Repost-Watching The Shadows Go By-A Few Links & Thoughts On Romantic Primitivism, ‘Culture’ And Political Idealism

Let me project some of my own interpretations onto the cave wall.

Photo taken by Nikola Solic (a fine photographer) of a display at the Neanderthal Musuem in Krapina, Croatia.

For many Westerners, perhaps there is no longer a God revealing Himself to Man, but there are expanding fields of knowledge and human endeavors able to light the way forwards onto a future of hope and progress; backwards onto human origins.

In the popular media (such as in the publications displaying the photo above), perhaps this knowledge can align with current popular sentiment and belief. An imprimatur, of sorts.

Such thinking can also coincide with a rather Romantic Idealization of Nature; a vision of Man without dominion over Nature, necessarily, but rather men, women, children and an ever growing list of humans (and animals, even) living both frustratingly apart, but also interconnected within Nature, following Nature’s lead alone and with each other.

Most people, I suspect, often without such specialized knowledge (not specifically trained in the sciences), require a lot of moral oughts and shoulds regarding how to live and what to do.

Furthermore, people tend to organize into groups united by shared principles and beliefs, and so often, in the modern world, beneath political ideals and political ideologies. Even if these political ideals and ideologies aren’t explict moral philosophies, necessarily, they can certainly end-up engaging the moral sentiments, basic human desires and motivations of the people within them.

Such movements are certainly understood by many of their members as posessing truth and knowledge enough to write the laws and rules we all must follow, prescribing our own personal moral behavior enough to align us with the people who ought to be in charge of us.

Perhaps the poet or Romantic genius can help guide Man into the Self and the Self into Nature. The poet/thinker’s example can be full of grief, anguish and Nature’s brutality, indeed, but it can also offer moments of self-actualization, beauty, consolation and transcendence. It can be taught as part of a civilizing hierarchy or canon, a reef of traditions and structure enough to develop seriously good artists and produce quite a few educated citizens.

I suspect there’s always been a tension between the poet/artist and the Man of Science and Mathematics; people generally more concerned in seeking the underlying order and patterns within Nature, discovering the probabilistic and mathematical laws able to accurately describe and predict the strange world in which we seem to find ourselves. Such laws can be beautiful, and symmetrical, and true just for their own sake, sure, but like a good poem, a mathematical law remains curiously silent about how to live and what to do.

Addition: Perhaps, I might add, but perhaps not. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about just which dangers accompany such lights, and which problems endure.

The late Roger Sandall, here:

‘The claim that “open societies” are now increasingly threatened would probably meet with little argument. But what is the nature of the threat, and what are its roots? Here less agreement might be found. Some would say an essentially religious clash of civilizations is the main cause, and point to the growing struggle between Islam and the West.

Others might point to Russia under President Putin, finding evidence of a long-standing political tradition that owes relatively little to the Russian Orthodox Church, but has always found liberty odious.

And then there’s a third and troubling possibility — that from an evolutionary perspective, taking a long view of our historic and prehistoric origins, open societies where voluntaristic principles prevail are new forms of human association only recently arrived from the distant tribal past, and in the more violent trouble spots around the world they never arrived at all.’

The late Ken Minogue:

On the many dangers of political idealism, and using political theory as the limits of your field of vision:

‘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 idea.’

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

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

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’…

Roger Sandall, Australian critic of romantic primitivism and the Western’s Left’s penchant for the Noble Savage: His home page where his essays can be found. Here’s “The Rise Of The Anthropologues“ and…

Robert Hughes, Australian and often fierce critic of modernism and post-modernism.

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”

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

Repost-In Neo-Romantic Nature Poetry, Where Are You? How Should You Live And What Should You Do? -Photo & A Poem By Mary Oliver

Flare, Part 12

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will wither or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

Mary Oliver (The Leaf And The Cloud: A Poem)

Hosta Shell 2


Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.

Thanks, reader:

Related On This Site:Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’ A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…
See Also On This Site: Trying to stick something against his poems: Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The JarWednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens, The Snow ManFriday Poem: Wallace Stevens And A Quote By David Hume

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

Below is some criticism of Scruton from a Kantian-Friesian line of thinking.

Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’

However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?

‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.

First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.

Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? 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?’

Addition:  As a friend points out:  Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone.  The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends.  This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…

At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Relevant diavlog here.

In the discussion, Pinker borrows from Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan,”  to put forth the argument that one reason for what Pinker claims is an overall decline in violence (at least recently, since 1945) is the development of the modern State.  It has the lion’s share of power, and puts its own citizens at ease from a natural state of potential violence and rational calculation they find themselves in regarding other individuals, groups, and rivals, including other States (see also: game theory) a la Hobbes.  Nature is rough.  Citizens become protected from this state of nature in which escalating violence, revenge and brinksmanship are always present and thus defer these activies to the 3rd party of the State….internally and externally…to get on with their lives in relative security.  On the large scale, States, Pinker points out, still fight each other, and he furthers two more arguments:

1. The State is a somewhat outmoded covention, having served its purpose during the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment to produce the flowering plants of individual rights, human rights, and other products of modern Western society (that are being exported with and without force around the globe, to varying degrees of success).  The kind of loyalty States require for their existence and to which its citizens give their lives is not necessary to the same degree on this view.  This is highly debatable. Pinker also mentions Norbert Elias, a German sociologist, and the data Pinker cites suggest both a lower frequency of wars and lower frequency of violence per war since the end of the WWII.  Pinker also attempts to isolate Locke, Spinoza, and Kant from other reactions to these thinkers which he claims produced the kind of fascist, marxist/communist, and Nazi movements that have wracked Europe since.

2.  Pinker then mentions an “international Leviathan”  which would be a potential consequence of this view. Much like Hobbes found himself in the throes of a more feudal, warring, Reformation England (the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches), it’s possible to imagine not just a large barganing table with plush chairs for world government, but one in which that world government(s) takes the lion’s share of force from its members and requires submission (as Hobbes agued is necessary for the Leviathan).

Food for thought. Here’s a quote from John Locke:

‘This is to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes, but are content, nay think it safety, to be devoured by lions.’

Addition:  A reader sends in a link to an Intro to Political Philsophy course at Yale, discussing the Leviathan, and the scope of Hobbes project to essentially create a “civil science” in response to conditions and Enlightenment developments around him.  As the video points out, perhaps one of Hobbes’ central questions is: “How is legitimate authority possible?”

Hobbes throws out the biblical vision of Eden and of man’s fallen but once perfect relationship with nature, as well as the Aristotelian model of man’s pursuit of his best nature in the polis (and man’s arts & sciences) also with it roots in nature, which was a common view of the time.  Hobbes replaces these, after Machiavelli, with the modern conception of the State.  On this view, man must turn away from nature to some degree, as he has done with the then New science.  He must put questions to nature and reason his way along.  He must impose some order upon nature and discover her laws. Perhaps he can create an enclave where man must make his own order carved out of nature and build for himself civilized society, a society that finds itself in a state of brute nature, fear, violence and mistrust among it members.  The Leviathan is partly that answer for Hobbes, the creation of a sovereign, and a sovereign which has the consent of the people (for this sovereign is also an abstraction, an “office” to be filled by successive men), and is a sovereign that requires the people’s submission.

So, what will prevent the endless strife that consumed both England and Italy of the time for Hobbes and Machiavelli?  How do you maintain respectable authority upon this new vision?

Is this the beginning of Leo Strauss’ 1st crisis of modernity?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition:  As a friend points out, Hobbes’ thinking contributes heavily in developing the commonwealth, an Anglo-American model which has proved remarkably stable.  Perhaps Strauss reason/revelation distinction and his project just really didn’t understand parts of American life and intellectual history.

Another Addition:  Perhaps we should identify a liberal American tradition that does not contain the seeds of its own nihilism and destruction a la Europe via fascism and value-free relativism and hedonism.  Perhaps there are empirical traditions already in place that escape such a diagnosis.

Also On This SiteSimon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Does Leo Strauss offer a way back toward truth through revelation, and not merely reason..?:From Wikipedia’s Page On Leo Strauss: A Few Quotes……Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’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’

Add to Technorati Favorites