‘Rationalism, then, is an active drive in our civilization leading us to construe politics (and much else) as an activity of solving problems by applying to them the latest in expert knowledge. The problems are identified by rather grand abstractions, such as war, conflict, poverty, underdevelopment, and the rest. “The problem of poverty,” however, makes sense only if one imagines a set of puppets with nothing in common except the lack of a square meal. If that were the problem, the solution would indeed be obvious. In fact, of course, “the poor” are a highly miscellaneous set of people with thoughts, emotions, projects, and habits of their own. When rationalist benevolence collides with the actual inclinations of the poor, the result is frustration and disappointment at best. No matter: The bright-eyed rationalist will soon have another analysis, and another project, and off we go again in hot pursuit of a perfect world.’
‘In that real world, however, something more is needed to succeed, something much harder to define. Oakeshott called this thing “practical knowledge”; it is often what we refer to as “common sense.” The dominant form taken by rationalism today can be studied in the American vogue for practical handbooks explaining how to succeed, which is perilous unless the reader has some “feel” for the skill in question. One of the great rationalist masterpieces of earlier times was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. Marvelous! What more do you need in life? All you have to do is follow Carnegie’s rules. But beware: If you lack common sense in following these rules, you come across as some dreadful kind of creep or sycophant. Modern politics often replays this cycle of bright idea followed by disappointment.’
From the most accessible book of Oakeshott’s:
‘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).
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”…
‘More generally, the duty not to offend the vulnerable classes today in speech has been codified as the amorphous thing called ‘political correctness,’ and such codification makes the codifiers our masters whom we must obey not because it is the law, but because they are our masters. Such is a servile relationship. Codification of this kind removes the situational freedom with which citizens in what is recognizably a civil relationship ought to be free to respond to each other.’
Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life. Encounter Books, 900 Broadway, Suite 601, New York, New York, 10003. 2010. Print. Pg 7.
‘Ideology is a philosophical type of allegiance purporting to transcend the mere particularities of family, religion, or native hearth, and in essence lies in struggle. The world is a battlefield, in which there are two enemies. One is the oppressor, the other consists of fellow ideologies who have generally mistake the conditions of liberation.’
‘Yet for all their differences, ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared hostility to modernity: to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral practice, and the market in economics.’
‘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.’
Up First: John Gray speaks to Western Universalism, and a ‘convergence of divergence’ when it comes to separate thinkers positing a liberal telos. Of course, philosophers never agree about the roots of things. When one comes to understand a few thinkers, they can seem like trees, awkwardly growing atop a plain, dug into differing soil.
Is it all the same soil?
Russian and Chinese interests and leadership, as well localism within interconnected networks, might be evidence working against many Western Universalist claims. Distance-shortening technologies won’t simply manifest a world any one of us, alone, or in groups, might be working towards.
It looks to me more like liberalism in the U.S. has been heading towards rule with technocratic elements, bureaucratic elements, liberation elements, and a rather authoritarian hand.
Freedom is next!
Now, what about Safetyism? Might it be a sub-category of above described liberal thinking?
For the case: Rationalist rule, and rule by something which appears like the scientific method (soon softening into mild corruption), is kind of meek. It tends to eschew honor, viewing codes of honor, nationalism, and local traditions as relics blocking an historically emergent Global Order.
The radicalism in the ‘liberal church’, so endemic, I think, to human nature, seems to be forming powerful new quasi-religious, moral movements.
Such ideals must unite vastly differing groups, often both identity and individualist, radically collectivist and pro-market, into political coalitions seeking power and influence.
Wear a mask! Don’t go outside! Cars are dangerous! Put that helmet on, mister.
‘The scientific study of politics is, then a great but limited achievement of our century. Like any other form of understanding, it gains its power from its limitations, but it happens that the specific limitations of science in its fullest sense are restrictive in the understanding of human life. But political science often escapes this limitation by ignoring the strict requirements of science as a discipline. Much of its material is historical and descriptive, as indeed it must be if we are to recognize that any understanding of the government of modern states cannot be separated from the culture of the people who live in them.’
Minogue, Kenneth. Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. (Pg 93).
‘Their [realists’] concern is that utopian aspirations towards a new peaceful world order will simply absolutize conﬂicts and make them more intractable. National interests are in some degree negotiable; rights, in principle, are not. International organizations such as the United Nations have not been conspicuously successful in bringing peace, and it is likely that the states of the world would become extremely nervous of any move to give the UN the overwhelming power needed to do this.”
Ken Minogue, found here, passed along by a reader.
If you have an ideology, a loosely connected set of doctrines and ideas, built upon revolutionary ‘praxis’ and radical liberation, you also have a place to put your moral sentiments and judgments about reality and the world.
Where your thoughts go, so tend to go your habits, character and beliefs. You are cleared to act in the world.
Human beings, likely at the structural level, require profound concepts to make sense of reality and the world, as well as our own sensory apparatus, emotions and desires.
Messianic, Manichean and Millenarian doctrines of revolutionary praxis and liberation (moral, sexual, political), generally propose tearing down everything which exists, usually towards the aim of liberation, without necessarily replacing our current institutions with anything.
This is fine if you don’t mind generally dysfunctional institutions, more easily exerting unaccountable power (fulfilling the prophecy).
Some people in the modern world are following ideas which haven’t addressed the hard problems of maintaining moral legitimacy in positions of authority, nor reasonable mastery of one’s (S)elf and the passions, creating adult human beings.
Peter Hitchens used to be a Bolshevik, and his late brother Christopher Hitchens a Trotskyist (I’m speculating that some gruesome family tragedy might be at play).
