Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The New English Review-‘Houllebecq And Call’

Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:

‘Hou[e]llebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’

Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):

As previously posted:

Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.

Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).

‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’

On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:

‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘

Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.

Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?

And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?

From the comments:

‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.

Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.

Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’

Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:

‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’

As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.

I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.

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

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

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

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

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

 

Red & Blue, Maps & Terrain-Some Links On Walter Russell Mead, Charles Kesler & Donald Trump

Full piece here.

Some years ago, now, Walter Russell Mead was arguing that the blue progressive social model was unsustainable (I suppose the red would be too, to some extent, on this view). The government can’t prop up what has been lost with unsustainable spending and a vastly increased Federal project. Mead thought we needed a new liberalism since the old had diffused itself upon the loss of manufacturing, private sector jobs and globalization.

It would seem Donald Trump disagrees about the role of the coal and oil industries, manufacturing, and what globalization means for an American worker he sees himself representing as President (peeling off many working folks, and some ‘minorities’ from the excesses of identity politics with economic growth populism).

Mead finishes with:

‘We’ve wasted too many years arguing over how to retrieve the irretrievable; can we please now get on with the actual business of this great, liberal, unapologetically forward-looking nation.’

Perhaps more liberal attitudes are becoming more prevalent in American society, or at least perhaps there is a waning of religious conservatism and Christianity in the public square.

I’m having trouble imagining how traditional belief will get along with the products of (R)eason, rationalism, materialism, determinism and atheism under some kind of big-tent (L)iberal project.

Strange bedfellows, anyways.  This would seem especially so amongst progressive true-believers and practitioners of radical identity politics, which seem to be in a shorter-term decline, but mid- to longer-term advance.

Charles Kesler took at look at how he thought Obama might have understood himself back before the election of 2012.

That is to say, Kesler envisions a liberal tradition bubbling-up during the administrations of Woodrow Wilson to FDR, LBJ through Obama.

During Obama’s fourth-wave liberalism, then, there there were visible ‘postmodern’ strands and Civil Rights strands.  There were blessedly more evolutionary anti-history Hegelian historicist strands over revolutionary Marxist strands.

We Are The Change We’ve Been Waiting For‘ may be preferable to ‘Peace, Bread & Land.

Personally, I still think we’re on a longer trend-line towards more Continental problems, but, frankly, there’s high variability in such a prediction.

Related On This Site: He explains what he thinks that blue social model is in depth, and the people who make it up: Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

On Mead’s thinking, libertarians who point out the lessons of Hayek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom‘, and Straussian conservatives who follow Strauss‘ end run around nihilism/moral relativism, and the three crises of modernity, may not be necessary. We’ve not arrived at these particular problems of Continental Europe.

Related On This Site: Where is Mead coming from?: Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working. Check out his series at The American Interest.

Francis Fukuyama And Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘None Of The Above’

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

Charles Fried and Randy Barnett among others, testify as to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Nearly 3 hrs, but likely worth your time. You can skip to the parts you’d like)

Originalism vs the ‘living constitution?” George Will Via The Jewish World Review: ‘True Self-Government’A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

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 leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

The Cultural And Artistic Self, The ‘Dirtbag Left’, And The Excesses Of Identity Politics-Whence Liberalism?

Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.

A new strand of radical chic is all about ‘it’s not race, it’s class’ traditional Marxism, combined with lots of Democratic Socialist sympathies (Bernie over so many ‘neo-liberal‘ sellouts).

It probably takes some familiarity with deeper traditional roots (stable family environment), as well as a decent mind and a good education to play the part of the possibly doomed, tragically-hip art and cultural critic.

From Spiked (traditionally Marxist, pro-Brexit, pro free-speech, anti-identitarian British Left):  ‘Meet the anti-woke left:’

‘I’m in New York to try to understand the thinking behind the ‘dirtbag left’. The phrase was coined by Amber A’Lee Frost, a writer, commentator and activist, to describe a loose constellation of American leftists who reject the civility, piety and PC that has come to characterise much of the left.’

Some members of the pro-reason, pro-freedom of speech, pro-science Left in America seem to have taken note, having been ex-communicated from institutional respectability by many of the same enemies:  Technocratic-leaning liberal idealists (many counter-culture cultural elites) kowtowing to social justice warriors.

