America These Days, A Newer Elite And Potential Life On Venus?

Via Bari Weiss-It almost feels as though, after a meal, in the back room of an emptying restaurant, I’m a fly on the wall:

Q & A: The Marriage Vows of The American Elite: A Conversation With Benjamin Ginsberg:

I agree. I also agree that there is a kind of interesting elite consolidation under way in the U.S. that does parallel the events of the late 19th century. We have a fabulously wealthy new elite, namely tech billionaires and related folks. The established monied classes in the United States need to incorporate these people, and they’re being incorporated around a kind of woke agenda, just as the elites of the late 19th century were incorporated around a Christian agenda of social do-gooding.

Personally, I suspect if the American body politic were an iceberg, then a large enough portion has rolled so that religious belief comprises only a plurality nowadays. Many people are still deeply religious, and we Americans deeply idealistic, but politically and socially, especially in the upper eschelons, it’s not what it was.

I don’t trust many people promising me what it should be.

Some fears, from a Straussian perspective: This decay could presage a more European-esque politics, with many attendant problems of nihilism (unmoored individuals seeking meaning through ideology, more mainstreamed ‘burn it all down’ political factions, more radical (not merely utopian/communitarian) and politicized art movements, less social mobility and more entrenched ‘classes’, more social stratification with a scelerotic bureaucratized government apparatus).

On that note, a better path seems to pursue and partake in human excellence, where it is to be found. What kind of political order we have is up to us and our Constitution. People desperately need ‘low resolution’ ideas to form cohesive groups of any kind, especially within institutions, and many of those guiding ideas are now more socially activist and ‘change’-focused.

Where creative synthesis and new thinking are often occurring, in the arts and sciences, can lie old wisdom and new knowledge:

Venus is such a hothouse. Do we need more data?

As for the media landscape, it all depends on where you stand.

Is this an accurate map, or are my biases showing?:

Media drift-As to more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon political idealists, high liberals, atheists and humanists.

Maybe ignorance, zeal, moral judgment and enforcement are best thought of as NORMS, not exceptions, when it comes to human nature.

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:

—–

Jonathan Haidt has infused the more modern field of moral psychology with some of David Hume’s empiricist theory of mind, the idea that intuitions come first, and our reasons for them are usually trotted out afterwards (when was the last time you walked away from an argument/debate/discussion totally converted and persuaded by the reasoning of the other guy?

Yet, how, exactly, did our institutions of higher-learning get to the point of catering to the loudest, often most naive, and often illiberal student-groups claiming their feelings and ideas deserve special treatment?

Isn’t this already a failure of leadership, to some extent?:

Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

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?’

Away From The Self, Towards The Self-Evergreen’s Failed Experiment & Douglas Murray On Anne Applebaum’s New Book

Interesting quote from Benjamin Boyce (a Camusian formerly at Evergreen State?):

Built within this activist rhetoric, built within the very foundations of criticial race theory and white fragility theory is a shifting of blame away from the Self.

The Self becomes co-opted into identity cateories and failed theories of History.

White Fragility as lucrative charlatanism.

From Quillette Magazine, a podcast:  Professor Wilfred Reilly discusses his new book Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About

Your moment of Zinn:  The 1776 project is a response to the 1619 project.

George Packer on his experience in the New York City Public Schools.  We’ve got to have buy-in to the public schools, and bad ideas make buying-in a lot harder to do.

My dead horse:

Many universities, newsrooms and outlets (The NY Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, NPR) are running similar experiments as did Evergreen.  Many cities (Seattle, Portland, especially) are doing the same.

Yes, it’s violent in Portland.

The loudest, most commited ideologues co-opt nice-sounding ideals, which often overlap with liberal ideals, capturing the ears of many liberal idealists, but also the political and administrative apparatus of the institutions they inhabit.

In my view, this won’t really get us closer to understanding Nature, nor proper humility and understanding regarding our own natures, nor help maintain legitimate authority.

Humility and self-reflection are hard; sometimes harder for people writing for money.

It can be easy, and hard, to write about one’s Self.

Douglas Murray on Anne Applebaum’s new memoir:

‘There is a tradition of books by intellectuals recounting their fallouts with their former friends. Applebaum, a former deputy editor of this magazine and justly celebrated historian, frames her memoir with two actual parties: one at her restored mansion in Poland on the eve of the millennium, the second at the same house in the summer of 2019. In the years between she has parted ways with many of the guests at the first celebration. All had been elated by the events of 1989 and hopeful about the post-communist future. Twilight of Democracy is her attempt to explain that divergence of ways. Perhaps predictably, she finds other people to be most at fault.’

