Three Sunday Quotations On Liberalism-Lionel Trilling, Michael Oakeshott & J.S. Mill

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

Trilling, Lionel.  The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society.  The Viking Press:  New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal.  What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?

A 20th century address of such problems:

‘But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

One of the more solid moral foundations for why you should be liberal still comes from J.S. Mill:

“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.

Watch out for the assumption of rational and knowable ends, and the one-stop-shop of modern doctrines promising radical liberation. All that’s left is to implement such knowledge into systems that will lead all men to some point outside of themselves.: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Positive and negative rights are also a part of Leo Strauss’ thinking (persona non-grata nowadays), and Strauss thought you were deluded if your were going to study politics from afar, as a “science.”  There has been much dispute about this: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Full post here.

Bonus quote:

“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”

The Two Clashing Meanings Of Free Speech-Whence Liberalism?

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

-1st amendment to the Constitution.

Teresa Bejan’s ‘The Two Clashing Meanings Of ‘Free Speech‘ piece at the Atlantic:

‘Recognizing the ancient ideas at work in these modern arguments puts those of us committed to America’s parrhesiastic tradition of speaking truth to power in a better position to defend it. It suggests that to defeat the modern proponents of isegoria—and remind the modern parrhesiastes what they are fighting for—one must go beyond the First Amendment to the other, orienting principle of American democracy behind it, namely equality. After all, the genius of the First Amendment lies in bringing isegoria and parrhesia together, by securing the equal right and liberty of citizens not simply to “exercise their reason” but to speak their minds. It does so because the alternative is to allow the powers-that-happen-to-be to grant that liberty as a license to some individuals while denying it to others.’

Further exploration in the video below…:

My brief summary (let me know what I may have gotten wrong): Bejan appeals to two ancient and somewhat conflicting Greek concepts in order to define two types of ‘free speech.’

Isegoria:  More associated with reason, argument, and debate.  You may feel, believe and think certain things to be true, but you’re a member/citizen of a Republic and you’ve got to martial your arguments and follow the rules (not all people may be members/citizens either, depending on the rules).  Many Enlightenment figures (Locke, Kant, Spinoza) appealed to reason more through isegoria according to Bejan (given the tricky course they had to navigate with the existing authority of the time).  Think first, speak later.

Parrhesia: More associated with open, honest and frank discussion, and with much less concern as to consequences:  ‘Say-it-all’ Socrates was voted to death by the People after all, despite his reasoning prowess. She brings up Diogenes (the lantern guy), who flaunted convention, tooks serious risks and even masturbated publicly. She brings up all the racy stuff even Quakers and various other sects said against each other in the early days of our Republic.

So, why create this particular framework, and why is it necessary to ‘go around’ the 1st amendment upon it in pursuit of Equality?: Perhaps one of Bejan’s aims is to resuscitate an American liberalism which would allow old-school liberals to appeal to young activists and a lot of young people influenced by activists, obliquely routing all back to the Constitution.  Only through becoming aware of their own assumptions can liberals better address the ‘hate-speech’ concept (with no Constitutional basis) which has taken root in our universities, for example.

Bejan relies on some data and some anecdotal evidence from her own teaching experience to justify a potential shift in public sentiment, requiring of her approach.  Such evidence might line-up with elements of libertarian/conservative critiques of liberalism, too, which tend to focus on liberals lacking a sufficiently profound moral framework to justify why liberals should make and enforce laws, and run our institutions, especially when those institutions are judged by outcomes, not intentions, bound as they are within a Constitutional framework.

So far, I’m not sure I’m persuaded by Bejan’s reasoning, for why not just stick to teaching, promoting and discussing the Constitution? Has Bejan really punched a hole back to the Greeks, or has she fashioned a tool-at-hand to grasp certain products of Enlightenment modernity to address more crises of modernity?

***In the video Bejan mentions, in non-Burkean, non-conservative fashion, our founding documents, the French Revolutionaries, and the U.N. charter as examples of rights-based thinking.  Of course, beyond debates about liberalism, there’s quite a lot of dispute about where our rights might come from in the first place (from God, from a Deity, from Nature, from Nature’s Laws, from past Laws and Charters, from knowledge gained through the Natural Sciences, from the latest Social Science, from coalitions of like-minded people, from majorities/pluralities of people, from top-down lists of rights and ideological platforms etc.)

