Perhaps Scruton is just being nostalgic for what he describes as the old humanism:
“There is no need for God, they thought, in order to live with a vision of the higher life. All the values that had been appropriated by the Christian churches are available to the humanist too.”
And he laments the new humanism, which lacks the noblility of purpose of the old, and offers nothing positive:
“Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness”
Scruton suggests Richard Dawkins to be an example of the new humanists. Also, an interesting quote:
“Having shaken off their shackles and discovered that they have not obtained contentment, human beings have a lamentable tendency to believe that they are victims of some alien force, be it aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, capitalism, the priesthood, or simply the belief in God. And the feeling arises that they need only destroy this alien force, and happiness will be served up on a plate, in a garden of pleasures. That, in my view, is why the Enlightenment, which promised the reign of freedom and justice, issued in an unending series of wars”
‘Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle. The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies. One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’
‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’
‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’
‘A strong dislike of pretension, accompanied by a happy delight in puncturing it through satire and parody, is also a major element in his literary criticism. His demolition of Ezra Pound is especially effective because, as a classical scholar and linguist, he is able to establish that many of Pound’s most admired technical effects are in reality simple errors of grammar or translation.’
“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,
But for some even that’s out of reach:
They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em
To teach other people to teach.
Then alas for the next generation,
For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.
Where psychology meets education
A terrible bullshit is born.’
Many people still can’t handle how bad Communism was on the ground, and fewer these days are looking to keep the ideology up in the air, partly thanks to Conquest and his labors:
Court in Venezuela fines opposition newspaper *one billion* bolivars for a story about Chavista nutbag Diosdado Cabello. Paper’s editor then points out that because of insane inflation, that amounts to…a $500 fine https://t.co/EJ1UrZg5hT
‘Bill de Blasio, then 26, went to Nicaragua to help distribute food and medicine in the middle of a war between left and right. But he returned with something else entirely: a vision of the possibilities of an unfettered leftist government.
‘His activism did not stop. In the cramped Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, where he volunteered, Mr. de Blasio learned to cause a stir. He and a ragtag team of peace activists, Democrats, Marxists and anarchists attempted to bring attention to a Central American cause that, after the Sandinistas lost power in a 1990 election, was fading from public view. “The Nicaraguan struggle is our struggle,” said a poster designed by the group’
‘Oakeshott’s strong antipathy was for what he terms “rationalism” in politics. Rationalism is the reign of confident reason expended on a subject that cannot readily be reasoned upon. Politics, “always so deeply veined with both the traditional, the circumstantial and the transitory,” will not obey the kind of technical expertise under whose banner ration-alism travels. For the ration-al-ist, no problem evades solution, and perfection will arrive promptly when, one by one, all problems are solved.
“Political activity,” Oakeshott writes, “is recognized [by rationalist thinkers] as the imposition of a uniform condition of perfection upon human conduct.”
“Rationalism in politics means, in Oakeshott’s challenging phrase, making politics as the crow flies, i.e. ideologically. Hayek, a student of the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises and for many years a professor of economics a the University of Chicago, shows that this mode of thought is characteristic of one major stream of Continental (primarily French) social criticism, which he labels “scientism” to distinguish it from the other principal stream, which issues into social science properly understood (recall Jeffrey Hart’s essay. The one tradition insists on science’s ability to order society according to a rational plan; the other counsels the dependence of reason on nonrational circumstances, its inability to survey and command the whole of society, its limited room to maneuver in the interstices of society. Placing Burke, Hume, and Tocqueville squarely in the latter camp, Hayek shows why traditionalism is closer to the free market analysis of libertarianism than is commonly thought.”
“In contrast to both Hayek and Vogelin, Leo Strauss presents a profound critique of rationalism that culminates in the renewed authority of reason to guide moral and political life. Not the reason of Hegel or Rousseau or Hobbes, however, but the practical wisdom, the prudence, of statesmen-especially as explicated and defended by Aristotle.”
Buckley Jr., William F. & Charles R. Kesler. Keeping The Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought-A Revised Edition of American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.
‘I sat down to read the Introduction and, reading it straight through, found it to be such an exciting intellectual experience that it was a spur to my embryonic commitment to the study of political philosophy.’
‘What then is the Hobbesian theory of the state? It is distinguished from more conventional modern conceptions by leaving aside all substantive considerations of justice or rights—how the state ought to be constituted. Its essential character is to distinguish all constitutional aspirations from the prior question of getting a state into being in the first place. His aim is above all to distinguish statehood from constitution, the civil association from any concern with how that association is actually ordered. The state, in other words, must be distinguished from any particular opinions dominant within it. Failure to meet this condition would generate in some degree or another an ideological version of statehood. Hobbes’s great admirer Michael Oakeshott poses the same problem in On Human Conduct, and solves it by distinguishing “enterprise associations” (based on one or other enthusiasm within the state) and “civil associations.” The essence of the state itself may thus be found in civil associations, whose entire point lay in associating individuals together on the basis of nothing more substantive than an obligation to conform their conduct to a system of law. In Hobbes, the basis of statehood similarly lies in the recognition of the conditions declared by the sovereign. Any actual state, of course, will contain both types of allegiance.’
If you’re interested in critiques on the effects of rationalism and utopianism in politics and political theory, and a defense of the familiar and the traditional in the face of Socialist, Marxist, and other ideologies, it’s probably worth looking into.
Drop a line if this is your area.
‘That Oakeshott’s thought does not in the end hang together may not be very important. What system of philosophy does? But the fact is ironic given his intellectual antecedents. He was one of the last of the British Idealists, who, as opponents of empiricism, understood truth not as meaning correspondence with any kind of external reality but as a form of internal coherence in our thinking.’
‘He wrote for himself and anyone else who might be interested; it is unlikely that anyone working in a university today could find the freedom or leisure that are needed to produce a volume such as this. Writing in 1967, Oakeshott laments, ‘I have wasted a lot of time living.’ Perhaps so, but as this absorbing selection demonstrates, he still managed to fit in a great deal of thinking’
‘Ken was deeply respected by a profession he regarded with, shall we say, a certain ironical distance.’
and Kimball quoting Minogue:
‘The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Rulers are adding moral judgments to the expanding schedule of powers they exercise. Nor does the state deal merely with principles. It is actually telling its subjects to do very specific things. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?’
I had only come across Minogue more recently, and that depth and sharpness is evident. R.I.P.
Briton Ed West is leaving the Telegraph and offers some thoughts:
‘Conservatism is depressive realism. That’s not to say that things are always bad, or necessarily getting worse, but that there is a natural tendency among humans to ignore problems, and it’s our job to point this out.’
He finishes with:
‘So thank you, and I will continue somewhere the struggle against cultural Marxism, the Frankfurt School, Lib-Lab-Con, Common Purpose, Gramscian hegemony and reality in general. And remember, if you think things are bad, they can always get worse, and probably will.’
Perhaps you can hold out more hope than the Stoics did, even a muted optimism for some improvement of the human condition and our institutions. Though not by forcing human nature to conform top-down rationalism nor our institutions to meet impossibly idealistic goals.
In the modern age it often it so boils down to: Stop!
So what’s lacking in the humanities? Roger Scruton has some keen insights:
“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”
So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science (however…it’s been done before with some success). Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:
“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 now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:
“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.“
So how to restore the vision? Scruton advises to restore (and not eschew) judgment:
” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”
This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resists his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses. Here are the last few lines:
“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”
One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.
“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”
On another note: Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth: Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?
We know the humanities will never be a science. Politics is always in conflict with the arts. Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best.