Thursday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.  Without such means it might even risque the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.  The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without a king.  At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in their antient edifice; they did not however, dissolve the whole fabric.’

Edmund Burke, commenting on the French Revolution, in The Evils Of Revolution, What Is Liberty Without Wisdom And Without Virtue It Is The Greatest Of All Possible Evils, New York, NY. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008.  Pg 8.

Graeme Wood At The Atlantic-‘His Kampf: Richard Spencer Is A Troll And An Icon For White Supremacists. He Was Also My High-School Classmate’

Full piece here. (Includes audio interview)

To be fair, I think Wood offers a decent piece of journalism (interviews, phone calls, research etc.); a well-written, longer-form work I find to be in shorter-supply these days.

In it, he highlights Spencer’s Nietzschean-influenced intellectual aspirations and populist ambitions to become a mouthpiece for alt-right advocacy (serious enough to get attention, unserious enough to be poseurish and pathetically fascistic..which means Spencer may not represent more than a vocal minority, even on the alt-right……feel free to send some data my way).

To be critical: What I think Wood misses, and what many anti-Trumpers and liberal ‘gentry’ miss (Trump is an opportunist if there ever was one), is that Richard Spencer (an opportunist if there ever was one) isn’t enjoying his moment in the sun alone.   The kind of black bloc, antifa radicalism which Spencer publicly addresses is clearly ok using violence on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom.

This leads to the most persuasive arguments I’ve heard criticizing modern liberalism:  It’s all too easy to ignore the true-believers, radicals, poseurs and nutbars (they’re our bastards) beneath one’s own platform, especially if they share some version of one’s own cherished beliefs and ideals.

Left and Left-liberal idealism prospers and is even institutionalized at places like Berkeley (no shortage of anti-racist, neo-Marxist, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist sentiment at Berkeley), which helps fuel radicals which help fuel the Richard Spencers.

Fascists and anti-fascists sure can come to resemble one another, trading tired power theories, hitting each other over the head, and trying to squeeze some meaning from similar principles while showboating through the nihilistic void.

Frankly, they deserve each other, and they deserve to be marginalized by the rest of us.

***I don’t think one need be a Nietzschean nor Nietzsche-inspired, nor a Nietzsche-reacting sort of Straussian (from H.L. Mencken to Leo Strauss to Camille Paglia to John Gray) to seriously question the modern liberal and secular human project, and help offer perspective.

But, it probably helps in understanding the fascist tendencies of Spencer and his enemies/allies..

Addition: I should make it clear that Nietzsche didn’t have much truck with fascists, and that he diagnosed, from the depths of his own nihilism, a lot of the crises that would come to face Europe…as for folks like Spencer, they seem to get enough nihilism to carry around while looking for meaning/purpose/identity/belonging elsewhere (in fascist movements)

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

 Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases

On this site, see also:

-Graeme Wood At The Atlantic: ‘The American Leader In The Islamic State’

Hitchens could be entertaining, especially on grounds I’m guessing he knew instinctively well as a former Trotskyite: Ideologies, while highlighting truths, promise a one-stop shop on truth, knowledge, how to be in the world, what to do and what the future will be.

People can kill for less, and when they adhere to such systems, then they can end-up killing more:

Via a reader.  Platonic idealism has advantages in restoring both idealism and realism into political debate, but also drawbacks.  It can be a bulwark against moral relativism, which is a modern soup in which Left and Right fascism can be found simmering.

A Podcast From BritainE30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Related On This Site: -Repost: Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

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

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Repost-Quotation Sent By A Reader-Jacques Barzun

‘Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.’

Thanks to a reader, more on Barzun here.

I read ‘From Dawn To Decadence‘ not long after it came out.

As posted, Barzun at The American Scholar-‘The Cradle Of Modernism‘:

‘For yet another cause of unhappiness was the encroachment of machine industry and its attendant uglification of town and country. The Romanticists had sung in an agrarian civilization; towns were for handiwork and commerce. Industry brought in not factories only, and railroads, but also the city — slums, crowds, a new type of filth, and shoddy goods, commonly known as “cheap and nasty.” And when free public schools were forced on the nation by the needs of industry, a further curse was added: the daily paper, also cheap.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom…From Humanities: Why Nabokov’s ‘Speak, Memory’ Still Speaks To Us

John O’Sullivan On The French Elections

Full piece here.

‘So the next five years could well see a series of social crises in which two versions of young France — a multicultural one swollen by migration and a native-nationalist one fed by the arrival of a post-guilt generation — will find themselves on opposite sides of a worsening political divide.’
The fundamental instability of both current French politics and the EU are worrying, to say the least.

 

As previously posted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the comments:

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

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

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

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

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

Some Professors At Middlebury-Shut Up Or Maybe You’ll Get Hit In The Head, OK?

The broader issue as I see it:  Some students are gathering around a set of political and social doctrines in a pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific, ideologically motivated fashion.  Many of these doctrines share logical foundations which promote revolutionary change on the way towards radical liberation.

