Tuesday Quotation-Sir Thomas More

‘The fact is, even the sternest ascetic tends to be slightly inconsistent in his condemnation of pleasure. He may sentence you to a life of hard labour, inadequate sleep, and general discomfort, but he’ll also tell you to do your best to ease the pains and privations of others. He’ll regard all such attempts to improve the human situation as laudable acts of humanity – for obviously nothing could be more humane, or more natural for a human being, than to relieve other people’s sufferings, put an end to their miseries, and restore their joie de vivre, that is, their capacity for pleasure. So, why shouldn’t it be equally natural to do the same thing for oneself?’

More, Thomas. Utopia. Penguin (trans. Paul Turner), 1965. Print.

Hmmm…

“His problem (Plato’s) with the arts was that they operated by images rather than by ideas, and thus that they might cloud the truth rather than clarifying it.”

Yes, and religious traditions, for example, also have interpretations of how one ought to reproduce the image.

“Whatever one thinks of Plato’s solution to this problem, I suggest that this is one of the problems that elicited his proposals for severe censorship of the arts he so obviously loved and had been trained in.”

Six Links Somewhat Relevant In The Current Political Landscape

I’m still getting accustomed to the post 60’s political and cultural landscape in America, at least in response to the current round of progressivism; the idealism and utopianism of many collectivist platforms, and the election of Trump as some sort of response.

As someone of more conservative and religious temperment, but as someone who is not a believer and deeply committed to many projects of the Enlightenment, I’m just looking around for different types of liberalism.  Does equality always run aground on human nature?  Will pursuing broad definitions of the public good always lead to a corruption of the ideal of equality, and less freedom?

Joel Kotkin has an interesting piece Class Warfare For Republicans:

As a Truman-style Democrat left politically homeless, I am often asked about the future of the Republican Party.’

The Tea Party probably might not agree, nor maybe many social and religious conservatives.

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Walter Russell Mead seems to be envisioning a reinvigorated liberalism 5.0, arguing that the current union fights, ecotopia, high-speed rail plans, and progressivism aren’t necessarily the best way forward given America’s challenges.  There’s been a fundamental shift that we must adjust to, and it involves technology and globalization for starters.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

Interesting post here:

‘It is important to note, however, that rampant government dependence and economic mismanagement are not exclusively blue-state pathologies. Corrupt and crony Republicans can be every bit as sleazy and dangerous as their Democratic counterparts. South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi are on this list for good reason.’

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Perhaps conservative Briton Roger Scruton is just being nostalgic for what he describes as the old humanism, but there sure is a lot of Hegel informing his thought:

Hesitate!

“There is no need for God, they thought, in order to live with a vision of the higher life. All the values that had been appropriated by the Christian churches are available to the humanist too.”

And he laments the new humanism, which lacks the noblility of purpose of the old, and offers nothing positive:

“Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness”

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Copied from Will Wilkinson’s piece on Gerry Gaus’s then new book:

In sum, OPR defends public reason liberalism without contractarian foundations. It is Kantian without being rationalistic. It is Humean without giving up the project of rationally reforming the moral order. It is evolutionary but not social Darwinist. It is classical liberal without being libertarian. It is Hegelian and organicist without being collectivist or statist. It shows us how political authority can be justified but only by accepting that moral authority limits it. It pushes us to look towards the practical and reject the utopian while simultaneously maintaining that a truly free and equal social order is within our grasp. It rejects the aspiration of political liberalism to neutrality among conceptions of morality while simultaneously retaining its spirit by sectioning off social morality from other normative domains.

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Theodore Dalrymple on the new atheists.

Dalrymple:

‘The search for the pure guiding light of reason, uncontaminated by human passion or metaphysical principles that go beyond all possible evidence, continues, however; and recently, an epidemic rash of books has declared success, at least if success consists of having slain the inveterate enemy of reason, namely religion. The philosophers Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Michel Onfray, and Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens have all written books roundly condemning religion and its works. Evidently, there is a tide in the affairs, if not of men, at least of authors.’

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

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

Post-60’s, I’m seeing a lot of people sucked into radical discontent, righteous certitude and often religion-deep belief in secular ideals and ideologies, demanding immediate change often faster than institutional stability can keep up.

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

His recent public statements don’t help

People on the modern American right take issue with Rawls, but have they addressed his depth?:  From The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls…Utilitarianism leads to problems.  Will the Rawlsian center-left hold up?:

From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’… From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Some Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

A New ‘Sokal Hoax?’-If It Has A ‘Studies’ After It, You Should Probably Be Studying Something Else

IA new ‘Sokal Hoax?’ (Alan Sokal has moved on, apparently)

From Aero:  ‘Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship:’

‘We undertook this project to study, understand, and expose the reality of grievance studies, which is corrupting academic research. Because open, good-faith conversation around topics of identity such as gender, race, and sexuality (and the scholarship that works with them) is nearly impossible, our aim has been to reboot these conversations.’

