‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way? Can we know Nature’s Laws?
From my humble, small ‘c’ conservative position, Trump was better than many alternatives, although the Federal deficit is now frightening. His anti-China tendencies have been nationalistic; coming from a more pro-union, working man perspective dating to his experiences in 1980’s New York City. Whatever you think of such ideas, Trump’s pushed, and reacted against, a lot of where future political action will be, namely with the citizens who work hard, save, and play by the rules. Mostly isolationist on foreign policy and liberationist on the economy, Trump’s had his influence.
He’s also challenged much Liberal Idealism directly (humanists and universalists, progressives and global internationalists and MUCH of the mainstream-media these days). For this, Trump will not be forgiven.
I would also include in this telling many Left-Of-Center ‘Ism-ologists’ (environmentalist bureaucrats and lawyers, feminists, race-industrialists) and ‘Wokists’ beneath them (SJW’s, identitarian and New New Left ‘woke’ activists). Such folks not only disliked Trump, but have openly HATED him. Trump was the uncouth, fascistic authoritarian trashing the traditions of our fair Republic [addition: don’t worry, they’ll take great care of it]. He simultaneously played the role of old and new heel quite successfully,
Trump’s also, from a position of character, in my personal opinion, kind of a piece-of-shit (as in a Jake-The-Snake Roberts old-school WWF heel). You could maybe trust him if you went in on the USFL together as stakeholders, but, then again, maybe not. He’s taken slights personally, often sinking to the level of most opponents. He’s been a womanizer for many, many years. He seems to claim credit for successes in a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing way and often shifts the blame of failures onto others. He’s used ‘lawfare’ in the past to achieve his aims..
Nevertheless, here we are, at the perpetual glorious dawn of the (S)elf, Dear Reader.
I expect a lot of what I see as overbuilt Federal institutions to continue having, at least partial, if not complete, capture by second and third-raters willing to endorse new moral orthodoxies.
From my position, I see new moral orthodoxies as insufficiently grounded in the tragedies and comedies of human nature to produce much mid and long-term institutional success. I may trust individuals I know (love your family, trust but verify with colleagues), but I don’t, in aggregate, trust even [principled] progressives to stand-up for the pursuit of truth as explained and understood by the sciences against mobs of ignorance. The production-line of ideas from the radical activist, to high ‘-Ismologist’, to Liberal Human Universalist continues.
Imagine yourself in a waiting room with an assortment of strangers. There’s some small-talk, some smiling, and some awkward tension (depending upon the reasons for which you might be waiting). A lot of the new ‘woke’ ideology takes as fuel the awkward tension of such strangers thrust together; these motley crews of friendly and not-so-friendly strangers in need of unifying ideas.
After liberation usually comes a new set of emergent rules and orthodoxies.
It still seems vast swathes of moral sentiment and public opinion have trouble aligning with positions of leadership and institutional authority these days, all across the board.
Some new links and a past quote:
British Historian Tom Holland sees the moral roots of the Christian faith as producing most of the new radical offshoots. For the Left, The Nazis are the devil (having rejected salvation and forgiveness). It’s always 1939 or so. For the Right, the current moral crisis is a rejection of belief, tradition and faith for atheism, liberal idealism and various dangerous ideologies coming out of the postmodern soup.
As for my thinking, the Platonic model found in the Republic (one of many models I’m using), keeps me up at night: Benjamin Jowett’s translation of Plato’s Republic can be found here.
Maybe we can start thinking about building a telescope on the dark side of the moon?
There are reasons for hope and optimism.
This, perhaps, is one of the more important developments in recent history: Reusuable rockets mean much cheaper payloads mean much cheaper space travel:
On to other things…:
Ladies and Gents, here are my two cents: Getting political means having a principle and choosing a position about moving around limited resources. This competition is formalized through the political process, with boundaries set by our Constitution, from elections to lobbying to policy implementation to street-level politics. Washington D.C.’s a two-party town where the business is politics, and where there are some decent people and some pretty ugly people looking to be celebrities.
For old media outlets like Fox/CNN, getting political means serving a product to viewers once you’ve made certain ideas and political opinions an explicit part of your business model. This might work better during periods when our Republic has deeper reserves of institutional competence and public trust.
For NPR, who claim to speak for all the public, it means having some built-in incentives to neutrality and impartiality, but also similar capture by highly political actors and loud-Left activists, while succumbing to the same incentives of audience feedback-looping and gang-like rivalry we’re seeing elsewhere.
Merely gesturing towards your high ideals probably won’t put the genie back in the bottle, especially if politicizing your personal life and then formalizing this into a political coalition is your path forwards.
For the new, increasingly walled media gardens of Google/Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, it means creating and innovating the technology upon which people increasingly communicate, but also increasingly dealing with the politics of Washington D.C. and the politics of…people.
Business decisions are usually the primary guide, but all are subject to the biases of the people within them and the places in which they operate. In my opinion, it would have been nice if more of them choose the harder, higher road of more speech.
The restrictions could get pretty serious, pretty quickly. Follow the money.
What I expect: The older and more principled Left (Weinsteins, Greenwalds, Taibbis) have already moved to different platforms. As much as I don’t agree, there will likely be an American cultural and political center further Leftward, with a slower-growth economy and more ‘class’ resentment than before. The New-Old Left will push back, somewhat, against the New-New identitarian Left:
Ever more vigilance against the inherent autoritiarian/totalitarian consequences of the radical Left (unresolved philosophical foundations) will be required, as they push up into a new majority which will involve increasing technocracy.
Beware the Men Of System.
For me, the Trump split is a sign of the fracturing of the old Republican coalition, the likely movement of Christian America to a minority or a plurality, and people who’d like a more limited government into a fighting minority.
Basically, I’m okay with religious belief as an agnostic, would like a limited government, and support the 1st and 2nd amendments vigorously.
Maybe you disagree?
In the meantime, let a thousand Gretas bloom. [They’re coming…]
In my view, if you’re not getting a lot of reality and human nature right from the jump, reverting to authoritarian and hare-brained means of control once you co-opt institutions is a feature, not a bug.
Utopia and dystopia tend to go hand-in-glove.
In Seattle the City Council Of Nine is where the radical action happens.
‘In October, the Seattle City Council floated legislation to provide an exemption from prosecution for misdemeanor crimes for any citizen who suffers from poverty, homelessness, addiction, or mental illness.‘
Don’t count on some journalists to support your right to speak, as they….speak. Other ideas, incentives and pressures matter more to them:
If you’re thinking diversity is enough to unite a Nation under its laws, in order to keep things civil and not violent, I have my doubts.
There sure are a lot of people ignoring the obvious fascism of the anti-fascists inviting the fascists into their collectivist, ideological embrace, giving meaning to a lot of rather pathetic, lonely people.
The individuals focusing on the idea of racial categories, collectivist solutions to individual problems, equity-first and tribal/group-first ideological and political frameworks have the right to peaceably assemble, of course, but there must be law and order and there must be enough individual citizens answering bad speech with more speech.
I am hoping (perhaps unwisely) for a correction in many media quarters, parts of the academy and the high-liberal turrets where’s there’s been great clamor towards activist logic and increasing emotional commitment to the same old political idealism which gives cover for the violent and radical elements on the Left.
This invites genuine fascism which I sternly and open denounce (not patriotism, not a nation of citizens and laws, not the conservation of liberal order). Violence is not the answer.
To be fair, I think Wood offers a decent piece of journalism (interviews, phone calls, research etc.); a well-written, longer-form work I find to be in shorter-supply these days.
In it, he highlights Spencer’s Nietzschean-influenced intellectual aspirations and populist ambitions to become a mouthpiece for alt-right advocacy (serious enough to get attention, unserious enough to be poseurish and pathetically fascistic..which means Spencer may not represent more than a vocal minority, even on the alt-right……feel free to send some data my way).
To be critical: What I think Wood misses, and what many anti-Trumpers and liberal ‘gentry’ miss (Trump is an opportunist if there ever was one), is that Richard Spencer (an opportunist if there ever was one) isn’t enjoying his moment in the sun alone. The kind of black bloc, antifa radicalism which Spencer publicly addresses is clearly ok using violence on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom.
Addition: I should clarify that I don’t think Trump is a fascist, but merely an opportunist; a rather socially liberal, NYC real-estate developer.
This leads to the most persuasive arguments I’ve heard criticizing modern liberalism: It’s all too easy to ignore the true-believers, radicals, poseurs and nutbars (they’re our bastards) beneath one’s own platform, especially if they share some version of one’s own cherished beliefs and ideals.
Left and Left-liberal idealism prospers and is even institutionalized at places like Berkeley (no shortage of anti-racist, neo-Marxist, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist sentiment at Berkeley), which helps fuel radicals which help fuel the Richard Spencers.
Fascists and anti-fascists sure can come to resemble one another, trading tired power theories, hitting each other over the head, and trying to squeeze some meaning from similar principles while showboating through the nihilistic void.
Frankly, they deserve each other, and they deserve to be marginalized by the rest of us.
***I don’t think one need be a Nietzschean nor Nietzsche-inspired, nor a Nietzsche-reacting sort of Straussian (from H.L. Mencken to Leo Strauss to Camille Paglia to John Gray) to seriously question the modern liberal and secular human project, and help offer perspective.
But, it probably helps in understanding the fascist tendencies of Spencer and his enemies/allies..
Addition: I should make it clear that Nietzsche didn’t have much truck with fascists, and that he diagnosed, from the depths of his own nihilism, a lot of the crises that would come to face Europe…as for folks like Spencer, they seem to get enough nihilism to carry around while looking for meaning/purpose/identity/belonging elsewhere (in fascist movements)
Hitchens could be entertaining, especially on grounds I’m guessing he knew instinctively well as a former Trotskyite: Ideologies, while highlighting truths, promise a one-stop shop on truth, knowledge, how to be in the world, what to do and what the future will be.
People can kill for less, and when they adhere to such systems, then they can end-up killing more.
This is something of what neo-neo conservatism might look like, and a Man Of The Left recognizing what an ideologue and a favorite target looks like.
NOTE: You’ll have to click through and sign-in to Youtube because the ‘Youtube Community’ is now deciding what is and isn’t acceptable discourse within a new set of emerging rules, partially driven by ideologues in the comment section.
Surely you trust the new rules and rule-enforcers?
Via a reader. Platonic idealism has advantages in restoring both idealism and realism into political debate, but also drawbacks. It can be a bulwark against moral relativism, which is a modern soup in which Left and Right fascism can be found simmering.
Of course, her heart was in the ‘right’ place (actively left of the lateral line, pounding furiously for social justice), but her misrepresentation of facts likely caused real harm to people who found less opportunity as a result of that reporting.
‘In the wake of an exhaustive three-part series by Reason’s Jim Epstein, New York Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has acknowledged that the paper’s May expose of the nail salon industry “went too far” in its claims. Given that the Times’ account prompted New York Gov. Cuomo to establish a task force to investigate the industry, this is no small admission of overreach.’
It’s interesting to see activists, reporters, and government officials advancing their own interests separately under the common banner of shared ideology, looking to shape laws affecting all citizens.
If you have doubts about a rather tepid Bos-Wash, establishment liberal worldview, (which I would argue has serious structural flaws), keep an eye on the activist base, where the demands keep coming and a populist majoritarianism is often the most to be hoped for in placating activists and would-be radicals.
***Jim Epstein’s part I, II, and III on the questionable journalism found at the New York Times on nail salons in NYC. A pretty thorough fisking.
‘In this sense, Nazis and Austria’s Christian fascists were right to see the Vienna Circle as an enemy. In Edmonds’s words, the Circle was “contemptuous of superstitious thinking,” including myths about race and religion. The group included Christians and Jews, but its members’ real creed was what they called “the scientific conception of the world.”
Possibly contained within the piece: The Vienna Circle has some overlap with the New Atheists?
Our author speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party. Continuing on a recent theme around here and in society more broadly:
‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’
Her powers of analysis could be useful…and I still refer to her piece from time to time.
‘Albert Speer (1905–1981) was born in Mannheim, Germany, the son and grandson of architects. Pushed by his father to study architecture, he studied first in Karlsruhe, then Munich, but he only became serious after he transferred to Berlin. There he applied to study with Hans Poelzig, the brilliant expressionist architect of Weimar Germany, who rejected Speer as an inferior draftsman. Disappointed, he turned to the man who was Poelzig’s polar opposite, Heinrich Tessenow, a reform-minded architect with a love of simple, clear volumes and neoclassical clarity—the ultimate basis of Nazi architecture. Speer, who all his life knew how to ingratiate himself, sufficiently impressed Tessenow to become his teaching assistant.’
From the looks of it, there’s some serious neo-classicism going on; deep Greco-Roman influence. The thing likely would have been built if it weren’t for WWII:
So, what about neo-classicism mixed with ‘technocratic utopianism,’ or the rather suspicious desire to centrally plan, control, and organize everyone’s lives on the way the Glorious Future?:
Robert Hughes saw echoes of this technocratic modern utopianism in Albany, New York. It really may not be that far from Mussolini to the bland bureaucratic corporatism found elsewhere in the West:
‘…classicism with a pastry-cutter,’
And as for the fascists having:
‘…a jackboot in either camp, one in the myth of ancient Rome, one in the vision of a technocratic future.‘
Dinesh D’Souza is a Christian, and while debating New Atheist and Compatibilist Daniel Dennett at Tufts University, he brings up Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead in favor of his position…not sure if that’s a winner.