Let’s check in with Emerson:

“I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the Stern Fact, the Sad Self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Daniel Dennett from 1998:

‘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’

Out of the postmodern malaise can come nihilism, moral relativism and a 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 does it 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.

Repost-Some High & Low Links: Reactions To Art As Liberation Towards (S)elf

Via Edward Feser: ‘Masculinity & The Marvel Movies’

Hmmm..I’m still listening to contrary voices:

‘On the traditional understanding of masculinity, a man’s life’s work has a twofold purpose. First, it is ordered toward providing for his wife and children. Second, it contributes something distinctive and necessary to the larger social order of which he and his family are parts.’

and:

‘Liberal individualism, both in its libertarian form and its egalitarian form, replaced this social and other-directed model of a man’s life’s work with an individualist and careerist model, on which work is essentially about self-expression and self-fulfillment…’

As posted: This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’

Please do keep in mind Wendell Berry is NOT going to buy a computer.

Hmmm….he’s a little out there, but Alexander Stoddart’s a classicist, working in a medium with less immediacy but long pedigree:

Related On This Site:

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Thanks to a reader.

Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Does rock/popular music corrupt the souls of youth in preventing them from evening-out the passions; from pursuing higher things that a quality humanities education can offer?

Might such a lack allow political ideology to offer young people something to do, something to be, and something of which to be a part?

A questioning of premises, with varied disagreement, including that from an Emersonian.

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

-Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-What The New Atheists Don’t See

Full piece here

Dalrymple claimed that the new round of atheists, (or at least some of the current spokesmen of popular atheism) are glossing over the deep metaphysical questions surrounding the existence of God.

Some atheists seem to be in danger of becoming adherents rather than free thinkers, or being in for a surprise when many adherents appear.

Addition:  More on Roger Sandall’s blog here, as he discusses Roger Scruton.

One question seems to be whether we choose to give religious arguments any quarter at all.  The hard atheist line seems to be no.  Mine is…perhaps…

As found on the Youtubes, a Dalrymple piece read with a Scottish accent:

Another of my very favourite TD essays, this one compares two 19th Century thinkers – Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev. I believe that the observations, the wisdom, and the thorough takedown of Marx as a human being, are of great value.

~30 minutes. I think that bit about the dog actually made me tear-up.

Ah, the humanity:

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Here’s a quote from Eric Vogelin found here, for a friend:

‘Scientism has remained to this day on of the strongest Gnostic movements in Western society; and the immanentist pride in science is so strong that even the special sciences have each left a distinguishable sediment in the variants of salvation through physics, economics, sociology, biology, and psychology.’

More Germans.  Don’t immanentize the eschaton!

Addition: And there are deep theists too.

Related On This Site:  Repost: From The Strasbourg Observers: ‘Remembering Lautsi (And The Cross)’…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’Thursday Quotation: Bertrand Russell….Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

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 Successful

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’

Repost-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

From 1998:

‘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 philosophy 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 does it 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?

Also On This Site: .Repost: Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’

Repost-From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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’

Addition: If the British left, and Eagleton as somewhat representative of it, can’t sanely recognize that part of the problem is the way that Muslims seek a religious kingdom here on earth, and that there can’t be reasonable discussion of this, then…see here, where Roger Scruton suggests a return to religious virtue: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”

See Also: 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”

Repost-Catholic Thinking Applied To Modern Political Orders-Edward Feser & Some Links & Sunday Thoughts: It’s Getting Tougher To Defend Quiet Paths

Having a little extra time some Sundays ago, I’d taken Edward Feser’s thinking from his post The Socialist State as an Occasionalist God and added a few links to dictionary definitions of the terms to help myself understand his reasoning (perhaps I’ll be accused of ‘Jesus-smuggling’).

As a layman predisposed to philosophical skepticism, I’m sympathetic to the idea of well, examining ideas with skepticism. I wouldn’t call myself a believer, really. I tend to see myself as walking around the edges of secular humanism, liberal idealism and American pragmatism. Additionally, I’m trying to put the current American political landscape into some context, as well as the unfolding logic found within much Romantic, Modern, & Postmodern schools of thought.

I prefer conservation and slow change as regards many current legal and social battles (closer to Constitutionalism), but am a pretty live-and-let-live guy.

