‘Nietzsche snidely remarked that Christianity was “Platonism for the masses.” In the academy today we have what we might call Nietzscheanism for the masses, as squads of cozy nihilists parrot his ideas and attitudes. Nietzsche’s contention that truth is merely “a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms,” for example, has become a veritable mantra in comparative literature departments across the country.’
On this site, well, there’s been quite a bit of related content over the years:
‘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.’
‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”
I wonder what this would mean when applied to American foreign policy, the Cold War, and Western influence when it comes to world order at the moment…this call for a return to tradition, local politics and religion.
Scruton saw postmodern nihilism as one of the greatest threats to Western civilization right now. Is the Hegelian conceptual framework really a good one to hang the Lebenswelt upon, and a kind of finding yourself in the eyes of others and the works of the world?
My current frustration: The rush away from tradition, towards liberation, and towards the Left has rearranged many of our institutional arrangements and ‘what’s cool’ away from duty, responsibility, much common sense, and many elements of the American past.
It’s not clear at all that what’s replacing such traditions won’t be worse, and not better, especially when you measure people as capable of great evil and good, and mobs as dangerous, and liberation as not liberty.
It’d be nice if many liberal idealists said ‘I didn’t realize the postmodern problems were so deep, the cost of simply ‘change for its own sake’ so steep, in terms of institutional stewardship, speech, and liberty.
**Note: One must remain non-hostile to Christianity in order to earn ire beneath the new liberal ideals, ideologies, and ideologues. I think a respect for tradition is a must for anyone, ultimately, responsible for gatekeeping (learning from and upholding a tradition which extends into the past).
Sure, such folks (politicans, especially) pay lip-service to the latest moral cause, but they also have duties to the dead, the living, and to their own families. I”m expecting some sort of rift between liberal idealists and activist/radicals to manifest more often in American politics going forwards. That said, such a coalition will still mobilize against anything traditional, religious and conservative most of the time.
Our author finds Paglia a welcome, often contrary, voice of the Boomer generation. Peterson and Paglia remain true in their own experiences and principles against prevailing orthodoxies (Peterson from frontier-town Canada, and Paglia teaching at the Philadelphia University Of The Arts). Paglia, perhaps, can be a good thermometer for the radical, heated core of 60’s activism (everything must go, utopia awaits).
‘Behind that devotion to heterodoxy lies something softer. She [Paglia] admitted that she’s chosen to censor herself in front of her students, no longer teaching them, for example, Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, which was for years an important part of her course “The Art of Song Lyric.’
I had a very competent, very good professor tell me she stopped teaching Sylvia Plath for somewhat similar reasons. It was too much for some students.
‘In her slender 1998 book The Birds, for example, published by the British Film Institute, she [Paglia] writes that the Hitchcock classic is “in the main line of British Romanticism, descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femmes fatales of Coleridge.”
One could do worse than study British Romanticism (Wordsworth, Keats, Mad Bad Byron), despite the problems that come in glorifying (M)an and (H)umanity. Some people are so busy glorifying (M)an they treat actual men appallingly. The record isn’t always so (I)deal.
‘Cosmic reality is both wondrous and terrifying to her. “The sublime,” she said, “opens up the vastness of the universe, in which human beings and their works are small and nothing!” The world may be less enchanted than it was when Paglia was a child, but she still stands in awe of it. Her life’s work has been to share that message with others.’
There’s plenty to share, and, for what it’s worth, John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba can induce a sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):
I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-myself (ducking away from busy streets, into the quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling and looking for patterns).
Dear Reader, I’m accustomed to my own little corner of the internet, where I traffic in low-traffic. I synthesize many of my own experiences, ideas and other people’s thoughts into occasional bursts of competency.
In the video below, Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson discuss a shared view that post-structuralism (Foucault, Lacan, Derrida) has impoverished much of the humanities. As Paglia notes, the older-school New Criticism at least had some devotion to truth in its close textual readings.
She might share some similar intellectual ground with Peterson in using Nietzsche’s nihilist toolkit to examine many modern problems in the arts and where people are finding meaning in their lives (the move from Schopenhauer’s Will To Nietzsche’s Will To Power). Deploying Nietzsche’s Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, too, into pop culture gives Paglia some depth as she tries to synthesize high and low (Madonna, George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock). Despite her affinity for actual 60’s Marxist radicals which I don’t share (many of whom LSD’d their way into oblivion), Paglia pushes against many feminists and careerists from this radical point-of-view.
She’s a popularizer appealing to a large audience and a contrarian in the sense of the word for which I have some respect.
In fact, both have an ability to appreciate and understand many knowledge claims made by many Englightment and post-Enlightenment fields of study. One shouldn’t have to become anti-empiricist (including nihilism), nor anti-humanist, in seeking a good humanities education.
Many postmoderns (and some Nietzscheans, for that matter) dislike being called-out their on relative ignorance of the sciences. From mathematics to statistics, from chemistry to biology, from psychology and on down the line to history, many institutionalized folks imagine themselves often standing outside, and in radical opposition to, the civilization and institutions they are entrusted to maintain.