Eric Weinstein interviews one half of the ‘Red Scare’ duo: ‘Anna Khachiyan-Reconstructing The Mystical Feminine From The Ashes Of ‘The Feminine Mystique.’

Interesting note:  Weinstein picks a weak point:  Well-educated, culturally and artistically cosmopolitan aesthetes tend to be out of touch with the populist, working-man proles they claim to support.

There are many staircases up and away from the ‘man-on-the-street.’

Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).

Frankly, I’m seeing a pretty serious anywhere/somewhere or elite/populist split in conservatism/Republican party politics, as well.

A broader point I’ve been trying pin down, is how, with the unspooling of Enlightenment thinking, there has also unspooled an individualism becoming nihilist, postmodern and deeply alone; artfully and glamourously trashy.  Out of such an environment, where many hip, avant-garde birds are flying, (S)elves flirt with Romantically primitive collectivism, epistemological faddishness, modern and failed theories of (H)istory like Marxism.

American egalitarianism, based in our founding documents, even as recently as two generations ago, was more able to effectively resist the rather unimaginative class-war critiques of Marxism.

Which kind of center would I like to see hold?

Some previously posted links:

The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

I’d argue that it’s possible, especially with the constant cries of modernism to ‘make it new,‘ I think this is one way we’ve arrived at pop art, and the desire to blend conceptual art and popular music together. This is in evidence from The Talking Heads to Lady Gaga to Jay Z promoting his new album alongside Marina Abramovic at MOMA.

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Jonathan Haidt At Minding The Campus: ‘Campus Turmoil Begins In High School’

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

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

On this site, see:

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

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

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

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

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

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

What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: 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-Eugene Volokh At The National Review: ‘Multiculturalism: For or Against?’

Lurching Forwards: Some Quotes And Links-A Terrible Bullshit Is Born

John O’ Sullivan at The New Criterion remembers Robert Conquest:

‘A strong dislike of pretension, accompanied by a happy delight in puncturing it through satire and parody, is also a major element in his literary criticism. His demolition of Ezra Pound is especially effective because, as a classical scholar and linguist, he is able to establish that many of Pound’s most admired technical effects are in reality simple errors of grammar or translation.’

Ha!:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

Ha!

Many people still can’t handle how bad Communism was on the ground, and fewer these days are looking to keep the ideology up in the air, partly thanks to Conquest and his labors:

My two cents:  There are many stripes of Western liberal, from the quite reasonable secular humanist, data-driven political liberal and laissez-faire type, to somewhat less reasonable lifetime protesters, pie-in-the-sky idealists, and professional activists (feminists, environmentalists etc.).   There are also further Left radicals, ideologues and revolutionaries.

This blog generally agrees the aim of social revolutionaries is to create anarchy, destabilizing civil society and implementing some variant of totalitarian ideological conformity and/or authoritarian rules and laws into the breach.

One had better believe that true-belief, and the moral judgments attached to animating political ideals, mean business, even if that business is anti-business (whatever you’re for, Mr./Mrs Bourgeois, they’re against).

If I am persuaded to be liberal in one matter or another, it is usually because the liberal point-of-view arises out of respect for the individual, is sufficiently grounded in knowledge and truth claims, and chooses not to use revolutionaries as a battering ram against ‘the bad guys’ now; the political liberal later.

The above, to me, has been one of the great errors of many Boomers, Hippies, and those political liberals on watch during the generation of 1968:  The failure to recognize what the wages of radical social change, in many cases, actually are.

Insitutional instability and political disarray have many causes, but I’d argue that insufficient curation of the arts and sciences, institutional rules, and the civil ties keeping a nation of laws together, are clearly important causes worth watching.

There has been a lot of change, quickly.

Below are some quotations still helping me make sense of the world:

Ken Minogue:

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

And:

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

Clive James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works, including Joseph Conrad:

‘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.’

Not entirely unrelated:

John Gray begins a discussion of his book ‘The Silence Of Animals‘ with a quote from Conrad:

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Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.

Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

=========================

Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.

Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’.

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..

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

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

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

From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

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

Wasn’t judge Napolitano a Catholic libertarian?: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

This blog seems to be drifting along deeper currents, leaving many issues unresolved:

 

Getting A Good Read On The Institutional Capture Going In Universities-Bret Weinstein & Mike Nayna Discuss Evergreen And Something Like A Postmodern Theology

It’s possible that liberatory movements (sexual, moral, political) aren’t always what they appear at first glance.

