Whence Liberalism? Deneen & Fukuyama Debate & Some Past Links

Patrick Deenen and Francis Fukuyama had a debate at Michigan State.

Here’s Deneen’s take on the event [at] the Postliberal Order:

Fukuyama advanced three main claims, all of which he asserted were drawn not from the more abstruse realms of political theory (at a conference dominated by Straussian political theorists), but grounded in empirical observations about the world. His three main claims were:

  1. Liberalism arose in the aftermath of the Reformation as a solution to the wars of religion, and provided a way of arriving at peace and political stability without requiring metaphysical or theological agreement by citizens. 
  2. What we today regard as the ills of liberalism (economic and social) in fact are pathologies that do not necessarily arise from a healthy liberal order. They are, rather, contingent and accidental and thus can be cured without killing off the patient. 
  3. Liberalism should look to its many past accomplishments for evidence of future results. Because liberalism abandoned an effort to achieve “the common good,” it allowed for the flourishing of individual goods that culminated in a wealthy, tolerant, and peaceful political order. Its ability to provide prosperity and peace are proven by appeal to evidence and reality.

On this site, see: At the Bari Weiss substack: Frank Fukuyama, Walter Russell Mead, and Niall Ferguson have a discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Straussians likely see a long fall away from virtue, from Natural right, from the reason/revelation distinction into the flawed logic of moral relativism and the triumph of a post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under reason alone (addition: and the 1st and 2nd crises of modernity); the successes and dangers of historicism:  From Volokh: Harvey Mansfield Reviews ‘The Executive Unbound’From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy on these new ‘blasphemy laws:’

In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:

If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’

-Via an interview with Ken Minogue from 2006:

‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?

KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

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?

Rainbows: Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

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).

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).

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

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.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

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

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

-1st amendment to the Constitution.

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

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

Further exploration in the video below…:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Found here.

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

First The Materialism And Rationalism, Then The Utopianism and Irrationalism Later On-Some Links

You may have noticed modern ‘-Ist’ movements focus upon the material and rational, often to then move further into the nihilist and irrational, towards an utopian ideal. Market comparisons are leveraged to prove a woman’s worth, usually against some previous constraint or tradition. Housework=x. By itemizing and assigning a dollar value to every household task a woman performs, the goal is likely to liberate and bring her closer to the males free to compete in the marketplace. Freedom is next!

Since women have been oppressed and left historically with fewer choices (certainly true in many respects and many places), this individual woman will be liberated from the previous oppression, using the market as her yardstick. Think of a dollar sign behind every daily chore she does, regardless of all the other deeper reasons she/we/any of us might be doing such chores. At a minimum (the fallback defense), such a move will grant more individuals the freedom to choose (free to choose a job or stay at home with the kids), harnessing all the intelligence, drive and ability which had previously been constrained through narrower religious and traditional channels.

I first came across the argument through Laura Kipnis (a feminist), and I support her in pointing out the absurdity of campus sexual identity politics and the encroachments upon reason:

Within the postmodern soup, however, the union of a visual artist, feminist theorist, and dry contrarian academic bureaucrat [is] probably a sign of the times.

What I think is true: Ignorance is usually the rule in human affairs, not the exception. Many women make bad choices, and must live with them (the rest of us, too, just like the men making bad choices). Some women are not particularly bright and are of pretty limited scope. Women aren’t inherently better nor worse than men. The feminist position staked out through the the humanities (Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, the Bronte Sisters, Virginia Woolfe) certainly showcases what creative ability and brilliance can do. Yet, it, too must also help us confront the nature of human evil, the poor judgment which comes with the passions, and the pursuit of truth.

So, perhaps the previous traditions and grooved channels were a reflection of much of what we are, for good or ill. Their ruins are those through which we still walk.