Here’s Feser logic as best as I’ve understood it in about an hour or so (I’m bound to get some things wrong).

Feser borrows from this paper:

The linked parts are what I’ve filled in, coming directly from dictionary definitions, and the rest comes from Feser’s post. I basically just swapped out ‘God’ for ‘The State’ to extend Feser’s analogy in the bottom portion:

Pantheism: Pantheism is the belief that reality is identical with divinity, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, transcendent god. Pantheist belief does not recognize a distinct personal God.

Occasionalism: God alone has causal efficacy, and the apparent causal power of created things is illusory.

Concurrentism: God not only conserves things in existence, but also must concur or cooperate with their activity if they are to have any efficacy.

Conservationism: Created things not only have causal power, but exercise it completely independently of God.

Atheism: Atheism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.

Now Feser applies these concepts to certain political orders (more or less, swapping out ((God(s))) for ((The State)) or ((God)) for ((Modern Concepts of Political Order)), to extend his analogy.

Totalitarian Socialism: The belief that reality is identical with Statism, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, transcendent State. Totalitarian socialist belief would not recognize a distinct personal State.

Occasionalism (Socialism): The State alone has causal efficacy, and the apparent causal power of created things is illusory.

Concurrentism (Natural Law): The State not only conserves things in existence, but also must concur or cooperate with (individuals’, things’?) activity if it is to have any efficacy.

Conservationism (Libertarianism): Created things (individuals?) not only have causal power, but exercise it completely independently of The State.

Anarcho-Capitalism: Anarcho-capitalism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of States. Less broadly, anarcho-capitalism is a rejection of the belief that any States exist. In an even narrower sense, anarcho-capitalism is specifically the position that there are no States.

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong, or what you think Feser may be getting wrong.

Please be advised that what follows is a rat’s maze of gathered links and thoughts. Enter at your own risk.

I’ve always loved this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote (or my idea of the quote, anyways):

‘I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.’

This morning I had the thought that the minimalist/deflationist response might be:

‘About what?’

Simon Blackburn, speaking at the University of Toronto, discusses the minimalist or deflationist view:

‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’

So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’

…that’s very disappointing:’

Blackburn on Richard Rorty here.

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

And on Richard Rorty:

‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’

This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’

Please do keep in mind Wendell Berry is NOT going to buy a computer.

Hmmm….he’s a little out there, but Alexander Stoddart’s a classicist, working in a medium with less immediacy but long pedigree:

Related On This Site:

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Thanks to a reader.

Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Does rock/popular music corrupt the souls of youth in preventing them from evening-out the passions; from pursuing higher things that a quality humanities education can offer?

Might such a lack allow political ideology to offer young people something to do, something to be, and something of which to be a part?

A questioning of premises, with varied disagreement, including that from an Emersonian.

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

-Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Repost-Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature. For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book here:

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings? Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

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

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Repost: Some Links On Meritocracy-Many People Want Politics To Be Interested In You

In light of all the flak Ross Douthat was getting for his opinion piece on the death of G.H.W. Bush ‘Why We Miss The WASPs.’

As posted, let me offer this quote from ‘A Modest Proposal’:

‘But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England.’

Of course, some criticism is coming from predicably Left and activist elements (amplified on Twitter).

I don’t think a lot of people already in positions of authority have thought this through.

What needs replacing, exactly, and why? Compared to what? Which kinds of ideas and habits ought to be those someone holds close and puts into practice while in positions of authority? What about incentives?

The consent of the governed?

From this article in the Independent on American novelist Louis Auchincloss:

How did money actually work among those in America’s elite?:

But the old monopoly of power had gone, and the country was the poorer for it. “The tragedy of American civilization,” Auchincloss wrote in 1980, “is that it has swept away WASP morality and put nothing in its place.”

Here’s another Auchincloss quote from a reader (haven’t checked this one out…probably a quote site). The prose strikes me as kind of post-Wharton, mannered and dull:

“I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life — a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it — filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction…”

If such things be true, then many of the best and the brightest seem busy contructing a meritocracy in the old WASP establishment’s place; an enterprise of many unresolved personal conflicts between political ideals of activist change, progress, and ever-expanding personal freedoms on one hand and deeply held religious beliefs, traditions and customs on the other.

There seems to be an ex post facto character to much of the ol’ meritocratic enterprise, in my humble opinion, where a healthy skepticism is warranted.

