Jonathan Bronitsky At The National Interest: ‘The Vanity Of Bernhard Henri-Levy’

At least Henri-Levy’s pointing out the deep anti-semitism often found in the Muslim world, among many Muslim immigrants in Europe, and often laced throughout both fascist right and Left movements in Europe, where it can emerge as a motivating political force.

But French, post-ish radical intellectual rockstars looking for something like secular humanist universal salvation?

Bronitsky:

‘TO GRASP the impetus behind Lévy’s latest effusion, one must first recognize that Lévy is a disillusioned radical soulfully seeking atonement. The book is part of a very personal and protracted effort to construct and disseminate an outlook, a disposition, an anti-ideology capable of defeating the dogmas that deceived him during his youth.’

Full post and brief written interview here at Guernica on anti-Semitism & Fascism.

Perhaps we simply aren’t ready for Henri-Levy’s more libertine, radical, French liberalism, which he displayed by coming over in the spirit of Tocqueville and pissing on the sides of our highways.   Why, he even helped Obama and Hillary Clinton pursue a course of action in Libya.

Also Related On This Site:

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?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

Self-Interest, Moral Sentiments & Rationalism-Some Links

Many reactions to the market are moral ones, from the anti-corporate, romantically primitive, ideological collectivists on the Left to the biblically inclined, revelatory faithful who clearly see in the teachings of Jesus Christ reasons to doubt:

And Larry Arnhart looks at a Straussian: ‘Joseph Cropsey’s Straussian Attack On Adam Smith:’

‘Thus, Smith showed how the opulence and liberty of a commercial society would provide philosophers like Hume and himself with the intellectual commerce, the individual liberty, and the leisured independence necessary for living a philosophic life with their friends. Cropsey ignores all of this because it contradicts his argument that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith’s commercial society.’

Worth a read.


A brief introduction to Adam Smith’s ‘Theory Of Moral Sentiments’

Beware the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians:


As previously posted: Steven Poole at Aeon: ‘We Are More Rational Than Those Who Nudge Us.’

‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences. It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

Related On This Site: Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

I’ve got enough friends, thanks: Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

New liberty away from Hobbes…toward Hayek…but can you see Locke from there?: Repost-From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

Leo Strauss argued there is great danger in this approach, i.e. the problems of Europe. Political science, the social sciences, economics and the explanatory power of these products of reason and rationalism could increasingly form the epistemological foundation for explaining the world, people’s interior lives, how we ought to live and what we ought to do. This includes where our rights come from and who should be in charge: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

A Response To Andrew Sabl’s ‘Liberalism Beyond Markets’

Andrew Sabl at the Niskanen Center: ‘Liberalism Beyond Markets

If I’ve understood Sabl correctly: Neo-Kantian libertarians are epistemologically mistaken in holding the individual inviolate, free but duty-bound from within Kant’s transcendental idealist framework (the starry heavens above and the moral law within).  They are being unduly and Continentally rationalist, beginning and ending with an abstract chain of reasoning which fails to understand the ‘normative’ and ‘realist’, non-teleological interactions going on between individuals and liberal institutions as Sabl presents them.

2. Sabl claims that a Hayekian classically liberal view is what makes his alternative understanding of liberal institutions possible (any order they possess is essentially undesigned and undirected, spontaneously emerging from human nature and human interactions, just as do bartering and currency). Thus, liberal institutions should be thought of much the same as individuals within a Hayekian market system:  We each possess more knowledge and unique experience than any top-down system can hope to order or direct, and like markets, liberal institutions need not necessarily meet the demands of neo-Kantian rationalists to provide sufficient moral justification before they start directing our lives, liberty and happiness.

So, what then are some of Sabl’s ‘normative’ and ‘realist’ knowledge claims as to which principles should guide liberal institutions…or at least: What’s going to fill the hole left by Neo-Kantian rationalists and insufficiently classically liberal Hayekians who haven’t made the leap from individual to institution?

Would anything need to fill the hole?

Sabl:

1. ‘A modern institution must be large-scale and anonymous; The guiding analogy is technological progress in response to experienced flaws and demonstrably useful innovations, not reverence for “the mores of our ancestors.’

Here, Sabl’s model of governance comes from the sciences, and from a debatable ‘building’ epistemological model of the sciences (building-up one floor at a time..Newton, you’ve got floor 8, Einstein, floor 10).  In turn, this depends upon a tenuous analogy that city councils, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and hashing-out problems with your neighbors etc. are really the same kind of knowledge as the Special Theory Of Relativity, and should be thought of as such.