One of the reasons I suspect both Paglia and Peterson are in a currently ‘semi-banished’ cultural space is that they both openly claim a respect for the wisdom and depth found in the Bible (whatever your thoughts on the transcendent claims to truth and knowledge found therein). It appears both take a deeply tragic view of life and human nature, and both reject the rejection of traditions so much in vogue these days.
Notice this is enough to upset the apple-cart of many ‘-Ists,’ from feminists to gender activists to many Left-leaning coalitions of political utopians and social justice seekers, often seeking institutional authority while claiming all current institutional authority is illegitimate. Many such ideas have become very mainstream, indeed.
If you haven’t noticed such ‘-Ists,’ it seems they and I’d argue, too, that you maybe should be paying more attention.
‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’
‘There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’
I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal. They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.
‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
Just pointing out that predictions of the NY Times ending up like The Guardian are proving true.
The Guardian: Left and Far Left. Funded by deep and shallow-pocket[ed] activists (revolutionary and avant-garde thought-leaders liberating ‘The People’ from false consciousness and oppression, towards ideological and liberatory purity).
As for the NY Times, I think this ‘The Hunt’ piece from the Real Estate section sums up my expectations nicely. Oh yes, it’s real:
‘As conservationists, they decorated almost exclusively with secondhand furniture. The large closets — “the biggest I’ve had in my life,” Ms. Sinclair said — have enough storage space for the craft materials she uses for her feminist tableware line, Oddtitties.us.’
It turns out there are many gnostic faiths in the modern world, pursued religiously.
A deranged, charismatic preacher seals his flock inside a cave for eternity. Generations later, ghosts haunt a suburban family, with ratcheting levels of violence, until the preacher’s malevolent spirit finally absconds with a young child through the T.V.
Imagine instead a Jim Jones figure, or just another shabby Marxist ‘intellectual’.
Alas, the problems are often deeper than you think.
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This 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.”
Interesting take: Marxism, in addition to being a social and economic theory, and a theory of (H)istory claiming to predict the future, is also something like a gnostic faith.
I’ve had conversations with precisely the kinds of people you’d expect to be Marxists on the streets of Seattle (grimy, neurotic and ‘fringe’..chicken or the egg?). I’ve also had conversations with high IQ, well-adjusted people working in big tech, all handing-out flyers on the same streets (did ya hear Cuba has the best health-care in the world?).
So maybe Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason did lop the head off of German Deism. Maybe Hegel then turned the prostrate Body into ‘The State’ and a kind of royal ‘We’ in search of a spirtual home on Earth. Maybe Karl Marx came along using the antinomies–>dialectical method–>critical theory lineage, turning ‘the State’ into half-rotten superstructure about to be overthrown for perfectible (M)an and the Utopia to come.
My two cents: Here are some realities I don’t think many liberal idealists have addressed (especially the Boomers), involving the costs of all that ‘social change’ via the 68’ers. Just as do the most religious and Puritan among us, our high-minded and liberal idealist Americans rely upon the same principles the radicals will always seek to undermine (more visible now that our institutions are weak/failing for various reasons).
The new civic religion has been driven quite a bit by radical zeal, forcing liberals to support the latest moral good, wielding the latest (C)ause as bludgeon, harnessing discontent into Progressive Statism.
Carl Sagan and John Lennon want us to hold hands, of course, come to know (S)cience and save the Planet, bringing PBS to the masses through rational public policy.
We’ve all built our houses in the same bay, it turns out, and we’ve all planted our pylons in the same tidal muck. This Marxist utopianism, and these radicals, hacking into all the pylons, of course, have their reasons.
In practice, Marxism scales into global activism and authoritarian technocracy, with an inability to understand individuals and local life at all. This is why it resolves into collectivist identitarianism and more or less the Eye of Sauron.
Maybe this was one of the true costs of 60’s radicalism, which relatively fewer are happy to discuss.
The radicalism was there all along.
What’s coming as a response to all this chaos?
Religious revivals? Prohibitive religious moralism?
‘By going deep into the minds of six apostates Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens, Oppenheimer offers an unusually intimate history of the American left, and the right’s reaction.’
Gray highlights something I certainly find attractive about conservatism:
‘Ever since it emerged in the late 18th century as a distinct tradition of modern thought, conservatism has been defined by a suspicion of grand schemes of world improvement. Whether their thinking was grounded in a religious belief in original sin (as in the cases of Edmund Burke and the American conservative Russell Kirk) or a sceptical view of the power of human reason (as in David Hume and Michael Oakeshott), conservatives distrusted any attempt to remake the world according to the dictates of high-minded ideals and abstract models.’
Neo-conservatism comes in for criticism as having a hand in all of modern American politics.
‘George W Bush’s crazed pursuit of regime change and its continuation in some policies of the Obama administration, particularly when acting under the direction of Hillary Clinton, were the result.’
A few humble observations about the second Iraq invasion:
–There was a reassertion of many Americans’ nationalism, pride, and fear, especially after 9/11, and the desire for revenge against that rather awful blow against civilians and innocents at home, in a business setting no less (3,000 lives lost and a lot of terror). Strategically, Iraq could be convincingly argued to be a serious misstep.
