Rationalism

Common Sense Ain’t So Common-An Oakeshott Quotation And Some Links

‘From the earliest days of his emergence, the Rationalist has taken an ominous interest in education.  He has a respect for ‘brains,’ a great belief in training them, and is determined that cleverness shall be encouraged and shall receive its reward of power.  But what is this education in which the Rationalist believes?  It is certainly not an initiation into the moral and intellectual habits and achievements of his society, an entry into the partnership between present and past, a sharing of concrete knowledge; for the Rationalist, all this would be an education in nescience, both valueless and mischievous.  It is a training in technique, a training, that is, in the half of knowledge which can be learnt from books when they are used as cribs.  And the Rationalists’s affected interest in education escapes the suspicion of being a mere subterfuge for imposing himself more firmly upon society, only because it is clear that he is as deluded as his pupils.   He sincerely believes that a training in technical knowledge is the only education worth while, because he is moved by the faith that there is now knowledge.  He believes that a training in ‘public administration’ is the surest defence against the flattery of a demagogue and the lies of a dictator.’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 38).

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy’s entry on Oakeshott:

‘The Rationalist, unaware of the local origins of the universal principles he thinks he has identified, disparages knowledge gained through experience and rejects it in favor of something called reason. Whether deductive or computational, this abstract reason is thought to guarantee a degree of certainty that experience and judgment cannot provide. The fallacy of Rationalism, in other words, is that the knowledge it identifies as rational is itself the product of experience and judgment. It consists of rules, methods, or techniques abstracted from practice, tools that, far from being substitutes for experience and judgment, cannot be effectively used in the absence of experience and judgment.’

We all have experiences and form judgments based upon them.  Each of us, no matter how talented, can get only so far on technical manuals and textbooks alone.  Deduction from principles and allegiance to those principles doesn’t necessarily guarantee any particular knowledge of politics, let alone the abstract category of ‘politics’ so commonly claimed by many in the modern world.

Maybe this applies to economics as well, dear reader:

I wonder if this can’t be applied to those who, in claiming loyalty to a particular set of ideas or political doctrines, claim not only the legitimacy of their feelings under such doctrines, but ‘feelings’ in general.

No one has ever felt before me!

Such claims usually travel under ideas of liberation (from tradition, from marriage, from existing relationships, from whatever ‘oppression’ was to be found internally or externally, personally or politically).

The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress—to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself )
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
The playfellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred
Among the grandest objects of the sense,
And dealt with whatsoever they found there
As if they had within some lurking right
To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood,
Had watched all gentle motions, and to these
Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild,
And in the region of their peaceful selves;—
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty
Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish;
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,—the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all!

William Wordsworth


Robert Conquest reminds of what can happen in institutions as conventions harden, mediocrity and rule-following abounds, and where incentives matter:

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.’

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.  What about the humanities, and cleaning up the postmodern mess (and where political doctrines fill the void)?

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

On this site, see: Mark Pennington Via Vimeo: ‘Democracy And The Deliberative Conceit’

A taste of her Nussbaum here. Also, see: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

…Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Is there anybody whom you trust to decide what you should and shouldn’t read?

Parents? Great authors? Public intellectuals? Professors? God? Laws and lawmakers? Religious leaders? A school-board? A democratic majority? People who think like you? A Council of Cultural Marxists?

The Department of Institutionalized Idiocy?

uploaded by mattbucher

The Reds, White & Blue-Some Links Around A Theme

Theodore Dalrymple:  ‘The Will To Outrage

‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’

Michael Totten: ‘The Ghost Of Communism In Asia’ And A Few ThoughtsMichael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’…Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

As previously posted:

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.

Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way?  Can we know Nature’s Laws?

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason? Or:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..

Repost-Via Youtube: Eric Hoffer-‘The Passionate State Of Mind’

Continuing on a theme on this blog.

Hoffer was a man deeply suspicious of top-down organization and intellectuals running things, yet he is a man deeply curious and taken with ideas: He strikes this blog as something of an anti-intellectual’s intellectual. He worked as a longshoreman for much of his life in San Francisco and was not formally educated, but read many of the great books. In the video he discusses how he thought he was observing a change from an interest in business to an interest in ideas in American culture and society in the 1960’s, among other things.

From a Thomas Sowell piece, the Legacy Of Eric Hoffer:

‘Hoffer said: “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,” Hoffer said. “When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause — the “true believer,” who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.’

