You Can’t Step In The Same River Twice, I Suppose

If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.

Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on.  After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.

While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida.  He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan.  Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling.  There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room.  Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.

I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.

In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried.  When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).

It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.

I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.

It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.

It may be meritocrats all the way down.

It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.

Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow

Repost-Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘A Link To C.P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’

My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.

On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.

Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.

Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.

You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.

There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.

Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”

Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?

In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?

As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:

Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Repost-Surely The Left Hand Knows What The Right Hand Is Doing, And Vice-Versa-George Packer At The New Yorker: ‘Why Leftists Go Right’

Full piece here.

I have to confess, there’s a fair amount of meat in the article, as Packer reviews “Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century.”

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.

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?

***Yes, angry emailers, these are attempts at satire. Post has been updated to fix an errant quote and some grammatical errors.

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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.

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.’

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.

A reasonably open mind is a good thing to maintain, after all, and I suppose I could become more Leftist, or liberal, depending on circumstances.

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: It might well be possible to have one trucker and a technician leading a convoy in 10-20 years time.  Many jobs now done by people will simply be automated.  It’s quite easy to have a mobile device and choose the kinds of people, jobs and places people become a part of in America; much more than ever before.  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, and many hopelessly insolvent social programs based on somewhat Ponzi-like projections that can’t be maintained as they currently exist.

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.

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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…

Repost-Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism…Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Christopher Hitchens at Slate: Yale Surrenders

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

See Also:  If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here.  From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”  Libertarians love this issue:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant  

The Time To Stand-Up For Free Speech Is Every Time It Comes Under Attack

Nature can be just as harsh and unforgiving as ever, death is still waiting (making life all the sweeter), and human nature can still be as capable of great evil or passing indifference and cruelty.

Given the darknesses of the human heart, the existence of great evils, and the tremendous problem of creating contraints and proper incentives for authority, I see a lot of liberal idealism as not having accounted for the wages of social change.

Wanting to control what other people think, feel, say and write, even if dressed up in the clothing of righteousness, is still wanting to control what other people think, feel, say and write.

Broad humanistic ideals have much truth to them, often scaling and framing clear thinking and good behavior, but such ideals will also form the structure for authority, rule-making and rule-following.

I continue to skeptically observe many claims of universal secular humanism; especially the claims of people using universal secular humanism for their own ends (the more enduring real-world test being which kind of people and institutions are, in-fact, being produced under such ideals).

I see the speech issue as an important barometer for such ideals.

Rod Dreher on a George Packer piece:

Packer on Christopher Hitchens:

‘The ability to be brutal in print and decent in person was a quality I very much admired in Christopher. It went to the heart of his values as a writer and a human being. It belonged to an old-fashioned code, and for all his radicalism, he was old-fashioned.’

Dreher takes it a little further:

Interestingly, on book-publishing and success:

That, I feel sure, is at the core of this controversy: resentment. If the publishing industry is “broken” because it throws big money at mediocre books, and those books get a lot of pop culture hype, then the publishing industry has always been broken, and so have the movies. This happens all the time. It is a total cliche that bad blockbuster movies and bad bestselling novels pay the bills so that smaller, better books with a more limited readership can exist. Life is unfair. What can we do?

We’ve got some bad code running at many important institutions (though I think sometimes Dreher might prefer if the Right DID have the power to silence dissenting opinions…like we aren’t all familiar with the desire to have our commitments be ascendant, whichever they may be).

The political Left seems to be fracturing too, around new, radical chic old-school Marxism, and a more short-term failing identity politics.  I’m guessing it will be less cool to be seen as an out-of-touch high liberal idealist (‘neo-liberal,’ meritocratic, stodgy, traditional) in the eyes of radicals and wherever the new cool will be.

Brendan O’Neill (an old-school Marxist) At Spiked: ‘Why We Must Fight For Free Speech For People We Loathe:

‘A true devotee of freedom of speech says, ‘Let everyone speak, because it is important that all sides are heard and that the public has the right to use their moral muscles and decide who they trust and who they don’t’. The new, partial campaigners for friends’ speech effectively say, ‘Let my friend speak. She is interesting. She will tell the public what they need to hear.’ These are profoundly different positions, the former built on liberty and humanism, the latter motored by a desire to protect oneself, and oneself alone, from censorship. The former is free speech; the latter ‘me speech’.