Human nature probably hasn’t changed all that much during the last few centuries, either. Raising good people, good students, and good citizens is probably one of our highest callings, both men and women alike. Any one of us, throughout our lives, can allow worse passions enough leverage to cause tremendous misery and suffering to ourselves and others. Such truths are absolutely vital in maintaining the institutions which maintain a Republic.

I think the materialist and rationalist position fails to really account for what really motivates most of us, most of the time. I also think it represents an ultimate move towards the postmodern (S)elf left to resolve such questions alone, or through the increasingly strident modern ‘moral cause’ and politico-identity movements which don’t necessarily bring ‘peace’ nor consensus.

–On that note:

I think some Catholics are saying true things about modernity and secular humanism. It’s refreshing because liberal idealism and secular humanism have generally come to dominate, with all of their triumphs and problems.

Let’s not forget all the problems of truth, corruption, authority and knowledge which come with the Catholic church, while supporting the critique of the ‘-Ists’ and ‘-Isms’ in both fashion and considerable power.

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’

Bryan Magee Speaks To Isaiah Berlin On Why Philosophy Matters

Of note to this blog:

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.

Isaiah Berlin spent more time with the works of Karl Marx than most; positing that even Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism (Stoic aestheticism) had within it conflicts leading to unintended Hegelian-Marxist manifestations.

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.

This has consequences for the rest of us.

***Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.
Update And Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”
How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Also On This Site:  Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch  
A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”
Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

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.…

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-The Persistence Of Ideology

Interesting read.

Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.

Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).

Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:

-Fukuyama’s Marxist/Hegelian influence and the re-purposed Christian metaphysics and Statism found within much German Idealism: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

-Are we really progressing…can we be more clear about means and ends? Via Youtube-Samuel Huntington On ‘The Clash Of Civilizations’Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Sunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper By George Walsh: The Objectivist Attack On Kant…From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

-The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

***Why so many Britons on this site? (J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)

I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance. I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order. There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.

Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left. They can know intimately whereof they speak.
It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:

washingtonburns.jpg

This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.

Free Thoughts On An Older Blog-Elon Musk & Twitter

Horses I pleasurably beat: It’d have been nice if the old liberal guard within our universities had said something like ‘no‘ to many of the radicals roiling in front of them. ‘You are still required to read The Canterbury Tales by the 25th.’ ‘Also, you have to let other people think and speak.

This old nag: Many a rationalist, secular humanist, and liberal idealist likely believes that while activists get carried away, the cause is mostly just. Religion is still poisoning everything, and the new fields of knowledge can bear the weight of humanity’s ignorance, suffering and hope. Math + data + new social science research + applied policy + conventional wisdom through the academy and media = sufficient moral orthodoxy. The moral force of change against injustice can be directed into a liberal order all individuals can get behind (and not be ground under).

Progress!

The Appaloosa is a proud breed. I’m skeptical of the view that marginalized people, the meekest and poorest among us, are generally served by the kind of inverse religious logic a radical Marxist employs, even as the Marxist goes too far. The prediction I hear from the liberal mainstream is this: Such malcontents can be kept below deck. (S)elf still comes first, but (S)elfhood will require allegiance to the old/new institutions as long as these are run by the right people with the right moral lights. In the control room, where the sea spreads before the best and brightest, (H)istory is capable of producing the right men to steer the Ship of State.

It’s odd to have those who conserve finding themselves out of conservation, wishing for the roiling and disruption of existing institutions, still while being called ‘Hitler.’

Populism is all around, and for good reasons.

More like a draft horse: The pipers calling are human nature, truth and reality. Can you hear the tune?

Many radical discontents exhibit the chaotic minds, troubled souls and controlling tendencies of the all-too-familiar religious zealot (always there amongst the pews). We still live in a world of limited resources and hard choices where life ain’t fair. Politics calls forth a few 1st-rate men but a majority of ambitious 2nd and 3rd raters who think they’re 1st-rate (a surprising number of scoundrels).