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Found here.

I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas.

Yes, a modern Marxist: Brendan O’Neill 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.’

Also:

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’

On this site, see: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

A Modern Liberal, somewhat Aristotelian and classical?:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Samuel Huntington was quite humble, and often wise, about what political philosophy could do:  From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’

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’

 

Friday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill

Sent in by a reader a while ago now:

In his essay Representative Government, Jon Stuart Mill identified three fundamental conditions which the Carter administration would do well to ponder.  These are: “One, that the people should be willing to receive it [representative government]; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.”

-From Dictatorship And Double Standards.

Some Links On That ‘Community Of Nations’-North Korea And The Use Of Force

From Millenial Transmissions-‘John Stuart Mill Predicts Soviet Communism’

Well, predictions are hard, especially about the future…:

I’ll just pull part of the quote:

‘The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill, or of that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish.”

Mill provided a fairly comprehensive underlying moral philosophy as to why to individual liberty should be championed; deep reasons as to how you should live and what you should do towards these ends.

It’s odd that some in the West look upon the post-ish-Communist landscape (China, Russia, North Korea) and merely see States not sufficiently included within ‘the community of nations.’  This, rather than seeing States with vastly different, and often competing traditions and interests than oursand who are still often crushing individual liberty underfoot.

It must be said that such folks in the West harbor deep sympathies with Communist collectivist ideological constructs themselves, or at least a kind of one-world secular idealism which sees any use of force as illegitimate (often on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom, or perhaps…something more like a global collective).

As you’ve noticed, there’s still a thoroughly bankrupt, totalitarian regime on the path to deliverable nukes in North Korea (yes it still possesses a reasonably competent military seeking all aspects of nuclear delivery…for all the worst reasons).

Force and the threat of force are still on the table, but now there appear to be fewer good options in the halls of American power.

From The Atlantic (complete with a standard underlying suspicion of all ideas realist and nationalist):

‘Kim Jong Un must be made to understand that, under no uncertain terms, can he ever use his nuclear weapons; doing so would mean the end of North Korea. Whether the United States likes it or not, the country now poses a clear strategic threat, and it must be treated as such.’

America has a soft and hard power game to play in the Asian theater in order to foster the kinds of freedom that lead to greater trade, understanding and knowledge, as I see it.  Self-interest is often a reasonably honest, and reliable guide.

For even if we apply Mill’s thinking to the South Koreans, the Japanese, and the Chinese, depending on circumstances, individuals with whom we deal may not return the favor, especially with their own interests and obligations to the traditions, governments, and institutions of which they are a part.

In the meantime, the mess that is North Korea sits on their doorsteps, after all, and seeks to increase its scope to our shores.

A previous piece here.

Via Readers-Two North Korea Links

What are some things China might have to gain and lose from a still-existing North Korean regime?

Some people have a lot of experience with this problem:


Even if there were a global collective and community of nations honoring every single human-rights bill and charter it would still use force and the threat of force…I should think.

So much for ideals of peace and harmony promised? (delivery from history and much of our own natures).

Where are we headed, here?

As previously posted:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’ takes the classical liberal, non anti-war libertarian position (regarding Obama):

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’

From Malcolm Greenhill: ‘I believe my good friend, Jeff Hummel, has made the best attempt so far at solving the public goods problem of national defense:’

http://mises.org/document/274/National-Goods-versus-Public-Goods-Defense-Disarmament-and-Free-Riders

On this site, see: George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

The People In Charge Are Never The Ones You Want

So, what do you want?

From ‘A Modest Proposal’:

‘But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at legnth utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England.’
I’ll take this in a certain direction. From my high-school days, ‘The Wave’:

=======

Intellectuals running things…:

“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Repost-Two Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Jesse Walker At Reason Links To Ross Douthat: ‘”The Meritocracy As We Know It Mostly Works To Perpetuate the Existing Upper Class’

Also On This Site: How many libertarians are fundamentally anti-theist…and would some go so far as to embrace utilitarianism, or Mill’s Harm Principle?

More Links On Speech-Many Sustained Threats Are Still Coming From True-Belief On The Left

“First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

‘Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. ‘

‘Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. ‘

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.”

-John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty: Chapter II-Of The Liberty Of Thought And Discussion’

When it comes to the moral courage of people running our institutions, like politicians, I rarely trust in moral courage to make an appearance.