Such youthful radicalism has tilted him back towards religious conservatism in Britain:
Failure to recognize these deep human problems, at the personal and political levels, and the consquences of the ideas in play, are, what I see as a failure of many custodians of our current institutions.
The Human Nature and Nature problems are still in play, such as they always have been.
James Lindsay helps to clarify some intellectual strands of the radical, revolutionary, and more pedestrian postmodern types, and how such thinkers and ideas are exerting pressure upon all of us.
Why do antifa members believe they have the right to justified violence, and how has the space for them in civil society been created and supported at the highest levels?:
Come to think of it, Charles Murray and the Middlebury College administrator he rode in on.
On a semi-related note, a reader points out that a major flaw in utilitarian logic (attached to probably the most comprehensive moral liberal philosophy thought and written) might find some expression in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.‘
Dear Reader, I’m not entirely persuaded while skimming Jackson’s story. The townsfolk didn’t necessarily have stated reasons for their collective act, other than ‘this is the way we’ve always done things.’ That’s kind of the point, which is to say people don’t always have have good points for long-established traditions, but many rocks do.
The people claiming sound reasons and empirical evidence for creating national seatbelt laws to save the lives of X number of citizens had, well, a lot of empirical evidence. One visualization technique, as I understand it, to aid in this particular critique of utilitarian logic involves building a machine in the town square, which will, with good evidence, save about twenty lives a year.
The problem is you’ve got to feed one person into it every year.
This machine is working for other towns, though. In fact, it’s so important it’s become law for all towns. Regional machines will be necessary. Have you guys visited The Machine in D.C.?
Come to think of it, maybe I could see the selection process being somewhat akin to what occurred in The Lottery. People haven’t changed much and most of the village elders run on how well The Machine is run.
‘From the earliest days of his emergence, the Rationalist has taken an ominous interest in education. He has a respect for ‘brains,’ a great belief in training them, and is determined that cleverness shall be encouraged and shall receive its reward of power. But what is this education in which the Rationalist believes? It is certainly not an initiation into the moral and intellectual habits and achievements of his society, an entry into the partnership between present and past, a sharing of concrete knowledge; for the Rationalist, all this would be an education in nescience, both valueless and mischievous. It is a training in technique, a training, that is, in the half of knowledge which can be learnt from books when they are used as cribs. And the Rationalists’s affected interest in education escapes the suspicion of being a mere subterfuge for imposing himself more firmly upon society, only because it is clear that he is as deluded as his pupils. He sincerely believes that a training in technical knowledge is the only education worth while, because he is moved by the faith that there is now knowledge. He believes that a training in ‘public administration’ is the surest defence against the flattery of a demagogue and the lies of a dictator.’
Oakeshott, Michael. “Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 38).
‘The Rationalist, unaware of the local origins of the universal principles he thinks he has identified, disparages knowledge gained through experience and rejects it in favor of something called reason. Whether deductive or computational, this abstract reason is thought to guarantee a degree of certainty that experience and judgment cannot provide. The fallacy of Rationalism, in other words, is that the knowledge it identifies as rational is itself the product of experience and judgment. It consists of rules, methods, or techniques abstracted from practice, tools that, far from being substitutes for experience and judgment, cannot be effectively used in the absence of experience and judgment.’
We all have experiences and form judgments based upon them. Each of us, no matter how talented, can get only so far on technical manuals and textbooks alone. Deduction from principles and allegiance to those principles doesn’t necessarily guarantee any particular knowledge of politics, let alone the abstract category of ‘politics’ so commonly claimed by many in the modern world.
Maybe this applies to economics as well, dear reader:
I wonder if this can’t be applied to those who, in claiming loyalty to a particular set of ideas or political doctrines, claim not only the legitimacy of their feelings under such doctrines, but ‘feelings’ in general.
No one has ever felt before me!
Such claims usually travel under ideas of liberation (from tradition, from marriage, from existing relationships, from whatever ‘oppression’ was to be found internally or externally, personally or politically).
The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement
Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood Upon our side, we who were strong in love! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times, In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance! When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights, When most intent on making of herself A prime Enchantress—to assist the work Which then was going forward in her name! Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth, The beauty wore of promise, that which sets As at some moment might not be unfelt Among the bowers of paradise itself ) The budding rose above the rose full blown. What temper at the prospect did not wake To happiness unthought of? The inert Were roused, and lively natures rapt away! They who had fed their childhood upon dreams, The playfellows of fancy, who had made All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred Among the grandest objects of the sense, And dealt with whatsoever they found there As if they had within some lurking right To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood, Had watched all gentle motions, and to these Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild, And in the region of their peaceful selves;— Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire, And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish; Were called upon to exercise their skill, Not in Utopia, subterranean fields, Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where! But in the very world, which is the world Of all of us,—the place where in the end We find our happiness, or not at all!
Link sent in by a reader. What about the humanities, and cleaning up the postmodern mess (and where political doctrines fill the void)?
Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).
According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.
Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.
Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.
Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.
‘Outrage supposedly felt on behalf of others is extremely gratifying for more than one reason. It has the appearance of selflessness, and everyone likes to feel that he is selfless. It confers moral respectability on the desire to hate or despise something or somebody, a desire never far from the human heart. It provides him who feels it the possibility of transcendent purpose, if he decides to work toward the elimination of the supposed cause of his outrage. And it may even give him a reasonably lucrative career, if he becomes a professional campaigner or politician: For there is nothing like stirring up resentment for the creation of a political clientele.’
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Minogue framed it thusly:
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.
Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way? Can we know Nature’s Laws?