Related On This Site: Are we still having the same debate…is it manifest destiny?: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco

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.Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Update & Repost-From The LA Review Of Books-‘Death By Prefix? The Paradoxical Life Of Modernist Studies’

Full piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

‘Like many scholars of modernism, I’m often asked two questions: What is modernism? And why is modernist studies, it seems, all the rage right now? I don’t have a good, succinct answer to either question — and I’ve no doubt frustrated plenty of friends because of that — but the reasons why I don’t are pretty telling.’

From the comments:

‘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?’

As previously posted:

-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

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

‘There is no morality in art. There is morality in religion; there are philosophical objectives embedded in politics. The two are intertwined in a society and reflected in its art. When you sever art from its cultural moorings and make “newness” the overriding criterion by which the merits of a work are judged, then anything is possible. This results in crap. Not always’

James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, the Bauhaus, the imagists, the futurists etc. Some of those influences have morphed into post-modernism or where such currents have flowed and keep flowing.  Were they the best models, or has much been lost in translation?

Lileks’ take:

‘The primary urge of the revolutionary and the modernist and the adolescent: impatience.’

So, do we aim for maturity?  Reverence?  Good old Longfellow?  Sonnets?  Rhyming couplets delivered by higher powers to monks in haylofts?

Perhaps there is a growing body of intellectual and cultural pushback against the ‘-Isms’ (environmentalism, feminism, utopian political idealism) as these ideals and idealists continue their contact with current institutions, Nature and human nature.

It’s tough to get an education in the arts and humanities these days, moving through the postmodern landscape, without running into pockets of ‘-Isms.’

Results vary:

It’s not that the sciences, nor even the social sciences, don’t contain valid truth and knowledge claims.

This isn’t worrying so much as the cults of rationality and irrationality out and about; the reefs of radical discontent and group-thought hardening into new rules.

It’s not that change doesn’t need to happen, nor that what’s true remains even if we don’t want it to be so, rather, it’s the inability of many moderns to provide deep enough wisdom, truth and understanding so as not not slip into the same old problems with authority and hierarchy.

I think for some people, there’s an appealing critique of liberal rationalism contained within nihilism, but also something deeper which draws folks to seek out other ideas:  An instinctive defense of the arts, myth, music, and tradition; the complexities of the human heart and mind, the long sweep of history, the wisdom contained within religious texts.

Defending tradition, even perhaps having been influenced by Nietzsche to some extent, has become heretical in parts of the academy and the media.

Merely pushing back against the influence of Foucault and Lacan in the academy, or  perhaps questioning the motives of student radicals during Paris ’68, can be enough to torpedo an academic career:

Before modernism, there was the Romantic break of the individual artistic genius driving all this change forward on his own.  Isaiah Berlin had some thoughts about this (as well as the horrendous totalitarianism which emerges when you start-out thinking the Ends Of Man are already known).

Thanks, reader.  Probably worth revisiting:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

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’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them—
The barren New England hills—
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

T.S. Eliot  

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Factions, Factions, Everywhere?-Some Links & Thoughts On Trump’s UK Visit

Perhaps religiously-inspired, family-focused conservatism and civic nationalism no longer form a majority stake in American cultural and political opinion.  Perhaps, at least, neither holds the political and cultural sway they once did as part of an Establishment.

Perhaps the passing, or at least, a similar weakening, of the old WASP establishment has been going on for generations now.

Both are possibilities in my opinion, and Donald Trump’s identification of a significant voting bloc of under-represented and under-served Americans interested in jobs, borders and national security can help explain why conservatism has split into competing factions and groups.

From my limited view, I see a base loyal to Trump (jobs and borders especially, anti-PC and anti-establishment sentiment), while others have been repulsed by Trump’s vulgarity, personal failures, character issues and antipathy to trade.

Across a fair divide, too, I also see many liberal political idealists, progressives and activists currently out of political power making anti-Trumpism into a very personal project, indeed.

Such variables are probably influencing some of what we are witnessing more broadly:  Bloated and weakened American institutions (for many more reasons yet), the rise of political extremism and the harder-to-find political center; a serious lack of civility.

Perhaps these variables can even help explain the global, or at least Anglospheric, factionalism on display this past weekend:  Donald Trump’s economic nationalism clashing with the diversity and multicultural idealism expressed by the mayor of London over the issues of Brexit and terrorism.

We shouldn’t forget that political leaders can’t be seen as too far removed from the interests and opinions of the people they serve.

I often return to the below seeking a quieter place to reflect:

‘The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.’

-Madison, James. The Federalist Papers: No 10.  The Avalon Project.

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

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

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

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?’

Repost-From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”

Full review here. (updated, Fouad Ajami’s piece, which was not the original)

Book found here.

