Thanks to a reader for the link. Deep but very readable. How universal is the desire for individual freedom?:
‘Some people take the view that we in the West are fortunate to enjoy freedom, because it is a universal human aspiration that has been commonly frustrated in most societies. This is one of the more pernicious illusions we entertain about human kind. Most people have never lived in free societies, nor exhibited any desire or capacity for freedom’
‘What most people seem to want, however, is to know exactly where they stand and to be secure in their understanding of their situation.’
Isn’t that last part a universal claim upon human nature? If so, Minogue generally resisted the idea that evolutionary theories could be transferred successfully to Statecraft.
He is arguing that it’s easy to mistake your experiences and ideas within our Western tradition for that of peoples everywhere.
Maybe you’ve traveled and experienced the tribal taboos and family/kin loyalties of smaller bands and ethnic groups. Maybe you’ve been up close to the transcendental submission of will in faith in Islam, uniting a patchwork of tribes and peoples under its claims with high honor ethic and a strong warrior tradition (the individual doesn’t choose whether to drink or have women work outside of the home). Maybe you’ve seen the caste system in India, or the authoritarian feudal landownership structure in Pakistan, or the ancient, imperial Chinese structure with a Han core, now still a strong State structure charting some kind of course out of Communism.
What is unique about our traditions?
Towards the end of the essay:
‘The balance in our tradition between the rules we must respect because they are backed by the authority of law, and the free choice in the other elements of our life is one that free agents rightly will not wish to see disturbed.’
Food for thought.
Roger Kimball quoting Minogue:
‘The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Rulers are adding moral judgments to the expanding schedule of powers they exercise. Nor does the state deal merely with principles. It is actually telling its subjects to do very specific things. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?’
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just is their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
Useful?: On one side a generally more religious, more traditional, more patriotic cultural majority and on the other a less religious, less traditional, less patriotic cultural minority. Gradually, then suddenly, the iceberg flips.
‘Home, hearth, town, state and nation,’ becomes more like ‘home, foyer, community, democracy units and global human village’ a good deal more than before.
The data that Eric Kaufmann presents and explains about ideological prejudice, social intolerance, and “affective polarization” (“Political Discrimination as Civil-Rights Struggle,” July 12) are as disturbing as they are depressing. Progressive authoritarianism is a growing problem, particularly among young elites and thus at the commanding heights of business, culture, and education. ‘
This blog’s take: What do you think of the analogy? Useful?
What you most focus on as a threat, often reveals what you most value.
Freedom doesn’t equal liberation. Many people causing the iceberg to flip have done so by promoting illiberal thought and action, violence, ideological utopianism, and of course, through the further control of language (words=violence).
Liberalism proper hasn’t provided a sufficient-enough moral framework to prevent this state of affairs, and the force of the iceberg’s flip has scattered apart the old Liberal Guard, the ‘classicals’, the Old Left (Marxists and free-speech, pro-science Left).
There are deeper currents affecting all of us.
Meanwhile, much of the cultural production (music, T.V., acceptable discourse) continues to drift along where it does…
I know, I know. Smith and Hayek may not be enough, but they offer quite a bit:
‘Smith offers us nothing less than a critique of ‘scientific socialism’, a doctrine that was to emerge almost two centuries later. This theory asserts that a benevolent government may achieve the social good, or, at any rate, socially desirable ends, through planning and directing a society and its citizens by means of legislation, rules, regulations and administrative fiat. ‘
‘In Vanuatu, Theroux finds villages where Christianity had been abandoned in the late 1930s in favour of the John Frum cult. John Frum, if that was his actual name, seems to have been an American pilot whose appearance was taken as a sign calling for a return to the old animist traditions — no more tithing, Ten Commandments, or prudish, meddling missionaries. And he promised “cargo”: useful, valuable goods from another world. Some villages fly the American flag as an act of continuing faith, and people even told Theroux the Gulf War was an event perhaps heralding Frum’s next appearance.‘
‘Unfortunately, for many American politicians, federalism is a dead letter, broken up on the obsession with equality and rights. Though Minogue does not discuss federalism in depth, The Servile Mind is a crucial book for the task of understanding and reconstructing the proper bases for a free society.‘
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘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‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
As previously posted:
Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.
As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?
Those who rebel against authority, mindlessly, are more likely to embody a new authority.
Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.
Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:
‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’
There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’
“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”
‘This is, perhaps, the main significance of Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom–not the cogency of his doctrine, but the fact that it is a doctrine. A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but belongs to the same style of politics. ‘
‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.
‘Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle. The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies. One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’
‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’
‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.
The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.
As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.
Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.
There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.
As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.
‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):
‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’
It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:
‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’
‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’
I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.
A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
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?
Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.
Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).
Charles Hill strikes me as a man with actual, real-world experience, and an interest in theory. A man who focused on his students, challenging them beyond what he saw as anemic ‘issue-based’ thinking. This is getting a lot of things right, in my opinion.
It’s a pretty rough, and ‘real’, world out there.
Yes, the Chinese leadership is playing a longer game with Taiwan, Hong-Kong, its historical borders and the Belt and Road initiative. This is a strategic, deeply authoritarian vision, ruthless at times, and quite adversarial to many American interests. A sizable number of Chinese folks probably don’t agree with their own leadership. Good luck with that, Chinese folks, American policy-makers, American allies, and anyone along the Belt and Road.
We all have interests, reasons, and hard choices to make.
At home and in the Anglosphere, I like Eric Kaufmann’s practical suggestions for restoring some balance in our universities.
It’s almost like we’ve had a couple of generations of relatively unrealistic, questionable stewardship about what’s important. When it comes to Self-knowledge (instead of (S)elf-Worship wrapped in liberation fantasies and New Age claptrap), people, all too often, are finding themselves captive to rules and expectations.
This way lies further opinioneering:
Joe Biden was the establishment alternative to a populist-Left Bernie (something like a Socialist). Socialism, if fully implemented, is immiserating, soul-crushing and murderous. Old dreams die hard. If we’re lucky, here at home, Bernie’s leadership would mean a politics of fewer jobs and freedoms, lots of incompetence, strikes, and more violence.
Biden, after becoming Obama’s VP and with Obama’s imprimatur, has courted as much of the black vote as he can. He is also seeking to maintain the black-leadership vote (SPLC, ‘race’-leaders, Civil Rights and BLM wrongs). A good amount of such thinking flirts with Democratic Socialism, ‘baptized Marxism,’ and supporting the rule of law…some of the time.
Channeling such interests has led to a spate of new executive gun orders. As for me, Dear Reader, I choose to see Joe Biden as a decrepit, glad-handing product of his times and places, guiding an overbuilt and semi-functional executive branch (the next guy will have many similar incentives). He’s what vanishingly remains of the ‘moderate’ old-school Democratic leadership, back when people talked about War Bonds.
Much left-liberal sentiment, these days, is finding release by blaming lot of current political and media failures, and the country’s failures, on psychologically comforting sources like Trump (for all his faults) and various tribal enemies. Or by pursuing policies like gun-control and Teacher’s Unions'(I be-LIEVE the CHIL-dren are our FU-ture….).
It is what it is.
Oh, there will be politics. Where have you been seen?
In the meantime, many Country-Club Republicans have been seen a bit dazed, wandering local putting-greens, nursing martinis. Some Never-Trumpers have been seen posing as Democrats, sneering at rednecks and definitely seen as NOT RACIST. Some religious folks have gone woke, and some religious folks have gone crazy. Many traditionalists have been seen hiding out within traditions. Many folks in big-businesses and the corporate bureaucratic webs of influence, have been seen signaling professional wokeness as a matter of cultural relevance, and survival. A lot of people I know are interested in ‘Helping the Cause’ when they patronize a restaurant or buy a bit of stock (I be-LIEVE I WILL BE in the FU-ture…).
Once such right-of-center coalitions get into power, I’m expecting a fair amount of dipshittery and bad policy, too. There are always assholes and creeps in the mix. Politics is the art of the possible, after all. They’ll no doubt be a lot of finding release by blaming political and media enemies, and on psychologically comforting sources like The Left and Socialists (as real as I think these threats are to genuine freedoms).
Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be less government?
It’s probably too much to hope.
Political institutions, not too long ago, were still appealing to a profound American idealism with much more credibility than they have now. The call to higher things, these days, is very faint among better sorts, while the bellows are busy with hot emotions and worse people.
Socially and culturally, rural folks, gun-owners, and small-government types (me in this last category, definitely), are something of an out-group. The majority hasn’t held, and many longer trend lines have caught-up. Such folks are often mischaracterized and held to ridiculous double-standards. Sure, I don’t mind being someone it’s okay to piss on!
What a hot, glorious rain!
On a personal and professional level, I take people as they are, and hope they do the same for me. We’d probably get along in most situations.
With and increasingly sclerotic leadership bench (Bush–Clinton–Clinton–Younger Bush–Younger Bush–Obama–Obama–Trump–Biden), we’ve all got, needless to say, serious problems.
On that note, please enjoy some photos I’ve managed to take while out walking (not working, not with loved ones):
I’m getting to levels of passing incompetence with my iPhone 8:
“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.”