This leaves a lot to be desired.

***Frankly, I think neo-Kantians get closer to a decent understanding of scientific naturalism and the mathematical sciences’ ability to discover, understand and predict nature even if I may not agree with some Kantian metaphysical claims.

***Notice the jab Sabl takes at what I’ve often considered to be a wiser, and more humane, Burkean formulation of the ‘mores of our ancestors’ (much more humane than anonymous and large-scale institutions, it would seem). For Burkeans, you have duties to your grandparents, parents, kids and grand-kids.  You try and leave things a little better than you found them. Institutions have longer histories, rules, and practical wisdom (not all worthy of conserving, but quite a bit is worth conserving and you may not yet know what’s there until you’re involved). Few of us are ever that far away from families, loved ones, and our own limitations and self-interest, even if one of us is President or happens to be serving in high office.

Sabl:

2. ‘Second, modern liberal institutions owe their past development and present stability to their ability to serve the interests of all members of society.’

I see this is an ideal, one I could be persuaded is a reasonable formulation of the common interest, but one that will probably always fall short in the real world.

There’s no question that civic duties like voting and public service stir deep pride and loyalty to one’s fellows, often bringing out the best in us to overcome challenges.  But, clearly, out in the political realm people get factional and coalitional, there are winners and losers every cycle, and it can get bloody.

I’m deeply skeptical that our vastly differing personal experiences, moral beliefs and guiding principles would be sufficiently united by liberal institutions alone according to this line of thinking (this sure does seem to me a lot like standard, technocratic Statism).

Thus, whether through religious affiliation, Sabl’s claims to emergent and non-teleological liberal institutions, Platonic idealism, Constitutional Republicanism etc. there probably need to be deeper values and virtues uniting people before they start looking to politics and liberal institutions to help address these deep disputes.

Sabl:

3. ‘Third, a modern liberal institution promotes indefinite and multiple values and purposes, rather than giving priority to any one.’

Well, I’m quite partial to the Friesian formulation as to why Isaiah Berlin’s ‘value pluralism‘ may fail to provide sufficient justification to make the kinds of moral distinctions necessary to form stable institutions (even though I’ve ceded a flavor of pluralism/relativism above).

Some neo-Kantians also do a damned fine job of addressing the products of Hegelian rationalism and Marxism, as well as various idealists, some obvious authoritarians, and even totalitarian radicals in the modern world, often found simmering in a postmodern stew, constantly undermining institutions which they do not recognize as morally legitimate even as they take up positions within those institutions.

Such folks aim to bend our laws away from religious and traditional conceptions of the good, and generally toward their own conceptions of the good which can involve mild protest up to radical disruption.  For many, adherence to a grab-bag of various post-Enlightenment doctrines and ideologies is common on the way to radical change and the frequent politicization of all areas of life (functionally, I think, radicals over time succeed in destabilizing many existing arrangements and making obligations more a matter of individual choice and legal contract, gay marriage being a good example).

4. ‘Fourth, modern liberal institutions value diversity and conflict up to a point; and their first preference in dealing with agents who threaten to bring about truly dangerous conflict is to marginalize and discredit them, limiting their influence and impact, rather than resorting to direct coercion.’

Non-aggression works for me, but since we’re already talking principles and sufficient justification for coercion, that’s much easier said than done.

5. ‘Fifth, modern liberal institutions need not reflect a prior plan, nor a post-hoc consensus: they typically arise largely accidentally, and persist in the face of sharp disagreement (or, more commonly, mere ignorance and unconcern) as to their essential nature and proper working.’

Again, we’re back to the Hayekian liberal-institutions-as-markets formulation (how many other civilizations have produced similar institutions?) This is a formulation of which I’m skeptical, but remain open to further argument.

6. ‘Whether a certain realm of life will be subject to market exchange or not, or whether it will be subject to general laws or left to individual choice, is a question that is always important and interesting but rarely existential. Different societies can each have viable liberal institutions while answering these questions in somewhat different ways.’

Perhaps true, but we’re not in different societies, we’re citizens of this specific Constitutional Republic with a functioning democracy, in possession of its own legal history and political institutions.