A lot of the discussion I’ve seen about Muslim immigration to Europe as much involves the anti-multiculturalist crowd (from reasonable, persecuted voices to shrill doomsayers) as it does the problems on the ground, which are quite real. Usually, it’s the politically, economically, and socially conservative who have been the most vocal, lamenting the hold on public opinion and sentiment such a problematic set of ideas has had. Of course, Caldwell goes a little deeper than that, and of course so do the problems and conflicts that can result.

A few quotes:

“The most chilling observation in Mr. Caldwell’s book may be that the debate over Muslim immigration in Europe is one that the continent can’t openly have, because anyone remotely critical of Islam is branded as Islamophobic”

Remember the Dutch cartoonists? Some of them were perhaps irresponsible,even inflammatory, but that was probably no less a time to offer up a reasonable and principled liberal defense of their right to publish.

Also:

“For Mr. Caldwell, the fundamental issue is also, more centrally, about irrevocable societal transformation.”

Is it irrevocable?

As posted:

Caldwell filters conceptions of how a society should [be] through a Burkean lens.-‘Reflections On The Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam & The West

From the Mark Steyn show:

There’s a sober realism, reasonable use of statistics, and deeper analysis I find appealing: The number of immigrants each country can absorb is ever in flux and dispute, but it likely has limits. When problems of immigration are backed into as they have been for a few generations (cheap labor, post WWII exhaustion and colonial guilt), harder choices and worse outcomes loom.

European birth rates are low, European economies are relatively more static and weaker than ours, and the political ideals and sentiment at work in Europe seem capable of uniting only to produce many of the problems at hand.

Political leaders frequently elide questions of basic security (Islamic/ist terror), numbers (of immigrants and incentives), as well as the shortcomings and failures of large, top-down bureaucratic institutions to develop legitimate authority and properly allow individuals to mediate their own challenges locally.

Douglas Murray’s ‘The Strange Death Of Europe: Immigration, Identity & Islam‘ is reviewed here.

What say you?

See Also On This Site: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…From The Middle East Quarterly Via A & L Daily: Europe’s Shifting Immigration Dynamic

Kenan Malik In The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Twenty Years On: Internalizing The Fatwa’-Salman Rushdie

Theodore Dalrymple argues that France has the potential to handle Muslim immigration better because of its ideological rigidity, which can better meet the ideological rigidity of its Muslim immigrants…Theodore Dalrymple Still Attacking Multi-Culturalism In Britain

How do you reasonably deal with relativism anyways?: From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

080405_046 by *chiwai*.

A long time ago, and not so long ago. *chiwai*’s photostream here. Excellent photo.

Jordan Peterson And Sue Blackmore Debate A Rather Pedestrian Materialist Account Of The World

Jordan Peterson deploys Jungian metaphysics, downstream of Nietzsche, to make knowledge claims which challenge Blackmore’s reasonably pedestrian modern materialism and atheism.

In other words, Peterson’s defense of Jungian archetypes, including those potentially found in the Bible (and viewed from the depths of Nietzsche’s nihilism), might connect with biology more profoundly than Blackmore’s psychological materialism might have been able to address.

Nihilism is an interesting epistemological ground out of which to make knowledge claims of transcendant objects, or at least, out of which to synthesize biological knowledge and possibly knowledge claims which align within the burgeoning field of neuroscience.

The desire each of us seems to have for transcendence, wisdom and stories (especially kids) within the subjectivity of our own lived experiences, the deeper hopes and beliefs which seem ever-present (if not consciously realized) in our waking lives, the relationships with loved ones which inform, and probably ought to inform our moral judgments and moral thinking, might align with Jungian archetypes, Greek myths and the King James Bible, and thus some sort of Nietzschen nihilist denial of objective reality or the structure of the material world explored by the sciences…or…they might not.

As posted: John Gray challenged Steven Pinker’s knowledge claims for the measurable material progress going on around the globe with a heavy Nietzschean and nihilist influence.  In other words, things in ethics and politics get learned, but don’t stay learned, and the actual progress and the doctrines of progress may be two different things.

On such thinking, there is a spiritual crisis going on in the Western World as important as the post-Enlightenment advancements in the sciences, and the postmodern nihilist reactions against the natural sciences.

Gray also reviewed two books, one by Marxist dissector of postmodernism, anti-New Atheist, and literary critic, Terry Eagleton,(filling a religion-sized hole with Marxism) and the other by Peter Watson.

Gray finished with:

‘Reared on a Christian hope of redemption (he was, after all, the son of a Lutheran minister), Nietzsche was unable, finally, to accept a tragic sense of life of the kind he tried to retrieve in his early work. Yet his critique of liberal rationalism remains as forceful as ever. As he argued with masterful irony, the belief that the world can be made fully intelligible is an article of faith: a metaphysical wager, rather than a premise of rational inquiry. It is a thought our pious unbelievers are unwilling to allow. The pivotal modern critic of religion, Friedrich Nietzsche will continue to be the ghost at the atheist feast.’

