Repost-John Gray Reviews Francis Fukuyama At The Literary Review: ‘Destination Denmark’

Full review here. (Updated. Full subscription required)

Is modern democracy the best form of government, and if so, how did we get here?  Who is ‘we’ exactly?  All of Europe and the U.S.?

How do we really know that we are progressing toward some telos, or evolving our modern democracy to some point outside ourselves, and that the rest of the world ought to be doing the same?

Empirical evidence?

Via Hegel, Marx and Darwin?

Gray:

‘Fukuyama believes democracy is the only system of government with a long-term future, a familiar idea emerges: as societies become more prosperous, the growing global middle class will demand more political freedom and governmental accountability. Effectively a restatement of Marx’s account of the historical role of the bourgeoisie, it is an idea we have all heard many, many times before. In fact the political record of the middle classes is decidedly mixed.’

and:

‘While the book contains some useful insights, at the most fundamental level Political Order and Political Decay remains a morass of intellectual confusion and category mistakes. Slipping insensibly from arguments about the ethical standards by which governments are to be judged to speculative claims about the moving forces of modern history, Fukuyama blurs facts, values and theories into a dense neo-Hegelian fog. Liberal democracy may be in some sense universally desirable, as he maintains. That does not mean it will always be popular, still less that it is the normal destination of modern development.’

But he does acknowledge the following, which I’ve found reading Fukuyama, is that I come away enriched in many ways:

‘In some ways Political Order and Political Decay may be Fukuyama’s most impressive work to date. The upshot of his argument is that functioning democracy is impossible wherever an effective modern state is lacking. Since fractured and failed states are embedded in many parts of the world, the unavoidable implication is that hundreds of millions or billions of people will live without democracy for the foreseeable future.’

This blog much values Gray’s thinking as he upsets the apple-cart of many an assumption found in the modern West. If you’ve ever gazed upon the secular liberal political establishment, witnessing the gap between its ideals and daily operation, its claimed moral supremacy along with a lot of foreseeable moralism and bureaucratic bloat, then you might have some sympathy for such thinking.

As previously posted:

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.

Thus, I believe Gray himself sees clearly enough that a thoroughgoing “value pluralism” would mean that the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini is just as morally justified as the regime of Thomas Jefferson. Gray prefers liberalism (or its wreckage) for the very same reason that the deconstructionist philosopher Richard Rorty prefers his leftism: it is “ours” and “we” like it better. Why Gray, or Rorty, should think that they speak for the rest of “us” is a good question. ‘

and about providing a core to liberalism:

‘Why should the state need a “sufficient rational justificaton” to impose a certain set of values? The whole project of “rational justification” is what Gray, and earlier philosophers like Hume, gave up on as hopeless. All the state need do, which it has often done, is claim that its values are favored by the majority, by the General Will, by the Blood of the Volk, or by God, and it is in business.’

And that business can quickly lead to ever-greater intrusion into our lives:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

Has John Gray turned away from value pluralism into a kind of ‘godless mysticism?’

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Here’s Fukuyama summing up his book for an audience:

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Related On This SiteUpdate And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Update And Repost-Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

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

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

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’

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

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

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

Everyone’s A Victim, No One’s A Victim-James Lindsay On Critical Methods: Some Links And Thoughts

James Lindsay at New Discourses discusses Critical Methods.  He describes Critical Theory as a ‘solvent’ eating away at our civilizational foundations.  It certainly has done a number on our humanities departments.

Whatever your thoughts on freedom of assembly, the idealization of protest, secular humanism and liberal idealism, it is pretty easy to destroy, and very hard to create.

The pushback is coming from more liberal quarters, now:

I’d argue that what you see in the streets, a devolution of Civil Rights idealism and the protest model, is now more visibly a collection of various radical ideologies, discontented groups and individuals with their own interests and reasons.  You also have the postmodern focus on ‘feeling’ coalescing into vaguely religious campaigns to unite and purify the public square.

To some degree, critical theorists and ‘studies’ tribalists leave mob violence, collectivist and identity groups gathering against the ‘oppressor’, expendable facts and an assumption that all laws are illegimate in their wake.

As a young man, Roger Scruton watched the Generation of ’68 go by, gathering anger and righteousness with them through the streets of Paris.

‘In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing.’

Many are still passing by our windows, so to speak, heading to some undetermined point in the future.

Here’s to hoping we can reclaim a humanties education from the ‘critical theorists,’ the postmodern mystics and irrationalists, and the ‘studies’ tribalists.

‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’

George Santayana.