In fact, it’s probably made [more] room for the same old Socialism.

On that note, I have a healthy respect for contrarians, frankly, when merely speaking out in favor of…:

‘the importance of traditional marriage values in ensuring children’s future success…’

…involves controversy and professional censure.

It’s so bland!

In fact, what will you do with your own blandness, dear reader, entombing the flaming desire to be woke within; the little half-opened doors of ecstasy and ‘environmental justice’?:

Earth Quaker Action Team is ON IT. (I’m not sure the Quakers ever had much institutional authority…so this could well be a marketing ploy to start more Quaking)

Full discussion here.

Helen Andrews offers a critique of the meritocratic system she sees dominating U.S. education (more grades, achievement and performance-based…less legacy and WASP based).

Yes, the old system had its problems and horrors, but she cites its end in a Victorian redesign of the British civil service, a redesign whose counterpart is now thriving here in the U.S. since the 1960’s.

Andrews from her original piece:

‘Others favor the slightly more radical solution of redefining our idea of merit, usually in a way that downplays what Guinier calls “pseudoscientific measures of excellence.” She even has a replacement in mind, the Bial-Dale College Adaptability Index, the testing of which involves Legos. (Why are you laughing? It is backed by a study.) This is even less likely to work than fiddling with the equality-of-opportunity end. For one thing, the minority of families willing to do whatever it takes to get into Harvard will still do whatever it takes to get into Harvard.’

and:

‘My solution is quite different. The meritocracy is hardening into an aristocracy—so let it. Every society in history has had an elite, and what is an aristocracy but an elite that has put some care into making itself presentable? Allow the social forces that created this aristocracy to continue their work, and embrace the label.’

Is there proof of a causal mechanism from which this meritocracy will thus harden into an aristocratic elite?

If so, will it just be an elite of different ideals, assumptions, blind-spots and stupidities…now with top-down social-science and pseudo-scientific bureaucratic/administrative oversight?:

As I see it, yes, these schools were always about grooming ambitious, wealthy, and well-connected people to some extent; grooming them into institutions that often govern the rest of us.

***I’d add that much like the deeper logic behind a more general multiculturalism, its practitioners and the younger people raised within this system can easily lose sight of the lenses they’re using to view the world (shared ideals and assumptions about moral virtue, truth and knowledge claims, the idea of moving towards the telos of a ‘better world’ which can now become the social glue of the institutions themselves).

***I should add that I’m rather sympathetic to Andrews’ slow-change, tradition-favoring, conservative-ish, position.

I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of this quote by Ken Minogue:

‘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 ideas.’

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

If we are coming apart, who’s putting us back together? : Via Youtube: ‘Are We Really Coming Apart?’ Charles Murray and Robert Putnam Discuss…Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Related On This Site: Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

The anti-intellectual’s intellectual: Repost-Via Youtube: Eric Hoffer-’The Passionate State Of Mind’

Leo Strauss:From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be, which is remarkably like it is now: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

How dare he?: Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?From The Harvard Educational Review-

Still reliving the 60′s?: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

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.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…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”

Catholic Thinking Applied To Modern Political Orders-Edward Feser & Some Links & Sunday Thoughts: It’s Getting Tougher To Defend Quiet Paths

Having a little extra time this Sunday, I’ve taken Edward Feser’s thinking from his post The Socialist State as an Occasionalist God and added a few links to dictionary definitions of the terms to help myself understand his reasoning (perhaps I’ll be accused of ‘Jesus-smuggling’).

As a layman predisposed to philosophical skepticism, I’m sympathetic to the idea of well, examining ideas with skepticism.  I wouldn’t call myself a believer, really.  I tend to see myself as walking around the edges of secular humanism, liberal idealism and American pragmatism.  Additionally, I’m trying to put the current American political landscape into some context, as well as the unfolding logic found within much Romantic, Modern, & Postmodern schools of thought.

I prefer conservation and slow change as regards many current legal and social battles (closer to Constitutionalism), but am a pretty live-and-let-live guy.

Here’s Feser logic as best as I’ve understood it in about an hour or so (I’m bound to get some things wrong).

Feser borrows from this paper:

The linked parts are what I’ve filled in, coming directly from dictionary definitions, and the rest comes from Feser’s post.  I basically just swapped out ‘God’ for ‘The State’ to extend Feser’s analogy in the bottom portion:

PantheismPantheism is the belief that reality is identical with divinity, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, transcendent god. Pantheist belief does not recognize a distinct personal God.

