Classical Liberalism

From The Mildly Specific To The Wildly General-Three Links On Erdogan’s Turkey, Douglas Murray And Liberal Idealism

Michael Totten at World Affairs: ‘Turkey Takes Its War Against The Kurds Into Europe

At the same time he’s [Erdogan] been rolling up the Gulenists and the deep staters he’s been mounting a breathtakingly draconian campaign against supposed Kurdish terrorists and their supporters, so far jailing and indicting thousands of civilians—including a Wall Street Journal reporter—on nonsense charges. Hasip Kaplan, once a member of parliament, is facing a 142-year prison term, and the court won’t even let him attend his own trial. As of the end of 2017, the state has arrested more than 11,000 members of his avowedly secular People’s Democratic Party (HDP).  

Well, it reminds this blogger of that Turkish/Armenian demonstration erupting into violence a while back.  Right in front of the White House, no less:

I see Erdogan’s Islamic populism, and the broader Islamic resurgence towards notions of religious purity and ideological conformity, as quite obviously not leading Westwards nor towards any kind of moderation.  Such a man, riding such a wave, towards an authoritarian and rather thuggish consolidation of power could likely yet draw other powers towards conflict.

Modernity and the West (and increasingly the East) have been pressing upon Islamic civilizations, and many of these civilizations have responded by turning inwards, reinforcing the old rules, and continuing to try and synthesize the products of modernity and the West within the Quran.

On a slightly deeper level, I think one of Douglas Murray’s central arguments is that civilizations are actually rather fragile things, requiring the continual consent and contributions of those governed, and a continual re-evaluation of what’s important and what isn’t; what’s true and what isn’t.  Europe, through history-weariness, has produced inadequate political and social leadership as of late.

Personally, I see a rather backed-into economic union in theory, and a somewhat authoritarian and bureacratic labyrinth in practice, made from many good impulses and reasonable fears, but with poor design and many bad impulses and a lot of guilt.

Islamic radicals and genuine terrorists uniting with Western identity-radicals who’ve worked their way into many influential positions (academy, media etc) does not a healthy civilization make.


Perhaps even a little deeper?

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.’


‘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.‘

Perhaps what many dark-webbers, some New Atheists, and various other liberal idealists and institutionalists can miss is the following:  The very products of reason, the mathematical and natural sciences, advances in political science and material progress, for example, have also helped to create the conditions for many post-Enlightenment ideological, social and artistic movements to emerge.

Some of these ideological movements are simply totalitarian at their roots, and lead to disaster in practice. We’re still seeing their ruins around us (North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba) while their practioners, priests and adherents continue to colonize and cluster in relatively free Western institutions (orgs and academies, especially).

Some of these post-Enlightenment social movements can provide enough to live a truthful, moral, and decent life, but don’t stop the very human impulse to forget how little one knows, to proselytize and well…form coalitions of believing humans full of various talents and flaws.  There’s a lot of idealism (naive) and utopianism.

To my current thinking (and this really may be more about me), these movements often fail in providing a deep enough moral framework to provide the stability necessary to account for much in human nature and how hard it can be to provide moral legitimacy in positions of authority.

See Also On This SiteFrom The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”/Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism/

Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Ayan Hirsi Ali in The NY Times: Lee Harris’s ‘The Suicide Of Reason’

Free speech and Muslims From ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’…  Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks Headbutted

Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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’

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Self-Interest, Moral Sentiments & Rationalism-Some Links

Many reactions to the market are moral ones, from the anti-corporate, romantically primitive, ideological collectivists on the Left to the biblically inclined, revelatory faithful who clearly see in the teachings of Jesus Christ reasons to doubt:

And Larry Arnhart looks at a Straussian: ‘Joseph Cropsey’s Straussian Attack On Adam Smith:’

‘Thus, Smith showed how the opulence and liberty of a commercial society would provide philosophers like Hume and himself with the intellectual commerce, the individual liberty, and the leisured independence necessary for living a philosophic life with their friends. Cropsey ignores all of this because it contradicts his argument that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith’s commercial society.’

Worth a read.

A brief introduction to Adam Smith’s ‘Theory Of Moral Sentiments’

Beware the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians:

As previously posted: Steven Poole at Aeon: ‘We Are More Rational Than Those Who Nudge Us.’

‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences. It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

Related On This Site: Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

I’ve got enough friends, thanks: Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

New liberty away from Hobbes…toward Hayek…but can you see Locke from there?: Repost-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: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

Leo Strauss argued there is great danger in this approach, i.e. the problems of Europe. Political science, the social sciences, economics and the explanatory power of these products of reason and rationalism could increasingly form the epistemological foundation for explaining the world, people’s interior lives, how we ought to live and what we ought to do. This includes where our rights come from and who should be in charge: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Five Tuesday Links Somewhat Relevant In The Current Political Landscape

I’m still getting accustomed to the post 60’s political and cultural landscape in America, at least in response to the current round of progressivism; the idealism and utopianism of many collectivist thinkers.  I’m not particularly liberal myself, just looking around for different types of liberalism.  Does equality always run aground on human nature?  Will pursuing broad definitions of the public good always lead to a corruption of the ideal of equality, and less freedom?

Joel Kotkin has an interesting piece Class Warfare For Republicans:

‘As a Truman-style Democrat left politically homeless, I am often asked about the future of the Republican Party.’

The Tea Party probably might not agree, nor maybe many social and religious conservatives.


Walter Russell Mead seems to be envisioning a reinvigorated liberalism 5.0, arguing that the current union fights, ecotopia, high-speed rail plans, and progressivism aren’t necessarily the best way forward given America’s challenges.  There’s been a fundamental shift that we must adjust to, and it involves technology and globalization for starters.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

Interesting post here:

‘It is important to note, however, that rampant government dependence and economic mismanagement are not exclusively blue-state pathologies. Corrupt and crony Republicans can be every bit as sleazy and dangerous as their Democratic counterparts. South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi are on this list for good reason.’


Perhaps conservative Briton Roger 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”


Copied from Will Wilkinson’s piece on Gerry Gaus’s new book:

In sum, OPR defends public reason liberalism without contractarian foundations. It is Kantian without being rationalistic. It is Humean without giving up the project of rationally reforming the moral order. It is evolutionary but not social Darwinist. It is classical liberal without being libertarian. It is Hegelian and organicist without being collectivist or statist. It shows us how political authority can be justified but only by accepting that moral authority limits it. It pushes us to look towards the practical and reject the utopian while simultaneously maintaining that a truly free and equal social order is within our grasp. It rejects the aspiration of political liberalism to neutrality among conceptions of morality while simultaneously retaining its spirit by sectioning off social morality from other normative domains.


Theodore Dalrymple on the new atheists.


‘The search for the pure guiding light of reason, uncontaminated by human passion or metaphysical principles that go beyond all possible evidence, continues, however; and recently, an epidemic rash of books has declared success, at least if success consists of having slain the inveterate enemy of reason, namely religion. The philosophers Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Michel Onfray, and Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens have all written books roundly condemning religion and its works. Evidently, there is a tide in the affairs, if not of men, at least of authors.’

People on the modern American right take issue with Rawls, but have they addressed his depth?:  From The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls…Utilitarianism leads to problems.  Will the Rawlsian center-left hold up?:

From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’… From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Some Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

Madame, I Believe Your Brains May Have Fallen Out

After the Yale Silliman silliness and the Charles Murray Middlebury madness, a cruder skepticism might recommend writing many humanities/social sciences departments off altogether (hey, it’s Middlebury, after all).

Some departments are so open-minded, it seems, they’re allowing students to chant James Baldwin as though his spells will ward off the evil spirits of white-devilry (there’s still an air of the psycho-drama about all this).  Perhaps, just perhaps, a University isn’t the type of place where angry mobs should shout-down invited speakers, hunt them to the after-party, and beat them away into the night.