As I’ve been called a ‘postmodern conservative’, here’s an interesting piece from Matt McManus at Quillette: ‘Understanding Postmodern Conservatism: A Response To Aaron Hanlon:

‘…I do not believe postmodern conservatism emerged in a historical or ideological vacuum. It is not just the product of contemporary postmodern culture, which provided the necessary but not sufficient conditions for postmodern conservatism’s emergence. Rather, certain strands of conservative thinking that—while not in themselves postmodern—have nevertheless recently mutated into postmodern form. The two most prominent of these are Burkean historicism and De Maistrean irrationalism.’

and:

‘Theorists of postmodern culture…argue that the emergence of postmodern skepticism indicates a broader cultural shift within developed societies. What Jameson calls ‘postmodern culture’ is characterized by growing social skepticism about the stability of truth claims in general, but particularly truth claims related to identity and values.’

Personally, I remain open to much skepticism and many critiques of many parts of the ‘modern’ project.  I find myself interested in people providing reasons to support various traditions (music, art), religious faith (wouldn’t call myself a believer), patriotism (haven’t served, but necessary to the survival of our Republic) and rule of law (even more necessary to the survival of our Republic).

I think all of the above deserve a fair hearing.

Hmmm…I’m not sure the roots of Kant’s profound empirical realism and transcendental idealism has been addressed.   A reader sends a link:

Did Kant really address why his own metaphysical system is necessary as charting a course for possible human knowledge? Warnock states that Kant thought:

“All we can establish foundations for is the notion of possible experience and what can be an object of possible experience…”

In other words, physics can tell you all kinds of things about energy, but it can’t tell you what energy is.

The problem of how a judgment can be synthetic and a priori, then, presents itself to Kant as the problem of how two concepts, neither of which includes the other, can be connected in a way which does not rest upon past experience and is not vulnerable to future experience.”

Page 23 of ‘Kant’s Analytic‘ by Jonathan Bennett

In a way, metaphysics may be just where Aristotle left it, or where someone like Roger Penrose leaves it (after a lifetime of applying deep mathematical thinking to physical theory in his work on black holes): An exercise in trying to develop firm footing for our knowledge after the fact…trying to provide some context for our knowledge and not being able to do so…yet…

Addition: Of course, this doesn’t nullify the depth of Kant’s contributions, nor the depth of his moral theory. It just may not make it a moral law in the same sense as Newton’s laws (deeper laws have already come along) . I dug up one side of this exchange from the Bloggingheads Sentimental Mood Jesse Prinz Edition. So just because Kant didn’t perhaps validate his project as he’d have hoped, it doesn’t follow that you need to embrace some moral relativism as does Prinz:

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1. If there are facts of a certain sort (chemical, biological, psychological, moral, whatever) which may be true true, even though everyone thinks they are false, then facts of this sort (chemical, biological, etc.) must never change.

The trouble is that you yourself don’t actually believe this principle. For example, geographical facts are clearly objectively true — even if everyone believes in El Dorado, El Dorado doesn’t exist; and even if no one believed in Everest, Everest still would exist. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow that geographical facts don’t change over time. Mountains and polar ice caps and rivers come and go. Geographical facts change all the time — it’s just that our beliefs don’t change them.

Perhaps your point is, not that the geographical facts don’t change, but rather that the geological laws don’t change. But at a certain level even this isn’t true: Plate Tectonics fits the earth over most of its history, but it doesn’t exactly fit the earth when it was molten or when it eventually cools down completely in the distant future. It doesn’t fit the moon or Jupiter. Perhaps at a high level of abstraction, we can imagine a final theory of planetary geography that fits ALL types of planets anywhere in the universe. Perhaps these very abstract laws don’t themselves vary (once there are any planets to talk about).

But if you make the moral law sufficiently abstract, it can be as unvarying as any laws of universal planetology. Utilitarianism is the theory that there is a rather abstract law of morality, which, though it does not vary, accounts for why seemingly quite different things can be right or wrong in different circumstances (e.g., why leaving your elderly to die may have been OK for the Eskimos in conditions of scarcity while it would be very wrong for us).

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?’

Scruton’s attractive and practical 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) provides robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians.  This has been highly valuable and rather courageous.

Are the potentially 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…

Related:  It’s the fierce critic of religion, new Atheist, and 68er Christopher Hitchens who has defended free speech most vigorously:  Repost-From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Don’t get Borked, at least if you’re openly religious and aiming for higher office:  Bork had his own view of the 1960′s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Repost: Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-What The New Atheists Don’t See

Full piece here

Dalrymple claimed that the new round of atheists, (or at least some of the current spokesmen of popular atheism) are glossing over the deep metaphysical questions surrounding the existence of God.

Some atheists seem to be in danger of becoming adherents rather than free thinkers, or being in for a surprise when many adherents appear.

Addition:  More on Roger Sandall’s blog here, as he discusses Roger Scruton.