Ideas spilling from the academy into politics and the public mind come with their own internal logic and boundary conditions; the latest moral idea comes with its own priests, zealots and enforcers.

Perhaps in an increasingly less religious American context, it’s better for many citizens to think of such folks as ‘true-believers’ or members of a religion-deep belief system with many bad incentives and with much dangerous design.

As posted years ago now:

Simon Blackburn review here.

Do you remember the Sokal hoax?

“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”

Sokal has apparently been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.

David Thompson offers satire on such matters.

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

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

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

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And mostly, but not entirely unrelated, you can make your own Tom Friedman columns at home.

Related On This Site:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

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”

From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

The Anti-Rationalist:’

‘Rationalism, then, is an active drive in our civilization leading us to construe politics (and much else) as an activity of solving problems by applying to them the latest in expert knowledge. The problems are identified by rather grand abstractions, such as war, conflict, poverty, underdevelopment, and the rest. “The problem of poverty,” however, makes sense only if one imagines a set of puppets with nothing in common except the lack of a square meal. If that were the problem, the solution would indeed be obvious. In fact, of course, “the poor” are a highly miscellaneous set of people with thoughts, emotions, projects, and habits of their own. When rationalist benevolence collides with the actual inclinations of the poor, the result is frustration and disappointment at best. No matter: The bright-eyed rationalist will soon have another analysis, and another project, and off we go again in hot pursuit of a perfect world.’

And:

‘In that real world, however, something more is needed to succeed, something much harder to define. Oakeshott called this thing “practical knowledge”; it is often what we refer to as “common sense.” The dominant form taken by rationalism today can be studied in the American vogue for practical handbooks explaining how to succeed, which is perilous unless the reader has some “feel” for the skill in question. One of the great rationalist masterpieces of earlier times was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. Marvelous! What more do you need in life? All you have to do is follow Carnegie’s rules. But beware: If you lack common sense in following these rules, you come across as some dreadful kind of creep or sycophant. Modern politics often replays this cycle of bright idea followed by disappointment.’

From the most accessible book of Oakeshott’s:

‘But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

Watch out for the assumption of rational and knowable ends, and the one-stop-shop of modern doctrines promising radical liberation. All that’s left is to implement such knowledge into systems that will lead all men to some point outside of themselves.: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

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?’

Wednesday Poem-Wallace Stevens

Postcard From The Volcano

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion-house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is . . . Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.

Wallace Stevens

A little authoritative and paternal, but a romantic poet. A modernist, brilliant with language but precise in meaning, abstract, somewhat philosophical.  They say he had a deathbed conversion. Here’s another line of his:

The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“

And then just to frustrate matters more:

Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

See Also:  Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The Jar…and while I may not agree with his conclusions, Denis Dutton knows aesthetics pretty well and philosophy too:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…

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A Few More Links On Ferguson On Kissinger And His Idealism

Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).

-In writing an entire undergraduate thesis on Kant’s transcendental idealism, Ferguson sketches a Kissinger who bypassed the historical determinism of the Hegelians and the economic determinism of the Marxists.  Freedom has to be lived and experienced to thrive and be understood, and Kant gets closer to championing this conception of individual freedom than do many German thinkers downstream of Kant.

-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.

***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.

Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed.  Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.

Interesting piece here:

‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.

He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’

As previously posted: – ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review. 

The Economist

Previously on this site:

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft here, long before any Iran dealing.

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

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’

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

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

Repost-Edward Feser on David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ And More Modernist Commentary

This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.

From Edward Feser: ‘Aquinas Watches Glengarry Glen Ross’

Feser:

‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.

So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’

Glengarry Glen Ross‘ has become something of a cultural touchstone for many; maybe this generation’s ‘Death Of A Salesman

You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’

For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.

Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.

On fuller display, perhaps.

Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.

For those who didn’t ask!:

As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).

It takes really talented individuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.

As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).

They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:

From the comments on this piece:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in this generation’s rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.

The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).

As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.

Ah well…there’s my two cents.

There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.

Enduring…I like the sound of that.


Because you really didn’t ask:

Another video included at the link.

David Mamet underwent a conversion to conservatism in rather dramatic and public fashion a few years ago. In leaving his liberal views behind, he’s no doubt become a heretic to some. At the link, he hosts an interview at Il Forno in Santa Monica with Uncommon Knowledge’s Peter Robinson.

Here’s my take, for what it’s worth:

Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.

Mamet also cites Chicago School Of Economics neoclassical thinkers’ Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell and Austrian economist/political philosopher Friedrich Hayek as central to his conversion. Hayek’s rather tragic view of limited resources and opportunity costs being the natural state of affairs for mankind is clearly an influence. This would generally lead one to eschew the Statist/rationalist idealism and socialist utopianism typically associated with many Left and liberal Left movements.

***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.

Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).

Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.

I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.

Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.

Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.

Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

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’