In lieu of an older, more religious American idealism, a new moral and moralizing force forms in the gaps, where old money gets co-opted by new zealots. A lot of change, very quickly, compels towards new rules and new authority.

This is coming from Left and Right, and the newer Lefts and newer Rights.

I guess I don’t trust any one man, (this is why we have our Constitutional constraints and separation of powers).

We’ll see about if my hope for better speech rules have been misplaced…

The previous two cents and two cents more gets you close to a nickel: Twitter as a platform is what it is (especially good at brief bursts of condensed information, data gathering, and disasters). It’s the kind of internal, open chat platform within a company, scaled more broadly. All you need is a device, free software to download, and voila, you’ve become a node on a vast network. This has advantages.

Communication, however, is obviously a pathetic prosthetic for human contact and real conversation.  I suspect the people curating Twitter of playing a dumb, dumb game by favoring their favored biases (like all of us, to some extent) instead of just letting speech flourish.

This creates echo-chambers.

Related On This Site:

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

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

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Repost-Ken Minogue At The New Criterion: ‘Christophobia’ and the West’

Full piece here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

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.’

And:

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

As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.

——————–

As previously posted:

Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

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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

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.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Which Ideas Are Going To Inform Education?-A Few Humble Links

My very un-hot take: The deconstructionism dominant in the academy scoops out all kinds of meaning from texts and lives, with an ever-present focus on the (S)elf (not necessarily the individual). Many very good artists this past century have flirted with Communism/Socialism as an alternative organizing system within this existential void, or have retreated to a kind of nihilism (the idea that there is no objective reality).

Some of their art, often reaching highest levels, lives beyond them.

This intellectual milieu partly informs what is replacing the previous educational ideas we had at many levels of American society.

Teaching younger folks, especially, tends to be people-oriented and requiring of patience, sensitivity to developmental and behavioral issues, and interpersonal communication. This tends to attract a higher proportion of women (this disparity is mentioned in the video below). Many good women, in particular, and many good people (minds, characters, habits), have implicitly or explicitly supported feminism as a means of more freedom the past few generations. Much feminist doctrine has quite radical ideas about the family, the Nation, and the aims of education, which also helps produce good people.

Conflicts abound.

Good teachers tend to aim at higher things with humility (like knowledge, personal growth for themselves and the students, as well as duty…to some kind of ideal). You never really know what they think personally, but they encourage you to think well. Americans have been a particularly idealistic civilization.

In my experience, many less good teachers only aim at rising through the educracy, or at a job with a pension, or maybe easy enforcement of existing ideas without having to do too much. Incentives matter.

More broadly, some people are just unstable and without identity, finding primary meaning within radical and destructive ideologies. They embody the beliefs and live through them. Some of these doctrines are finding their way into some curricula in our schools and the results will not be pretty (I think of them as the new postmodern religionists, who are incredibly hostile to all outside their ideology).

It’s be nice if we could just say these are some of the costs of change, without blaming those who reason from a position more skeptical of change. I’m not holding my breath.

George Packer (old-school liberal?) at the Atlantic: ‘The Grown-Ups Are Losing It

Students are leaving as well. Since 2020, nearly 1.5 million children have been removed from public schools to attend private or charter schools or be homeschooled. Families are deserting the public system out of frustration with unending closures and quarantines, stubborn teachers’ unions, inadequate resources, and the low standards exposed by remote learning.

