A Few Recycled Thoughts On That Sam Harris & Ezra Klein Debate-IQ Is Taboo

On the Sam Harris/Ezra Klein debate:

Why progressives pretty much can’t leave you alone: Progressive doctrines conflate moral and political reasoning in a way which is plainly troubling: How to live and what to do become intimately united with immediate political action and coalition-building (forgetting, or perhaps never understanding, what politics can actually do and at what costs).

Within progressive ideologies, groups of individuals are conferred legitimacy only through group identity, upon which is conferred an almost mystical and totemic signifiance within a larger ideological framework (blacks under slavery, for example). Only the group and members of the group possess knowledge and/or experience which only the group and its members can know.

Only other individuals validated as members of different identity groups (all united within the larger ‘woke’ progressive coalition), in turn, have access to the knowledge of fellow identity groups and their members, all of whom feel pressure to find solidarity in seeking social and political change against the ‘oppressor.’

The knowledge all supposedly possess is not only of how the world really is (all the injustices traced back to the ‘oppressor(s)’) but of how the world actually will be (partially due to epistemic roots in the Hegelian dialectic via Marx, a dialectic not only capable of viewing and knowing (H)istory from ‘no place’ but knowing how (H)istory will unfold).

Anything less than pursuing this utopia to come makes one a moral failure.

Despite Klein’s intelligence, his deeper ideological beliefs which he’s manifested into a profound sense of Self, converted into friendships, money, and political influence, all now work against his simply understanding the discussion Charles Murray and Sam Harris are trying to have.

I’m not holding my breath…

As posted:

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The discussion hinges on the idea of whether or not you and I are already free, and whether or not we somehow need liberating from something. The world and society are full of injustices, and discontents, and inequalities. Sure, we needed liberating from King George III for various reasons during our revolution, but not in the radical, ideological, rationalist sense (addition: a reader points out John Locke’s right of revolution…duly noted).

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

Full post here.

‘It seems, then, according to Strauss, that Nietzsche was correct in his critique of modern rationalism, which created a crisis leading to fascism, and that Nietzsche offered no way out of this crisis.  But any reader familiar with Nietzsche’s writings must wonder why Strauss says nothing about Nietzsche’s acceptance of Darwinian science in his middle period as an alternative to the apocalyptic rhetoric of “will to power” and “eternal return” in his later writings.  It is this Nietzsche of the later writings that Strauss and the Straussians have embraced–the Nietzsche who shows the “manly nihilism” admired by Harvey Mansfield.’

A commenter responds.  Worth a read.

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For a friend at her request, here is a crude summary of some of Strauss’s thinking:

Most modern thinkers since the Enlightenment, because of the triumph of physics, mathematical physics and a split from natural philosophy, theology, and the Church’s old Aristotelian models, have had to wrestle with a new set of problems regarding the pursuit of truth and our claims to knowledge.  Some of them have believed that just as physics (and metaphysics as Kant intended to put metaphysics on the same ground as the natural sciences) yields new knowledge of the natural world, so too can epistemologies can be built and entire disciplines based upon the universal truths of historicist and positivist thought.

For Strauss however, historicism and positivism both lead to relativism and nihilism, which pose great dangers to liberal democracy and which have led to the three crises of modernity, including the most recent descent into fascism upon the European continent.

Politics on this view, for example, won’t be studied as it was for Aristotle (man is a political animal) in the polis, but now as a (S)cience.  A modern wall has been put up.  Political scientists will be necessary.  Politics, too, involves groups of people, therefore a new field of study like sociology is required to understand groups of people.  Groups of people are made up of individuals, therefore a field of study like psychology is required to understand individuals.   Next, perhaps, would be a general theory of personality for all of those individuals.  And if we can observe individual humans in a political group, why not animals, or plants, or bacteria?  If we must look at all cultures, and all epochs in their specific contexts…why is our time, our culture, and our traditions any better than anyone else’s?  This reasoning should be familiar to us all, though it clearly has it uses.

Here’s Strauss:

‘The new political science denies in a way that there is a public reason: government may be a broker, if a broker possessing “the monopoly of violence,” but it surely is not the public reason. The true public reason is the new political science, which judges in a universally valid, or objective, manner what is to the interest of each, for it show to everyone what means he must choose to attain his attainable ends, whatever those ends may be.”

