Much is politicized into moral crusades: Many in The West have taken up Ukraine as a flag-waving cause (against the oppressor…so very brave), while some others have become vaguely pro-oppressor (are you really for Putin’s conception of Russia as chief mafia boss, oligarch and ex KGB ethno-nationalist?)
It’s a brutal campaign. The Russian military is likely trying to consolidate gains in the East, and they wiped out a city there, where bodies rot on the street. The Georgian/Belorussian playbook has faltered, and been altered. The Ukrainians are in an existential crisis, and fighting to win (though negotiation might still be a possibility).
The European response has been solid, and the border countries are handling this wave of humanity pretty well (the cause is pretty just and the war unnervingly close). Most of the refugees are women and children (nearly all Ukrainian men have been mobilized to win), and about one-quarter of Ukraine’s population of forty million have been displaced.
When people tell you their opponents are evil, that the world is a Messianic battleground, and that speech is violence in the quest for power, you’ve been warned.
You’ve been warned repeatedly. Much of the academy and the media have fallen into this particular trap of secular idealism, undercut by radical activism, captured by purity spirals and endless demands to destroy what has come before (gratitude and humility, Dear Reader).
You can’t count on such ‘leaders’ to not slip into soft and hard forms of authority against their enemies and for their moral lights in the wake of such ideas.
Elon Musk, so far, has said he will try and open up shop on Twitter, and stand for speech. If he maintains this much more tried and true method of maintaining freedom, I’m all for it. Claiming to stand for the most marginalized through sentimental idealism, or cynical radicalism, or ideological purity, is a recipe for further chaos, and further politicizes the new communication channels.
As you may have noticed, we have enough politicization of the personal and bad incentives on Twitter. Let’s figure out what this platform does best, utilize it, and maximize the best of it with clear rules.
Full piece here. (originally posted eight years ago now….perhaps worth re-considering as to who’s got accurate intellectual maps)
Neo-cons, humanists, human-rights advocates…religious and secular idealists, missionaries of all stripes who want to see more freedom and democracy cast in our image…it’s good to get other points of view:
‘The place to avert tragedy is in Ukraine. Russia will not permit Ukraine to drift to the West. Whether a country that never had an independent national existence prior to the collapse of communism should become the poster-child for national self-determination is a different question. The West has two choices: draw a line in the sand around Ukraine, or trade it to the Russians for something more important.
My proposal is simple: Russia’s help in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East is of infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the “Orange” revolution of 2004 and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia’s assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia’s existential requirements in the near abroad. Anyone who thinks this sounds cynical should spend a week in Kiev.’
The argument is pretty clear: Putin is looking at demographic decline, and he’s an ex-KGB ethno-nationalist looking to keep the empire together:
‘Russia is not an ethnicity but an empire, the outcome of hundreds of years of Russification. That Russification has been brutal is an understatement, but it is what created Russia out of the ethnic morass around the Volga river basin. One of the best accounts of Russia’s character comes from Eugene Rosenstock-Huessey (Franz Rosenzweig’s cousin and sometime collaborator) in his 1938 book Out of Revolution. Russia’s territory tripled between the 16th and 18th centuries, he observes, and the agency of its expansion was a unique Russian type.’
Via a reader: John Mearsheimer applies his offensive realist view to Ukraine back in 2015 (there are no friends, only alliances….regional powers will aim for hegemony in a lawless, fundamentally anarchic world).
He offers a step-by-step look at Ukraine.
On that note, how do I see the American landscape? Well, I don’t know, exactly. Conservative, traditional and religious Americans have likely moved from a majority to a plurality/minority in most cultural/political spaces (more requiring of minority protections, also more conspiratorial). These are the people more likely to defend home and hearth and more likely to join and support the military during the Cold War (along with higher Southern representation).
I understand Neo-Conservatism as the drive to extend American military and global interests by advancing humanistic ideas and secular humanism (liberals/secular humanists mugged by ‘reality’). Such folks are more likely to have been in influential policy/intellectual positions, not necessarily doing the warfighting.
Cold War patriotic liberals, just as were many old school liberals, have been increasingly challenged from the activist Left, and that activist Left now has a lot of cultural/political influence. Old school Democrats were generally about unions and a certain amount of patriotism (Cuban Missile Crisis). Many New Democrats are about pronouns in the postmodern soup and the Green New Deal. This presses upwards upon the liberal international and global worldview. This dynamic seems to occupy the folks in charge at the moment (dovetailing with elements of the Eurocracy), pivoting from the Health/Safety COVID worldview to defending human and Western interests.
