Postmodern Conservatism, Celebrity As Currency, Protest Art, Politics And Some Bad Prose

Dear Reader, lately I’ve been lurking in the shadows, strolling from streetlight to streetlight, leaning and loitering. I feel like the character you confront while skirting the edge of the park, dimly established, on your way home.

Well, no, not really.  Life is often boring, full of work and loved ones, and what’s good.

True tales from my twenties, while on brief vacation:  I remember lying on a hotel bed in Vienna, restless with the euphoria of travel, the sounds of a foreign city alive in my ears.  I remember arising, standing at the window and staring at the moon and the mansard rooves across the street.

I had seen the same rooftops in the changing light of late afternoon and dusk; the clotheslines swaying and the water stains on the walls, my eyes darting from small detail to facade to vast, unfamiliar horizon.

Life is so strange!

Now, in the middle of the night, I was with unlit cigarette (one or two a day for a year as I was very, very, cool).  I remember striking the lighter and my eyes catching a flash of light from across the street.  From the mansard rooves.

I flashed the lighter again.   One flash.

One flash in return came from the mansard rooves.  Fourth floor.  Dormer window.

I gave two flashes.

Two flashes came from the window.

I held my flame for about five seconds, about chest-level. I heard the sounds of a few cars down below.

I finally saw a light and the face of girl with dark hair, much younger, bigger nose, nice eyes, olive skin.

Was she alone?  Was she a Muslim immigrant? Why is she awake? Is she too young?  Am I a creep?  Should I try morse code?

If I have drawn your interest, I will say I remember that after a few more flashes and some rather innocent, thrilling moments of communication across the darkness under a strange moon in a strange city, I eventually found my way back to bed and to sleep.

I hope she’s well, and now too has a happy life.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’ (not so sure about that…), here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project.  I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

On that note, Jesus Christ already

Yes, there’s nudity, and it’s not nearly so unappealing as a lot of art-activist-nudity out there.

The shock for shock’s sake, childishness, and resemblance to political protest arguably demean without much reward.  I doubt this ‘artist’ has reached the sensibilities of any pilgrims nor nuns (the foolish and childish, the mature and wise).  In fact, this isn’t really art, nor even political protest nor does it reasonably address the various matters of deep disagreement for which people can end up killing each other.

Go learn how to sketch, draw and paint.  Appeal to truth, pleasure, or beauty.

Or get paid for being naked and become an artist’s model.

‘In a statement to Hyperallergic, the artist has questioned Christianity’s exploitation of female figures like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, who are often portrayed on opposite sides of the stereotypical spectrum of female chasteness: virgin or whore.’

Admittedly, I don’t think the Virgin Mary above displays as shamelessly little talent as did ‘Mattress Girl,’ who after the hysteria and histrionics of lugging a mattress around NYU [correction: Columbia] campus, eventually did ‘classy’ pornography a disservice.

Thanks for the memories, Mattress Girl:

I do think that nowadays, art pieces can include whatever the artist desires, and in this performance art piece, it utilizes elements of protest, because that is what’s relevant to my life right now.’

Why should I, you, he, she it or they care?:  ‘Mattress Girl’ got a ticket punched to the State of The Union by Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from the state of New York.  It seems worth asking what the people making our laws believe and what they are saying they believe.

What do they do?  How do they behave?

Liberation is next!

Previously on this site,

Interesting piece here.

What is modernism, exactly?

This blog is still trying to work towards a definition:

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

From the comments:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known?Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

As previously posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

Of some note:

James Lileks responds to an Atlantic piece

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

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

Lileks’ take:

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

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

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

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

Results vary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, reader. Probably worth revisiting:

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

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Anyways, let’s enjoy a poem:

Cousin Nancy

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

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

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

T.S. Eliot

Matthew=Matthew Arnold. Waldo=Ralph Waldo Emerson

Repost-A Link And Some Thoughts: Phillip Blond At First Things-Politics After Liberalism

Blond reviews this book by John Milbank & Adrian Pabst: ‘The Politics Of Virtue: Post-Liberalism And The Human Future‘ (PDF here).

Is it necessary to reclaim secular idealism from many secular idealists? Or at least, might it be necessary to provide an alternative to much unthinking liberal idealism which has come to govern many of our institutions?

Blond has ideas for conservatism in Great Britain, anyways:

‘Among the ideas that compete to determine the world’s future, one can count Catholicism, Islam, and (until recently) Marxism. But only one is dominant, hegemonic, and all-pervasive—liberalism.’

Blond’s apparent challenge to this form of liberalism is a return to the Catholic Church (if it ain’t exactly a neoclassical return to Platonic idealism):

Hmmmm….:

‘The Catholic Church must reenter the political fray, not as a chaplain to left or right but as the herald of a new order.’

As an American, let me offer a brief family anecdote: I was raised by lapsed Catholics (Irish-Catholics mostly, thoroughly American, a little cynical, often skeptical and suspicious of authority). In that spirit, perhaps the below offers some insight into why many Boomers might have drifted away from the Catholic Church if not always towards secular humanist ideals:

There’s a Catholic girls’ high-school weekend retreat with the nuns, and the girls and the nuns are having a decent time of it. One of the girls is epileptic and starts to have seizures. The situation gets pretty serious, and, unfortunately, the nuns don’t handle it too well. In the telling, there’s much fear and diddling-around. Confusion sets-in. Time passes. The girl with epilepsy is halfway-abandoned for a bit. Although the poor girl eventually recovers, there’s a deeper suspicion of medical advancements lurking somewhere in the background. The nuns manage to impress a parochial mediocrity; a lack of calm, actionable knowledge and understanding.

Frankly, many people are happy to hit young girls in the knuckles in order to reinforce metaphysical ideas and correct behavior, the truth or falsehood of the ideas long ago internalized and no longer questioned. As long as many people get some kind of standing, purpose and security in the world, they’re happy to pay it forward.

As for me, I can’t say I don’t see a lot of parochial mediocrity and a lack of calm and knowledge in many federal bureaucracies these days (people with real power and authority over our lives, supposedly well-meaning). This is to say nothing of corporate HR departments and amongst many academics and the media. Pay insufficient tribute to the latest moral idea, and become a member of a clear minority. Refuse to gather around the high ideals and the increasingly complex rules that come with them (climate change, multiculturalism, diversity, human rights etc.) and be seen as morally suspect.

———–

This is why I tend to welcome critiques of liberalism, but also continued satire when it comes to the Catholic Church, too (it’d sure be nice to have equal application and some backbone when it comes to Islam, especially when cartoonists get murdered for cartoons).

That’s what satire is for.

It doesn’t seem like much has changed regarding human nature, either, least of all within the Church (nor the increasingly predictable, increasingly pathetic Boomer vilification of the Church). Perhaps ‘love’ isn’t all you need.

Imagine critizing the radical discontents of the Left, which often drive the latest moral ideas within high-liberal thought; standing-up to some obviously contradictory and true-believing rightesousness?

***Beyond ‘strategic’ politics and philosophy, there are plenty of reasons like the rapid technological advancements and change going-on in our lives (genuine progress and a lot of choice in matters we haven’t always had). There are many downward pressures from global marketplaces, supply chains and mobile labor, too. Perhaps it’s harder to be local these days, and decent and derive the meaning one needs from friends, neighbors, and the kinds of constraints and rewards one has while living in the same place.

———-

Possibly related on this site:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly, and he believes there’s going to be some authority in your life, but you’ve got be particularly careful about which kind, and which rules govern that relationship with authority:

Full piece here:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion.‘

From Fellini’s ‘Roma.’ Fellini presents a kind of sinister and surreal Papal fashion show.

At least it isn’t a ‘bunga-bunga‘ party (maybe don’t leave models of governance to modern Italy?).

David Brooks here.

On Blond:

“Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.”

Are we really in a Platonic decline, the kind of which required The Republic?: Are you a gold, silver or bronze medalist?

That’s a little scary.

A Podcast From Britain: E30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Quote found here——Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.

Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”

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

Is there a causal connection between a move away from religion and the moral structure it provides….and a bigger state?From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

Some Anti-modernism: From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

A Link And Some Thoughts: Phillip Blond At First Things-Politics After Liberalism

Blond reviews this book by John Milbank & Adrian Pabst: ‘The Politics Of Virtue: Post-Liberalism And The Human Future‘ (PDF here).

Is it necessary to reclaim secular idealism from many secular idealists?  Or at least, might it be necessary to provide an alternative to much unthinking liberal idealism which has come to govern many of our institutions?

Blond has ideas for conservatism in Great Britain, anyways:

‘Among the ideas that compete to determine the world’s future, one can count Catholicism, Islam, and (until recently) Marxism. But only one is dominant, hegemonic, and all-pervasive—liberalism.’

Blond’s apparent challenge to this form of liberalism is a return to the Catholic Church (if it ain’t exactly a neoclassical return to Platonic idealism):

Hmmmm….:

‘The Catholic Church must reenter the political fray, not as a chaplain to left or right but as the herald of a new order.’

As an American, let me offer a brief family anecdote:  I was raised by lapsed Catholics (Irish-Catholics mostly, thoroughly American, a little cynical, often skeptical and suspicious of authority).  In that spirit, perhaps the below offers some insight into why many Boomers might have drifted away from the Catholic Church if not always towards secular humanist ideals:

There’s a Catholic girls’ high-school weekend retreat with the nuns, and the girls and the nuns are having a decent time of it.  One of the girls is epileptic and starts to have seizures.  The situation gets pretty serious, and, unfortunately, the nuns don’t handle it too well.  In the telling, there’s much fear and diddling-around.  Confusion sets-in.  Time passes.  The girl with epilepsy is halfway-abandoned for a bit.  Although the poor girl eventually recovers, there’s a deeper suspicion of medical advancements lurking somewhere in the background.  The nuns manage to impress a parochial mediocrity; a lack of calm, actionable knowledge and understanding.

Frankly, many people are happy to hit young girls in the knuckles in order to reinforce metaphysical ideas and correct behavior, the truth or falsehood of the ideas long ago internalized and no longer questioned.  As long as many people get some kind of standing, purpose and security in the world, they’re happy to pay it forward.

As for me, I can’t say I don’t see a lot of parochial mediocrity and a lack of calm and knowledge in many federal bureaucracies these days (people with real power and authority over our lives, supposedly well-meaning).  This is to say nothing of corporate HR departments and amongst many academics and the media. Pay insufficient tribute to the latest moral idea, and become a member of a clear minority.   Refuse to gather around the high ideals and the increasingly complex rules that come with them (climate change, multiculturalism, diversity, human rights etc.) and be seen as morally suspect.

———–

This is why I tend to welcome critiques of liberalism, but also continued satire when it comes to the Catholic Church, too (it’d sure be nice to have equal application and some backbone when it comes to Islam, especially when cartoonists get murdered for cartoons).

That’s what satire is for.

It doesn’t seem like much has changed regarding human nature, either, least of all within the Church (nor the increasingly predictable, increasingly pathetic Boomer vilification of the Church).  Perhaps ‘love’ isn’t all you need.

Imagine critizing the radical discontents of the Left, which often drive the latest moral ideas within high-liberal thought; standing-up to some obviously contradictory and true-believing rightesousness?

***Beyond ‘strategic’ politics and philosophy, there are plenty of reasons like the rapid technological advancements and change going-on in our lives (genuine progress and a lot of choice in matters we haven’t always had).  There are many downward pressures from global marketplaces, supply chains and mobile labor, too.  Perhaps it’s harder to be local these days, and decent and derive the meaning one needs from friends, neighbors, and the kinds of constraints and rewards one has while living in the same place.

———-

Possibly related on this site:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly, and he believes there’s going to be some authority in your life, but you’ve got be particularly careful about which kind, and which rules govern that relationship with authority:

Full piece here:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion.‘

From Fellini’s ‘Roma.’  Fellini presents a kind of sinister and surreal Papal fashion show.

At least it isn’t a ‘bunga-bunga‘ party (maybe don’t leave models of governance to modern Italy?).

David Brooks here.

On Blond:

“Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.”

Are we really in a Platonic decline, the kind of which required The Republic?:  Are you a gold, silver or bronze medalist?

That’s a little scary.

A Podcast From Britain: E30 | Dreaming The Future | Natalie Bennett, Phillip Blond, Roger Scruton

Quote found here——Kraut, Richard.  The Cambridge Companion to Plato. New York, NY:  Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis.  Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure.  In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup.  In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest.  Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.

Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides.  Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world.  This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”

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

Is there a causal connection between a move away from religion and the moral structure it provides….and a bigger state?From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

Some Anti-modernism:  From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

 

From Edward Feser: ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity?’

Full post here.

“Surely you’re not against liberty, equality, and fraternity?!” you ask.  Well, no, not necessarily – depending on what you mean by those terms.  The trouble is that though some of the ideas that commonly go under those labels are good, others are very bad.’

Hmmm…:

‘Modern egalitarianism makes essentially this mistake.  In the name of equal concern for all, it resists or even rejects the idea that different members of society have different roles, aptitudes, and needs.  Hence socialism’s hostility to the very existence of different classes.  Hence feminism’s hostility to traditional sex roles within the family and to the idea that men and women naturally tend to differ in psychological traits no less than they do physiologically.  Hence the liberal’s dogmatic insistence on seeing persistent differences in economic and other outcomes as a result of unjust discrimination and insufficiently vigorous social engineering.’

Just providing a reasoned, principled critique of such liberal political idealism may actually be beneficial to us all.

Edward Feser In The Claremont Review: ‘Looking For Meaning in All The Wrong Places’

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

Leo Strauss seems to have had Burke succumbing to historicism? A response here.

As to the American and French Revolutions:

“In both cases the political leaders whom Burke opposed insisted on certain rights: the English government on the rights of soverignty and the French revolutionists insisted on the rights of man.  In both cases Burke proceeded in exactly the same manner:  he questions less the rights than the wisdom of exercising the rights.”

“What ever might have to be said about the propriety of Burke’s usage, it is here sufficient to note that, in judging the political leaders whom he opposed in the two most important actions of his life, he traced their lack of prudence less to passion than to the intrusion of the spirit of theory into the field of politics.”

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

Edward Feser on David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ And More Modernist Commentary

This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.

From Edward Feser: ‘Aquinas Watches Glengarry Glen Ross’

Feser:

‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types.  Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.

So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter.  One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’

Glengarry Glen Ross‘ has become something of a cultural touchstone for many; maybe this generation’s ‘Death Of A Salesman

You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’

For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.

Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.

On fuller display, perhaps.

Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.

For those who didn’t ask!:

As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious:  Make it new.  Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).

It takes really talented individuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.

As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us.  There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).

They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art!  What the f**k is this lady doing?:

From the comments on this piece:

‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’

The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in this generation’s rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.

The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).

As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.

Ah well…there’s my two cents.

There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.

Enduring…I like the sound of that.


Because you really didn’t ask:

Another video included at the link.

David Mamet underwent a conversion to conservatism in rather dramatic and public fashion a few years ago.  In leaving his liberal views behind, he’s no doubt become a heretic to some.  At the link, he hosts an interview at Il Forno in Santa Monica with Uncommon Knowledge’s Peter Robinson.

Here’s my take, for what it’s worth:

Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough.  He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles.  Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered).  I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.

Mamet also cites Chicago School Of Economics neoclassical thinkers’ Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell and Austrian economist/political philosopher Friedrich Hayek as central to his conversion.  Hayek’s rather tragic view of limited resources and opportunity costs being the natural state of affairs for mankind is clearly an influence. This would generally lead one to eschew the Statist/rationalist idealism and socialist utopianism typically associated with many Left and liberal Left movements.

***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies.  See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.

Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican.  There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left.  There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).

Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature.  This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves).  As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.

I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed).  I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.

Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor.  If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show.  Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.

Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.

Anyways, this is just a brief summary.  Any thoughts or comments are welcome.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’…Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

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

Repost-William Stern At The City Journal: ‘How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish’

Full post here.

Stern points out how important the Catholic Church, and one man in particular, were in transforming Irish immigrants from a hated, poor, dislocated immigrant class into something more in mid nineteenth-century America:

‘A hundred years ago and more, Manhattan’s tens of thousands of Irish seemed a lost community, mired in poverty and ignorance, destroying themselves through drink, idleness, violence, criminality, and illegitimacy.’

The Irish Catholic Church had brought a lot of its troubles with it, but opportunity was here, and the religion needed to change (the metaphysical debates may last for centuries but religion is woven into the culture, responding to the culture, of its time, usually only as good as its people and the decisions they make):

Hughes was outraged. He didn’t want Catholics to be second-class citizens in America as they had been in Ireland, and he thought he had a duty not to repeat the mistakes of the clergy in Ireland, who in his view had been remiss in not speaking out more forcefully against English oppression.’

This required a moral and psychological transformation that perhaps only religion could provide.  Education and job opportunities were key:

‘Faced with perhaps as many as 60,000 Irish children wandering in packs around New York City—not attending school, not working, not under any adult supervision—Hughes encouraged the formation of the Society for the Protection of Destitute Catholic Children, known as the Catholic Protectory, which was in a sense the forerunner of Boys Town.’

Eventually, criminals became policeman, trades were learned, politics was infiltrated and controlled through the big city machines.

***Many of the functions that charities, churches, and religious organizations perform will likely try and be co-opted by the government (the De Blasio coalitions no doubt see many things this way).  Interestingly, old-school Democrat, poor Brooklyn kid, and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan made some interesting arguments about the dangers of such Statism.

Related On This Site:  But progressive policies do address needs, and reward people, just at great cost including potential threats to individual liberties, jobs, political stability and individual and fiscal responsibility, obviously.  Walter Russell Mead says the Great Society is over:  A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Repost-Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems..more progressive silliness.Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Repost-The Moral Decline Of A Nation?-Ross Douthat At The NY Times: ‘The Perils of Anti-Decadence’

Full piece here.

(This piece has been altered to reflect an accurate reading of Douthat’s piece. Better late than never. Original copies can be provided.)

There’s certainly been a lot of Kennedy talk in the air, lately, and Douthat makes the Aldous Huxley/C.S. Lewis case for moral decadence regarding the heroic elevation of JFK, and the Kennedy clan.

‘So it isn’t quite sufficient to say that the cult of John F. Kennedy is merely a case where admirable energies and impulses have been misdirected toward an unworthy hero figure. Rather, the biggest problems with the Kennedy era — the way that “missile gap” rhetoric led inexorably to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and then a near-nuclear war, the sleepwalking escalation in Vietnam, and then what my colleague David Brooks rightly calls “the mirage of religiosity” around the modern presidency that Kennedy’s rhetoric and martyrdom helped conjure up — are all characteristic and recurring problems with the attempt to resist, through politics, the trends and tendencies that books like “The Abolition of Man” and “Brave New World” discerned and warned against.’

And:

‘These problems are among the reasons why so many contemporary writers, mostly liberal and libertarian, are inclined to dismiss the very concept of decadence … or at least to say that while we probably wouldn’t want to go the full Mustapha Mond, that kind of danger is still extremely remote, and so long as growth continues, living standards rise, and equality advances, anything that’s lost along the way is probably well worth giving up.’

Click through.

Another addition: Just read Douthat’s article. He is critiquing something that progress and the creature comforts of a material culture provide and which both Huxley and Lewis warned against: A soporific attitude towards life because much immediate suffering has been vanquished. Our technology and progress can lead to a sleepy drift where we are happy to trade security for freedom because many of us don’t know any better, and don’t want to risk finding out.

JFK was a receptacle for national liberal greatness, and for a lot of Americans’ sense of civic duty, membership to the national identity, and perhaps cause for moral action like joining the Peace Corps. Such calls to ‘national greatness’ politics as in the case of JFK can be intended to take advantage of the sense of purpose such politics bring to individuals’ lives. This can lead to great error and consequences on down the road, especially surrounding the myth of politics. JFK admirers can be a rather deluded bunch when the facts of his Presidency are enumerated (to say nothing of the conspiracists) and a poor receptacle for such hopes and dreams.

There seems to me to be a deeply personal line of reasoning behind much of this argument, which might require an individual to enter into a complex relationship with God through church doctrine, or at least to recognize the dangers of false idols and the celebrification of our culture. We should be skeptical of such mythmaking and what ‘national greatness’ politics can do to our commitments in life. I can respect such an argument, even though I may not agree.

I should say it’s nice to have a contrarian voice around in the face of a popular, secular humanism promising ever more individual freedom, ever more equality, and ever more progress. Those goods will clearly come into conflict with one another. Douthat, as a conservative columnist, seems to be living up the the Buckley-esque mandate of standing athwart history yelling: ‘Stop.’

———

A few more thoughts, for what it’s worth:

The progressive, activist Left seems perfectly happy to achieve its goals through charismatic, populist leaders engaged in majoritarian politics, often willing to push through ambitious laws impossible for even a competent technocracy to administer. This can easily go beyond science and wise policy-making into rabble-rousing street politics and a naive idealism wedded to the logic of political power.

Douthat, at least, gives me that courtesy of explaining his reasoning without immediately seeking control over my life through his political coalitions.

Of course, as Douthat points out, the decadence criticism would be applicable to the Right as well, and a surging conservative populism: Just repeating the names of Reagan, Churchill, and Calvin Coolidge doesn’t necessarily absolve one of one’s freedoms and responsibilities. Simply appealing to God and/or Ted Cruz comes with all the realities of human nature, policy-making, laws, and grubby politics, too. Skepticism is certainly warranted, and actions always speak louder than words.

——————

On that note:

Free-market libertarian Ira Stoll wrote ‘JFK, Conservative

Libertarian Virginia Postrel has a new book entitled ‘The Power Of Glamour: Longing And The Art Of Visual Persuasion.’ The Kennedys and their representation in the popular media and public mind certainly involves a lot of glamour. I like some of what she does:


The NY Times op-ed writer and a practicing Catholic? William Saletan and Ross Douthat At Slate: ‘Liberalism Is Stuck Halfway Between Heaven And Earth’…Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’… Behavioral economics and libertarian paternalism and below all that some liberal totalitarianism (the personal is political crowd)…Ross Douthat Responds To Paul Krugman At The NY Times: ‘Can We Be Sweden?’

Are these the enemies of the future?: Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘How The Elites Built America’s Economic Wall’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.

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’

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on ConservatismCharles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’