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: ‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it.

We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events.’

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You’d make me feel a whole lot better if you showed some backbone when it comes to speech, as Lionel Shriver does below.

I’ll write what I damned well please:’

I’d also add, ‘now if you can’t even read the book nor respond to what I’m actually saying, fuck-off.

Such a brave stance to take:  Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus didn’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

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Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

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

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

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

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

See Also: If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here. From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West” Libertarians love this issue: Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant

No More Western Art Survey Courses At Yale-Some Links

Via the Yale Daily News: ‘Art History Department To Scrap Survey Course:’

Art history department chair and the course’s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions — all “equally deserving of study” — putting European art on a pedestal is “problematic,” he said.’

As posted:

Click here. Thanks to a reader. Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

Camille Paglia: ‘The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil

Some people are trying to erode common sense until it becomes less common:

‘The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.’

Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:

“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

Theodore Dalrymple on Medical Correctness here.

Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The New English Review-‘Houllebecq And Call’

Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:

‘Hou[e]llebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’

Here’s a brief Houellebecq interview on Tocqueville (I too was bored when I first read Tocqueville, but I hadn’t realized how deep and accurate so many of his observations were):

As previously posted:

Interview sent in by a reader with Houellebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagined a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.

Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).

‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’

On some of Houellebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:

‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘

Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.

Isn’t it possible to reject Houellebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective? Perhaps without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?

And as for discussions of art: Is the book worth a read?

From the comments:

‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.

Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.

Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’

Also, from the comments. Hubristic, but there’s something to deflated nihilism:

‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’

As much as I’m hoping for a break-up of Islamist ideology, I suppose I’m hoping for some light into these dark, post-Enlightenment corners as well. Something other than the existential void and the ideas and ideologies which so often rush in.

I have to give Hollebecq credit, too, for as he points out, the major religions have been dealing with questions of purpose, suffering, telos, why, what, when, and the stuff human nature for a lot longer time.

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

***I should add that Werner Herzog’s ‘Into The Abyss‘ was worth my time. Herzog is probably not a proponent of the death penalty, but I thought he left me to decide what I thought, and he didn’t flinch from the crime, the tragedy and the loss.

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

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

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

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

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

 

Some More Collected Links & Quotes On The Passing Of Roger Scruton-Douglas Murray, Robert George, Larry Arnhart & Kelley Ross

Douglas Murray on Roger Scruton:  ‘A Man Who Seemed Bigger Than The Age:

‘A man other than Roger might have become bitter about some of the treatment he received, but he never did. Whatever his complex views on faith, he lived a truly Christian attitude of forgiveness and hope for redemption. His last piece for The Spectator – a diary of his last year – radiates this. If he sometimes fitted uncomfortably with the age in which he found himself, it was principally because he did not believe in its guiding tone of encouraged animosity and professionalised grudge…’

Robert George on Twitter:

Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism:  ‘Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity:’

‘As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’

Kelley Ross at Friesian.com, discussing ‘Scruton’s treatment of Wittgenstein:’

‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’

As previously posted:

I recommend the below video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

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A quote that stuck out:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions (also the kind produced by Hegelian Conservatism). It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle? Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

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As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people. They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence. That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

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

Repost: Free-Speech, White-Devils & Academics-What Purpose The Enlightenment Without Its Defenders?

Via David Thompson: ‘Don’t Oppress My People With Your White Devil Science

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

—-

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

—–

Jonathan Haidt has infused the more modern field of moral psychology with some of David Hume’s empiricist theory of mind, the idea that intuitions come first, and our reasons for them are usually trotted out afterwards (when was the last time you walked away from an argument/debate/discussion totally converted and persuaded by the reasoning of the other guy?

Yet, how, exactly, did our institutions of higher-learning get to the point of catering to the loudest, often most naive, and often illiberal student-groups claiming their feelings and ideas deserve special treatment?