I mean, I’d like to, but some knowledge of the human heart and some experience of how people actually behave makes me, I think, more depressively realistic.

Many people, much of the time, prefer stability and knowing where they stand in hierarchies of some authority as opposed to the kinds of sacrifice required to defend principles under attack (illusory and real).  A steady paycheck is what many seek, frankly, with some bit of respect and some security (illusory and real).

In other words, tend to your own garden and look with much scepticism at any authority figures in your life (a few are genuinely admirable, many are opportunistically respectable, some are fools and knaves, and a few are genuine idiots).

Activists of course, many of them operating in a kind of mental slavery, seek to overthrow what they see as the morally illegitimate institutions which have oppressed them, and control those institutions, bending them to their will.

As for your freedoms…good luck.

—————

Of course, there are other forces at work.

In addition to rapid technological change (the technology IS the thing at most media companies) and the failure of many old media companies to properly adapt to these changes (sitting on their old business models), most publications usually need deep donor pockets or other revenue streams for purposes of survival.

Ideology, thus, can expand its influence into more media outlets and more lives in our Republic (imploring and shaming all to recognize special classes of victim groups, enter the grievance/guilt Olympics and ‘check privilege’ against the ‘history of oppression’ on the way to radical and revolutionary freedom).

Most of these people are simply not friends of speech.

——————

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and professed member of the New Atheists, yet because of his apostasy in highlighting the actual beliefs of one the new protected class groups (Muslims) in the oppression hierarchy, he has come under scurrilous and constant attack.

—-

As previously posted: From TheFire.Org-‘The Condescending Paternalism Of Williams President Adam Falk:’

As FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors has said: “You cannot say to people, you’re too weak to live with freedom. Only that group is strong enough to live with freedom.”

But that’s exactly what Adam Falk, the patronizing president of Williams College, has said to the college’s student body. Yesterday, Falk unilaterally canceled a speech by John Derbyshire, who was invited as part of the student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series.

From Adam Falk’s letter to Williams students about the matter:

‘Today I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech by John Derbyshire, who was to have presented his views here on Monday night. The college didn’t invite Derbyshire, but I have made it clear to the students who did that the college will not provide a platform for him.

Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard. The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions. We have said we wouldn’t cancel speakers or prevent the expression of views except in the most extreme circumstances. In other words: There’s a line somewhere, but in our history of hosting events and speeches of all kinds, we hadn’t yet found it.

We’ve found the line. Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it. Many of his expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.

We respect—and expect—our students’ exploration of ideas, including ones that are very challenging, and we encourage individual choice and decision-making by students. But at times it’s our role as educators and administrators to step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of students and our community. This is one of those times.’

John Derbyshire raised quite a stir after publishing ‘The Talk: Nonblack Version,’

‘There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

Of course, what better place than a liberal arts college to talk these matters out?

Sigh.

Read up. Get your reasons and arguments together.  Show up at the debate, alone or with friends. Listen to the other fellow.  Think.  Respond.  Think some more.  Debate.

Publishing and disseminating the thoughts and ideas of others is not necessarily an endorsement of those thoughts and ideas, but it is absolutely vital in maintaining a free and open society:

Out of principle alone, here’s Derbyshire discussing his general worldview:

—————-

Two older, but likely worthwhile links:

Brendan O’Neill At Spiked:

‘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’.

Back to Yale with Christopher Hitchens:

Full post here.

Reason post here.

NY Times piece here.

Old news I know, but it seems that the Yale Press was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could potentially lead to violence, and that they are responsible for the consequences of such potential violence.

Hitchens:

“…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.”

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  

From THEFIRE.org Via Youtube: ‘Juan Williams On Firing From NPR, ‘Muzzled,’ And Threats Posed To Free Speech’

Free Speech & Mainstreamed Activism

Two Tuesday Links On Free Speech

Repost-From virtual philosopher: ‘Free Speech: notes and links for course at Free Word Centre’

Full post here.

Some links and notes to J.S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’.

‘The limit of freedom for Mill was the point were an individual’s actions risked harming other people. This is his so-called Harm Principle, and he applies it throughout the book.’

Related On This Site:  Saturday Quotation-J.S. MillA Few Thoughts-Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England” Mill’s Harm Principle is often used as a life-preserver once the authoritarianism on on the hard Left becomes publicly apparent.Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property