Interesting debate. Argument starts at 5:30:
Terry Eagleton debates Roger Scruton below. Scruton was no doubt heavily influenced by German idealism.
Are we really that thick into the postmodern weeds? What should students in the humanities be reading?:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdMBDOj4ec There’s a bit of an intellectual turf war going on in the Western world. I suppose it’s been going on for a while. Here are some public skirmishes I’ve been able to track:
-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy‘
-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularis responded to Wieseltier:
‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’
‘In the Letter of Commitment, the Foundation staff and the Board pledged action in response to the June Community Letter’s call for us to become proactively antiracist. The Foundation is grateful to these poetry communities for continuing to hold it accountable, as it speaks to a belief in the capacity for change. The Foundation holds itself accountable as well, and has begun to move forward with short- and long-term equity efforts.‘
Such bad use of language!
Blink if you can hear me.
The money which someone earned in the world, often passed down to those who didn’t earn the money, is further donated to those who haven’t earned the respect of poets. Often, the support a decent poet needs to get better is diverted to the loudest voices in the organization and wasteful, bureauratic, mastubatory ends.
I think the best response is just posting good poetry. Maybe it strikes you, maybe it doesn’t.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
‘Elizabeth Alexander never expected to go into philanthropy. Now she’s in her third year as the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the humanities and the arts in the U.S., where she’s quickly applied her vision to foster a more just society.’
‘There, she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund—an initiative that uses art and advocacy to address the crisis of mass incarceration—and guided the organization in examining how the arts and visual storytelling can empower communities.’
I like the idea that poems are actually not supposed to engage you in direct action, neither political, nor personal. They usually take some work to understand, but they can come alive on the tongue and live like wisdom in the brain for years.
Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony nor Elizabeth Alexander’s use of poetry to commerorate political power:
‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelming the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
And still also more on institutional capture and old piles of money, as posted:
‘Ken Stern knows an awful lot about nonprofits, having spent the better part of a decade as chief operating officer, then president of NPR, one of the best-known, and controversial, nonprofits in America.’
Charity has limits.
This blog likes to keep an eye on NPR, as they’re a child of the 60’s, and but for the work of LBJ’s Great Society lobbying to include ‘radio’ in the Public Television Act of 1967, they might not be around. Many NPR stories, in reaching out to the wider world, often return to the touchstones of feminism, environmentalism and some form of diversity multiculturalism. Amidst high standards for journalism and production values lies the tendency towards positive definitions of equality, justice and peace. They tend to assume their ideals are your ideals as they filter new input from the world.
In turn, many feminists, environmentalists, and multiculturalists/activists rely on foundation money and/or private donations, and/or public institutions, for survival. They aim for broad definitions of the public good, and seek to influence both the culture and political outcomes.
Everyone’s starting a non-profit these days:
‘The ability to survive, even thrive, with programs that have been proven not to work is just one of the many oddities ‘With Charity for All’ documents in the topsy-turvy, misunderstood, and mostly ignored world of nonprofits’
Non-profits have become big business, partially following the ‘greatness model’ that worked so well for the boomers, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, there are limits to any model, and we’ve got serious economic issues and a lot of political dysfunction. The money has to come from somewhere.
‘To clean up the messy nonprofit landscape, Stern offers some suggestions that are sure to cause concern in some nonprofit quarters, including increased government oversight, increasing the application fee to cover the cost of better IRS review and, most radical of all, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, then requiring a renewal after a certain period of time (maybe 10 years). It’s an admirable goal, but in a sector where the stated goal of private foundations is self-preservation and “once a charity; always a charity,” is the mantra, it ain’t gonna happen. Stern knows this, of course, but it doesn’t stop him from asking this and many other valid questions about a sector that is loath to engage in self-evaluation’
It may be as simple as following the money.
On Stern’s third point, putting a life span on the charitable status afforded nonprofits, Stern might agree with David Horowitz, of all people. He’s a red-diaper baby, an ex-Marxist activist cum anti-Leftist, anti-Communist crusader. Making foundations and constantly agitating is what he knows how to do.
Horowitz argues that such foundations as Ford (which donates to NPR) have become vehicles for the interests of political activists, portraying the matter of as a fight between capitalism/anti-capitalism and/or socialism. He mentions the Tides foundation here. They are big money, he points out, and Obama’s political career was largely made possible by activist political organization, and the money and manpower behind them:
Stern and Horowitz potentially agreeing on some regulation of non-profits makes for strange bedfellows. Obama, true to form, was seeking a permanent form of activism. Activists, and the political idealists with whom they often find common cause, often don’t produce anything of value independently, and must rely upon existing institutions for their support.
It’s worth thinking about who wants to be in charge, and why, and what that means for everyone else. Following the money never hurts, and it’s a necessary evil, just a politics is. If you tend to agree with the ideals, you tend to focus on the sausage, not how it’s getting made.
This blog wants to focus on what keeps our society open, healthy and dynamic, and what maintains our political and economic freedoms. The pie ought to be growing.
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.
‘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.
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.
Rod Dreher’s new book, ‘Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents‘, posits that soft totalitarianism is coming fast, and that, once instutional influence is gained by radical Leftists, networks of the openly religious will need to form and associate ad hoc networks on their own, to maintain resistance.
Arguably, the influence of religious belief as well as Natural Law/Natural Right doctrines, traditionally profound influences on American civic life, continues to diminish. So, the thinking goes, we are fast arriving at an increasingly divided civic and political life. The logic of Left political radicalism becomes ever more entrenched in our universities, media and politics, entrenching a more Right-radical, European-style response.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option), points to what he believes are signs of the obvious failure of modern, liberal doctrines to replace the kinds of meaning such religious doctrines have provided.
Here are two recent blog posts containing this worldview of his, about which I’ve provided additional summary and commentary (please let me know what I’m missing).
‘Advice For A Weary Ghost‘-A 35 year-old woman feels empty inside, writing to ‘The Cut‘ for advice. She doesn’t have a husband and can’t seem to maintain deep, meaningful relationships. She’s had jobs but not a career. Maybe it’s not just her.
The adviser promotes a surburbanely popularized vision of the rebellious and Romantically-inspired artistic life, reaffirming much of what Dreher and his commenters see as inadequate for most people, most of the time.
This view, I presume, utilizes the wrong maps to steer one’s (S)oul and inform life decisions. Perhaps it allows one to succumb to materialist concerns and potentially materialist doctrines (too strongly measuring one’s life largely by economic, professional and outward successes/failures). It also perpetuates the woman’s confessedly empty, Self-interested pursuits, cutting her off from the happiness of family and loved ones without much to show for it.
The ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, political activism etc.) are poor substitutes for a moral, meaningful life. The Church might just the place to be, but Catholic Church leadership, too, is corrupt and covered with the dust of this world. There will increasingly be witch hunts upon religious believers by the new SJW believers.
The lady’s probably not going to be an (A)rtist, the lady giving advice probably ain’t so great an (A)rtist either.
Can the humanities become a lifelong source of wisdom and meaning?
‘Manufacturing Consent To Gender Ideology‘-Boys wanting to be girls, and vice versa, is the latest (C)ause. These outliers upon distributions of human sexual behavior, often shunned, mocked and condemned to limited lives, must not only be included in everyone’s moral concern, but celebrated. Through social activism and protest, they are to become exemplars of the new normal.
Doctrines promising radical liberation, hinging upon revolutionary praxis, go about attacking and reforming current traditions, institutions, laws and arrangements, often grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting them to gain advantage. The grudging acknowledgement of freedoms gained through progressive activism and radical thought always come with costs.
And, given the natural ignorance of the human condition, and the basic desire humans have for group meaning, authority, security, identity and purpose, this latest (C)ause which promises liberation, will end-up delivering something quite different.
Cycles of utopianism and dystopianism await, and more disgruntled individuals drifting around aimlessly looking for an ad hoc ethics and politics, sometimes flirting with authoritarian and totalitarian Leftist doctrines as those doctrines become more mainstreamed:
If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.
The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.
As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.
Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.
There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.
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):
‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’
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. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’
‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’
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:
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.
Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?
Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?
As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.
The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.
Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?
Kelley Ross responds to a correspondent on Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, while discussing John Gray as well:
‘Now, I do not regard Berlin’s value pluralism as objectionable or even as wrong, except to the extend that it is irrelevant to the MORAL issue and so proves nothing for or against liberalism. Liberalism will indeed recommend itself if one wishes to have a regime that will respect, within limits, a value pluralism. I have no doubt that respecting a considerable value pluralism in society is a good thing and that a nomocratic regime that, mostly, leaves people alone is morally superior to a teleocratic regime that specifies and engineers the kinds of values that people should have. However, the project of showing that such a regime IS a good thing and IS morally superior is precisely the kind of thing that Gray decided was a failure.
Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘
and about providing a core to liberalism:
‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’
And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:
‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘
Are libertarians the true classical liberals? Much closer to our founding fathers?
Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.
Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).