Some related links on this site:

Dinesh D’Souza is a Christian, and while debating New Atheist and Compatibilist Daniel Dennett at Tufts University, he brings up Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead in favor of his position…not sure if that’s a winner.

Interesting debate. Argument starts at 5:30:

Terry Eagleton debates Roger Scruton below. Scruton was no doubt heavily influenced by German idealism.

Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds? What should students in the humanities be reading?:

There’s a bit of an intellectual turf war going on in the Western world. I suppose it’s been going on for a while. Here are some public skirmishes I’ve been able to track:

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic: ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities. Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularis responded to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

Got all that?

Related On This Site: 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…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

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 StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

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’

Full post here.

‘In November of 1887, the Danish scholar George Brandes wrote a letter to Nietzsche praising his writings and endorsing his “aristocratic radicalism.”  Nietzsche responded by accepting this label: “The expression Aristocratic Radicalism, which you employ, is very good.  It is, permit me to say, the cleverest thing I have yet read about myself.”‘

Excellent, as always.

‘Finally, as I have indicated in some previous posts, Nietzsche’s aristocratic liberalism is based on a Darwinian anthropology that is open to empirical verification or falsification, while his aristocratic radicalism is based on mythopoetic fictions–the will to power, eternal recurrence, the Ubermensch, and Dionysian religiosity–that are beyond empirical testing.

From all of this, I conclude that Nietzsche’s Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.’

Arnhart maintains that Nietzsche’s middle period, focused on Darwin’s thought, is the most defensible.

Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, on Nietzsche beginning the 3rd crisis of modernity, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:

‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment.  To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate.  If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’

A paper arguing that Strauss conflated his own critique of modernity with the intentions of philosophers:

‘A fervent critic of modernity, Leo Strauss attributed modernity’s intellectual degradation to the influence of some great philosophers in the history of political thought who radically broke with classical political thinking.  In doing so, Strauss believed, these thinkers either directly or indirectly contributed to the emergence of historicism and positivism, and he held these movements accountable for spineless relativism, nihilism, and modernity’s moral and intellectual demise.’

Science Is Real, Water Is Life, If You Just Believe, There’ll Be No Strife

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

IMG_1206(1)

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

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

John Locke found here:

“7. What is meant by enthusiasmThis I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”

Jordan Peterson’s epistemological foundations can be challenged, his assumptions probed, his ideas teased-out to some foreseen/unforeseen logical consequences, but let’s not forget that he’s been taking a huge personal hit (with some personal gain) in standing-up for the ability to debate foundations, assumptions and ideas freely in public.

A defense of tradition by way of the social sciences (psychology, in this case) can make one a heretic.

A defense of the social sciences (IQ research) with policy implications can make one heretical against those whose assumptions guide them to try and save the world through potentially dangerous utopianism and political activism:

On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate regarding race, IQ and Charles Murray.

On what happened when Charles Murray tried to speak at Middlebury College and encountered a frenzied mob of cult-like intensity, which eventually became violent:

On what happened when Bret Weinstein (whose progressive ideals I generally don’t share, but whose intellectual freedom, evo-bio research and freedom of speech I obviously do) stood up to a day of exclusion at Evergreen State:

It wasn’t exactly peaceful:

As previously posted:

From Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

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

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

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.

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:

His recent public statements don’t help

Three E’s Found Within Enlightenment Thinking: Ethics, Empathy & Equality-I’m Not Sure You’ve Thought This Through

This blog is still welcoming critiques of reformers, progressives and liberators who seem pretty certain of what they are against, if not always certain, just what exactly, they are for.  I could be persuaded to become a liberal, on certain matters, if I thought that the people seeking to change our current traditions, customs, and laws understood just which habits of mind, character and ideas they will rely upon for our freedoms going forward.

Which knowledge should become the basis to guide the moral foundations for new laws and the rules which we all must follow? Which customs should become the basis for new arrangements, gradually hardening into traditions?

Who should be in charge of these institutions going forward and how should their authority be limited?

A 20th century address of some of those claims to knowledge:

‘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).

The Puritan past of Boston directs many Bostonians, nowadays, into acting like members of something like a church of high-liberalism.  Very buttoned up behavior but not necessarily the same holy denials.

I would be more comfortable leaving my freedoms to many high liberal priests if I thought they were more competent.

