A Few More Links On Ferguson On Kissinger And His Idealism

Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).

-In writing an entire undergraduate thesis on Kant’s transcendental idealism, Ferguson sketches a Kissinger who bypassed the historical determinism of the Hegelians and the economic determinism of the Marxists.  Freedom has to be lived and experienced to thrive and be understood, and Kant gets closer to championing this conception of individual freedom than do many German thinkers downstream of Kant.

-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.

***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.

Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed.  Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.

Interesting piece here:

‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.

He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’

As previously posted: – ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review. 

The Economist

Previously on this site:

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft here, long before any Iran dealing.

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

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.’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…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…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Full post here.

If you’ve studied in a humanities department, you’ve probably noticed a divide between what you read and wrote there and the culture at large: movies, videos, music videos, songs, broadcast news etc… which (as Camille Paglia argues) is the culture for a majority of Americans.

The author Frank Donoghue, whom Fish reviews, argues that it’s a losing proposition to even try and work against this tide, mostly for financial reasons:

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past.

The departments are not self-sustaining, and it’s evident from within.

I would argue that much of Donoghue’s thinking has likely been influenced by the idea that because there is a lack of a central vision of what liberal learning ought to consist of (in part due to the influences of Continental postmodernist thinkers, the tail end of Existentialism etc. again this is a Paglian view of things, with some Allan Bloom thrown in)…

…as a result race, identity, gender politics, and all manner of other interests (many politically left) have helped filled the void.  I won’t argue that these groups don’t contain a lot of truth as many others on the political right are doing.

I will argue that from the current state of Humanities departments… these ideas are informing our politics and shaping public opinion…and the political and idealogical reactions to them (on the right)…for better or worse.

So does Donoghue have a solution?:

“In his preface, Donoghue tells us that he will “offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems [he] describes.” In the end, however, he can’t resist recommending something and he advises humanists to acquire “a thorough familiarity with how the university works,” for “only by studying the institutional histories of scholarly research, of tenure, of academic status, and . . . of the ever-changing college curriculum, can we prepare ourselves for the future.” “

Not really, though what he does offer seems practical.

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As mentioned:  I have some doubts about Fish’s larger interpretation of affairs…a tendency to view the arts, humanities, and philosophy itself through a certain lens.  (Fish teaches a course on conservative philosophy..hopefully in the better sense of that word…conservare…).

See Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum saw this coming a while ago, but is her platform broad enough?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’

Full review here.

Tzvetan Todorov is primarily a literary theorist, but it’s often worth highlighting the following:

“Or take the current fetishisation of The Science, or as Todorov calls it, ‘scientism’.”

and

“We experience this most often, although far from exclusively, through environmentalist discourse. Here, science supplants politics. Competing visions of the good are ruled out in favour of that which the science demands, be it reduced energy consumption or a massive wind-power project. This, as Todorov sees it, involves a conflation of two types of reasoning, the moral (or the promotion of the good) and the scientific (or the discovery of truth”

On this analysis, those who would defend skepticism and political conservatism against climate change politics (demanding less, much less and in some ways more, from their politics …and with a healthier understanding of what politics can do) are boxed out.

But our author is somewhat critical of Todorov’s approach:

“Any redemption of the hopes of the Enlightenment, any revival of the core principles of Enlightenment, from autonomy to secularism, can never be a purely intellectual exercise.”

Is that a dose of Historicism?

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As for literary theory, here’s Roger Scruton on the subject of the humanities:

“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

“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.”

And I’d argue with greater consequences for all of us…just some thoughts…are you convinced?

Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Leo Strauss says The Enlightenment and the dangers of the project of Reason can be gotten around through his reason/revelation distinction:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

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

Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’Repost-From Scientific Blogging: The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not

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Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’

Full piece here.

Kirsch reviews a new book:

‘In her new book, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen focuses on writers, academics and the clergy, showing that Nietzsche’s influence on American intellectuals has been durable and wide. Everyone from the feminist and birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger on the left to Francis Fukuyama on the right could, Ratner-Rosenhagen shows, could claim the label “Nietzschean.”

Worth a read.  Perhaps he’s having bit of a resurgence in the legal academy as well.

Related On This Site:  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…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…

Was the nihilism inherent in his thinking…? Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’….

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Harvey Mansfield At The City Journal: ‘Principles That Don’t Change’

Full speech here.

I think Mansfield is taking on some products of the Enlightenment that he argues have holed up on our universities, namely modernism and postmodernism, in the humanities:

‘It is the job of the humanities to make non-science into something positive that could be called human in the best sense. This crucial work, which is necessary to science and, may I add, more difficult and more important than science, is hardly even addressed in our universities.’

Via Strauss, I suspect he’s arguing that this approach has backed science into a bit of a corner…by groups of people who’ve eaten up their own departments via their theories; they have reduced themseleves to vainly copying the sciences and throwing up their hands, having politicized their own fields:

‘To scientists, the university is divided into science and non-science; the latter is not knowledge and is likely to be mush (in this last they are right). Scientists easily forget that science cannot prove science is good, that their whole project is founded upon what is at best unscientific common sense.’

Which leads to wistful sighing and a lament to the atmosphere he witnesses on campus:

“Adjusting to change” is now the unofficial motto of Harvard, mutabilitas instead of veritas. To adjust, the new Harvard must avoid adherence to any principle that does not change, even liberal principle. Yet in fact it has three principles: diversity, choice, and equality. To respect change, diversity must serve to overcome stereotypes, though stereotypes are necessary to diversity.’

Such may be the times.

Also On This Site:  Straussians likely see a long fall away from virtue, from Natural right, from the reason/revelation distinction into the flawed logic of moral relativism and the triumph of a post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under reason alone (addition: and the 1st and 2nd crises of modernity); the successes and dangers of historicism:  From Volokh: Harvey Mansfield Reviews ‘The Executive Unbound’From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

I’m not sure Martha Nussbaum has higher ed quite right: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

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

Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgements apart in the humanities: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To JudgmentRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

More Harvard silliness: Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

Bryan Magee’s series available on youbtube is useful:  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…Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

On historicism:

Taken by itself, this philosophic critique of philosophic and scientific thought–a continuation of the efforts of Hume and of Kant–would lead to skepticism.  But skepticism and historicism are two entirely different things.  Skepticism regards itself as, in principle, coeval with human thought; historicism regards itself as belonging to a specific historical situation…

…Historicism stems from a non-skeptical tradition–from that modern tradition which tried to define the limits of human knowledge and which therefore admitted that, within certain limits, genuine knowledge is possible.”

And on Nietzsche’s relation to historicism, having followed the logic of relativism to nihilism:

‘The theoretical analysis of life is noncommittal and fatal to commitment, but life means commitment.  To avert the danger to life, Nietzsche could choose one of two ways: he could insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life–that is restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion–or else he could deny the possibility of theory proper. and so conceive of theory as essentially subservient to, or dependent on, life or fate.  If not Nietzsche himself, at any rate his successors adopted the second alternative.’

and a bit on Hegel:

‘Hegel had taught that every philosophy is the conceptual expressing of the spirit of its time, and yet he maintained the absolute truth of his own system of philosophy by ascribing absolute character to his own time; he assumed that his own time was the end of history and hence the absolute moment.’

Strauss, Leo.  Natural Right And History.  Chicago:  The University Of Chicago Press, 1965.

Addition:  Is the esotericism, and the choice of the ‘noble truths’ a necessary one, or a necessary choice as Strauss saw it as a path out of the dominant school as he found it?

Also On This Site:   A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss Via Andrew Sullivan: ‘Who Let The Dogs Out, Ctd.”

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Does Kant lead to a liberal political philosophy?: From JSTOR: Excerpt From “Rousseau, Kant, And History” By George Armstrong KellyVia 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

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…Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science:  Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube

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Repost: From Homunculus Via Virtual Philosopher: Do We Need Another Reason?

Full post here.

…to frame our thinking in the science vs. religion format?

“So there is little to be gained from trying to topple the temple – it’s the false priests who are the menace.”

and

“If we can recognize that religion, like any ideology, is a social construct – with benefits, dangers, arbitrary inventions and, most of all, roots in human nature – then we might forgo a lot of empty argument and get back to the worldly wonders of the lab bench. Given the ‘usual suspects’ feeling that attends both the Reason Project and most Templeton initiatives, I suspect many have come to that conclusion already.”

And you’re probably among those many…

Addition:  Perhaps the Nation knows which side it’s on…let’s build a bigger state:  From The Nation Via The A & L Daily: ‘God, Science, And Philanthropy’

See Also On This Site:  Can you build a secular structure without the depths of religion?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…Daniel Dennet is trying to provide a solid base of science instruction for all Americans against the follies of creationism: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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