Strauss’s critique of the new political science highlights the limits and logical fallacies he sees within modern thought and modernity itself.  And much like a man who wears glasses, historicist and positivist thinkers soon forget they are wearing them.  The “Is” become “Oughts” and crowd out other possible, differing and perfectly valid ways of thinking about man, politics, man’s nature and his natural ends which Strauss wanted to recover within his own project of returning to the ancients.  Hegelian historicism, in particular, comes under Strauss’ criticism and the collectivist political ideologies (Marxism, Communism) that have sprung from it.

Obviously, this approach has been very important to many conservative thinkers in the U.S, those who are particularly religious, Natural Law thinkers (addition:  many have disagreements with Strauss), and other assorted enemies of the collectivist projects of the Left, including the actual Communists and Neo-Marxists, moral relativists, modernists and post-modernists etc.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Link to a paper given at Oxford suggesting there are reasons to be skeptical of Strauss’s motives.

*Essays On The Scientific Study Of Politics, edited by Herbert J Storing (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962).  (2nd paragraph of this post is a summary in my own words from pg 318…2nd quotation is from pg 320):

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Repost: From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”

Full review here. (Thanks to the A & L Daily for the link)

Mansfield identifies Rahe as a follower of Leo Strauss, and as a historian who disagrees with both Quentin Skinner and J.G.A Pocock’s historicism:

“In their view…ideas can be traced to prior conditions that are not ideas, such as economic forces or, more particularly for them, political interests. Ideas are essentially defensive; they justify, defend, and protect the established interests of various regimes and of their opponents, for example the defense of the American colonists in the Declaration of Independence.”

Mansfield argues that Rahe takes a different tack; ideas can come from sources.  Sources such as the influence of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Alexis De Tocqueville.

However, Mansfield also argues there are two problems that seem to arise from Rahe’s view, namely that De Tocqueville’s thinking runs deeper than those sources:

“…when democracy comes to America fully visible “in broad daylight,” as Tocqueville says, it is in the democratic “idea,” both political and religious, that the Puritans brought with them. It seems that, before the Puritans, democracy was working under cover of aristocracy–on its own, as it were–without benefit of advocates who were strong enough to speak openly on its behalf.”

…namely that he was a historicist in some ways (democracy has been there all along, back to the Greeks at least) , as well as the fact that De Tocqueville:

“…does not appear to be a political philosopher, at least not one of their kind. He does not provide either a comprehensive survey of politics, as did Montesquieu, or an abstract foundation for politics, as did Rousseau.”

Mansfield argues that De Tocuqueville took care to resist the lure of top-down abstract surveys applied to people and how they organize , as well as even resisting historicism.

“In this he offers testimony to the influence of ideas while avoiding them, and to the power of the democratic context of ideas while resisting it. One could say that he yields some ground to historicism as he decisively rejects it”

Food for thought.  Mansfield seems to find Rahe’s book not quite convincing.

I still very much find myself compelled by Strauss’s fact-value distinction (from wikipedia):

“Strauss treated politics as something that could not be studied from afar. A political scientist examining politics with a value-free scientific eye, for Strauss, was self-deluded”

Addition:  Wikipedia’s Straussian definition of historicism, and why Strauss saw it as so dangerous.

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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?

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Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

A recent book with some criticism of Leo Strauss passed along by an emailer:

How would Straussians reconcile using the logic of Nietzsche (the eternal recurrence and the will to power) to get around…well…Nietzsche…and back to the Greeks, or to the Straussian reason/ revelation distinction.  Has this Nietzschean interpretation of the Greeks led to an unnecessary esotericism in Strauss?  This seems to be the main argument against some of Strauss’ thinking that I could find: he’s not owning up to his debt to Nietzsche.

I’m attracted to the idea that certain interpreters of Strauss also find appealing:  to provide an alternative to the project of reason and its dangers.  Maybe one could return to Plato and to Natural Law and Natural Right thinkers and restore a conversation that could prevent painting us into the corners that old Europe has painted itself into, and a way out from under value speak and excessive relativism, and importing the most toxic European heritage.  I find Strauss’ fact/value distinction and tools to challenge historicism quite compelling as well.

I also don’t necessarily count myself among those who would use Strauss (or Strauss via Nietzsche) to justify one’s religious beliefs directly because I’m more an agnostic if anything. Here’s Dinesh D’Souza taking that route (using Nietzsche to defend his religious beliefs) in a debate against Daniel Dennett:

I’m aware I haven’t touched on the depths of the work here.  Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Also On This Site:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’…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…From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?

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