The pursuit of truth can become lost in vaguely theological, ideologically driven witch-hunts like the one Bret Weinstein experienced at Evergreen State (racist/non-racist, oppressor/oppressed).  Ideologues can be ridiculously incapable of dealing with human nature (their own, especially).  The institutions harboring ideologues can become taken over from within.

The search for the good can become attached to abstract doctrines of (M)an or ideologies promising collective liberation over individual responsibility and Free Will.  The search for the good can become full of moral scolds enforcing the new, emergent rules they might not even follow themselves.

The pursuit of beauty can become constrained by the both of the above:  Narrow ideological thinking and/or the familiar modern cycles of utopia/dystopia, idealism/materialism and postmodernism’s relentless focus on the (S)elf.

Roger Scruton tried to tackle a rag-bag of postmodern thinkers:

It’s also possible that many people supporting (R)eason, scientific inquiry, and who value free thought are a little naive when it comes to making one’s primary value change over conservation.

There are dangers:

The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.

I may not be politically Left, nor sympathetic to many progressive causes, but I support the attempt at truth and understanding

One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):

Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:

‘And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’

Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?

Interesting read here.

As found in a yard, on Capital Hill, in Seattle:

IMG_1206(1)

I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.

I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:

John Locke found here:

“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.”

 

Repost: Watching The Shadows Go By-A Few Links &; Thoughts On Romantic Primitivism, ‘Culture’ And Political Idealism

Let me project some of my own interpretations onto the cave wall.

Photo taken by Nikola Solic (a fine photographer) of a display at the Neanderthal Musuem in Krapina, Croatia.

For many Westerners, perhaps there is no longer a God revealing Himself to Man, but there are expanding fields of knowledge and human endeavors able to light the way forwards onto a future of hope and progress; backwards onto human origins.

In the popular media (such as in the publications displaying the photo above), perhaps this knowledge can align with current popular sentiment and belief. An imprimatur, of sorts.

Such thinking can also coincide with a rather Romantic Idealization of Nature; a vision of Man without dominion over Nature, necessarily, but rather men, women, children and an ever growing list of humans (and animals, even) living both frustratingly apart, but also interconnected within Nature, following Nature’s lead alone and with each other.

Most people, I suspect, often without such specialized knowledge (not specifically trained in the sciences), require a lot of moral oughts and shoulds regarding how to live and what to do.

Furthermore, people tend to organize into groups united by shared principles and beliefs, and so often, in the modern world, beneath political ideals and political ideologies. Even if these political ideals and ideologies aren’t explict moral philosophies, necessarily, they can certainly end-up engaging the moral sentiments, basic human desires and motivations of the people within them.

Such movements are certainly understood by many of their members as posessing truth and knowledge enough to write the laws and rules we all must follow, prescribing our own personal moral behavior enough to align us with the people who ought to be in charge of us.

Perhaps the poet or Romantic genius can help guide Man (into the Self and the Self into Nature). The poet/thinker’s example can be full of grief, anguish and Nature’s brutality, indeed, but it can also offer moments of self-actualization, beauty, consolation and transcendence. It can be taught as part of a civilizing hierarchy or canon, a reef of traditions and structure enough to develop seriously good artists and produce quite a few educated citizens.

I suspect there’s always been a tension between the poet/artist and the Man of Science and Mathematics; people generally more concerned in seeking the underlying order and patterns within Nature, discovering the probabilistic and mathematical laws able to accurately describe and predict the strange world in which we seem to find ourselves. Such laws can be beautiful, and symmetrical, and true just for their own sake, sure, but like a good poem, a mathematical law remains curiously silent about how to live and what to do.

Addition: Perhaps, I might add, but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about just which dangers accompany such lights, and which problems endure.

How does the West interact with the non-West, and vice versa. What common assumptions do Westerners often assume and project onto other civilizations? The late Roger Sandall, here:

‘The claim that “open societies” are now increasingly threatened would probably meet with little argument. But what is the nature of the threat, and what are its roots? Here less agreement might be found. Some would say an essentially religious clash of civilizations is the main cause, and point to the growing struggle between Islam and the West.

Others might point to Russia under President Putin, finding evidence of a long-standing political tradition that owes relatively little to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has always found liberty odious.