According to Sabl, the value-pluralist conception of liberal institutions means sometimes they’ll weigh in, sometimes not.  Those running such institutions at any given time will try and marginalize violent actors, not simply use physical force at the first sign of any dissent. The market will be left to sort out some problems, the force of law guided by liberal institutions other problems.  These liberal institutions don’t necessarily have purposes, nor ends, and the people who make them up certain of their ends won’t be able to exert too much personal interest.  They’re like markets, springing up as they do rather spontaneously.

Dear Reader, are you persuaded?

Also as sent in by a reader this week:

On this site, see: A Few Responses To Kant’s Transcendental IdealismLink To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

From Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Does the Moral Flynn Effect Support Flynn’s Democratic Socialism or Murray’s Classical Liberalism?’

The Postmodern Wilderness-Two Links

From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper 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.’

Perhaps way too much in the weeds for many regular readers, but there’s real work done in the piece.  Have a go, oppressor.

Related On This Site: Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘The Brown Case: Does It Still Look Like Rape?…The Personal Ain’t Political-Holding The Line Against Rape Ideologues-Conor Friedersdorf On George Will

Christina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Defending Eliot Spitzer…as a man who ought to be free of prostitution laws…but didn’t he prosecute others with those same laws?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Update & Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Full piece here.

Sandall reviews Robin Fox’s book “Tribal Imagination: Civilization And the Savage Mind”.

‘New political understandings are being launched each day, it seems. From one quarter comes what we might call Praetorian Realism, an acknowledgment of Samuel Huntington’s scenario for the military disciplining of civil chaos in modernizing lands. From another comes Matrix Realism, emphasizing the army’s role in the institutional order of the Arab countries. In this expansive intellectual climate, with its growing range of options, perhaps there’s room for one more entrant. Let’s call it Tribal Realism, the aim being to bring anthropological insights to bear on our political prospects abroad.’

So, where do the social-sciences and foreign-policy fruitfully meet? Sandall argues Fox’s then new book can point out quite how we often misunderstand other parts of the world as we project our own traditions, definitions of freedom, and democratic ideals upon it:

‘Fox knows what Tierney and most other educated Americans apparently do not: that tribal communities are the default system of human social nature. Humanity evolved that way for millennia after exiting the hunter-gatherer band stage of social life. Many of the planet’s diverse societies have since moved on toward becoming modern states, but not all of them have. And even for those that have, the shadowy emotional residues of the distant past remain.’

Fox puts his thinking into a framework of evolutionary theory (as opposed to, say, religious doctrines).

‘Fox sees the European habit of viewing society as a loose aggregate of autonomous individuals as a barrier to understanding. It prevents us from seeing the truth of Ernest Gellner’s argument in Muslim Society that, under Islam, “the individual acts toward the state essentially through the mediation of his kin group.” It equally prevents us from seeing that in ancient Greece (meaning the Greece of legend that long preceded the reforms of Cleisthenes and the rationalistic speculations of Plato and Aristotle), both autonomous individuals and the state itself were problematic.’

Food for thought, as I always think it’s important to point out that secular post-Enlightenment ideals can suffer many of the same problems as religion when sailing into contact, conflict and engagement with other parts of the world, as that world can be a dangerous place.

I like how Kenneth Minogue came at the problem of Western civilization vs what he argued exists in much of the rest of the world:  ‘One-right order’ societies, or civilizations much more hierarchical and limited in individual freedoms and economic opportunities to which those in the West are accustomed.

Minogue also highlights what he sees as important differences between libertarians and conservatives during his critique of political idealism in the video below. On this site, see: Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

Related On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily (R.I.P) says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’.

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

Repost-Roger Scruton Discusses Islam And The West

A few key arguments Scruton makes:

1.  The drive to expunge religion from public life in America is, in some cases, being pursued with a zeal that is not un-religious.  It is a largely unreasonable interpretation of the no-establishment clause.

I would even suggest that the argument allows that if such secularists are successful, they could open the door to government bloat (after all, welfare is given out for moral and moralistic reasons) if the church were gotten out of the way.  It is a key platform for most on the Western left to sacralize Muslims as the latest victim group against the forces they seek to overthrow within the West itself.  This makes them blind to many facts. Most people up-top in the Western liberal world are not as attuned as they should be to the potentially incompatible elements of Islamic civilization and the dangers of the radical and activist Left.

Against this,  I think many reasonable people would say that they just want to keep religion out of politics for the sake of both, and that they’re not attacking religion per se, but merely adhering to a reasonable interpretation of the no-establishment clause. Scruton is casting light on the zealots here.  Religious belief however, especially Christian belief in the U.S., really isn’t going anywhere.

