-believers, ideologically purifying towards revolutionary praxis.
It also follows that on the American political scene many moderate, opposing groups will have to deal with this new reality: Religious believers, social conservatives, traditionalists, constitutionalists, economic conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, moderate and reasonable liberals, and even the populist, union Left, will be in some kind of tension with this group of radicals and true-believers.
A lot of people I know resist such arguments, often because they’re caught up in the pro-Trump, anti-Trump battles of the day. Or they’re older and can’t process the levels of institutional capture, rot and over-build we’ve got.
Or they haven’t seen the glazed eyes and closed minds up close.
If you’ve been keeping tabs on this stuff, from a perspective like mine (small ‘c’ conservative), it’s been a long, depressing ride.
**Note: One must remain non-hostile to Christianity in order to earn ire beneath the new liberal ideals, ideologies, and ideologues. I think a respect for tradition is a must for anyone, ultimately, responsible for gatekeeping (learning from and upholding a tradition which extends into the past).
Sure, such folks (politicans, especially) pay lip-service to the latest moral cause, but they also have duties to the dead, the living, and to their own families. I”m expecting some sort of rift between liberal idealists and activist/radicals to manifest more often in American politics going forwards. That said, such a coalition will still mobilize against anything traditional, religious and conservative most of the time.
Our author finds Paglia a welcome, often contrary, voice of the Boomer generation. Peterson and Paglia remain true in their own experiences and principles against prevailing orthodoxies (Peterson from frontier-town Canada, and Paglia teaching at the Philadelphia University Of The Arts). Paglia, perhaps, can be a good thermometer for the radical, heated core of 60’s activism (everything must go, utopia awaits).
‘Behind that devotion to heterodoxy lies something softer. She [Paglia] admitted that she’s chosen to censor herself in front of her students, no longer teaching them, for example, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, which was for years an important part of her course “The Art of Song Lyric.’
I had a very competent, very good professor tell me she stopped teaching Sylvia Plath for somewhat similar reasons. It was too much for some students.
‘In her slender 1998 book The Birds, for example, published by the British Film Institute, she [Paglia] writes that the Hitchcock classic is “in the main line of British Romanticism, descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femmes fatales of Coleridge.”
One could do worse than study British Romanticism (Wordsworth, Keats, Mad Bad Byron), despite the problems that come in glorifying (M)an and (H)umanity. Some people are so busy glorifying (M)an they treat actual men appallingly. The record isn’t always so (I)deal.
‘Cosmic reality is both wondrous and terrifying to her. “The sublime,” she said, “opens up the vastness of the universe, in which human beings and their works are small and nothing!” The world may be less enchanted than it was when Paglia was a child, but she still stands in awe of it. Her life’s work has been to share that message with others.’
There’s plenty to share, and, for what it’s worth, John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba can induce a sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):
I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-myself (ducking away from busy streets, into the quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling and looking for patterns).
Dear Reader, I’m accustomed to my own little corner of the internet, where I traffic in low-traffic. I synthesize many of my own experiences, ideas and other people’s thoughts into occasional bursts of competency.
In the video below, Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson discuss a shared view that post-structuralism (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) has impoverished much of the humanities. As Paglia notes, the older-school New Criticism at least had some devotion to truth in its close textual readings.
She might share some similar intellectual ground with Peterson in using Nietzsche’s nihilist toolkit to examine many modern problems in the arts and where people are finding meaning in their lives (the move from Schopenhauer’s Will To Nietzsche’s Will To Power). Deploying Nietzsche’s Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, too, into pop culture gives Paglia some depth as she tries to synthesize high and low (Madonna, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock). Despite her affinity for actual 60’s Marxist radicals which I don’t share (many of whom LSD’d their way into oblivion), Paglia pushes against many feminists and careerists from this radical point-of-view.
She’s a popularizer appealing to a large audience and a contrarian in the sense of the word for which I have some respect.
In fact, both have an ability to appreciate and understand many knowledge claims made by many Englightment and post-Enlightenment fields of study. One shouldn’t have to become anti-empiricist (including nihilism), nor anti-humanist, in seeking a good humanities education.
Many postmoderns (and some Nietzscheans, for that matter) dislike being called-out their on relative ignorance of the sciences. From mathematics to statistics, from chemistry to biology, from psychology and on down the line to history, many institutionalized folks imagine themselves often standing outside, and in radical opposition to, the civilization and institutions they are entrusted to maintain.
One of the reasons I suspect both Paglia and Peterson are in a currently ‘semi-banished’ cultural space is that they both openly claim a respect for the wisdom and depth found in the Bible (whatever your thoughts on the transcendent claims to truth and knowledge found therein). It appears both take a deeply tragic view of life and human nature, and both reject the rejection of traditions so much in vogue these days.
Notice this is enough to upset the apple-cart of many ‘-Ists,’ from feminists to gender activists to many Left-leaning coalitions of political utopians and social justice seekers, often seeking institutional authority while claiming all current institutional authority is illegitimate. Many such ideas have become very mainstream, indeed.
If you haven’t noticed such ‘-Ists,’ it seems they and I’d argue, too, that you maybe should be paying more attention.
‘Marxism, Dalrymple explains, answers several needs:
‘It has its arcana, which persuade believers that they have penetrated to secrets veiled from others, who are possessed of false consciousness.
It appeals to the strongest of all political passions, hatred, and justifies it.
It provides a highly intellectualised rationalisation of a discreditable but almost universal and ineradicable emotion: envy.
It forever puts the blame elsewhere, making self-examination unnecessary and self-knowledge impossible.
It explains everything.
It persuades believers that they have a special destiny in the world. For disgruntled intellectuals, nothing could be more gratifying.’
Aside from the radical doctrines, it’s apparent that many in the West have placed their hopes and aspirations into various flavors of political idealism. Man’s nature is assumed to be fundamentally good, for the most part, merely in need of liberation from previous traditions, injustices and illegitimate claims to authority.
It’s often taken for granted that such post-Enlightenment ideals have room for ever more individuals (or collectives/categories of individuals). All that’s required is working towards particular ends, usually against common enemies (salvation through individual Romantic conceptions of Nature, shared communally, for example, or the oft confused relation between Scientific truth/method and social/political goods).
For many political idealists in the modern world, the moral goods are good enough, the universal truths sufficiently universal, in justifying their own actions at any given time (the properly balanced ideal State has room for competing factions of political idealists, mind you, as many idealists believe the knowledge is available to design such systems from the top-down).
The below links are to whom I’m indebted in cobbling such posts together on alas…a blog:
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
Just pointing out that predictions of the NY Times ending up like The Guardian are proving true.
The Guardian: Left and Far Left. Funded by deep and shallow-pocket[ed] activists (revolutionary and avant-garde thought-leaders liberating ‘The People’ from false consciousness and oppression, towards ideological and liberatory purity).
As for the NY Times, I think this ‘The Hunt’ piece from the Real Estate section sums up my expectations nicely. Oh yes, it’s real:
‘As conservationists, they decorated almost exclusively with secondhand furniture. The large closets — “the biggest I’ve had in my life,” Ms. Sinclair said — have enough storage space for the craft materials she uses for her feminist tableware line, Oddtitties.us.’
It turns out there are many gnostic faiths in the modern world, pursued religiously.
A deranged, charismatic preacher seals his flock inside a cave for eternity. Generations later, ghosts haunt a suburban family, with ratcheting levels of violence, until the preacher’s malevolent spirit finally absconds with a young child through the T.V.
Imagine instead a Jim Jones figure, or just another shabby Marxist ‘intellectual’.
Alas, the problems are often deeper than you think.
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”
The way I currently see parts of the world (rightly or wrongly): Liberal idealism, or basing one’s hopes and beliefs in liberal ideals, often means overlooking important parts of human nature. Peace, for example, is an ideal, as is equality. The pursuit of either, in my opinion, should be constrained by institutions and supported by incentives, given human nature. Without serious threats to liberty, neither peace nor equality seem sufficient to maintain the consent of the governed for the mid- and longer terms.
One must remain more skeptical and realistic about people and life, in my thinking, especially people who want to be in charge of parts of your life.
Many scalable aspects to secular humanism continue to function, however, and function well in many domains (trade, attracting top intellectual talent, openness to experience and deeper realities of human existence). Yet, quite obviously, such domains tend to trod the local underfoot. A wide gulf has formed between successful 1st generation immigrants in our universities and the realities of local life and the abandonment of practical governance in small towns. At the moment, I believe a lot of the decency of human nature can help bridge this gulf, with proper incentives, but this is me being pretty optimistic.
I think getting the right mix of home and hearth, local and proud, along with cosmopolitan and worldly, professional and aspirational, can be done. But, to do so, we move away from the ideals and back towards the founding. We’ll see how right and wrong I may be about this.
Some of these problems are driven by technology, of course. What if a lot of the stagnation, and gathering of idiocy in education can be bypassed through scaling human intelligence on new platforms?
You’ve always got to stay a few steps ahead of the morons, moralists and true-believers. Unfortunately, some morons, moralists and true-believers happen to be in charge, with incentives that nothing change. Others are busy seeking power while claiming everything-is-power.
Other costs of liberal idealism, not much discussed by liberal idealists (and promoted hungrily by conservatives, who see the weaknesses much more clearly): Activism, and the ever-tightening ratchet of the Left away from speech, tolerance and basic respect for the rules continues apace. Yes, many of the the radical roads lead to terrorism, and revolutionary violence. Hitler year-zero thinking, and ‘everyone’s-a-fascist-but-me’ are not exactly enough to address the darknesses of the human heart and the follies of vanity and pride.
So, Dear Reader, even if you don’t live in Seattle, nor San Francisco, nor New York, where half-Communists sometimes get elected, and open Socialists sometimes run for office, they’re helping to re-write the rules. If it hasn’t already, they’re coming to a school-board, art museum, or maybe even a pop-song near you.
Most liberal idealists are often curiously silent about this failure.
Another of my views: Some of this started with the abandonment of the humanities curriculum or the ‘canon’ as it was called. The move towards postmodern skepticism, nihilism, and the ideological constructs filling the void are an important part of this postmodern move.
Some favorite quotes, as often repeated.
“The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.”
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).’
‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’
‘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.’
‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’
Ken Minogue framed it thusly:
‘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‘