Reasonable-Sounding Schemes, Rosy Dreams & Plans From Above: Some Links On Michael Oakeshott’s ‘Rationalism In Politics’

Lately, when I can manage an hour or two of unbothered attention, I’ve been having a dialogue with a rather deep 20th-century Englishman. This gentleman sees the divorce of technique from practical knowledge, and the over-reliance on technique, as one of the deepest epistemological mistakes of modern man:

‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.  Pg 6.

You can’t just toss direct experience, long history, developed traditions and deep practice into a pot, can you?  Were you just going to bring your pot to a rolling boil, skim the top, bottle it up and sell it as the ‘Last Cookbook You’ll Ever Need’?

Who is Oakeshott’s Rationalist?  Perhaps nearly all of us:

‘At bottom, he stands (he always stands) for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligation to any authority save the authority of ‘reason.’  His circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious: He is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual.  His mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and judge it by what he calls his ‘reason:’ optimistic because the rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason’ (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propiety of an action.  Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind…’

Pg 6.

But in particular, the following:

‘He is not devoid of humility; he can imagine a problem which would remain impervious to the onslaught of his own reason.  But what he can not imagine is politics which do not consist of solving problems, or a political problem of which there is no ‘rational’ solution at all.’

Pg. 10.

We Americans are Rationalists, to some extent, with our founding documents kept under glass:

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”

Oakeshott again:

‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic.  And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies.  And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular.  For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’

Pg 31.

I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.

What should ‘common men’ have done with relatively limited experience and practice of their own, but such a long and mixed inheritance to draw upon?

Hasn’t our American solution (posing admitted cultural threats to established English traditions) helped ameliorate the effects of long-stratified classes, resentments, and bitternesses which have allowed a much deeper Marxism (ideology par excellence) to flourish in the U.K?

Has the American influence made them worse?

Perhaps if long history and deep practice have helped organically produce Monarchy, Aristocracy, landed gentry and unlanded serfs; a country where an accent can immediately rank order one’s class and status, then America’s rationalist common man has gotten some things right?

Food for thought.

Is that the sight of tweed moving amongst the trees upon the horizon?

To Hounds!:

I must say Oakeshott offers refreshing critique of thinkers from Descartes to Bacon and Marx to Hayek, and I imagine he can easily be applied to Rawls, Nozick and any other very bright, systemizing thinkers of the 20th century.

Often times, brilliance and genius in the mathematical sciences can help reformulate and solve some of the deeper problems of the Natural World, but such thinking doesn’t necessarily travel well beyond these spheres.

Beware the Man Of System?

And one should also probably remember this, from Hamlet’s Ghost:

‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy’

Thinking of politics as just a ‘science,’ can obviously be a problem, for example.  Thinking all the reasons for deep disagreement between people (religion, belief, habit, custom) are going to be solved with the latest theory or a new politico-managment style is full of obvious problems.

Rationalism, on this view, decays frequently into ideology, as well, and there’s no shortage of ideological doctrines nor ideologues and narrow, doctrinal sorts this past century.

On that note, please let me know what I’ve gotten wrong, or missing thus far.

***Dear Reader, I beseech you to recall that I’m full-time employed elsewhere and this blog is a labor of love; a means to keep learning.  Please send $1,000,000+ checks discreetly in the mail.

Also on this site:

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott…Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

…Repost: Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

I Was Asked The Other Day About The Conservative Temperment…

There is a habit among naturalists and those working in the sciences I know towards sustained abstract thinking and problem-solving.  Many of the profound questions underlying, say, the push to Mars, are, in fact to find out if life could be there (possibly microbial life beneath the surface now or long ago).

From what I’ve observed, such a task requires one’s use of reason, imagination, math skills, engineering experience, and people skills to build a rover to solve particular problems. It can yield incredibly precise and long-lasting knowledge of the natural world, and keeps yielding new data coming back from the surface of our nearest neighboring planetary body.

It also takes smarts, courage and dedication.

I’ve learned how you ask questions can be as important as the questions themselves, and the questions you ask can sometimes, curiously, be more important than the answers you get.  The ‘method’ used to achieve these milestones has much to do with a crowning tradition and achievement of human endeavor, particularly of Western thinking, thus far.

More deeply, we’ve all wondered why we might be here, why there’s such joy, friendship and love in our lives but also so much suffering, pain and death.  It’s pretty much an axiomatic truth that everything which lives must die.  This is the tragedy each of us must bear, laughing all the way to grave or trodding carefully, with utmost seriousness.  Boredom so often overtakes us.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

Religious traditions and metaphysics offer answers to many deep questions, but I generally remain unconvinced they’re always able to offer the best path towards that which is true.

One of the broadest appeals conservatism has for me is its tragic view of human nature.  Upon reading many poems, and songs, and engaging in trying to write poems and compose basic two-voice songs myself, I’ve found that much of my own nature is deeply flawed.  As any of us who’ve experienced love can attest, or getting a well-deserved punched in the nose along the way, it is usually for some flaw or fear we know to be true in ourselves for which we can punish others.

Looking inwards, I am capable of noble, chivalrous sacrifice and exertions of steady will, but frankly, I’m also capable of very selfish, petty, blind impulses and urges. I’ve learned to be very careful what I find myself thinking, as I believe my thoughts dictate who I become.

I tend to see human civilization as thin veneer over a valueless Nature.  Each moment is ours to discover, and to choose more than we may ultimately know, though few, if any of can live with such intensity in all but a few moments of our lives.  We human beings can’t bear too much truth for too long.

I tend to see our traditions and laws, institutions and language as tissues of contingency, ever-changing in a changing world and no better nor worse than the individuals and ideas bouncing around within them at any given time.

Hope that helps!

***What have I got wrong?  What am I missing?

 

Three Thursday Links-Mars, The Dead & The Perpetual Public Victims

Imagine sub-freezing temperatures and free radicals bombarding the near atmosphere-less Martian surface (oxidized and rusted red, barren), but below the Martian surface lurk big blocks of briny ice; ice with freezing cold, incredibly salty water around them and maybe just enough O2 to support some microbes.

Worth thinking about.

What are you doing with your imagination?

‘Due to the scarcity of O2 in the modern Martian atmosphere, Mars has been assumed to be incapable of producing environments with sufficiently large concentrations of O2 to support aerobic respiration. Here, we present a thermodynamic framework for the solubility of O2 in brines under Martian near-surface conditions. We find that modern Mars can support liquid environments with dissolved O2 values ranging from ~2.5 × 10−6 mol m−3 to 2 mol m−3 across the planet, with particularly high concentrations in polar regions because of lower temperatures at higher latitudes promoting O2 entry into brines’

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Perhaps quite a bit can be explained within modern movements by the following:

Freedom is precious, and liberty comes with responsibility.  Radical liberation might well involve releasing oneself from an obligation right into the clutches of some less fair, less just and less reasonable obligation.

No one’s going to tell you the new rules emerging from the latest moral ideas sweeping the ‘culture,’ you might only find out after breaking a new rule.

Due process easily becomes ‘do process our way’ and you’re wise to surmise how people are behaving now is probably how they’ll behave into the future.

Repost-Roger Kimball At Arma Virumque: ‘Santayana On Liberalism And Other Matters Of Interest’

Full essay here.

Worth a read:

‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’

and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:

‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’

For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always. The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.

Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city. It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times. Very austere. It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:

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Quote found here:

‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’

That Catholic influence can also get a little intense:

‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’

Maybe they got a little carried away during the Reconquest.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarSome Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

British conservatism with a fair amount of German idealist influence: Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

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?’

Six 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 platforms, and the election of Trump as some sort of response.

As someone of more conservative and religious temperment, but as someone who is not a believer and deeply committed to many projects of the Enlightenment, I’m 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.

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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.’

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Perhaps conservative Briton Roger Scruton is just being nostalgic for what he describes as the old humanism, but there sure is a lot of Hegel informing his thought:

Hesitate!

“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”

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Copied from Will Wilkinson’s piece on Gerry Gaus’s then 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.

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Theodore Dalrymple on the new atheists.

Dalrymple:

‘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.’

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

Post-60’s, I’m seeing a lot of people sucked into radical discontent, righteous certitude and often religion-deep belief in secular ideals and ideologies, demanding immediate change often faster than institutional stability can keep up.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine (in Britain), I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

His recent public statements don’t help

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

Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

Below is some criticism of Scruton from a Kantian-Friesian line of thinking.

Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’

However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?

‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.

First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.

Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Addition:  As a friend points out:  Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone.  The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends.  This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…

Factions, Factions, Everywhere?-Some Links & Thoughts On Trump’s UK Visit

Perhaps religiously-inspired, family-focused conservatism and civic nationalism no longer form a majority stake in American cultural and political opinion.  Perhaps, at least, neither holds the political and cultural sway they once did as part of an Establishment.

Perhaps the passing, or at least, a similar weakening, of the old WASP establishment has been going on for generations now.

Both are possibilities in my opinion, and Donald Trump’s identification of a significant voting bloc of under-represented and under-served Americans interested in jobs, borders and national security can help explain why conservatism has split into competing factions and groups.

From my limited view, I see a base loyal to Trump (jobs and borders especially, anti-PC and anti-establishment sentiment), while others have been repulsed by Trump’s vulgarity, personal failures, character issues and antipathy to trade.

Across a fair divide, too, I also see many liberal political idealists, progressives and activists currently out of political power making anti-Trumpism into a very personal project, indeed.

Such variables are probably influencing some of what we are witnessing more broadly:  Bloated and weakened American institutions (for many more reasons yet), the rise of political extremism and the harder-to-find political center; a serious lack of civility.

Perhaps these variables can even help explain the global, or at least Anglospheric, factionalism on display this past weekend:  Donald Trump’s economic nationalism clashing with the diversity and multicultural idealism expressed by the mayor of London over the issues of Brexit and terrorism.

We shouldn’t forget that political leaders can’t be seen as too far removed from the interests and opinions of the people they serve.

I often return to the below seeking a quieter place to reflect:

‘The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.’

-Madison, James. The Federalist Papers: No 10.  The Avalon Project.

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial.  Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony.  In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral idea.’

-Minogue, Kenneth.  Politics.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

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”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Science Is Real, Water Is Life, If You Just Believe, There’ll Be No Strife

As found in a yard, on Capital Hill, in Seattle:

IMG_1206(1)

I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.

I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:

John Locke found here:

“7. What is meant by enthusiasmThis I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”

Jordan Peterson’s epistemological foundations can be challenged, his assumptions probed, his ideas teased-out to some foreseen/unforeseen logical consequences, but let’s not forget that he’s been taking a huge personal hit (with some personal gain) in standing-up for the ability to debate foundations, assumptions and ideas freely in public.

A defense of tradition by way of the social sciences (psychology, in this case) can make one a heretic.

A defense of the social sciences (IQ research) with policy implications can make one heretical against those whose assumptions guide them to try and save the world through potentially dangerous utopianism and political activism:

On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate regarding race, IQ and Charles Murray.

On what happened when Charles Murray tried to speak at Middlebury College and encountered a frenzied mob of cult-like intensity, which eventually became violent:

On what happened when Bret Weinstein (whose progressive ideals I generally don’t share, but whose intellectual freedom, evo-bio research and freedom of speech I obviously do) stood up to a day of exclusion at Evergreen State:

It wasn’t exactly peaceful:

As previously posted:

From Darwinian Conservatism, as Larry Arnhart is dealing with many of these ideas.  Here’s the banner from the site:

‘The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. By contrast, a Darwinian science of human nature supports traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals in their realist view of human imperfectibility, and in their commitment to ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, cultural traditions, and prudential judgments.’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

‘Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

 First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.’

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

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:

His recent public statements don’t help

Alas, The BBC, Angela Merkel, & Banksy-Some Links

Bari Weiss, Douglas Murray and Ed Husain discuss the high social costs and threats to free speech created by hardening social and institutional orthodoxies in our post 60’s landscape.  This modern landscape can look a bit more like a muddy field than some sort of egalo-utopia glittering upon the horizon above the muddy field.

Or maybe the muddy field just has an enormous, corporate bureaucratic-type structure sitting atop it, one which used to be run more by WASPs, but is now increasingly run by people listening to or kow-towing to activists, progressives and people committed to radical change within.

Or maybe this writing isn’t so good.  Apologies.

Liberation is next!

Nod and smile at the latest moral idea…or else:

The best kinds of clubs tend to be those whose members aren’t even sure they’re in a club.

The most interesting kinds of people can be free-thinkers, maintaining their humility, kindling a flame of quiet moral courage when called-upon.

Some of these people are quite traditional.

On another note, if any country seems to follow rules and keep an orderly house, that would be modern Germany.  Even the laughter can be a bit stiff.  Living far away from Germans, I was surprised by Angela’s Merkel’s move to fling open the meticulously aligned doors of Germany in 2015 so a seriously high number refugees could come-in, chill-out and you know…just be German.

Was the modern political soil so thin, the popular sentiment channeled so poorly, that no one foresaw any problems with this?

At least Adam Garfinkle offered a reasonable diagnosis at the time:

‘I would love to be proved wrong about all this. But the derangement of moral reasoning in Western Europe seems so advanced and deep that it is hard to be optimistic. One fears that if reasonable people do not somehow apply a brake to this wild excess of selfless saintliness, unreasonable people eventually will.’

Speaking of not thinking things through, the arts will need better thieves, artists and hob-knobbing art snobs if this really is the state of affairs:

Some Not So Recently Updated Links On Postmodernism

David Thompson offers satire on such matters.

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

The Sokal hoax:

“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”

Sokal has been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.

Mentioned In The Review:  Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…


Daniel Dennett from 1998: Postmodernism and Truth

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?


Tim Kavanaugh at Reason: Every Man A Derrida

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]


Using quite a bit of German idealism to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:

On this site, see:

More Scruton here.

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

*******And mostly, but not entirely unrelated, you can make your own Tom Friedman columns at home.  Is Tom Friedman a bot?

Related On This Site:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Ed West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

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”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

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