Mockery and laughter can work wonders in the face of true-belief and rigid ideology (that’s not funny!), but relatively fewer people have the wisdom, moral courage and humility to earn back the trust to educate, not indoctrinate.

Frankly, I’m not holding my breath as long as enough money and influence are at stake, and the stakes, as they say, are still pretty low.

At least now a broader swathe of the American public has gotten a look at the unhealthy radical group-think festering within, the kind which arrives when ideas and bad ideas, unchallenged, are allowed to rule the roost.  The consequences such ideas are having upon the pursuit of truth are damning.

Whose good is this serving?

Heterodox Academy might not be a bad start.

As previously posted:

As this blog has been arguing for over a decade, a lot of modern art is pretty good, but beyond the current political/ideological squabbles, there sure are a lot of poseurs making crap.

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

The creep of vacuous ideas and lack of any apparent talent/technique is common, and it can be hard to tell where celebrity, marketing and branding bullshit ends, and ‘art’ begins:

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

What is this lady doing?:

Some quotes for you, dear Reader:

From Dr. Steven Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

We’ll see about that…

Roger Scruton’s words struck me when I read them years ago:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.


Apart from the rare genius, it seems the arts tend to ferment in groups and schools, made up of individuals with their own ideas, reacting to each other and events; reacting to their own developing talents and finding out through trial and error what works within some semblance of a tradition.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

Culture matters, in the sense that the value a civilization chooses to place in one activity over another can dramatically affect outcomes for that particular activity; a framework emphasizing and incentivizing the activity to live on in hearts and minds of individuals.

Perhaps Modern Art just needs to be put into broader contexts, given deeper roots which can nourish the talent already being born.

Some people are looking for ‘epistemologies:’

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

No, I don’t need a movie explained to me in terms of ‘masculinity’ or feminist doctrine, any more than I need it to tell me to read Leviticus, or be a good Christian. I like good composition.

No, I don’t need a cartoon to reflect ‘solidarity’ around a particular political figure or set of political ideals, you fool!

Good art is usually beyond all that, and makes the viewer question/forget such things.

Why not just put a few algorithms to work in writing those artist statements?

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

It Ain’t What You Know, It’s What You Know That Ain’t So?-Eric Weinstein At the Rubin Report: The Four Kinds Of Fake News

More on Weinstein here.  Interesting guy.

His 4:

As this blog has noted:  One of the core functions of successful media outlets lies in aggregating information and sources of information, cornering a market if possible, and maintaining competitive advantage by implementing new technology ahead of others in the same market space. It’d be nice if they had an idea of the ‘public trust’ in mind, or reader-respect, or consumer responsiveness…but…there are no guarantees.  Also, they can easily become beholden to the people they rely upon for access.

What if the technology changes rapidly enough to make many old models obselete, or many of them obselete within a relatively short period of time?

The losers can be very vocal about their losses (some going-in for special pleading and the end-is-nigh handwringing….often with an inflated sense of their own importance).

A lot of the people who used the math to design the algorithms that now structure user interaction with information and sources of information have similar gatekeeping power/influence the old outlets had.

***Actual beat journalism costs time and money, is probably best done locally, and can be a vital check on those with power and influence (or more power/influence than the media outlet has, and more likely with conflicting political/business/ideological interests than the media outlet).

There is a risk calculation necessary for this type of journalism, because it often doesn’t pan-out.

Thanks to a reader.

Related On This Site:A Few Thoughts On Blogging-Chris Anderson At Wired: ‘The Long Tail’

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘The Slow, Painful Death Of The Media’s Cash Cow’

-(addition) Via a reader:  Eugene Volokh argues freedom of the press ain’t about saving the buggy whip industry:

‘I’ve often argued that the freedom of the press was seen near the time of the Framing (and near the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, as well as in between and largely since) as protecting the right to use the press as technology — everyone’s right to use the printing press and its modern technological heirs. It was not seen as protecting a right of the press as industry, which would have been a right limited to people who printed or wrote for newspapers, magazines and the like .

At least with the Weekly World News, you got the best of fakery:



Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

A video supplement to a course taught on the classical liberal tradition (~28.00 minutes long):


Note those liberal thinkers who do not posit a telos (knowable endpoint and purpose) to human affairs and how they arrive at their positions…

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

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

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

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

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

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Some Sunday Links-The People Shall One Day Control The Means Of Recreation

Michael Moynihan on British historian’s Eric Hobsbawm more recent estimation amongst many chatterati.

Let’s not forget:

‘In a now infamous 1994 interview with journalist Michael Ignatieff, the historian was asked if the murder of “15, 20 million people might have been justified” in establishing a Marxist paradise. “Yes,” Mr. Hobsbawm replied.’

That interview here.

Moynihan finishes with:

“How to Change the World” shows us little more than how an intellectual has committed his life not to exploring and stress-testing an ideology but to stubbornly defending it. The brand of Marxism that Eric Hobsbawm champions is indeed a way to “change the world.” It already did. And it was a catastrophe.’

From the De Blasio files, at the NY Daily News:

Let Orchard Beach be a beach of The People!:

‘A bright new future dawns for Orchard Beach with Mayor de Blasio’s promise to commit money to upgrading the great Bronx Riviera.’

The People shall one day control the means of recreation:

‘Now, de Blasio, who has committed to spending park money fairly in rich and poor neighborhoods, has the chance to right the scales of recreational justice, in the process improving life for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers as a major part of his legacy.’

(Addition): Apparently, this is how you rope the People’s Revolutionary Representative into money for your pet project when he’s out for a photo-op (end).

Let’s hope this isn’t a Red Dawn, dear reader, where we find ourselves somewhere beyond the dunes and dressing rooms of the once great Bronx Riviera; filthy, exhausted, huddled around a beach campfire, gathering the shards of recent history that have led us to our fates.

What if history is nothing but an abandoned Orchard Beach bathhouse full of spiders?’…mutters Powers Boothe, clenching his teeth, pouring his hooch onto the fire.

It rages up into the starless night.

C. Thomas Howell muffles a sob.


As previously posted, some light humor:

Michael Moynihan reviewed Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ which praised the Cuban Health Care System.

Christopher Hitchens took a helicopter ride with Sean Penn, and that tracksuit-wearing strongman of the people, Hugo Chavez-Hugo Boss.

Yes, these ideas are responsible for the deaths of thousands, right now, in real time.  To say nothing of a few lost generations of human potential, hopes, dreams and basic securities.

It’s a long way out of socialist and revolutionary solidarity, which continually occupies the South American mind. One more revolution: Adam Kirsch takes a look at Mario Vargas Llosa. The Dream Of The Peruvian.

How’s that Russian reset going?:


What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: 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”

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

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

Related On This Site:  What Will De Blasio’s New York Look Like?-Some LinksSandinistas At The NY Times: ‘A Mayoral Hopeful Now, de Blasio Was Once a Young Leftist’Two Links On Diane Ravitch & School Reform


A Few Links And Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage

I think Richard Epstein, classically liberal/libertarian law/economics thinker, gets a lot of this right:

‘It doesn’t take a weatherman to tell which way public opinion blows. The huge uptick of support for same-sex marriage has been described as swift and broad, to which we can add, in all likelihood, lasting.

In my view, every time the defenders of the traditional view of marriage speak in public on behalf of a ban, they lose the support of neutral third parties. The problem is that they are trying to tell other people how they should lead their own lives, and are using the power of the state to do it. Their justifications are far from compelling. They talk about the need for procreation in marriage, though many straight married couples use contraceptives. They talk about the risks to parenting, when there is no evidence that suggests that gay and lesbian couples are worse parents, especially when compared to dysfunctional couples in traditional marriages or single parents of limited financial means. Their arguments against same-sex marriage thus fall flat to modern ears, so that the basic support for same-sex marriage only grows.’

