It’s very lush, bombastic, emotional and Romantic, but those first few minutes of wandering bassoon reach nostalgic, meditative melancholy for me.
Give the first minute a listen, if nothing else:
Towards that theme, David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) jumps to a lap steel guitar to unleash raw, tattered glory at minute 5:13 of this live performance of High Hopes.
John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz’ Cordoba reaches a more sublime state for me (especially at minute 1:20):
I think this is more reflection and a desire for the holy and larger-than-oneself (ducking into the Mosque away from the busy streets….into quiet interplay of shadow and sun, observing the stars carved into the ceiling).
Is our desire for the transcendent, pure and true simply reflected in this rather useless activity we tend to cherish so much? Can the arts corrupt you? Do you need a guide?
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 ne0-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.
I agree that students, when facing a syllabus, shouldn’t also have to face the great books mediated, nor their young minds circumscribed, by overt political ideologies.
‘In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”
Upon hearing “gender, sexuality, race, and class,” I confess my head hangs down a bit and a sigh escapes my lips. Such a lack of imagination does great disservice to works of such powerful imagination.
Then again, I remember my last trip to Southern California (zing).
Of course, there still needs to be an intellectual framework and curriculum for the humanities.
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
This is a matter of deep debate in our society right now.
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
Are we really that thick in the postmodern weeds?:
Judgment, as Scruton points out, shouldn’t necessarily be subsumed to political ideology. I would agree, and I generally default in assuming that each one of us is the ultimate arbiter of our own judgment.
But, no man is an island.
Does Scruton’s thinking eventually lead us back to the problems that religion can have with artists and writers?
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?
College isn’t really, nor should be, for everyone, which means a lot of complex things for our Republic. Practical solutions to current problems, addressed as non-politically as possible, are a great start.
‘The obscure professor certainly threw a cat among the pigeons. Conservatives pundits such as George Will and William Kristol praised the book in reviews, framing it as an indictment of liberal administrators and professors. Liberals in turn, as Ferguson notes, ‘took the book as a personal affront and reacted accordingly’
But Bloom wanted to get at something deeper, namely, how to restore a vision of classical learning in place of a pop culture, academic culture and a broader American culture infused with Nietzschean nihilism. For Bloom, Nietzsche’s existential crisis and its effects through post-modernism and moral relativism especially, are something to get around, or over, or simply away from:
‘Bloom admires Nietzsche for his ‘profound philosophical reflection which broke with and buried the philosophical tradition’. Nietzsche finds that man is left without an overarching reason to be; that objective knowledge, truth and morality are all fictions. To both Nietzsche and Bloom, this is a profound problem. But to the countercultural American left of the 1960s onwards, it is seen as something to celebrate. ‘
Bloom explored Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work on the subject in order to get back some openness of mind against such influence. As Collins notes and quotes:
‘‘Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power.’
But what is the scope of that power outside of such nihilism? What are the bounds of reason as Bloom might define them? Which strains of Enlightenment thought and which thinkers work particularly well within our American traditions against this nihilism?
Our author seems to think Bloom fails to get back across the Enlightment/Anti-Enlightenment divide as it’s been discussed here:
‘Bloom essentially shares the critique of the Enlightenment and modernity put forward by Nietzsche (as well as Heidegger and Max Weber). According to this view, the Enlightenment rationalism of John Locke et al is instrumental and technocratic; it does not satisfy the soul. Bloom’s agonising over the soulless MTV generation derives from this anti-modern outlook.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
How do you ground the liberal arts and define a liberal education, especially if an exceptional phase in American economic growth and educational opportunity may be at an end? Is it at an end?
Incidentally, I take Bloom and Leo Strauss as wrestling with Nietzsche’s project and trying to chart a course out of it. While seeing Nietzsche as a problem, they have been deeply affected by his thinking and offer a cautionary tale.
‘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.’
Is there something he’s missing about Locke?
Related On This Site: Bryan Magee’s series available on youbtube is useful: 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…
‘The system, designed by British cybernetician Stafford Beer, was supposed to allow powerful men to make decisions about production, labor, and transport in real time using up-to-the-minute economic information provided directly by workers on the factory floors of dozens of newly nationalized companies’
A shag carpet probably would have been out of place, but I like the white pod chairs (Captain Kirk to the bridge for fuel price re-allocations).
‘In fact, the network that fed the system was little more than a series of jury-rigged Telex machines with human operators, transmitting only the simplest data, which were slapped onto old-style Kodak slides—again, by humans. The controls on the chairs merely allowed the operator to advance to the next slide’
In working towards a theme, check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage. Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos. You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.
Continuing towards that theme, here are two quotes from a recent Harvey Mansfield review of Steven Bilakovics new book, which could possibly help explain how, say, the Chrysler building and St. Patrick’s Cathedral have become two of New York’s most iconic buildings (hint: we’re not a socialist society):
Tocqueville almost uses the above phrase in a chapter on “why American writers and orators are often bombastic.” He says that there is “nothing in-between,” or more literally, “the intermediate space is empty,” implying that there might have been something there. In democratic societies, each citizen is habitually occupied in the contemplation of a very small object: himself. If he raises his eyes, he sees only the “immense object of society” or even the whole human race. If he leaves his normal concerns, he expects it to be for something indefinitely vast instead of something definite and greater than himself.”
Artists have a particularly tough time in America, because they’re often particularly alone in America. Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot abandoned the place completely, and many aspiring artists get their training in Europe. This blog believes Wallace Stevens to especially be representative of this dilemma (he never left). He was an insurance executive by day and perhaps one of America’s best poets; a romantic, a modernist, as well as a man who possibly had a deathbed conversion to Christianity: From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’
On this view, being the good democratic citizens that we are, we reject the aristocratic elements from gaining too much traction, and thus do not create the vine-ripened literary, artistic, and cultural traditions that can make good artists into what they become, and what makes European cities, novels, poets, museums, and Europeans themselves something of what they are (a broad brush, I know).
Some of these same folks see religion (the Puritan roots especially) as a restrictive, repressive force that needs to be overcome in order for freedom, free artistic expression and individual autonomy to flourish (I believe this is a driving tension in Hollywood). There’s some truth to this, because I believe religion and politics, and even philosophy itself, have troubled relationships with art.
Mansfield goes on:
‘The theorists of materialism tell us that the long term will take care of itself so long as we do not obstruct materialism in the short run in our everyday lives. With a view to supporting political liberty, Tocqueville wants to limit everyday materialism and to concern us with a long-term goal, such as improving our immortal souls. This is why he fears for the state of democratic souls and speaks so strongly, if not fervently, in favor of religion. This is also why he showed such disgust for socialism.’
Perhaps we can keep it simpler, and not get taken with grand theories, or at least socialist ones anyways:
Allan Bloom (wikipedia) wrote the Closing Of The American Mind in 1987. It is a deep book, and an interesting one. It is also, I believe, following a vein of thought that continues to affect American life…with mixed results.
There is a direct Nietzschean influence flowing through Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss (wikipedia), and Allan Bloom…not to mention much 20th century art and existentialism. In Bloom particularly, it is guided partially by Strauss’ project of recovering and reclaiming the Greeks from Nietzsche’s assault upon Christianity.
Strauss, of course, has Nietzsche succumbing to historicism, having followed historicist logic to its nihilistic consequences (or simply continuing what was started earlier in more Continental strains of thought). Here’s Strauss on Nietzsche:
‘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.’
But did Strauss actually endorse Platonic idealism, not finding fault with the metaphysics of Plato, as Aristotle so obviously did, and as have most modern thinkers have done? Surely, Strauss’ esoteric approach to Plato likely has issues:
‘Allan Bloom (1930-1992), although valuable as a critic, often seems merely to be promoting the ideas of Leo Strauss (1899-1973), whose own approach strikes the editor as a very idiosyncratic version of esoteric textual hermeneutics: to argue that Plato’s Republic was not a serious political theory and that Plato and Aristotle really didn’t disagree on fundamentals perhaps nicely reaffirms the views of the Neoplatonists and early Mediaeval philosophers like al-Fârâbî, but otherwise it must seem positively perverse in its strained counter-intuitiveness.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
Addition: Bryan Magee’s series available on youbtube is useful: 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…
Another Addition: While I may not agree with Bloom’s formulation, I suspect that from a purely administrative standpoint, working toward “diversity” and toward a “meritocracy” only seems to satisfy the ideals of some people driving change within our universities. Despite the benefits (and there are many) such ideas seem to me more ideal, and less practical when applied to how people actually behave (self-interested, self-sacrificing for their children, forming social networks, bending toward nepotism etc.).