2.  Scruton also argues that under the banner of secular multiculturalism, the extremely intolerant views of some Muslims, and the religious idealism of most Muslims (and all true religious believers) has found too free a home in Britain.  For Scruton, the development of secular society and the rule of law is perhaps a uniquely Christian phenomenon (he makes the argument here).   The Christian doctrines that laid such groundwork are conveniently bashed while Muslims pour in from societies without such rule of law and a pretty frightening idealism (how much of this is due to being an immigrant is worth examining, but the separation of church and state is conspicuously absent in Muslim societies).

One of the most dangerous consequences of this approach by is the idea of concurrent Sharia law for Muslims, and British law for British subjects. This is basically an admission of many in British society that they can’t fully integrate many Muslims and they don’t have a way forward to include them either.  Many wanted cheap labor, felt guilty at the colonial past, and apparently desire to see their country as a kind of way station on the way to a global, one-world superstate and home for refugees.  Scruton points out that human nature, the locality and practicality of politics, and the reality of these universalizing, Western ideals directing politics and policy is unable to account for much reality on the ground.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

See Also On This SiteFrom The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”/Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism/Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Ayan Hirsi Ali in The NY Times: Lee Harris’s ‘The Suicide Of Reason’

Free speech and Muslims From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’…  Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’… More From Spiegel Online After The Westergaard Attacks Via A & L Daily: ‘The West Is Choked By Fear’

Skepticism Regarding The Moralizing Impulses Of Modern Political & Social Movements-A Few Links

Richard Feynman Cargo Cult Science lecture here.

Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science.  He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.

At least, he says the following:

‘I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but  they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’

What is the bar as to when the social sciences become a science?

One place I find myself often retreating (knowledgeably, and sometimes not) is a place of skepticism when it comes to such fields gaining earthly authority and becoming conventional wisdom.

What if the latest research on a certain psychological disorder, early-educational practice, or thinking about certain mental-states and their treatment, because of this potential ambiguity, simply doesn’t hold up well over time and under greater scrutiny?

How much cost of error can be borne through political/legal channels?  Is there room for self-correction and protection of individual liberties regarding movements which are essentially moralizing and reformist in nature?

Few with money, reputation, political power and influence to bear those costs will do so readily, for that’s not how man’s nature is constituted, especially when asses are on the line.

Just observe any politician come election time.  Or your own behavior when you trip on a toy left on the stairs (you’ve probably resisted the urge to smash that toy at some point).  Rather, I’d prefer holding many idealists and social reformers/do-gooders of all stripes to account for outcomes, not intentions.

How about some healthy skepticism?

***This is to say nothing of the anti-science, ideological and radical base often driving political/social influence upon reformers and public sentiment.

Food for thought: Rarely do those upholding an ideal or principle in the public square stop to reflect upon the possibility that their burgeoning political movement might eventually devolve into a racket.  The injustice, and perceived injustice, is too great.  The urgency of now becomes overwhelming.  Thus, what is noble in true in a movement also contains that which is ignoble and untrue, for there are always the unbalanced and power-hungry seeking more influence as they are attracted to the movement.

If this movement doesn’t constrain the worst impulses, it can be relatively easy to predict where it may end-up.

On that note, a Theodore Dalrymple piece here.

Say it ain’t so:

‘Medical journals have thus gone over to political correctness—admittedly with the zeal of the late convert—comparatively recently. Such correctness, however, is now deeply entrenched. With The New England Journal of Medicine for July 16, 2016 in hand, I compared it with the first edition I came across in a pile of old editions in my slightly disordered study: that for September 13, 2007, as it happened, which is not a historical epoch ago. What started as mild has become strident and absurd.’

Another Dalrymple piece here:  Via A Reader-Theodore Dalrymple At LibertyLawSite.Org: ‘How Modern Psychology Undermines Freedom and Responsibility’

Dalrymple takes care to respond to many modern knowledge claims and ‘cult of the expert’ tendencies with literary wisdom, criticism, and skepticism.  Perhaps modern psychology, in trying to explain the world and soothe men’s souls, also pathologizes and medicalizes what are otherwise quite normal impulses and duties we human beings have in a pretty harsh world, with plenty of suffering.

See Also: Karl Popper’s metaphysical theory on much the same subject: Falsifiability

This, unlike the system highlighted in the below quote from the late Robert Conquest, steadfast chronicler of Soviet authority and leadership in practice:

But, he does point out certain dangers and makes me laugh at the same time:

“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.’

As previously posted:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

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