Perhaps I’m more amenable than Epstein to laws stemming from the moral authority of those who remain principled actors upon religious belief (a less influential cohort in the higher rungs of American society these days).  Like Epstein, however, I find many of the reasons such folks give lacking, and falling on deaf ears.

While I may not agree with the Catholic view of homosexuality and really would prefer a live and let live attitude with more freedom for more people, I also think when it comes to how people actually behave, the importance of limiting principles regarding power and authority and having well-reasoned laws etc., the religious view of human nature can be quite accurate.

This may well stem from my own flaws, so naturally, take such paragraphs with a grain of salt.


If I understand Michael Sandel at the end of this video as part of his online Harvard lecture series ‘Justice’ correctly,  perhaps there is no way to ultimately separate the teleological arguments (ends) from the practical ones:  Questions about justice, law, civic duty and obligation to future generations; questions about people’s beliefs examined and unexamined, reasons carefully reasoned and reasons blindly followed, all will contribute to the kinds of laws we have on the books.

Personally, I don’t know anyone who isn’t full of ‘oughts’, guiding principles, things they know that ain’t so, cherished beliefs and conflicting commitments in life.  To some extent, we’re all subject to sharing the prevailing opinions and ideas of the people we live around, even if those opinions aren’t enshrined in law nor shared by the majority.  Ideas have a logic and consequences of their own.


Two reasons put forward in defense of traditional marriage are as follows (part of a smaller religious minority at Harvard, it seems):  For the sake of procreation and for the purpose of forming a union between man and woman.

Click through for the rest of the debate if you have the time.

As I suspect we’ve seen during the last few generations, the Catholic and more broadly Christian religious ideas woven into American culture, laws and institutions are much less woven than they have been.

Americans keep being assured of other teleological ends (progress, increasing tolerance and inclusion, ever-expanding freedom and rights etc.) but when it comes to how to live and be free, I’d rather observe what people do, not what they say, especially when they want/have power and authority.

Repost-A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

Progressive Convention, 1912. Moffett Studio & Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co.  Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-USZ62-116075

Progressive Convention, 1912. Moffett Studio & Kaufmann, Weimer & Fabry Co. Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-USZ62-116075


Current liberal establishment thinking under Obama is naturally reacting to Obama’s leadership.  I’d argue that it’s getting more difficult to appreciate self-reliance as a result, and to maintain a healthy respect for the limits of government.   A healthy respect for the limits of government reflects a healthy understanding of human nature, its limitations, and the fact that all politics is local.  Power ultimately rests with “We the People,” after all.

Obama’s activist brand of local politics benefits from a lack of self-reliance in people, otherwise the need for the activist is lessened.  Activists become adept at organizing and inspiring (if not inciting) people to collective action under collectivist principles.  Once organized, the people’s interests can be aimed toward broader goals, some quite productive, but many often extracting money from businesses as well as federal and local governments.  Activists can be rabble-rousers, or they can be high-minded, but the model they’re using relies on redistributive logic (getting other people’s money redistributed to themselves and their constituents).

Political power is too easily the currency and the reward.

In the long run, obviously, there’s only so much of other people’s money to go around.  In the long run, there’s always a nagging question of how much the activist is really doing for his constituents by gaining all that political power for himself.  In the long run, we’re all more likely to have a few ruling the many under such a model, through an erosion of self-reliance.  In the long run, we’re more likely to end up in “tyranny of the majority” scenarios.

The growth of federal programs under Obama has been dramatic.  We still have many unelected czars and it looks as though Obamacare may be here to stay. Here are some IRS forms you’ll be filling out shortly.  A maze of new laws regulating the financial industry under Dodd-Frank has been signed into law, some of which have already passed costs along to the consumer.  We’ve seen the growth of the EPA and heavy regulation of the energy sector.


I’d like to try and work towards a theme:

While still being one of the best, and most thorough, news-gathering services, NPR generally cleaves to a Left-Of-Center political philosophy.  I suspect many folks at NPR aim to be like the BBC in Britain, or the CBC in Canada:  Not only the national standard in news but perhaps the nationalized cultural gatekeepers as well.  According to their lights, they see themselves as having a duty to promote and fund the arts, education, and knowledge.