Isn’t this already a failure of leadership, to some extent?:

Kudos to Haidt for hanging in there, and providing an example:

Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Jonathan Haidt At Minding The Campus: ‘Campus Turmoil Begins In High School’

***My own anecdote: After a fruitful Town Hall discussion here in Seattle, celebrated British mathematician Roger Penrose did some Q & A afterwards. Most questions were from math majors, physicists, engineers and hobbyists in the crowd (many were over my head…but I tried to catch a few).

One question came from a youngish man in a beret, a little unkempt, who asked (in a possibly affected, but in a very serious tone):

‘Mr. Penrose, what is meaning in a moribund universe?

‘Eh…sorry…I didn’t catch that?’

‘What is meaning in a mo-ri-bund universe?’

‘Well, that is a different kind of question…I mean, here’s what I can offer you…’

***That’s roughly how I remember it, and Penrose was gracious, but brisk, in moving onto the kinds of questions he might be able to answer, or for which he could provide some insight.

I have a soft spot for contrarian social scientists, like Charles Murray and Jonathan Haidt, pushing against what can so easily become an orthodoxy: Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People…

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

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

It’s A Rumble Down On the Promenade: Mathematicians Vs Poets-Some Links & Thoughts

As to the previous post on this site, here’s to exploring one view of poetry/music as opposed to mathematics/science:

Via the Vogelinview website:

‘Oakeshott connected his perceptive account of tacit knowledge with a larger conception of modally distinct worlds of discourse, and, in this way, his account differed from Ryle’s. However, both thinkers contributed to the re-emergence of a kind of traditionalist and pluralist epistemology which rejects the reductionism of scientism and acknowledges the multitudinous ways in which human beings know things. For both writers, authentic knowledge always involves a capacity which cannot be reduced to articulable explicit propositions. Knowledge depends upon being capable of using it in some way.’

And from Stanford on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘Modes, then, are provisionally coherent and distinguishable kinds or categories of understanding and inquiry. In Experience and Its Modes, Oakeshott aims to identify the presuppositions in terms of which a mode can be made coherent and distinguished from other modes. In philosophy, categorial distinctions are distinctions of kind rather than degree and what are called categories are often thought of as the most fundamental classes to which things can belong. But philosophers differ on whether the identified kinds are natural or real (ontological) or conceptual (epistemological). The former are categories of being (Aristotle), the latter categories of understanding (Kant). Philosophers also disagree about whether a categorial scheme must be exhaustive and fixed or, alternatively, can be open and mutable. The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

and:

‘The idea of a hierarchy of modes is not particular to Idealism. Where there are different understandings, it can occur to someone interested in reconciling them to imagine that they represent different levels of understanding. In contrast to unifying philosophies, including philosophical Idealism, Oakeshott’s position is pluralist and anti-hierarchical. In this respect he has more in common with Wilhelm Dilthey, who struggled with the issue of relativity in metaphysics and how to distinguish the human from the natural sciences, than with the British Idealists—Bradley, Bosanquet, and McTaggart among others—with whom he is often associated (Boucher 2012). For Oakeshott, all knowledge is tentative and conditional. Theorizing is “an engagement of arrivals and departures” in which “the notion of an unconditional or definitive understanding may hover in the background, but … has no part in the adventure” (OHC 2–3). In attempting to construct a coherent view of the world the philosopher “puts out to sea” (OHC 40) and is perpetually en voyage: there are no “final solutions” in philosophy any more than in practical affairs.’

I’m guessing Oakeshott would NOT have taken the case of monarchy up, nor the divine right of kings via Robert Filmer.  Nor, likely, would he have taken up Thomas Hobbes’s case for the Leviathan based on a synthesis of the burgeoning practice of the natural sciences of the time.  This isn’t an empiricist account of the world either (all knowledge arises in experience, sensation is separated from its object).

An Oakeshotian might see technical manuals everywhere, and few practitioners.  He might see a lot of category errors, especially amongst those who mistake their own brilliance, method and scope as being enough to design political systems, laws and rules for the rest of us.  Especially when such folks have little to no experience of those political systems, laws and rules.