And then there’s a third and troubling possibility — that from an evolutionary perspective, taking a long view of our historic and prehistoric origins, open societies where voluntaristic principles prevail are new forms of human association only recently arrived from the distant tribal past, and in the more violent trouble spots around the world they never arrived at all.’

The late Ken Minogue:

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial. Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony. In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’

-Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

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

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

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”

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

Repost-Simon Blackburn From ‘Rorty And His Critics’

The further below quotation is from Blackburn’s contribution to ‘Rorty And His Critics,’ by Robert Brandom.

Essay here.

Rorty’s embrace of a kind of moral relativism within the tradition of American pragmatism is viewed with a critical eye.

It ain’t ‘revolutionary praxis’ on the way to post-Enlightenment utopia and failed theories of history, but it’s got serious problems.

Blackburn:

‘Justifying something to your peers is not the same thing as getting it right. It is a political achievement to make sure that wherever it matters, in science, history, law, politics, or ethics, the people to whom you need to justify yourself have their gaze pointed in the right direction, and so will only accept something when it is likely to be true. Like any political achievement, it needs careful protection. This explains why the words went onto the school gate in the first place.

Sometimes Rorty seems to recognize this, though it seems to clash with his ambition to demolish. At any rate, he remains fond of saying that if we look after freedom, truth will look after itself. In a free world, he seems to think, only the people with the library tickets and the microscopes eventually get into the coffee house. This might sound like Mill’s belief in the invincibility of truth_but Mill is much more the kind of stalwart who wrote the words on the school gate in the first place. Without those words it seems romantically optimistic to expect the achievement to sustain itself. Rorty has this optimism. He has a soft spot for Deweyan visions of the psalm of the people, as muscular workers stride shoulder-to-shoulder down limitless vistas into ever more glorious sunrises, which they greet with ever more creative vocabularies.

Lost in this Whitmanesque glow, it is easy to forget that there is no reason whatever to believe that by itself freedom makes for truth, any more than there is to suppose that labour makes one free. Freedom includes the freedom to blur history and fiction, or the freedom to spiral into a climate of myth, carelessness, incompetence, or active corruption. It includes the freedom to sentimentalize the past, or to demonize the others, or to bury the bodies and manipulate the record. It is not only totalitarian societies that find truth slipping away from them: the emotionalists of contemporary populism, or the moguls of the media and the entertainment industries, can make it happen just as effectively. That is why Plato felt that he had to forge the vocabulary of reason and truth in opposition to democratic politics; and it is why it remains vandalism to rub the words off the school gates. Orwell thought this, and anybody worried about such things as the ideology of those who own the press, or the Disneyfication of history, should think it, too.’

Some other quotations on the same topic as found on this site:

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

From Liberal England on J.S. Mill:

“So read Rorty, Popper and Berlin. Read L.T. Hobhouse if you want and pretend to have read T.H.Green if you must. But above all read the Mill of On Liberty. Then you will see how wrongheaded it is to plead his name in aid of attempts to curb our liberty. Mill’s is the most powerful voice ever raised in support of the expansion of liberty.”

Karl Popper on why you never go full socialist:

“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

Or just take a look at the historical record, or the current regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, the post-Soviet kleptocracy…

Also On This SiteA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-Some Thoughts On Noam Chomsky Via The American Conservative: ‘American Anarchist’

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?’

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand to Robert Nozick:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

OK Boomers & Millenials, Buckle-Up

Via Marginal Revolution: Larry Summers on Elizabeth Warren’s plan to finance Medicare:

‘This time seems different. Judged relative to gross domestic product, the Medicare-for-all program dwarfs the federal spending hikes of the New Deal and the Great Society. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson emphasized that their new benefits would be paid for by contributions from their middle-class beneficiaries. With Warren’s plan, it is the combination of vast new entitlements with total reliance on the top 1 percent for revenue that puts us in uncharted and, I fear, dangerous territory.’

From the outside looking in: I can see some older, Democratic coalitions of working voters migrating towards Trump’s populism, as identity politics seems to have become a main platform of that party.  Civil Rights and social justice activism have become quite influential, as well.  The radicals (anarchists, antifa, Socialists, Communists, etc) are still around, of course, probably in a tense relationship with any party structure.

Larry Summers, briefly became a witch.

It looks like for some young people, Democratic Socialism is a respectable option.