That said, NPR is guilty of what many Americans have been guilty of, something which seems to transcend politics:  They’ve followed the national greatness model and assumed that American greatness, economic dominance and good times are a guarantee.

Here are two problems with NPR’s approach:

-NPR usually puts environmental interests above business interests.

The dangers of environmental policy can be seen in California, where environmental regulations can stagnate the economy.    These policies shift the cost of land management onto individuals and landowners, while creating laws whose oversight those citizens must finance, often inefficiently through a system of taxation and regulation.  Politicos have every incentive to keep taxpayer money flowing to themselves and a few companies, pressured by the green lobby and riding waves of green public sentiment, always with an eye on reelection.  This has actively driven many individuals and families out of the state.

Perhaps even some conservationists realize that activism generally leads to big money and big politics, and that  everyday people can suffer the most, especially those who aim to be self-reliant.

Californians can leave California, but on the national level, sadly, the rest of us have few options.

-NPR has promoted multiculturalism and diversity often as the highest ideas around.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism creates a system of incentives which rewards racial and identity politics, and at its worst, a kind of modern tribalism where group membership and loyalty come first.

Identity groups can remain Balkanized, and treat the public treasury like a piggy bank, politics like a system of patronage, and the laws like bludgeons in order to gain and maintain political power.  This is especially true of big-city machine politics, where the corruption is baked-in.  Government’s the only thing we all belong todoes, in fact, reflect a gaping hole at the center of modern liberal establishment thinking.  If such thinking continues to follow Obama’s brand of activism, that hole will continue to be there.


Monticello.  Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-F8-1046

Monticello. Prints & Photograph Division, Library Of Congress LC-F8-1046

In response, it might not be a bad idea to promote a more agrarian Jeffersonian liberalism instead of the California or the current NPR liberal establishment models.   It’s a little worrying that California has traditionally been a cultural bellwether for the rest of the nation.  There’s a fiscal crisis in the Golden State, and enough multiculturalism and environmentalism that Californians may well keep voting for the model until it crashes, or they are forced to act otherwise.

I’d humbly ask that Northeastern and old school Democrats, the classical liberals, the Jeffersonians, the self-reliant, and the reasonably skeptical to reconsider where the current liberal establishment is headed under an Obama administration.

It’s affecting all of us.

Addition: NPR has roots in 60’s Civil Rights activism, and thus is often most sympathetic to 60’s type coalitions of protest models including feminists, environmentalists, race and identity politickers etc. They can get criticism from their Left for being too mainstream, and they can attach these 60’s coalitions to mainstream liberalism, politics and culture. I’m guessing you’re not going to find nakedly partisan or activists behind the scenes, really, but rather people so embedded in their own worldview (that of secular liberal humanism and progress) that they presuppose such a worldview when reporting on events.

Liberal, Left-liberal and Center-Left statists are words that seem to apply.

Another addition:  I should add that I don’t believe we either can, nor should want to return to an agrarian society, but rather, contra Hamilton, we should aim for institutions that promote the individual, his family, and the free associations he makes above political activism, lobbyists, big government and big corporations in bed together, which is where ideas like environmentalism and multiculturalism most often lead.  It’s the political philosophy that lies behind, and beneath what’s become of current establishment liberal thinking in that has not yet figured out how to protect the individual from the big money and big politics that are a result of such thinking in practice.

Related On This Site:  Jack Shafer At Slate: ‘Nonprofit Journalism Comes At A Cost’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…How Would Obama Respond To Milton Friedman’s Four Ways To Spend Money?

A Few Thoughts On Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: “Why Blue Can’t Save The Inner Cities Part I”

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling.  Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom:  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art.  The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’

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

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?

Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?

As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.

The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.

Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone?  How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?

Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:

‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

Has John Gray turned away from value pluralism into a kind of ‘godless mysticism?’


Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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

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