–George W. Bush’s inherited guilt at leaving the Iraqi Kurds to their fate under Saddam on his father’s watch seems to have played a part (for which I have no evidence, but I’ve long thought…which is a product of deeper American life and politics).
Let me know if/how wrong I might be.
Perhaps one of Gray’s main takeaways, a la Oppenheimer, is the almost religious-type experience some people have had within Communist ideals, an experience which drastically shaped this past century, and our lives.
He finishes with:
‘Except for Chambers and Horowitz, Oppenheimer’s apostates learned very little from their journey across the political spectrum. Those who banged the drum for war were as ignorant of the countries whose governments they wanted to overthrow as they been had of the workers they had claimed to be fighting for in the past. In both cases they used people of whom they knew nothing to satisfy their own need for significance. Believing they had left behind the mistakes of the radical left, they helped create a new right that repeated the same follies. Along the way, an older and more civilised conservatism was consigned to the memory hole.’
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:
Technology can affect each of us personally and intimately; vast distances suddenly bridged and scaled downwards. Endless distractions.
How to live and what to do? Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, people in the academy; some people are handling this change better than others, personally and professionally.
High rates of technological change are likely a leading cause for our institutional chaos right now; the political extremes dominating discourse, the shifting middle, the more visibly grubby political class members ascendance and the social media mobbing.
It seems many on the ideological Left are thinking the same (back to the Commune), despite a longer, rather successful march through many institutions and likely being overstretched at the moment (the dark web cometh).
I figure if you know how to value that which matters most, you’ll navigate alright. Don’t forget to do right by those you love, and those who love you: Work, effort, and sacrifice. Take a look at the stars when you can. Keep learning. Take it easy, sometimes.
Dorothy Thompson speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party.
‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’
Power through discipline! Strengthen your will!
Intellectuals running things…who joins mass movements?
‘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:
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.’
One of the themes of this blog has been looking, usually from the outside in, at political liberalism and offering critiques, though I frequently hesitate to align myself with any political party and/or movement. I’m not much of a joiner, and I can’t really call myself a religious believer.
I try and offer that caveat for anyone looking for a political ally or a fellow idea-traveler. Admittedly, it’s a bit strange to write a good deal about political philosophy but not put one forward of one’s own; trying to declare no particular allegiance on any given day.
I can’t help but think to make a child, yours or someone else’s, a poster-child for your cause demonstrates a failure of ideas. It’s probably always unwise to use your child as a vehicle for your dreams, despite the occassional prodigy and/or genius with dreams of their own. Frankly, it seems pretty pathetic to pimp-out children for large, abstract ideas and current politico-moral movements:
What might people believe and how do they act, and what might that eventually mean for others (laws, politics, rules)? Environmentalism as religion (or a movement with clear Western religious roots does some work for me):
I’ll take up an oar in the Catholic galley, but we may have to part ways sooner or later on our trip down the river:
‘The anthropological idea of culture is fundamentally German: Kultur. It would be hard for such an idea to arise in Anglo-Saxon thinking, basically utilitarian, empiricist and individualist. The German strain — Kantian, idealist and collectivist is much more open to it. It is interesting that the continental Pole, Malinowski, always thought of culture as his subject matter (A Scientific Theory of Culture), and thought it should be analyzed in terms of how it answered human needs.‘
‘We’ Germans has certainly posed problems these past centuries (I’ll spare you Lefty-driven Hitler year-zero talk, which, I believe, like our language debates, is driven by ‘problematic’ ideas valorizing liberation over liberty).
If a ‘kultur’ approaches music (math, patterns & free-flowing creativity) like the Germans have, maybe you get a Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. This is good to remember if find yourself squaring-off against the German Army.
Could it be the desire for Weld-Peace also triggers the desire for Weld-Domination?
As readers know, I believe the turn towards Romanticized Nature away from industrialization, and subsequent modernized ‘Nature’ (industry=BAD) is traveling full-speed ahead as part of a process of secularization. Add the post modernized nihilistic ‘Self vs void’ narrative and I believe we have a lot of forces pushing somewhere both new and old.
You can wrap all these American changes within Civil Rights Idealism, secular humanism, liberal idealism and universalism, and call all these changes ‘good.’ That said, you probably look more clueless and partisan if you do, without accounting for the ‘bad.’ Such changes don’t seem to be working out in the real world without shitting on everything religious, local, traditional and un-modern.
I think this helps explain our current political climate.
Then again, here in the States, we have had our own Puritans; much more likely to support a certain moral and religious order. Their DNA is especially visible in New England and the Boston area.
There are also a lot of deeply religious folks in the Mennonite and Amish villages dotted throughout the country. From Texas to Iowa to Pennsylvania, there are swathes of strait-laced German influence.
These have often existed apart from the new, secular, progressive religion, where there is a lot of sorrowfully crying into soft, institutional pillows, supporting the latest activist (C)ause (usually with someone else’s money and time), while punishing non-believers.
Human nature and reality await.
It seems a lot of folks who are religious, local, traditional and un-modern might also be secularizing, to some extent.