As for my own political coalitions, I suppose I’m on the lookout for anyone reasonable, including old-guard liberals and libertarians (more likely to be pro-market, traditional, less dependent upon radical utopianism). Beneath the old guard I see many people forming  ‘-Ism’ coalitions, with varying degrees of experience and knowledge in their respective domains, whatever you may think of those domains’ knowledge claims (feminism, environmentalism, globalism, collectivism etc).  Such folks have demands which will express themselves through coalition-building, institutional administrative structures, bureaucracy, media hierarchies and party politics.

As to individuals, I try to take folks as they come, and hope they do the same for me.

As posted:

Oliver Traldi at Quillete reviews Mark Lilla- ‘The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

‘Lilla’s own explanation of his liberalism, given by the book’s structure, is that politics is liberal by definition.

and:

‘Lilla clearly thinks he is making a pragmatic case, but he does not engage with any empirical political science; no numbers of any kind—polls, turnout, what have you—appear in the book.’

Despite the narrowness of understanding and lack of empirical rigor on display (liberal political idealism is the lingua franca of many a humanities department), I don’t mind Lilla’s plea for more national unity and moderate party politics in American life.

Do I really think Democrat donor parties claiming national greatness, neo-liberal economics and an evening of Beatles songs at the Kennedy Center are enough to placate the activists and radicals?

No.

Do I think the old conservative guard and National Review cruises are going to unite the populist, angry and economically left-behind members of the Right, including some actual race-mongers and dangerous ideologues?

No.

Repost-Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

See the previous post.The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism

Uncool, Unpopular, Anachronistic, Morally Suspect And Perhaps Even Diabolical-Some Links On Angels

From Conservative Minds, I very much enjoyed this discussion: Alexander Hamilton & James Madison-The Federalist Papers.

As to human nature, and taking a longer, deeper view of human nature in the face of many current liberatory movements (sexual, spiritual, political), spearheading what appears to be a deeper Statist, ‘human-rights’ and Civil-Rights based political and economic order.

One clear problem is this:  If our rights come from not from God, nor Natural Law, nor Natural Right, then often they are inferred to come from (M)an or sufficiently abstract conceptions of (M)an or (M)ankind.   In practice, this often becomes the (Right) Men or (Right-Thinking) Men/Women/People (me/us) against (T)hem.

This, in turn, does not exactly lead to Peace, Equality, and ever more Freedom.

One way to understand many of our current institutions and traditions is that they are living representations, to some extent, of who/what we already are.  It remains prudent not to confuse liberation for freedom, nor mistake the claims of equality absolutists as desirable for all.

Karl Popper:

…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

James Madison:

‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.’

Sometimes ya gotta tell Donahue straight to his face:

Repost-A ‘Postmodern Conservative’ View?-Some Links

Via David Thompson’s Greatest Hits: ‘A discussion on the state of the left with Ophelia Benson, editor of the rationalist website Butterflies & Wheels and co-author of Why Truth Matters.’

‘Our criticism of [Judith] Butler was quite independent of the merits or lack thereof of Derrida – but perhaps a criticism of his defender amounts to a criticism of him and is therefore not allowed. At any rate, Butler’s open letter to the Times is a classic example of precisely this evasive non-substantive suggestion of impropriety that you mention. It’s basically an argument from celebrity. ‘How dare you publish such a snide obituary, Derrida was hugely influential, he was celebrated, he was a big deal.’

Hmmm….Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:

I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.

It is not always the best among us who pursue ideas:

‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’

Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:

On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world. People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not. It’s a basic human activity.

I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics: Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological:

Moving along still, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein (editor of Vox) debate Charles Murray’s work, which goes to a central critique of progressive doctrines which conflate moral and political reasoning: How to live and what to do become intimately united with immediate political action and coalition-building (forgetting, or perhaps never understanding, what politics can actually do and at what costs).

My take: There’s an inherent belief that political activism is ‘scientific.’ This belief is strong enough that when decent and conflicting social science comes along, it becomes morally suspect and a threat to money, politics and identity (the royal road to utopia):

It’s actually less important whether or not you agree politically with Charles Murray, but rather whether or not you’ve understood what he’s saying. It used to be, at least, that if you couldn’t understand what someone was saying, you still didn’t prevent his saying it in public.

Both Sam Harris and John Derbyshire (of differing political views) seem to understand quite well the crux of Murray’s reasoning:

Notice the people trying to shut Murray down are not reading his book, nor really interested in what he’s saying.

Not a good sign: