Literature

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.”

This Post Is Way Too Modern?

Two juxtapositions of ‘texts in space’ found at the Times Literary Supplement.

From ‘Postmodernism is dead. What comes next?‘ by Alison Gibbons:

‘At the same time, our culture retains many of the themes and concerns that exercised writers of earlier generations; there is little sign of a radical literary avant garde sweeping away the old to make way for the new. Postmodernism might not be as emphatically over as some critics like to claim, but it does seem to be in retreat. Its devices have become so commonplace that they have been absorbed into mainstream, commercial and popular culture. Postmodernism has lost its value in part because it has oversaturated the market. And with the end of postmodernism’s playfulness and affectation, we are better placed to construct a literature that engages earnestly with real-world problems.’

From ‘The relentless honesty of Ludwig Wittgenstein‘ by Ian Ground:

‘Wittgenstein was hostile to modern philosophy as he found it. He thought it the product of a culture that had come to model everything that matters about our lives on scientific explanation. In its ever-extending observance of the idea that knowledge, not wisdom, is our goal, that what matters is information rather than insight, and that we best address the problems that beset us, not with changes in our heart and spirit but with more data and better theories, our culture is pretty much exactly as Wittgenstein feared it would become.’

Goodness, this is messy.  As previously posted:

Repost-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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’

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

*******And mostly, but not entirely unrelated, you can make your own Tom Friedman columns at home.  Is Tom Friedman a bot?

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

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

From The New Criterion: ‘Solzhenitsyn’s Cathedrals’

Thanks, reader:

‘Like Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gulag is literary without being fictional. Indeed, part of its value lies in its bringing to life the real stories of so many ordinary people. When I first began to read it, I feared that a long list of outrages would rapidly prove boring, but to my surprise I could not put the book down.’

and:

‘One lesson of Gulag is that we are all capable of evil, just as Solzhenitsyn himself was. The world is not divided into good people like ourselves and evil people who think differently. “If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

I believe within the Western canon (traditions, laws, works of art, literature, moral philosophy etc.) there is enough knowledge, experience, and wisdom to light the way.

Take heart, but watch out for yourselves.

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.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Repost: Clive James At The Prospect On Joseph Conrad-Some Links

James revisits many quite original, quite accomplished works.

Of note to this blogger:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Clive James’ site here.

Michael Dirda on ‘Clive James Last Readings’ review: A Critic’s Final Homage To Literature, Life:’

‘In 30 brief essays James goes on to tell us — in his most digressive, conversational manner — about the books he’s discovered or returned to quite probably for the last time.’

============

Not entirely unrelated:

John Gray begins a discussion of his book ‘The Silence Of Animals‘ with a quote from Conrad:

————————————-

Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.

Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

=========================

Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’.

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..

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

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

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

Repost-Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

Click here.

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.

Related On This Site:

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

 

An Excerpt From Paul Bowles’ ‘Allal’ & A Strange, Schlocky Scene From ‘Conan The Barbarian’

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

But maybe it does highlight some themes Bowles’ drew into relief:

You know, maybe I’d just better put this up:

Repost-Clive James At The Prospect On Joseph Conrad-Some Links

James revisited many quite original, quite accomplished works.

Of note to this blogger:

‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’

Michael Dirda on ‘Clive James Last Readings’ review: A Critic’s Final Homage To Literature, Life:’

In 30 brief essays James goes on to tell us — in his most digressive, conversational manner — about the books he’s discovered or returned to quite probably for the last time.’

============

Not entirely unrelated:

John Gray begins a discussion of his book ‘The Silence Of Animals‘ with a quote from Conrad:

————————————-

Added bonus if you act now in the face of no possible objective knowledge.

Part of Bryan Magee’s series:

=========================

Nietzsche directed his thought against Christian morality, secular morality (Kantian and utilitarian), was quite anti-democratic, and anti-Socratic.

Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’.

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..

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

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

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

Repost-From The New Atlantis: ‘Love In The Age Of Neuroscience’

Our authors took a look at Tom Wolfe’s then new novel: ‘I Am Charlotte Simmons:’

Hmmm.:

‘I Am Charlotte Simmons’ is an indictment of the primary centers of higher education in America today. These institutions do not well serve the real longings and earnest ambitions of the young people who flock to them, at great cost and with great expectations, year after year. Instead of pointing students to a world that is higher than where they came from, the university reinforces and expands the nihilism and political correctness that they are taught in public schools, imbibe from popular culture, and bring with them as routine common sense when they arrive on campus. Of course, these two ideologies are largely incompatible: nihilism celebrates strength (or apathy) without illusion; political correctness promulgates illusions in the name of sensitivity. But both ideologies are the result of collapsing and rejecting any distinction between higher and lower, between nobility and ignobility, between the higher learning and the flight from reason.’

If you don’t have enough empathy, maybe it’s time for a brain-scan, a postmodern dance routine exploring the body in space, or a peace corps mission…

Everybody’s done fightin’ over yer soul….

As previously posted:

Ken 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.’

Just looking around for winds which blow against prevailing opinions…

Via A Reader-From Brain Pickings, An Old BBC Nabokov Interview

Thanks, reader.


As previously posted:

Full piece here

‘Therein lies the central tension of Speak, Memory. Its prose is meticulous, suggesting memory as an exercise in exacting dictation from an omniscient oracle, yet its message points to memory as mutable, prone to the passage of time and the vagaries of imagination’

I merely enjoy good writing.


Michael Dirda’s review of a review here.

Book here.

“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’

What’s more American than an exiled member of the Russian aristocracy intimately making his way into the English language and peering out from a thousand Motor Lodges?

===============

As previously posted an interview with Nabokov at The Paris Review.

A little bit about politics and also the politics amidst fellow writers and critics:

‘…when in doubt, I always follow the simple method of choosing that line of conduct which may be the most displeasing to the Reds and the Russells.’

and:

‘Who’s in, who’s out, and where are the snows of yesteryear. All very amusing. I am a little sorry to be left out. Nobody can decide if I am a middle-aged American writer or an old Russian writer—or an ageless international freak.’

On his professional collection of butterflies:

‘The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.’

Via Youtube: An interviewer, Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss ‘Lolita:’

Repost-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

From 1998:

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a philosophy course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer.   Nor does it seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Also On This Site: .Repost: Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’

Repost-From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…

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’

Addition:  If the British left, and Eagleton as somewhat representative of it, can’t sanely recognize that part of the problem is the way that Muslims seek a religious kingdom here on earth, and that there can’t be reasonable discussion of this, then…see here, where Roger Scruton suggests a return to religious virtue: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”

See Also:  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”