There Are So Many Ways To Do Better-Philosophy & Humanities 101

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University Of Chicago’s English Department:

“For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies,” the program said in a statement on its website.

In light of the rather pathetic and predictable news out of the University of Edinburgh. They’ve renamed Hume Tower (after arch-empiricist David Hume and one of the greats) at the University of Edinburgh.

Some academics stood up to the administration and the decision:

The letter’s signatories include several of the university’s most respected academics, including Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Dr Michael Rosie, senior lecturer in sociology, Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy, and Jonathan Hearn, professor of political and historical sociology.

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 a problem.

A lot of this aimlessness and rebellion had ramped-up in the 1960’s, but since then, I’ve come to understand there are even deeper problems.

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

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.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.  Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven:  Everyone’s a (S)elf.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Quite importantly:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.

Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?

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

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’

Alas, this blog has been writing about such issues for over a decade, and I’ve been thinking about them for more than two decades:  Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony Kronman

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Click here for a quite a varied discussion of Allan Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Civil Right logic, and protest alone, isn’t likely deep enough to prevent against ideological capture: 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?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

America These Days, A Newer Elite And Potential Life On Venus?

Via Bari Weiss-It almost feels as though, after a meal, in the back room of an emptying restaurant, I’m a fly on the wall:

Q & A: The Marriage Vows of The American Elite: A Conversation With Benjamin Ginsberg:

I agree. I also agree that there is a kind of interesting elite consolidation under way in the U.S. that does parallel the events of the late 19th century. We have a fabulously wealthy new elite, namely tech billionaires and related folks. The established monied classes in the United States need to incorporate these people, and they’re being incorporated around a kind of woke agenda, just as the elites of the late 19th century were incorporated around a Christian agenda of social do-gooding.

Personally, I suspect if the American body politic were an iceberg, then a large enough portion has rolled so that religious belief comprises only a plurality nowadays. Many people are still deeply religious, and we Americans deeply idealistic, but politically and socially, especially in the upper eschelons, it’s not what it was.

I don’t trust many people promising me what it should be.

Some fears, from a Straussian perspective: This decay could presage a more European-esque politics, with many attendant problems of nihilism (unmoored individuals seeking meaning through ideology, more mainstreamed ‘burn it all down’ political factions, more radical (not merely utopian/communitarian) and politicized art movements, less social mobility and more entrenched ‘classes’, more social stratification with a scelerotic bureaucratized government apparatus).

On that note, a better path seems to pursue and partake in human excellence, where it is to be found. What kind of political order we have is up to us and our Constitution. People desperately need ‘low resolution’ ideas to form cohesive groups of any kind, especially within institutions, and many of those guiding ideas are now more socially activist and ‘change’-focused.

Where creative synthesis and new thinking are often occurring, in the arts and sciences, can lie old wisdom and new knowledge:

Venus is such a hothouse. Do we need more data?

As for the media landscape, it all depends on where you stand.

Is this an accurate map, or are my biases showing?:

Media drift-As to more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon political idealists, high liberals, atheists and humanists.

Maybe ignorance, zeal, moral judgment and enforcement are best thought of as NORMS, not exceptions, when it comes to human nature.

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?:

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’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Solving For Excessive Egalitarianism Within The Hollowed-Out Bowl Produced By Analytic Philosophy & Postmodern Nihilism? This & Other Fun Links

-Tony Daniel at The Federalist on Anthony Kronman’s new book ‘The Assault On American Excellence

Hmmm…:

‘So here’s a second opinion on Kronman’s diagnosis: The disease that afflicts the American academy is not caused by the pathogen of egalitarianism from without. It is a cancer produced by the excesses of analytic philosophy and structuralist thinking within.’

I really like this line (could be more of a writer problem…writers can become reclusive weirdos, but still telling nonetheless):

‘It says something that the most normal professor I encountered in graduate school was the extremely odd and reclusive aesthetician and novelist William H. Gass.’

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move…’

Alas, this blog has been writing about such issues for over a decade, and I’ve been thinking about them for more than two decades:  Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? Allan Bloom, Camille Paglia and Anthony Kronman

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Click here for a quite a varied discussion of Allan Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Related On This Site:

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

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Other links for your pleasure:

-Via Triggernometry: Can We Stop Terrorism and What Do Islamists Want? But what do they really want? Conflicted, Thomas Small and Aiman Dean’s podcast seems worth a listen.

-Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay at The City Journal:  ‘Conversing In An Age Of Accusation‘.  It’s something, anyways.

I’ve often thought that many New Atheists, liberal idealists, progressives and radicals overlook the inherent dangers of human ignorance, the need to believe and the semi-permanence of people committed to radical ideology.  The sciences and social sciences are being asked to bear a tremendous pressure as a result.  Sure, religious believers disagree with, and have a long record of persecuting free-thinkers, scientists and natural philosophers, but actual terrorists and radicals are being normalized under the banner of liberal idealism.  I doubt this bodes well.

Whenever and wherever there are thoughtful, reasonable people, I support them: Dog Park Blues-Link To A James Lindsay Interview

-A bit of sad news from Jordan Peterson.  The man’s very honest about that which it can’t be easy to be honest.

On That Liberal Project And Many Nihilist Claims Against It-Some Links To Fukuyama And John Gray

Aris Roussinos makes the case for Fukuyama’s ‘The End Of History And The Last Man‘ in:

Why Fukuyama was right all along:

In The Last Man, the under-discussed addendum to The End of History, Fukuyama took his intellectual cues from Nietzsche rather than Hegel, observing that “it is impossible to complete our present discussion without refer­ring to the creature who reportedly emerges at the end of history, the last man,” a creature who is, “in essence, the victorious slave”. With all his demands met and material wants assuaged, will the last man be content at last, pausing the endless revolving wheel of history?

This blog has applied a Straussian approach (reason/revelation distinction) to question the Hegelian–>Marxist–>post-Marxist (via Alexander Kojeve) view that (H)istory in fact should be conceptualized as Hegelians do, and can claim to be known, as many have.

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

The (H)istoricist approach tends to lead to an ever-expanding bureaucratic state, importing many problems much German philosophical idealism has had in conceptualizing God in the face of Englightenment claims to truth and knowledge, Nature, Man in Nature, and perhaps even the fact that Germans rather enjoy fighting, and the piety of ‘we’ Germans.

On that note, as posted, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Simon Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book below.

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings? Rational animals?

Also On This Site: Francis Fukuyama, a neconservative up until the Iraq War or so, student of Huntington’s, and author off The End Of History, has a view that modernization and Westernization are more closely united.  Yet Fukuyama envisions a Western State which has an endpoint that the minds of men might be able to know.   This breaks with Karl Marx’s end point of Communism rising from the ashes of capitalism, is more Hegelian via Alexander Kojeve in Paris, and advocates for a State that ought to be bigger than it is now in the U.S.  This requires a more moral bureaucratic class to lead us here at home and perhaps an almost one worlder-ish type Super-Government for all.  Can you see limited government, life, liberty and property from here?:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India to address some of the corruption there, and it may involve much more state involvement here in America by extension.  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The CrisisMartha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution..
Liberalism has plans for you and me, and supremely abstract ideals which would bind us together: Martha Nussbaum At The Chronicle Of Higher Education Responding To The 10th Anniversary Of 09/11: ‘Justice’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Three Friday Quotations

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.’

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Full paper here.

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy is 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.”

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‘We may sum this up by saying that the more the style of what used to be called politics becomes theorized, the more political problems come to be reintrepreted as managerial.  Working out the least oppressive laws under which different and sometimes conflicting groups may live peaceably together is being replaced by manipulation and management of the attitudes different groups take towards each other, with the hope that this will ultimately bring harmony.  In other words, in the new form of society, human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral ideas.’

Minogue, Kenneth.  Politics.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 111).

Repost-Some High & Low Links: Reactions To Art As Liberation Towards (S)elf

Via Edward Feser: ‘Masculinity & The Marvel Movies’

Hmmm..I’m still listening to contrary voices:

‘On the traditional understanding of masculinity, a man’s life’s work has a twofold purpose. First, it is ordered toward providing for his wife and children. Second, it contributes something distinctive and necessary to the larger social order of which he and his family are parts.’

and:

‘Liberal individualism, both in its libertarian form and its egalitarian form, replaced this social and other-directed model of a man’s life’s work with an individualist and careerist model, on which work is essentially about self-expression and self-fulfillment…’

As posted: This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’

Please do keep in mind Wendell Berry is NOT going to buy a computer.

Hmmm….he’s a little out there, but Alexander Stoddart’s a classicist, working in a medium with less immediacy but long pedigree:

Related On This Site:

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

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Thanks to a reader.

Quite a varied discussion on Bloom’s surprise 1987 bestseller: ‘The Closing Of The American Mind

Does rock/popular music corrupt the souls of youth in preventing them from evening-out the passions; from pursuing higher things that a quality humanities education can offer?

Might such a lack allow political ideology to offer young people something to do, something to be, and something of which to be a part?

A questioning of premises, with varied disagreement, including that from an Emersonian.

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

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

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

-Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

Update & Repost-Ken Minogue’s ‘Christophobia’ and the West

Full piece here.

Essay here.

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.’

And:

‘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 other forms 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.

——————–

Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith. Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

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?:

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’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

Repost-Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

Arnold Kling reviews the late Kenneth Minogue’sThe Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life,‘ and finishes with:

‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’

About that last part, most libertarians tend to draw a ring around the individual and proceed accordingly, seeing unnecessary authoritarianism and systems of authority on both political Left and Right.  I suspect most libertarians see this as some kind of moral failure or undue pessimism on the part of non-libertarian thinkers:  Such thinkers are unwarranted in assuming something so deeply flawed about human nature.  I mean, we’re not that bad.  Most people can handle the freedom to make their own choices most of the time.  Or at least, as many people as possible must be free to make their own mistakes and learn (or not) from them without such authority restricting voluntary choices.

Free-minds and free-markets are enough for many libertarians, while Minogue might see more flawed stuff:  The desire to know one’s place in a hierarchy, the desire to define what one is by what one is not (it, them, they), the deep desire for security and regularity in daily life.

For my part, I tend to align with libertarians on a host of issues, especially against the Western Left, who, in my experience, can usually be found attacking and tearing-down traditional institutions (marriage, family, rule of law) and the obligations and duties they require of individuals (fidelity, working mostly for children & family, military service/jury duty).  Such institutions and duties are seen as oppressive and morally illegitimate by the committed Leftist; worth protesting in peaceful, or overthrowing, in violent and radical fashion.

I often find myself asking the same old questions, with a contrarian spirit and from a position of deeper skepticism: With what are such institutions and duties to be replaced, exactly?  How do you know your beliefs are true beliefs and accurate descriptions of the world?  What do you actually know, and what are your truth claims from which your moral sentiments flow (anti-establishment, anti-corporate, anti-religious etc.)

Any injustice, unfairness, or genuine victim in Life is immediately requiring of moral concern and action by the Leftist.  The injustice is identified, the cause amplified, and the victim placed into the ideologically preordained category, mobilizing individuals (temporarily recognized as such) for collective action on the road to presumed achievable ideal outcomes.  You’ve probably heard it all before: Equality, Freedom, Peace are next…for ALL humanity as though any one person speaks for ALL of humanity.

Of course, mention the monstrous totalitarianism of Communist and revolutionary regimes (Soviet, North Korean, Cuban, Vietnamese, Venezuelan), for example, and you’re some kind of extremist.  Point-out the many failures, injustices, and genuine victims of many rationalist economic policies and laws, or the potential logical inconsistencies found in much liberal and Western secular humanism (or any system, for that matter), and prepare to meet uncomfortable silence, scorn and derision.

Or worse.


Yet, a question rather simply and plainly presents itself: What to conserve?

The religious Right (universal claims to transcendent truth and earthly service found within God’s Plan, Family and Church) have plenty of well-documented and serious problems.  There’s an inherent assumption that Man’s nature is so flawed as to require constant adherence to God’s laws.  The universality and necessary enforcement of those laws must be undertaken and necessarily lead to redeemable suffering, some injustice and unfairness of their own.

If you fall outside this plan, prepare to eventually join the cause, or be damned.

In fact, there has been no shortage of short and long wars, schisms and all-too-earthly conflict.  Earthly authority easily degenerates into petty and ruthless competition and abuse.  The suffocation of truth and attack upon dissenters with different claims to knowledge are not rarities, and the inherent dullness and conformity of some devout believers comes as no surprise (often organizing against free-thinkers, naturalists, and opposing religious doctrines).

Here’s another review of Minogue’s book which compares The Servile Mind favorably to Thomas Sowell’s ‘A Conflict Of Visions

‘His definitions of the right and left partner well with Sowell’s analysis.  In shortened form, Minogue’s name for the right is conservatism.  He defines conservatism as caution in changing the structure of society based on an understanding that all change is likely to have unintended consequences.  He calls the left radicalism, which covers most ambitious projects for changing the basic structure of state and society.  Radicalism encompasses Fascism and Communism, popularly thought to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but understood by almost everyone as despotic.  Radicalism views man as malleable.’

As previously posted, here’s Minogue on liberation theology, feminism, and other radical discontents.  Rarely are ideas presented so clearly and well:

Here’s Thomas Sowell on his own thought, once a youthful and briefly committed Marxist (the kind of injustice American slavery imparted upon the mind, body and soul often led to radicalism of one kind or another).  He ended up in a very different place:

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Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Thomas Sowell at The National Review: ‘The Inconvenient Truth About Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown:’

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

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Repost-From Volokh: Harvey Mansfield Reviews ‘The Executive Unbound’

Full post here.

“At some point soon I will take up directly Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule’s new book, The Executive Unbound, but in the meantime let me flag Harvey Mansfield’s polite but skeptical review in the New York Times Book Review.”

Comments have some mention of Strauss.

Also On This Site:  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”

Repost: A Bit Apart, But Still Standing Around Hoping Many People Would Hesitate More Often-A Few Links And Thoughts On Leo Strauss and Rene Girard

One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:

‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”

Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining). Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.

Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering. These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?

Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause. Progress is complicated.

[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists. Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.

The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.

In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism). Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.

Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.

Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists. One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.

It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature. Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution. Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius. Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.

To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields: A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.


As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:

There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire. My ignorance shows.

A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.

Recommended. The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:

A briefer introduction here:

Girard and Libertarian thought?:

The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.

Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent. The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation. But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?

This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching. From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.

Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

From Nextbook: Philosopher Of Science Hilary Putnam On The Jewish Faith

Postmodern Pushback-Some New Links & Lots Of Old Links Gathered Throughout The Years