Walter Russell Mead’s interesting piece-Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I:

Generally, political inertia and public worker unions combined to keep government in the Blue Age even as the rest of the economy moved on.  Today, the experiences and the expectations of people in the private sector and people in the public sector are quite different.  There are many results, including taxpayer revolts against public sector benefits and pay, but from an urban policy standpoint the key one is this: the government job machine is no longer an escalator to the middle class.  In fact, the dependence of the Black middle class on government work is going to be one of the chief threats to the health of the Black middle class as we’ve known it’

Also On This Site:Andrew Delbanco At The NY Times Review Of Books: ‘The Two Faces Of American Education’ Diane Ravitch At Education Week: ‘Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost’Two Links On Diane Ravitch & School Reform

From Reason.Tv: ‘NBC’s Education Summit-Joe Trippi, Michelle Rhee & More’From The Washington Post: ‘D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee To Announce Resignation Wednesday’

Rhee stated much the same here:  She didn’t connect with the people most involved…Michelle Rhee At Newsweek: “What I’ve Learned”Repost-’Too Much “Quality Control” In Universities?’

As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:

Talking With A Marxist Outside Starbucks

I had a ten minute conversation with a professed Marxist on the street this past weekend, as he was agitating for Starbucks employees to form a union.

His views, as I understood them: Science has advanced, but Marx’s thinking can still be defended as a form of ‘Scientific Socialism’, (this sounded, to me, like boilerplate he hadn’t fully digested. ‘Back then Science was Natural Philosophy, you see‘…I’m not sure I understood the point he was making).

He then went on to bring up ‘Empiricism’, but I suspect only as a layman. For better or worse (he was weakest here), I doubted he had experience in scientific practice nor lines of empiricist thinking through Hume, or maybe Searle. Rather, he was using ’empiricism’ as a stand-in for something like ‘fact.’

His action steps: He was trying to get signatures to petition the Seattle City Council to allow Starbucks employees to unionize. These are the exploited workers, providing all the labor and value and getting none of the reward. Only through unionization, and the help of Marxists, could they challenge those with all the capital, leveraging local government (already pretty leveraged towards such a direction). Then could this injustice be made more just.

Where his views might overlap with many on the Left, Left-Liberals, and some Liberals: He harbored a deep, animating suspicion of all things business, corporate and ‘capitalist’. There was a lot of talk of the moral good involved in helping the marginalized and poorest among us. He stated at least once that human nature can be shaped deeply if only the right social conditions are created. There was no talk of God nor Natural Law/Rights, obviously. (M)ankind, or perhaps, (H)umankind (all of us, conceptualized) are living only in a material world, with only the here and now to make our marks (though Marxists take this much further in their brutal struggle).

Out of curiosity, I asked him about the poor elsewhere. This was primarily to see where theory might fade into reality (we can all have trouble with reality). He gave what I would call the standard Romantic Primitivist (Noble Savage) view of tribal Edens existing in past and present. He claimed there have been and are groups without oppression, exploitation, hierarchy, and war (pretty much like the utopia Marxists wish to achieve, in The Future). I asked for empirical proof of such societies.

**FWIW: Amongst two academic feminists I’ve known, the impulse to find or found ‘matriarchal’ societies was a recurring theme. I imagine this overlap to be due to the desire to reach from one’s epistemological foundations and grasp towards where the theories aim.

Where we agreed: Nature is pretty rough. Something’s going got to get each of us sooner or later (viruses, natural disasters etc.). We were both thankful for our health and the decent weather.

Thanks for reading.

As posted:

Roger Sandall’s book: ‘The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism And Other Essays‘ here.

A follow-up essay here springing from a discussion: ‘The Culture Cult revisited’

Sandall:

But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’

Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.

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).’

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

The Founder Of Peace Pavilion West-The Early Years

Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Who Wants To Help Build A Technocracy? Repost-Megan McArdle At The Daily Beast: ‘The Technocratic Dilemma’

To See Them Driven Before You-A Few Links

Via Mick Hartley, via Jack Watling at the Jewish Chronicle:

The promise of de-communisation was rather more personal for Putin. While he admired the power of the Soviet empire, he and many other intelligence officers who had lived in the West harboured little respect for communist ideology. Indeed, for Putin, Lenin’s revolution was not a triumph, but the infiltration of Russia by a German-sponsored agent who had destroyed the Russian Empire. Now facing the threat of contagion from a revolutionary democratic government in Kyiv, the threat of de-communisation speaks to a pervasive fear of subversion through “colour revolution”.