As found here:

‘The “hidden spring” of rationalism, as Oakeshott explains, is a belief in technical knowledge–which, by its very nature, is “susceptible of precise formulation”–as the sufficient or even the sole form of knowledge.  This goes with a ‘preoccupation with certainty’ and an obsession with method, of the sort that can be expounded in a book; what it excludes is the kind of practical knowledge that is acquired only through prolonged contact with an experienced practitioner (RP, 11-17).  Here one is reminded of Hobbes’s frequent insistence that true “science,” which yields certain knowledge, is different from “prudence,” which merely extracts probabilities from experience.  Hobbes believed that geometry was the prototype of a true science, and that his own civil science was modeled on it;…’

And now for something mildly different:

During my humanities education, I developed an increasing suspicion of the postmodern rejection of tradition, rules, laws, rituals and beliefs, at least with regard to reading, writing and thinking.  In engaging with some dull, and other absolutely mesmerizing, works of the creative imagination, I realized many of my own rituals and beliefs were being challenged. There are many experiences, and views, and ways to understand both myself and the world.

This is a good reason to get a good education!

It also slowly dawned on me that the lack of pedagogy, endless deconstructionist academic discussions, canon-less syllabi and increasing identitarian drift (is this person a professor because he/she’s the best poet/teacher or because he/she’s black/female or some mix of both?) were taking up valuable time.

I aimed to be open-minded, but not so much as to notice my brains falling out.

Honestly, I didn’t come across too many radicals and wasn’t particularly radical myself, though I went deep enough to see how people can become animated by some cause or injustice, often deep within their own lives (a bad childhood, homosexuality, social isolation, legal injustice, rejected prodigal talent etc).

It’s tough to say what conspires to make great artists and observers of life and their own experiences; but maybe it’s a little less tough to understand how some people forego the difficulty of creation in favor of political activism, religious certainty and belief, ideological certainty and second-rate moral scolding.

Oh, there are reasons.

Maybe I was just aging out or wasn’t so creative myself, anyways.

Any thoughts or comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’

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

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Repost-Simon Blackburn From ‘Rorty And His Critics’

Roger Scruton On Moral Relativism And Ross Douthat On Bill Maher

Via A Reader-Peter Thiel On The Logic Of Multiculturalism

Via Podbean Via The Intellectual Dark Web Podcast: Stephen Hicks-All You Ever Wanted To Know About Idealism

Nothing Fishy Here-Collective Fingers On The Scales

Stanley Fish on being recently disinvited from speaking at Seton Hall (behind a paywall):

‘Recently I was invited, then disinvited, to speak at Seton Hall University.  Members of a faculty committee had decided by email that they didn’t want a university audience to be subjected to views like mine.  I had been writing on the emergence on campus of what I call a regime of virtue.  this was the first time I experienced it directly.’

A fairly typical pattern:  A group of student activists claim that a certain speaker’s views are so dangerous that this speaker cannot be heard.

Many ideologically aligned, sympathetic, or sometimes cowardly, faculty members encourage or endorse these student activists.

A worthwhile Stanley Fish piece, from many years ago, at the NY Times: ‘The Last Professor:

‘In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.

This is a very old idea that has received periodic re-formulations. Here is a statement by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott that may stand as a representative example: “There is an important difference between learning which is concerned with the degree of understanding necessary to practice a skill, and learning which is expressly focused upon an enterprise of understanding and explaining.”

A few conservative folks have said to me:  Whether it be Kant, Mill, Locke or even Isaiah Berlin, conservatism (conserving what is) does not necessarily require a movement towards Continental and rationalist systems of thought.

It’s a trap!

There’s important truth in such a statement, of course, but I don’t think you know quite what you’re up against, here, and who my audience is.  I’m looking for anchors.

As posted:

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

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.

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.

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.

On this site, see: Mark Pennington Via Vimeo: ‘Democracy And The Deliberative Conceit’

A taste of her Nussbaum here. Also, see: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

…Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’