I’m not sure many people have thought these changes through:

‘The effect of modern liberal doctrine has been to hand over the facts of moral and political life into the maladroit hands of social and political scientists, and the results have been intellectually disastrous. For moral issues, shuffled into the logician’s column, turn into formalized imperatives; transferred by the device of generic man to the sociologist, they turn into culturally determined norms. As likely as not, the psychologist will regard them as neurotic symptoms. Politics similarly loses its autonomy, dissolved into a set of reactions to supposed external causes. The criterion of a “value-free science” is no doubt scientific in excluding propaganda from intellectual investigation. But it is merely superstitious when it turns “values”—in fact the subject matter of ethics and politics—into an intellectual red light district into which no thinker may stray, on pain of losing his respectability.’

Minogue, Ken. The Liberal Mind“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

The actual Communists, committed Socialists, and narrow dogmatists, well, they’re pretty up-front about their intentions and aims.  Once the rational ends of man are known within these doctrines, every single one of us becomes the means to reach these ends through radical revolution, the logic unfolding towards its murderous outcomes.

Apart from people pursuing defunct ideologies, frankly, I think most people go along to get along.  If enough truths about a particular injustice emerge through radical protest, social change, and appeals to reason and non-reason, then many everyday people slowly follow the logic of social reform.

There are moral gains and there are freedoms, but they don’t come without costs.

Many of these changes weren’t driven by deep knowlege claims nor ‘science,’ but rather by committed social and political actors with visions of the future.

Something I think might help unite the Anglosphere, even though I think America might still have the largest stores of healthy religious conservative tradition:

In dealing with the Enlightenment, frankly, I’m a little more comfortable with the English/Scottish liberal tradition than the German idealism found on the Continent.

A quick quotation.  Leo Strauss On John Locke:

‘Hobbes identified the rational life with the life dominated by the fear of fear, by the fear which relieves us from fear.  Moved by the same spirit, Locke identifies the rational life with the life dominated by the pain which relieves pain.  Labor takes the place of the art which imitates nature; for labor is, in the words of Hegel, a negative attitude toward nature.  The starting point of human efforts is misery:  the state of nature is a state of wretchedness.  The way toward happiness is a movement away from the state of nature, a movement away from nature: the negation of nature is the way toward happiness.  And if the movement toward happiness is the actuality of freedom, freedom is negativity .’

Strauss, Leo.  Natural Right And History.  Chicago:  The University Of Chicago Press, 1965. (Pg 250).

According to Strauss, the rational life for an individual, from Hobbes to Locke, is defined negatively, respectively as either a removal from fear or a removal from pain. And more broadly: Strauss has Locke remaking Hobbes’ more intrusive Leviathan into a smaller role for government:  to secure them in their lives, liberty and estate (property).   The key formulation of nature here, though, remains the same.

The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy elaborates:

‘Leo Strauss, and many of his followers, take rights to be paramount, going so far as to portray Locke’s position as essentially similar to that of Hobbes. They point out that Locke defended a hedonist theory of human motivation (Essay 2.20) and claim that he must agree with Hobbes about the essentially self-interested nature of human beings. Locke, they claim, only recognizes natural law obligations in those situations where our own preservation is not in conflict, further emphasizing that our right to preserve ourselves trumps any duties we may have.

On the other end of the spectrum, more scholars have adopted the view of Dunn, Tully, and Ashcraft that it is natural law, not natural rights, that is primary. They hold that when Locke emphasized the right to life, liberty, and property he was primarily making a point about the duties we have toward other people: duties not to kill, enslave, or steal. Most scholars also argue that Locke recognized a general duty to assist with the preservation of mankind, including a duty of charity to those who have no other way to procure their subsistence (Two Treatises 1.42). These scholars regard duties as primary in Locke because rights exist to insure that we are able to fulfill our duties.’

And of course, there’s this problem:

‘Another point of contestation has to do with the extent to which Locke thought natural law could, in fact, be known by reason.’

So what does Strauss offer instead as a possibility for man and nature?  Nature revealing itself to man without the use of his reason…or through his reason without a lot of Enlightenment metaphysics? Or through some return to Natural Right?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Here’s another quote:

 That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

From the Declaration Of Independence.

Some Not So Recently Updated Links On Postmodernism

David Thompson offers satire on such matters.

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

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

Mentioned In The Review:  Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…


Daniel Dennett from 1998: Postmodernism and Truth

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?


Tim Kavanaugh at Reason: Every Man A Derrida

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]


Using quite a bit of German idealism to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:

On this site, see:

More Scruton here.

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

*******And mostly, but not entirely unrelated, you can make your own Tom Friedman columns at home.  Is Tom Friedman a bot?

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’

Ed West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

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”

Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People