Occasionalism: God alone has causal efficacy, and the apparent causal power of created things is illusory.

Concurrentism: God not only conserves things in existence, but also must concur or cooperate with their activity if they are to have any efficacy.

Conservationism: Created things not only have causal power, but exercise it completely independently of God.

AtheismAtheism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.

Now Feser applies these concepts to certain political orders (more or less, swapping out ((God(s))) for ((The State)) or ((God)) for ((Modern Concepts of Political Order)), to extend his analogy.

Totalitarian Socialism: The belief that reality is identical with Statism, or that all-things compose an all-encompassing, transcendent State. Totalitarian socialist belief would not recognize a distinct personal State.

Occasionalism (Socialism): The State alone has causal efficacy, and the apparent causal power of created things is illusory.

Concurrentism (Natural Law): The State not only conserves things in existence, but also must concur or cooperate with (individuals’, things’?) activity if it is to have any efficacy.

Conservationism (Libertarianism): Created things (individuals?) not only have causal power, but exercise it completely independently of The State.

Anarcho-CapitalismAnarcho-capitalism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of States. Less broadly, anarcho-capitalism is a rejection of the belief that any States exist. In an even narrower sense, anarcho-capitalism is specifically the position that there are no States.

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong, or what you think Feser may be getting wrong.

Please be advised that what follows is a rat’s maze of gathered links and thoughts.  Enter at your own risk.

I’ve always loved this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote (or my idea of the quote, anyways):

‘I hate quotations.  Tell me what you know.’

This morning I had the thought that the minimalist/deflationist response might be:

‘About what?’

Simon Blackburn, speaking at the University of Toronto, discusses the minimalist or deflationist view:

‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’

So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’

…that’s very disappointing:’

Blackburn on Richard Rorty here.

From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:

‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’

And on Richard Rorty:

‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’

This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’

Please do keep in mind Wendell Berry is NOT going to buy a computer.

Hmmm….he’s a little out there, but Alexander Stoddart’s a classicist, working in a medium with less immediacy but long pedigree:

Related On This Site:

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Thanks to a reader.

Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Does rock/popular music corrupt the souls of youth in preventing them from evening-out the passions; from pursuing higher things that a quality humanities education can offer?

Might such a lack allow political ideology to offer young people something to do, something to be, and something of which to be a part?

A questioning of premises, with varied disagreement, including that from an Emersonian.

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

-Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Charlie Hebdo & Freedom Of The Press-Douglas Murray Reviews Phillipe Lançon

At The Spectator, Douglas Murray reviews ‘Disturbed‘ by Charlie Hebdo survivor, Phillipe Lancon:

Murray:

‘Lançon is under no illusions about this process: ‘This lack of solidarity was not merely a professional and moral disgrace.  By isolating and pointing the finger at Charlie, it helped make the latter the Islamists’ target.’ Death threats and ‘filthy emails’ to the staff were common for a decade.’

There is silence surrounding the bloodshed, along with desire to turn away, ignore, and forget.

Confronting, recalling and remembering upsets many assumptions these days.

As for my American take on the French desire to relentlessly and radically mock all institutional authority (the Catholic Church, ‘bourgeois’ thinking, diametrically opposed political views like Le Front National), well, how very French.

‘Charlie Hebdo (French pronunciation: ​[ʃaʁli ɛbdo]; French for Charlie Weekly) is a French satirical weekly magazine,[3] featuring cartoons,[4] reports, polemics, and jokes. Irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone, the publication describes itself as above all secular, skeptic,[5] and atheist,[6] far-left-wing,[7][8] and anti-racist[9] publishing articles about the extreme right (especially the French nationalist National Front party),[10] religion (Catholicism, Islam, Judaism), politics and culture.’

What about the differences between Islam and Islamic civilizations and the post-Enlightenment West?  Point them out at your own risk. Violate much secular humanist conventional wisdom (supporting Christian religious liberty when it ain’t cool) and be ignored.

Stand against the oft radically driven causes of the radical Left (beneath much secular-humanist and high-liberal thought) and possibly be threatened with violence.

Draw cartoons insulting the central figure in Islam and maybe get murdered.

Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00:  ‘This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.

Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus don’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:

“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

Cartoons here.  The cartoonist is still in some danger.

Food for thought.

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Free speech (used both well and unwell) meets offended Muslims: Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’

See Also:  If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here.  From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”  Libertarians love this issue:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant