I’d been charting the return to ‘Hitler Year-Zero‘ as a product of the Frankfurt School and the radical Left’s infiltration of the American academy. ‘Anti-fascism’ was, after all, driving many socialists, communists, and various other collectivist utopians into war with the fascist right (see Orwell in Spain). Through the Straussian lens, at least, both these manifestations of Left/Right are two sides of the same coin. Their highest goods are totalizing, collectivizing ideologies, coalescing into warring political factions.
Left-leaners dislike the suggestion that supporting radical activists while supporting ‘classical liberalism’ (free-speech, free-markets, individual liberties as many do in their personal lives) might be conflicting goals, requiring of hard choices.
The drive towards ‘democracy’ and ‘equity’, mobilizing every injustice in activists’ lives, often falls apart in the face of definitional scrutiny. So, only you support ‘democracy’ and your political adversaries don’t? What do mean by democracy, exactly? Rule by the demos? Which problems arise from rule by the demos?
As I see the world: Such ideologues, within coalitions, drive against enemies as much as towards such shared conceptions of the moral good. Thus, not all things religious, traditional, and conservative are ‘evil,’ nor are people who defend some tradition or religious belief ‘fascist,’ unless your own ideas are….totalizing and fascist.
The lesson: Basically, if all you’ve got are are socialists, communists and ‘anti-fascists’ claiming to stand for liberty, you’re f**ked.
A harder task: Convincing many liberal idealists, soft collectivists, secular humanists and ‘one-worlder’ types that harder choices are on the horizon between their ‘freedom-is-next-I’m-a-good-person’ mindset and the radicals.
I’m expecting most to slip into the blame, resentment and anger at anything conservative, traditional and religious. Most of us, most of the time, play the political games of the day even as the Overton Window shifts. This is much easier to do if people like Donald Trump arise to stand up for conservative ideas (I suppose I’m Trump-skeptical, but next time ’round I’ve got one vote and two choices like you). Most media and most of the academies will be teaching such ideas from young ages, and in high-places.
It will be harder to convince many people who might be conservative, traditional and religious that not everything ‘liberal’ is far-Left, radical and activist, even though we’re all arguably running aground in the postmodern muck. Here, too, the political games of the day will usually triumph. The once-conservative, patriotic, traditional American cultural majority is now more of a minority, needing more legal protections and possessing more good reasons for truth and reflection now that the liberal types are arguably a majority.
I’m just trying to keep one-foot-in and one-foot-out, moving all about.
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:
My two cents: If your metaphysics is hung upon the bones of a failed theory of (H)istory, with the goal of dismantling civil society, through violent revolution if necessary, then guerilla-style tactics are your best bet.
You don’t have much influence if you don’t gain traction within universities, co-opt many administrative and political institutions, and come to control the largesse of many wealthy donors, seeking to sway opinion through ‘culture.’ Many aesthetes and good critics can end up here, too.
This seems to be the case now in many quarters.
Many other products of the Enlightenment, the rather Romantic idea of (M)an, and (M)an returning to (N)ature through the exultation of the Poets and the Romantic genius, or the mission of bettering all (H)umankind through Western (R)eason and (P)rogress, these seem to be default ideals within the West, often pursued through political idealism.
Liberal idealists, from my point of view, tend to live on similar real estate as many radicals when it comes to change as a first principle (generally a good), and can share similar attitudes regarding religion, tradition, and the rule of law as things which should be looked at, primarily, to change.
If your primary personal, professional, and moral commitments are to the (E)nvironment, (W)omen’s Liberation, or (L)iberation in general, then you are possibly sympathetic to the aims (if not always the methods) of critical theorists. They often speak your language. Fairness and Equality, against some injustice, or perceived injustice, are likely shared moral lights.
‘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?
‘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?
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:
‘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 otherforms 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.
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:
‘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.’
‘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’
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?’
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.
-(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:
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.’
“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.’
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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 putsenvironmental 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 to” does, 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
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.
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?’