Maybe there are elements of Peter the Great, the Russian Revolution, and the Cold War experience all at play. As for Putin’s intentions, I’ll go by his actions in Georgia, Belarus, and now, Ukraine.

Notice it’s the older, Eastern empires which went and imported Marxist code, possibly because Marxism leads to a kind of tyranny of the autocrat (more endemic to the human condition and Eastern empires).

Other Western exports could have conceivably saved tens of millions of lives.

Ah, well.

In the meantime, many radicals in the West harbor similar dreams (the Revolutionary’s righteous action is much preferable to, say, George Washington after victory).

Everything must go!

The below is probably worth reposting, as to why elements beneath Western liberalism bear much more resemblance to Marxist doctrine (identity politics and collectivism) than J.S. Mill.

Many mainstream publications (NPR, The Atlantic, The New Yorker) are in constant negotiations with activists and radicals (driving the change they’d like to see, leading to a kind of utopian ideal). They tend to be most comfortable with visible enemies who are oppressing them, as I suspect the light of liberation and resentment of ‘the oppressor’ is a primary motivation (not necessarily real freedom and the responsibility that come with freedom). This, of course, leads to deeply undemocratic outcomes and the kinds of law and order breakdown we’ve seen in cities like Seattle, Portland, NYC and San Francisco.

Many folks have explained why Communist revolutions begin in violence and end in such misery, and why so many followers cling to these doctrines (in our universities) with a sort of religious fervor, selectively blind hope, and continued loyalty.

Or at least some folks held their ground and documented the mess:

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

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

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

Still Stuck On Castro:

‘The preceding days have demonstrated that information peddled by Castro’s legion of academic and celebrity apologists has deeply penetrated the mainstream media consciousness, with credulous reporting sundry revolutionary “successes” of the regime: not so good on free speech, but oh-so-enviable on health care and education.’

and:

‘And how does Reuters describe Castro? After 50 years of brutal one-party rule, to apply the appellation “dictator” seems a rather contentious issue: “Vilified by opponents as a totalitarian dictator, Castro is admired in many Third World nations for standing up to the United States and providing free education and health care.” And again, we return to education and health care.’

Democratic socialism, and social democracy, are often just the distance some folks have migrated from their previous ideological commitments (tolerating market reforms and ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy out of necessity, not necessarily a change of heart nor mind).

For others it may be the distance they’ve unconsciously drifted towards such ideas more recently.

For other brave souls, it may be the distance required to stick one’s fingers into the political breezes which blow over the floor of the EU, in order to ‘stay engaged’:

Remember, this is the non-elected President of the EU Commission. 

With the death of #FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many. https://t.co/u0ULZoG8Fl

— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) November 26, 2016

Michael Totten relays an anecdote here:

He told me about what happened at his sister’s elementary school a few years after Castro took over.

“Do you want ice cream and dulces (sweets),” his sister’s teacher, a staunch Fidelista, asked the class.

“Yes!” the kids said.

“Okay, then,” she said. “Put your hands together, bow your heads, and pray to God that he brings you ice cream and dulces.”

Nothing happened, of course. God did not did not provide the children with ice cream or dulces.

 “Now,” the teacher said. “Put your hands together and pray to Fidel that the Revolution gives you ice cream and sweets.”

The kids closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They prayed to Fidel Castro. And when the kids raised their heads and opened their eyes, ice cream and dulces had miraculously appeared on the teacher’s desk.’

As previously posted:

Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.

Christopher Hitchens took a helicopter ride with Sean Penn, and that tracksuit-wearing strongman of the people, Hugo Chavez-Hugo Boss:

It’s a long way out of socialist and revolutionary solidarity, which continually occupies the South American mind. One more revolution: Adam Kirsch takes a look at Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dream Of The Peruvian.

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

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