‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’
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.
Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way? Can we know Nature’s Laws?
‘Since 2000, the combination of stagnation, widening inequality, and the increasing cost of maintaining elite status has arguably had a more pronounced impact on the professional elite than on the working class, which was already largely marginalized by that point. Elites outside of the very top found themselves falling further behind their supposed cultural peers, without being able to look forward to rapidly rising incomes for themselves.
This underappreciated reality at least partially explains one of the apparent puzzles of American politics in recent years: namely, that members of the elite often seem far more radical than the working class, both in their candidate choices and overall outlook. Although better off than the working class, lower-level elites appear to be experiencing far more intense status anxiety.’
‘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.’
‘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:
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.’
Whittaker Chambers, David Horowitz, and other heretics having fled from the radical ideologies of the Left are explained as part of a movement that helped define a century in which, for Packer, the American right has come to dominate.
In fact, he finishes with:
‘The downward slide from Chambers and Reagan to Coulter and Trump has surely swept along a few young idealists who thought they were joining the side of freedom and truth, then realized too late that they had signed on for junk science and white identity politics. Ted Cruz’s vision would require the toppling of just about every pillar of the country’s social and economic structure. You don’t have to look elsewhere for the destructive utopianism that turns believers into apostates. In a few years’ time, we’ll be reading the chilling inside story, written by a campaign aide who barely got out alive.’
I can imagine the view from the New Yorker office in Manhattan might be magnifying the various and sundry evangelicals, mouth-breathing gun-nuts, racist xenophobes and ‘junk-scientists’ gathering at the Black Gate Of Mordor. These are simple folk, really. The J6 event (at least a riot) simply acted as confirmation.
Traditional folks, country folks, religious folks and unmodern folks have all become out-groups, treated with scorn, pity or, perhap; sad rubes to be rounded-up by the new fields of knowledge implemented within a benevolent managerial state.
Welcome to the minority! There sure was a lot of dishonesty, cowardice and injustice in how this profound shift is playing out.
We all know that even if ideal human societies with ever more freedom and equality aren’t possible, we should still try and make them a reality, right? Many people’s hearts are in the right place, after all.
Or do ‘The People’ possess one big heart they all have to share?
Do ‘real-scientists’ all read the New Yorker for the latest scientific discoveries explained in 2,000 word long-form essays?
Of course, while there is a special kind of concern-trolling on display in Packer’s piece, there is also a fair amount of truth: It is the heretics ‘mugged by reality’ who’ve helped to lead the conservative movement in the U.S.
Irving Kristol is just one example. I like to imagine his son, Bill, employing his talents as a regional franchise manager for some Honda dealerships in central Ohio or Wendy’s in Tennessee. Would his views remain the same in the salons of the Upper East side?
Would anyone care?
Longer-term, I suspect it’s bound to happen that more ‘neoconservatives’ fall-out of the intellectual grace of worldviews like those often found at the New Yorker, where liberal-Left democratic and secular humanism rule the roost. There’s plenty of soft-collectivism on display, (with its own attendant hippie and post-hippie utopian idealism), safe-spaces for feminism and environmentalism (alarming levels of enviro-dread, lately), along with much post 68′ civil-rights radicalism and what I call ‘brownstone activism.’
Such views are having more and more real-world consequences.
Human nature and reality await.
I don’t know if such observations make me conservative (surely, they do to some), but I often find myself wondering where such ideals lead, exactly? What responsibilities do they impose upon me?
How much equality is enough? How will you know when it is enough? What kinds of moral authority do these ideals rely upon and what kind of institutions do they actually produce in the real world?
Which freedoms and opportunities have they brought me? Are these worth the trade-offs?
If such arguments are well-made, they always have a chance of convincing me.
In the meantime, however, there’s Packer’s piece, where at least there’s some recognition of the following:
‘In the twentieth century, the void left by the loss of religion was sometimes filled by totalizing political systems, and the result was a literary genre of confession that is as powerful and probing as the Augustinian kind.’
Addition: Nice wild swing at Augustinians, there.
Let me know what I’ve got wrong, as so much depends upon where you start:
Technology: Chapt GPT will likely create an assistive-technological training platform for the ambitious and reasonably bright. Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated; and many more technological skills will likely live on steeper curves of obsolescence. There’s no replacement for competence, reliability, and focused attention, of course. People are expecting a lot more choice in their lives, and are self-selecting based on their current preferences (most of us are doing this, to some extent).
Globalization: Both India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of high IQ, specially trained, hard-working software and hardware engineers competing for slots in American higher Ed and the American tech sector. There is global competition in many sectors of the economy.
Past and current trade deals are trying to address the inherent dislocation that comes when capital chases cheap labor, when industry dies out in one area and blooms in another.
America has an aging population (less so than China and many European countries), and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist. This is a serious, serious problem.
Aren’t you glad we’re so busy politicizing many personal problems?
The American university and current government models are bloated, with a lot of waste and poor incentives, producing a lot of people with unforgivable student-loan debt and degrees of questionable value in current job markets. Our public sector is woefully unable to handle such change. With the postmodern move, and all the ‘studies’ departments and busy-work administrators, I don’t see how pretty dramatic change isn’t forced upon a lot of people unwilling to move their food bowls.
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
Cowen mentions something I’ve often thought: Changing institutions to include female representation will have costs and benefits, and change the character of many institutions themselves, and many parts of our civilization (marriage, incentives, parenthood, politics etc). Pretty unremarkable, but a highly charged and consequential topic nonetheless.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Charles Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.
You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas, but traditional views have their merits:
‘In sum, the Joint Chiefs have taken a clear long-term risk for an unclear near-term political gain, perhaps hoping to diminish budgetary cuts. The question is whether increasing the individual rights of the female soldier decreases the combined combat effectiveness of the killing pack. We won’t know the answer until we fight a hard ground war sometime in the future.’
Something many Boomers probably still take for granted: If you have a sexual, moral and political liberation movement sweep parts of your civilization (generation of ’68), there are gonna be some consequences, good and bad. Some radicals and social revolutionaries (professing to not believe in the legitimacy of any institution) will join and co-opt many parts of the institutions themselves; enjoying the sudden stability, influence and money gained.
The institutions, however, may arguably become less stable, so a previous stability might have been taken for granted by those Boomers.
I usually prize stability, moral decency, slow change, and rule of law (political/economic freedom) more than any one cause.
It’s probably a matter of time until you get a counter-revolution, and what worries me is a less stable system overall.
Subject: ‘Is England Still Influencing America?’ on Hitchens’ book ‘Blood, Class, & Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies‘ when Hitchens’ was pushing the idea that ’empire’ was the primary transmission, apparently due to his ideological commitments at the time. America must have seemed a classless paradise with institutions well-functioning and ripe to achieve justice and equality for the whole world…for some folks in the Generation of ’68.
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
Has there been a better poet writing in English in the past 150 years? Probably not.
The depth of commitment to his metaphysical vision and the breadth of that vision is remarkable. Look at the rhyme and meter! Sinful.
‘Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.‘
For my piece, seeking poetic meaning, through the written and spoken word, moves many hearts and minds most deeply. Within such mediated and heightened, experiences of reality, many people forget their own senses and reason. A creative genius has created a work (a poem, a cathedral, your favorite song) where the creator’s senses and reason has become yours. You’re a bit like a walker on the forest floor; the creative genius the canopy overhead, filtering the sunlight to this tree and that. One need only look to revelation and myth, religious and ideological, to understand how powerful such works of the imagination are, and how such impulses within us, can be.
In the Romantic Age, this was channeled in specific directions.
I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth’s Lake District ain’t necessarily the cloud in front of you. Those clouds have come and gone. You are not really a cloud (though for a moment maybe you were, within the mind’s eye, the cloud and the looker and the poet, while reading the poem).
Who’s more likely to be Romantically inspired? Well, some temperaments more than others, I’m guessing. All of us to some extent, however, in the modern world. I think people whose education has come through modern channels are more likely.
In my experience, sometimes it’s the rationalist, the data scientist, or the physicist, when the brain-draining day’s work is done, who becomes most inspired to identify with modern, collectivist and Romanticized thought. These folks are often among the brightest, and the ones working with hardest data, and the most rigorous standards of getting at the truth. But, such folks are human, after all. Often, they want comforting fictions over harsh truths. Ideal utopias dot the horizon. Some rationalists can also be painfully naive when it comes to the motives others have in a shared enterprise (a bureaucracy, a political coalition etc).
Reality, the reality of privation, violence and criminality are still with us. Some people choose violence for dominance and leverage over others. Some people develop skills which involve harming you. Many people in rough neighborhoods are happy to get over on you, and that’s about it. Many people in rough neighborhoods choose not to live this way and cultivate and strive to keep what’s good alive, moving forwards.
Some very educated people, with good backgrounds, can be absolute assholes, and even dangerously criminal. This shouldn’t come as entirely surprising. Higher intelligence is certainly no guarantee of character.
‘Poverty’ has become a kind of big, conceptual bowl into which the imaginings of a post-Christian, humanistic, ethic have gathered. Some people have turned these ideas into what I regard as a rather idealistic (and ideological) platform, actualizing such ideas through emergent thought.
I suppose we’ll see.
On that note:
I remain skeptical of much environmental thinking, primarily in the realms of politics, law and ad hoc ethics. Many people here aren’t actually doing science. Many such knowledge and truth claims are serving various masters. Such ideas have become the glue holding many coalitions of humanists, anti-humanists, idealists and ideologues together, mediating the natural worlds and those of (M)an.
‘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.”‘
‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’
As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.
There’s a kind of Neo-Romanticism going on, including religious impulses channeled through secular beliefs and in anti-capital, anti-technology and anti-human directions.
OUT: Old kooks
IN: New kooks
I’d like to remind folks that Peace Pavilion West, an Eco-Romantic Human Collective Going Back To Nature and Forward Towards Progress, is still accepting applications.
-Would you like to live in your OWN ecopodment as part of a living, working Community?
-Does 1,200 calories of guaranteed bug-paste and 8 glasses of fresh spring water a day sound good to you?
-Close your eyes: The day’s field labor is done. Honest sweat and natural musk mix with memory. Your mind, body and soul begin to rise towards the Cosmos, as each Community member joins hands, chanting Earthsong at dusk
True story: I was tutoring a girl in Seattle, and she was in the arts. Artists are often alone, more vulnerable, and she suddenly opened up about Climate Change.
This was one of the primary lenses through which she viewed the world, and it was predicting imminent disaster. Doom and gloom. The End Of The World Is Nigh. Her teachers and peers were eye deep in this acopalyptic thinking, and such ideas were clearly amplifying her anxiety.
I shared some of my interest in the Natural world, animals and experiences. We looked up some facts and discussed them for a bit. I told a bad joke or two. After both relaxing somewhat, I tried to suggest getting out a bit more and mixing it up. You got this.
“Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism — those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights — will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.”
‘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.’
‘Here we find ourselves dealing with a new and powerful movement in Western civilization. We may call it ‘social sentimentalism, ‘ and its reach extends far beyond the issues of antidiscrimination…’
‘In calling this new form of compassion ‘sentimentalism,’ I am pointing to the abstract character of the feelings commonly involved. They are feelings that relate not to specific cases, but to abstract categories, and the actual circumstances of those people who find themselves in these categories will be very various indeed.’
‘Sentimentalism is clearly spun out of the Romantic movement, which I am inclined to date from Jean Jacques Rousseau’s propensity to deal with the ills of the world…’
‘One common account of its founding assumptions is to say that it is the belief that human beings are naturally good, and that their evil acts result from misery and desperation induced by a disordered society. ‘
‘The cause must lie (runs the belief) in some inner derangement, some addiction or mental disorder that ought to be subject to professional help. Here is the line of thought, then, that leads to treating all human ills in therapeutic terms, and crimes and sins as disorders requiring rehabilitation rather than as moral acts deserving punishment.’
Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life. Encounter Books. 2010. Print. (Pg 96-97).
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
If you do manage to develop a bedrock of secular humanism in civil society (subject to that society’s particular traditions and history), won’t that society still have need of its own myths?
Even though Fascism and Communism have been discredited in theory and in practice, adherents remain (look no further than most American academies).
Sandall notes the Popperian elements discussed as from ‘The Open Society And Its Enemies‘, which as a theory, stretches deep into human nature and the West’s Greek traditions.
Is Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’ some of what we’re seeing from the intellectual dark-webbers, or at least many bright people pushing against the fascistic elements found within many far-Left movements, just those movements endorse and feed a far-right, identitarian and ideological response?:
‘…the people and institutions of the open society that Popper envisioned would be imbued with the same critical spirit that marks natural science, an attitude which Popper called critical rationalism. This openness to analysis and questioning was expected to foster social and political progress as well as to provide a political context that would allow the sciences to flourish.’
Sandall again on Popper:
‘His 1945 The Open Society and Its Enemies started out from the contrast between closed autarkic Sparta and free-trading protean Athens, and used it to illuminate the conflict between Fascism and Communism on the one hand, and Western democracy on the other.’
‘Is an ‘open society’ also supposed to be an ‘open polity’ with open borders? Médecins sans Frontières is all very well: but states cannot be run on such lines. Popper’s is a theory of society, not a theory of the state—and it seems to me that his book offers no clear account of the wider political preconditions that enable ‘open societies’ to both flourish and defend themselves.’
So, how did Sandall see the idea of ‘culture’ having its orgins?:
‘But at a higher philosophical level, and starting out in England, it owed more to the energetic publicising of Herder’s ideas by the Oxford celebrity Sir Isaiah Berlin — ideas of irresistible appeal to the post-Marxist and post-religious liberal mind.’
Open borders and open societies? A desire a ‘culture’ has to forge and solidify its own identity?
‘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.
‘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. ‘
Back to Sandall:
‘Then something happened: the English word “culture” in the sense employed by Matthew Arnold inhis 1869 Culture and Anarchy got both anthropologized and Germanised — and anthropological culture was the opposite of all that. It meant little more in fact than a social system.’
Any thoughts and comments are welcome.
A rather tangled web indeed…
Further entanglements on this site, possibly related:
‘Popper’s World 3 is in some respects reminiscent of Plato’s realm of the Forms, but differs in that Popper takes World 3 to be something man-made. As I noted in the earlier post just linked to, this makes his positon at least somewhat comparable the Aristotelian realist (as opposed to Platonic realist) view that universals are abstracted by the mind from the concrete objects that instantiate them rather than pre-existing such abstraction.’
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
‘Continetti notes that post-liberals are “mainly but not exclusively traditionalist Catholics,” and proposes a test for determining whether someone falls into the category:’
One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.
‘The late Michael Novak, who was no post-liberal, made a useful distinction between liberal institutions on the one hand, and liberal philosophical foundations on the other. Examples of liberal institutions would be the market economy, limited government and its constitutional constraints, and the rule of law. There is in fact nothing essentially liberal about any of these things, but they have certainly come to be closely associated with the modern liberal political order. Examples of liberal philosophical foundations would be Locke’s version of social contract theory, Kant’s conception of human civilization as a kingdom of ends, Rawls’s egalitarian theory of justice, and Nozick’s libertarian theory of justice.’
My speculation: A deeper, broader American conservative coalition has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), and some religious folks no longer see a path forward through current culture and/or politics. Some are recommending a retreat into communities of like minds in order to build again. Retreat and regroup, even in Britain. Genuine persecution is coming from radical activists pushing liberatory doctrines (Equality, Social Justice, Sexual Liberation), and these doctrines have increasingly become institutionalized (academia, government & corporations). Coalitions of liberal idealists fail to observe the barbarians agitating at their own gates; the instability of their own foundations.
Looking at a liberal, Left and Democrat coalition, it too has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), the most true-believing Socialists and Communists still seeking authoritarian/totalitarian utopias here on Earth. On this view, the persecution is coming from all existing forms of illegitimate, oppressive moral and political authority. Violent revolution remains an option for those reacting against the oppressor. Anarchy is preferable to stability and slow change.
Many liberals are now in a position of authority in many institutions, and many still support speech and even ol’ Kennedy nationalism, but have to remain on the offensive against anything traditional or religious, and especially pro-Trump (quite the scapegoat). Such folks must also remain on the defensive against attacks from their own Left (I think many were living upon the old laws and civility without realizing those structures were those under attack).
For such folks, coalitions of conservatives fail to observe the suffering and injustice of those not included within their closed-minded conceptions of home, hearth, family, Nation and God. Progress is generally a moral good. Coalitions of open-minded, educated, tolerant, individuals can make a better, human, more globally connected world.
“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This 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.”
“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”
I’ll keep putting it up, as it’s so relevant. A few central quotes from this article here:
“Huntington was instinctively a conservative because he valued an ordered society, but he also championed conservatism as a necessary instrument to defend liberal institutions against communism. In many of his books he attacked idealistic liberals for holding such institutions to impossible, utopian standards that undermined their effectiveness in the world.”
“An iconoclast to the core, Huntington never threw his lot in with left or right. He was too statist to be a libertarian, too realist to embrace neoconservatism, and too sympathetic to nationalism, religion and the military to identify with liberal Democrats. As a conservative Democrat, then, he is an intellectual rarity.”
Political Order In Changing Societies info here, a book likely worth your time.
So what’s lacking in the humanities? Roger Scruton had some keen insights:
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science (however…it’s been done before with some success). Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:
“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:
” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”
This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses. Here are the last few lines:
“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”
One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.
“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”
On another note: Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth: Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?
We know the humanities will never be a science. Politics is always in conflict with the arts. Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best. In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).