The truth and knowledge claims required to implement such changes are supposedly contained within a broad range of texts, as well as in common, collective beliefs which solidify membership and group identity.  Action and activism further solidify group loyalty against all presumed injustice, oppression, and morally illegitimate authority (generally, carving up people and the world into groups and ‘-Isms’).

Race is a primary motivator here (the genuine injustice of American racial history and the personal experience of many activists), and can help explain the frenzied and rather ritualistic chanting of James Baldwin’s writings during Murray’s event.  As though chanting in unison and earnestly seeking ‘solidarity’ will simply banish unwanted ideas.

Some Middlebury professors, of course, may be surprised (bemused, ashamed?) at the whirlwind being reaped, but in receiving other people’s money to interpret texts, influence young minds, and sit at faculty meetings much of the time, it’s probably not often the feedback is direct (some even took a stand on principle).

Other Middlebury professors, however, well, let’s just say this: While talking with them, don’t be surprised if they keep telling you to shut up and then maybe hit you in the head.

‘The sit-in corresponded with greater efforts from faculty members to seek information from administrators regarding the disciplinary proceedings. Laurie Essig, associate professor of sociology and gender, sexuality, and feminist studies, Linus Owens, associate professor of sociology and Sujata Moorti, professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies, were among a group of faculty members who reached out to the administration. Initially, they were hoping for more information from the meeting to better understand the disciplinary process and help students who are facing hearings.’

Furthermore, as previously and often posted:

“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’

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

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

Repost-From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

Repost-Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

Written over two years ago, now.  I think it holds up decently:

Piece here (link may return behind a paywall)

A good analysis, likely worth your time. ======================

This blog remains skeptical, and mostly critical (surprise me) of the potential Iran deal so far, because, as Richard Epstein has pointed out, without the threat of force, the deal doesn’t have the leverage needed to really put pressure where it’s needed:  Upon a throughly committed, anti-American incentivized group of mullahs and post-1979 revolutionaries running terrorism, militias, guns and money around the region (and sometimes further afield) to become as powerful as they can.

Deliverable nukes are not just a means for an authoritarian theocracy to keep repressing its own people (though there’s plenty of that) nor a way to quell Iranian hostility towards and isolation from international institutions (plenty of that, too), but also a way for deeper Persian, Shia, and national Iranian identity and pride to assert itself in a dangerous region under an authoritarian theocracy. The basic security issues are more than mullah-deep, and the basic security of the Saudis, Israelis, and other interested Sunni-led countries and parties leads one to conclude this could easily turn into an arms race.

This is very risky if you’d prefer peace, or fighting the wars that you need to fight for the security of yourself and your own people, for treaties, alliances and trade, basic human rights or whatever interest or ideal you’d like to see leading our policy in the world (I’d prefer to stay ahead of war in the first place). More details at the link:

‘Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites.’

The negotiations may yet do a lot of harm because they may not be capable of stopping the Iranian regime from buying time, nor ultimately getting deliverable nukes, nor changing nor constraining their activities enough for the possible opportunity costs involved. Our authors finish with:

If the world is to be spared even worse turmoil, the U.S. must develop a strategic doctrine for the region. Stability requires an active American role. For Iran to be a valuable member of the international community, the prerequisite is that it accepts restraint on its ability to destabilize the Middle East and challenge the broader international order. Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms. History will not do our work for us; it helps only those who seek to help themselves

Addition:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’ takes the classical liberal, non anti-war libertarian position:

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’

Another Addition: Adam Garfinkle has a thoughtful piece on American political discourse and the Iran deal.

Another Addition: Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill  Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’
Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft of perpetual peace?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Another Middlebury Update-A Most Cowardly Endeavor

What a shame.

An apology from the PoliSci chair to the ‘community’ at Middlebury:

Earlier this year I, as chair of the political science department, offered a symbolic departmental co-sponsorship to the Charles Murray event in the same way that I had done with other events in the past: on my own, without wider consultation. This was a mistake.’

You’ll have to look elsewhere for vigorous displays of moral courage, character, and independence of mind.

If an echo-chamber of shared belief and distraught racial-identity politics rewarded by a bureaucratic lack of imagination’s your thing: Middlebury might just be for you!

Truthfully, the battle was probably lost at least a generation ago, in many minds, as the logic of radical ideology, once embraced, tends to keep perpetuating and reinforcing itself.

Here’s one answer [above] to Charles Murray’s question of what happens next in the face of actual violence. In his words:

Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next. So far, Middlebury’s stance has been exemplary. The administration agreed to host the event. President Patton did not cancel it even after a major protest became inevitable. She appeared at the event, further signaling Middlebury’s commitment to academic freedom. The administration arranged an ingenious Plan B that enabled me to present my ideas and discuss them with Professor Stanger even though the crowd had prevented me from speaking in the lecture hall. I wish that every college in the country had the backbone and determination that Middlebury exhibited.’

Here’s possibly another answer

48 Middlebury professors signed the following document (WSJ paywall warning…speech on public affairs and civil discourse ain’t necessarily free).