Repost: Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Original piece here (updated).

Gray reviews Daniel Oppenheimer’s ‘Exit Right: The People Who Left The Left And Reshaped The American Century’

From the Amazon blurb on the book:

‘By going deep into the minds of six apostates Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz, and Christopher Hitchens, Oppenheimer offers an unusually intimate history of the American left, and the right’s reaction.’

Gray highlights something I certainly find attractive about conservatism:

‘Ever since it emerged in the late 18th century as a distinct tradition of modern thought, conservatism has been defined by a suspicion of grand schemes of world improvement. Whether their thinking was grounded in a religious belief in original sin (as in the cases of Edmund Burke and the American conservative Russell Kirk) or a sceptical view of the power of human reason (as in David Hume and Michael Oakeshott), conservatives distrusted any attempt to remake the world according to the dictates of high-minded ideals and abstract models.’

Neo-conservatism comes in for criticism as having a hand in all of modern American politics.

Gray:

‘George W Bush’s crazed pursuit of regime change and its continuation in some policies of the Obama administration, particularly when acting under the direction of Hillary Clinton, were the result.’

A few humble observations about the second Iraq invasion:

There was a reassertion of many Americans’ nationalism, pride, and fear, especially after 9/11, and the desire for revenge against that rather awful blow against civilians and innocents at home, in a business setting no less (3,000 lives lost and a lot of terror). Strategically, Iraq could be convincingly argued to be a serious misstep.

George W. Bush’s inherited guilt at leaving the Iraqi Kurds to their fate under Saddam on his father’s watch seems to have played a part (for which I have no evidence, but I’ve long thought…which is a product of deeper American life and politics).

Let me know if/how wrong I might be.

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Perhaps one of Gray’s main takeaways, a la Oppenheimer, is the almost religious-type experience some people have had within Communist ideals, an experience which drastically shaped this past century, and our lives.

He finishes with:

‘Except for Chambers and Horowitz, Oppenheimer’s apostates learned very little from their journey across the political spectrum. Those who banged the drum for war were as ignorant of the countries whose governments they wanted to overthrow as they been had of the workers they had claimed to be fighting for in the past. In both cases they used people of whom they knew nothing to satisfy their own need for significance. Believing they had left behind the mistakes of the radical left, they helped create a new right that repeated the same follies. Along the way, an older and more civilised conservatism was consigned to the memory hole.’

Hitchens could be entertaining, especially on grounds I’m guessing he knew instinctively well as a former Trotskyite: Ideologies, while highlighting truths, promise a one-stop shop on truth, knowledge, how to be in the world, what to do and what the future will be.

People can kill for less, and when they adhere to such systems, then they can end-up killing more:

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

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

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

Via Bloggingheads-Helen Andrews On Meritocracy

Full discussion here.

Helen Andrews offers a critique of the meritocratic system she sees dominating U.S. education (more grades, achievement and performance-based…less legacy and WASP based).

Yes, the old system had its problems and horrors, but she cites its end in a Victorian redesign of the British civil service, a redesign whose counterpart is now thriving here in the U.S. since the 1960’s.

Andrews from her original piece:

‘Others favor the slightly more radical solution of redefining our idea of merit, usually in a way that downplays what Guinier calls “pseudoscientific measures of excellence.” She even has a replacement in mind, the Bial-Dale College Adaptability Index, the testing of which involves Legos. (Why are you laughing? It is backed by a study.) This is even less likely to work than fiddling with the equality-of-opportunity end. For one thing, the minority of families willing to do whatever it takes to get into Harvard will still do whatever it takes to get into Harvard.’

and:

‘My solution is quite different. The meritocracy is hardening into an aristocracy—so let it. Every society in history has had an elite, and what is an aristocracy but an elite that has put some care into making itself presentable? Allow the social forces that created this aristocracy to continue their work, and embrace the label.’

Is there proof of a causal mechanism from which this meritocracy will thus harden into an aristocratic elite?

If so, will it just be an elite of different ideals, assumptions, blind-spots and stupidities…now with top-down social-science and pseudo-scientific bureaucratic/administrative oversight?:

As I see it, yes, these schools were always about grooming ambitious, wealthy, and well-connected people to some extent; grooming them into institutions that often govern the rest of us.

***I’d add that much like the deeper logic behind a more general multiculturalism, its practitioners and the younger people raised within this system can easily lose sight of the lenses they’re using to view the world (shared ideals and assumptions about moral virtue, truth and knowledge claims, the idea of moving towards the telos of a ‘better world’ which can now become the social glue of the institutions themselves).

***I should add that I’m rather sympathetic to Andrews’ slow-change, tradition-favoring, conservative-ish, position.

I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of this quote by Ken Minogue:

‘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 ideas.’

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

If we are coming apart, who’s putting us back together? :  Via Youtube: ‘Are We Really Coming Apart?’ Charles Murray and Robert Putnam Discuss…Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Related On This Site: Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

The anti-intellectual’s intellectual: Repost-Via Youtube: Eric Hoffer-’The Passionate State Of Mind’

Leo Strauss:From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be, which is remarkably like it is now: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

How dare he?: Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?From The Harvard Educational Review-

Still reliving the 60′s?: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

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.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Thursday Quotation-Kenneth Minogue

‘Their [realists’] concern is that utopian aspirations towards a new peaceful world order will simply absolutize conflicts and make them more intractable. National interests are in some degree negotiable; rights, in principle, are not. International organizations such as the United Nations have not been conspicuously successful in bringing peace, and it is likely that the states of the world would become extremely nervous of any move to give the UN the overwhelming power needed to do this.

Ken Minogue, found here, passed along by a reader.

William F. Buckley And Kenneth Minogue Discuss IdeologyKenneth Minogue At The New Criterion: ‘The Self-Interested Society’

Repost-Friday Link To The New Criterion-Ken Minogue

From The New Criterion-Ken Minogue’s ‘How Civilizations Fall

‘All of this might be construed (as it was by radical feminists themselves) as a massive access of confidence among women, but it might also signify a complete collapse of the feminine in the face of a wider and more ambiguous project using women to create a totally androgynous (and manipulable) world. In such a world, men and women would become virtually indistinguishable.’


As previously posted:

Full piece here.

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.’

And:

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

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.

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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?

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RelatedA definition of humanism:

“‘…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.”

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

Related On This SiteFrom 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?’

Thursday Quotation-Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.  Without such means it might even risque the loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most religiously to preserve.  The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution, when England found itself without a king.  At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in their antient edifice; they did not however, dissolve the whole fabric.’

Edmund Burke, commenting on the French Revolution, in The Evils Of Revolution, What Is Liberty Without Wisdom And Without Virtue It Is The Greatest Of All Possible Evils, New York, NY. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008.  Pg 8.

Some People Have Had Grand Plans For The Future-Technocratic Utopianism Runs Deep

Michael Lewis at The New Criterion: ‘The Architect Of The Reich:’

‘Albert Speer (1905–1981) was born in Mannheim, Germany, the son and grandson of architects. Pushed by his father to study architecture, he studied first in Karlsruhe, then Munich, but he only became serious after he transferred to Berlin. There he applied to study with Hans Poelzig, the brilliant expressionist architect of Weimar Germany, who rejected Speer as an inferior draftsman. Disappointed, he turned to the man who was Poelzig’s polar opposite, Heinrich Tessenow, a reform-minded architect with a love of simple, clear volumes and neoclassical clarity—the ultimate basis of Nazi architecture. Speer, who all his life knew how to ingratiate himself, sufficiently impressed Tessenow to become his teaching assistant.’

From the looks of it, there’s some serious neo-classicism going on; deep Greco-Roman influence.

The thing likely would have been built if it weren’t for WWII:

So, what about neo-classicism mixed with ‘technocratic utopianism,’ or the rather suspicious desire to centrally plan, control, and organize everyone’s lives on the way the Glorious Future?:

Robert Hughes saw echoes of this technocratic modern utopianism in Albany, New York.  It really may not be that far from Mussolini to the bland bureaucratic corporatism found elsewhere in the West:

‘…classicism with a pastry-cutter,’

And as for the fascists having:

…a jackboot in either camp, one in the myth of ancient Rome, one in the vision of a technocratic future.

Some photos of Albany here (from Althouse).  It doesn’t exactly blend-in with the neighborhood.

Should you disagree, you are worse than Hitler:

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As previously posted:

A reader sends a link to a bad public art blog.

From Buzzfeed:  The 7 Ugliest Government Buildings In Washington D.C. (Via Althouse)

From an article in Der Spiegel on the Bauhaus, where modernism got its start:

‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘

I’m always a little skeptical of such grand visions.  Utopianism runs deep.

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What if there was a Wisconsin motor court/supper club with global ambitions?  What if you fused a local motel with the U.N. internationalist style, you ask?

Click here to experience ‘The Gobbler.

After taking the photo tour, I remain convinced that ‘The Gobbler’ exists in its own realm of awesome badness.  Such a shag-covered, abandoned love-child of the late 60′s and early 70′s is challenging just what I thought I knew about American culture.

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Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism.  From the banner of his blog:

The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

Check out the ‘Socialist Cybernetics‘ of Salvador Allende.

In working towards a theme, check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage.  Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos.  You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Review here of a new book by author Luke O’Sullivan on 20th century British conservative and thinker Michael Oakeshott. Other books by O’Sullivan on Oakeshott can be found here.

If you’re interested in critiques on the effects of rationalism and utopianism in politics and political theory, and a defense of the familiar and the traditional in the face of Socialist, Marxist, and other ideologies, it’s probably worth looking into.

Drop a line if this is your area.

Gray:

‘That Oakeshott’s thought does not in the end hang together may not be very important. What system of philosophy does? But the fact is ironic given his intellectual antecedents. He was one of the last of the British Idealists, who, as opponents of empiricism, understood truth not as meaning correspondence with any kind of external reality but as a form of internal coherence in our thinking.’

and:

‘He wrote for himself and anyone else who might be interested; it is unlikely that anyone working in a university today could find the freedom or leisure that are needed to produce a volume such as this. Writing in 1967, Oakeshott laments, ‘I have wasted a lot of time living.’ Perhaps so, but as this absorbing selection demonstrates, he still managed to fit in a great deal of thinking’

A nihilist of sorts?

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

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

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

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

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

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

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