It’s been…strange to see Susan Glasser at the New Yorker become rabidly pro-Ukraine and a war hawk, but…here we are.
Additionally, I see an increasingly aged and brittle American political system, with increasing disorder and much lower public trust (for many good reasons). From Elder Bush–Clinton–Clinton–Younger Bush–Younger Bush–Almost a Clinton/Obama–Obama–Trump—Biden (Obama’s VP), I’d argue a calcification has clearly occurred. This is why I see a fair amount of regular folks and intellectual folks checking out, or seeking alternatives.
Via a reader (begins at min 23:00). Some insights on Ukraine from someone with family on both sides on the ground. There are some decent insights relative to mainstream sources.
As previously mentioned, the United States, under Obama particularly, but for the last fifteen years, has removed much of its footprint from the Middle-East, Afghanistan, and now even Europe. Domestically, U.S. political leadership has calcified, becoming brittle and old, while (from my perspective) new factions of deeper, further New, New Left and New Right are forming outside of a weakened mainstream. We’ll see how bad the weakened institutions get and who comes into authority, and with what ideas (worst case is the Platonic map I’ve been using…). Public sentiment cleaves much closer to nihilism/existentialism in the postmodern soup, these days. Anarchy and libertarianism, from my point of view, are finding much wider audiences.
The ‘economics-first’ Euro-zone (primarily a German/French alliance) has been counting on old treaties and American leadership. All while buying gas and trading with the folks in charge of Russia. There also seems be the same ideological true-belief found in the gears of liberal techno-bureaucratic institutions everywhere (liberals and radical Leftists are often in conflict, even while working against their traditional/religious/conservative enemies). Keep an eye on energy policy, green-belief and inflation (what leaders do vs. what they say) as well as gas prices here at home.
As for the media these days, new technology, and the Boomers/Gen-X/Millenials management issues, I like the idea that people tend to fight more and more over less and less, and the less there appears to be. I often imagine to whom I would look if I were coming of age in such a chaotic environment. Dear Reader, I do worry about many over-promised, under-delivered youth dealing with such institutional failures and realignments. This requires me having hope in the basic soundness (body/mind/judgment/character) of younger folks I know, rather than trust in ‘systems’.
As for information, it might be better to just aim for basic online survey courses (with who knows how high an error rate) over ‘public-opinion experts’ and public education if you’re an average Joe. The two major parties and public discourse have devolved into vindictive finger-pointing.
I’d advise picking-up a book or two and find the better sources if you’re so inclined.
This is, alas, a blog in the land of Substack (and whatever’s next). You’ve been warned.
Maybe I’m off?: As much as there are truth and knowledge claims, about ourselves and the world, embedded within our ideas about ourselves and the world, it seems we’re often arguing over who should be in charge. Agree on some ‘is’ questions, surround yourself with like minds, and then pursue the ‘oughts’ through education, politics and law.
Oh, there will be authority.
Something like the conservative position-One Nation Under God. Defend home and hearth, and the Constitution. The country was born of revolution, yet not the French, nor the Russian revolutions. The country wasn’t built upon the utopias proffered by Marxist radicals, nor anarchists, nor even the anarcho-capitalist libertarian types (perhaps something more like the Euro-project, built on economic allegiances).
Something like the neo-conservative position-At some point, get mugged by reality, and start questioning many truth and knowledge claims of the liberal idealist and secular humanist project. Defend homes within communities, and use the American military to advance secular humanism and humanistic ideals around the globe. Use law and policy, and the American military, to spread many elements of the Western project in which you pursue your highest goods (Many in China and Russia, and many Muslims and Islamists disagree).
Something like the current Liberal position-Defend houses within the community and ‘societal’ interests in our ‘modern’ world, but America itself may not be worth defending as it is and has been. Many activists and radicals in the party do seem to be co-opting many academic, institutional and bureaucratic positions. Become somewhat invested in the ‘Hitler-Year-Zero’ Marxist conception of conservatives, traditionalists, and religious believers as potentially ‘evil.’ Standing against progress is certainly morally questionable, and clearly against (H)istory.
The positive visions (environmental/globalist/Health & Safetyism) lead us all into a Statism and authoritarianism present all along.
Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now
Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.
Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.
“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”
“…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 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.”
Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.
Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?
The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.
Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought. From friesian.com:
Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’
When truth and reality fade, from the views within institutions; when the virtue required to maintain a Republic wanes, the rot merely becomes more visible. Legitimate authority becomes much, much harder to maintain.
Oh, there always have been horse-tradin’ types, somewhere between used car-salesman and admirable men sacrificing their liberty for the rest of us. There were always assholes and charlatans, glad-handing lifers, as well as principled men sticking their fingers into the political winds for their turn at the wheel.
Gathering some views on the Afghanistan ‘withdrawal’, and the current clusterfuckery.
The claim is that requiring citizens to provide ID when they show up to vote is unjust, racist and oppressive. It’s a rule only to be used for unjust and self-interested ends (as it was in some parts of the South in 1965). In fact, Joe Biden’s signed an Executive Order (because that’s what Presidents do now, especially when they can’t find any bipartisan agreement).
For despite all the charged rhetoric, all the anachronistic analogies, requiring voter identification remains a simple requirement — one that, as it happens, is practised across Europe during elections. That America cannot unite around it — and even dismiss it as racist — is a tragedy.
The larger point of agreement: Having the people in charge of administering laws, claiming that even the most basic laws like providing ID, are inherently unjust and racist…is not a good place to be. Also, increasingly impotent Executive Orders are ‘part of the furniture.’
Walter Russell Mead on Vladimir Putin’s 5,000 word essay on uniting the Russians and the Ukrainians (Mead’s essay is behind a paywall). It’s the Kievan Rus after all. You know, where the Vikings sailed and settled East and South down the Rivers and eventually became Russians. Putin’s probably not going to let it drift away.
‘In order to understand why it is that the world gets to see, unfiltered by either Cuban or Western media, the reality of this isolated island nation, you need to understand the strange and utterly mangled state of Cuban internet.‘
People are disappeared, starved, bereft of hope and immiserated under Communist leadership, while that leadership becomes increasingly evil; a fact which many in the West cannot bear, because it cuts too close to their own hopes.
Don’t worry though. Oh, how some people care about (M)ankind.
Charles Hill strikes me as a man with actual, real-world experience, and an interest in theory. A man who focused on his students, challenging them beyond what he saw as anemic ‘issue-based’ thinking. This is getting a lot of things right, in my opinion.
It’s a pretty rough, and ‘real’, world out there.
Yes, the Chinese leadership is playing a longer game with Taiwan, Hong-Kong, its historical borders and the Belt and Road initiative. This is a strategic, deeply authoritarian vision, ruthless at times, and quite adversarial to many American interests. A sizable number of Chinese folks probably don’t agree with their own leadership. Good luck with that, Chinese folks, American policy-makers, American allies, and anyone along the Belt and Road.
We all have interests, reasons, and hard choices to make.
At home and in the Anglosphere, I like Eric Kaufmann’s practical suggestions for restoring some balance in our universities.
It’s almost like we’ve had a couple of generations of relatively unrealistic, questionable stewardship about what’s important. When it comes to Self-knowledge (instead of (S)elf-Worship wrapped in liberation fantasies and New Age claptrap), people, all too often, are finding themselves captive to rules and expectations.
This way lies further opinioneering:
Joe Biden was the establishment alternative to a populist-Left Bernie (something like a Socialist). Socialism, if fully implemented, is immiserating, soul-crushing and murderous. Old dreams die hard. If we’re lucky, here at home, Bernie’s leadership would mean a politics of fewer jobs and freedoms, lots of incompetence, strikes, and more violence.
Biden, after becoming Obama’s VP and with Obama’s imprimatur, has courted as much of the black vote as he can. He is also seeking to maintain the black-leadership vote (SPLC, ‘race’-leaders, Civil Rights and BLM wrongs). A good amount of such thinking flirts with Democratic Socialism, ‘baptized Marxism,’ and supporting the rule of law…some of the time.
Channeling such interests has led to a spate of new executive gun orders. As for me, Dear Reader, I choose to see Joe Biden as a decrepit, glad-handing product of his times and places, guiding an overbuilt and semi-functional executive branch (the next guy will have many similar incentives). He’s what vanishingly remains of the ‘moderate’ old-school Democratic leadership, back when people talked about War Bonds.
Much left-liberal sentiment, these days, is finding release by blaming lot of current political and media failures, and the country’s failures, on psychologically comforting sources like Trump (for all his faults) and various tribal enemies. Or by pursuing policies like gun-control and Teacher’s Unions'(I be-LIEVE the CHIL-dren are our FU-ture….).
It is what it is.
Oh, there will be politics. Where have you been seen?
In the meantime, many Country-Club Republicans have been seen a bit dazed, wandering local putting-greens, nursing martinis. Some Never-Trumpers have been seen posing as Democrats, sneering at rednecks and definitely seen as NOT RACIST. Some religious folks have gone woke, and some religious folks have gone crazy. Many traditionalists have been seen hiding out within traditions. Many folks in big-businesses and the corporate bureaucratic webs of influence, have been seen signaling professional wokeness as a matter of cultural relevance, and survival. A lot of people I know are interested in ‘Helping the Cause’ when they patronize a restaurant or buy a bit of stock (I be-LIEVE I WILL BE in the FU-ture…).
Once such right-of-center coalitions get into power, I’m expecting a fair amount of dipshittery and bad policy, too. There are always assholes and creeps in the mix. Politics is the art of the possible, after all. They’ll no doubt be a lot of finding release by blaming political and media enemies, and on psychologically comforting sources like The Left and Socialists (as real as I think these threats are to genuine freedoms).
Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be less government?
It’s probably too much to hope.
Political institutions, not too long ago, were still appealing to a profound American idealism with much more credibility than they have now. The call to higher things, these days, is very faint among better sorts, while the bellows are busy with hot emotions and worse people.
Socially and culturally, rural folks, gun-owners, and small-government types (me in this last category, definitely), are something of an out-group. The majority hasn’t held, and many longer trend lines have caught-up. Such folks are often mischaracterized and held to ridiculous double-standards. Sure, I don’t mind being someone it’s okay to piss on!
What a hot, glorious rain!
On a personal and professional level, I take people as they are, and hope they do the same for me. We’d probably get along in most situations.
With and increasingly sclerotic leadership bench (Bush–Clinton–Clinton–Younger Bush–Younger Bush–Obama–Obama–Trump–Biden), we’ve all got, needless to say, serious problems.
On that note, please enjoy some photos I’ve managed to take while out walking (not working, not with loved ones):
I’m getting to levels of passing incompetence with my iPhone 8:
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
‘When Hill came to Yale in 1992 — his wife, senior lecturer Norma Thompson, was a professor in the political science department — he already had a decorated record of foreign service. After graduating from Brown University and completing his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked foreign service postings in Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Vietnam. Among other positions, he served as a policy advisor at the State Department, an advisor for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, executive aide to Secretary of State George Shultz and an advisor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1992-1996 Secretary-General of the United Nations‘
It’s Yale, so I wonder with whom he’ll be replaced:
As to who’s minding our institutions, and where the logic has led: If you start in radical resentment and a rejection of legitimate authority, you cultivate radical resentment and a rejection of legitimate authority:
What’s advertised on the box isn’t what’s inside the box:
‘The initial training session is titled “Managing Bias.” The intent is to teach “participants…how biases affect their actions and impact others when left unchecked, including creating unhealthy work environments and reinforcing unjust practices.” Again, this may sound reasonable, until it becomes apparent that, to the academic left, nonconforming opinions are usually due to bias.‘
Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:
I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.
‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’
Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:
On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world. People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not. It’s a basic human activity.
I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics: Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological.
‘Ours does not promise to go down in literary history as a great age of religious poetry. Yet if contemporary poetry is not often religious, it is still intensely, covertly metaphysical.‘
For Heidegger, more than any other philosopher, looked to poetry as a model of what thinking should be. He used individual poems, especially the hymns of Hölderlin, to help explicate his own ideas about nature, technology, art, and history.‘
‘This is the dead end of Modernist culture, which sought to break down traditional values and rules but was unable to replace them with anything better. It left us in a cultural void where, as the New York Times piece puts it, everyone is afraid that “serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst.” In the second half of the 20th century, this corrosive Modernist skepticism brought us the ruling concept of contemporary popular culture: the “cool.” Remember the original meaning of the term. To be “cool” is to be emotionally cool, to refuse to be caught up in enthusiasm. Early on, this could be taken to mean a kind of manly reserve, the ability to be calm, cool, and collected in the face of strife, or to refuse to be carried away by momentary or trivial emotions. This is the sense in which James Bond was “cool.” But by the end of the 20th century, the culture of cool increasingly came to mean a studied lack of response to values. It meant refusing to be carried away by enthusiasm about anything.’
You’ve seen the game some people start playing when they don’t have other things in which to believe. They play the everyone-is-Hitler-game. They share ‘literature’, torch courthouses and deploy violent individuals within mob anonymity. They don’t believe in legitimate authority.
Liberal leadership doesn’t seem to have a strategic response, other than keep pushing the ‘liberation’ narratives while accruing more authority.
Zhou’s response was that of a hedgehog. He had just one issue: Taiwan. “If this crucial question is not solved,” he told Kissinger at the outset, “then the whole question [of U.S.-China relations] will be difficult to resolve.‘
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).
-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.
‘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.’