One question seems to be whether we choose to give religious arguments any quarter at all.  The hard atheist line seems to be no.  Mine is…perhaps…

As found on the Youtubes, a Dalrymple piece read with a Scottish accent:

Another of my very favourite TD essays, this one compares two 19th Century thinkers – Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev. I believe that the observations, the wisdom, and the thorough takedown of Marx as a human being, are of great value.

~30 minutes. I think that bit about the dog actually made me tear-up.

Ah, the humanity:

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple And Roger Scruton-Don’t Judge Me

Here’s a quote from Eric Vogelin found here, for a friend:

‘Scientism has remained to this day on of the strongest Gnostic movements in Western society; and the immanentist pride in science is so strong that even the special sciences have each left a distinguishable sediment in the variants of salvation through physics, economics, sociology, biology, and psychology.’

More Germans.  Don’t immanentize the eschaton!

Addition: And there are deep theists too.

Related On This Site:  Repost: From The Strasbourg Observers: ‘Remembering Lautsi (And The Cross)’…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’Thursday Quotation: Bertrand Russell….Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

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

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’

Stephen Hicks On Postmodernism-Columbus Is Bad And Other Moral Judgments

The anti-science, anti-reason postmodern emphasis is one worth examining through different lenses (there aren’t just ideas, I don’t think).  Mentioned:  Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard etc.  Also, John Locke and Adam Smith.  And in the ‘will’ tradition, Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche.

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant leaves us with bounded input channels, mediating a reality which might well be fundamentally unknowable to us, beyond three dimensions of space and the arrow of time, or Riemannian-inspired, Einsteinian space-time curvature tensors.  Human reason, for a Kantian, produces output (our knowledge and understanding) filtered through our sense experience and through deeper onboard structures.  For Hicks, this transcendentally ideal, metaphysically mediated reality possibly puts human reason at a remove from a metaphysical reality to which we might arguably have more access.

I first noticed the ‘Columbus is bad’ line of thinking about fifteen years ago (the nomadic tribe is much more Romantically pure, and in touch with Nature rather than the postmodern Self-alienated, conquering European hegemony), spilling from language departments, of all places.

It’s interesting to think about potential intellectual sources for such ideas.

Ah, well.

As posted:

Did Kant really address why his own metaphysical system is necessary as charting a course for possible human knowledge? Warnock states that Kant thought:

“All we can establish foundations for is the notion of possible experience and what can be an object of possible experience…”

In other words, physics can tell you all kinds of things about energy, but it can’t tell you what energy is. And this is the best of our knowledge. Kant’s metaphysics (and religion too) can’t even do that, and are possibly doomed to failure.

In a way, metaphysics may be just where Aristotle left it, or where someone like Roger Penrose might leave it (after a lifetime of applying deep mathematical thinking to physical theory in his work on black holes): An exercise in trying to develop firm footing for our knowledge after the fact…trying to provide some context for our knowledge and not being able to do so…yet…

From an interesting comment thread:

1. If there are facts of a certain sort (chemical, biological, psychological, moral, whatever) which may be true true, even though everyone thinks they are false, then facts of this sort (chemical, biological, etc.) must never change.

The trouble is that you yourself don’t actually believe this principle. For example, geographical facts are clearly objectively true — even if everyone believes in El Dorado, El Dorado doesn’t exist; and even if no one believed in Everest, Everest still would exist. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t follow that geographical facts don’t change over time. Mountains and polar ice caps and rivers come and go. Geographical facts change all the time — it’s just that our beliefs don’t change them.

Perhaps your point is, not that the geographical facts don’t change, but rather that the geological laws don’t change. But at a certain level even this isn’t true: Plate Tectonics fits the earth over most of its history, but it doesn’t exactly fit the earth when it was molten or when it eventually cools down completely in the distant future. It doesn’t fit the moon or Jupiter. Perhaps at a high level of abstraction, we can imagine a final theory of planetary geography that fits ALL types of planets anywhere in the universe. Perhaps these very abstract laws don’t themselves vary (once there are any planets to talk about).

But if you make the moral law sufficiently abstract, it can be as unvarying as any laws of universal planetology. Utilitarianism is the theory that there is a rather abstract law of morality, which, though it does not vary, accounts for why seemingly quite different things can be right or wrong in different circumstances (e.g., why leaving your elderly to die may have been OK for the Eskimos in conditions of scarcity while it would be very wrong for us).

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky

Some More Collected Links & Quotes On The Passing Of Roger Scruton-Douglas Murray, Robert George, Larry Arnhart & Kelley Ross

Douglas Murray on Roger Scruton:  ‘A Man Who Seemed Bigger Than The Age:

‘A man other than Roger might have become bitter about some of the treatment he received, but he never did. Whatever his complex views on faith, he lived a truly Christian attitude of forgiveness and hope for redemption. His last piece for The Spectator – a diary of his last year – radiates this. If he sometimes fitted uncomfortably with the age in which he found himself, it was principally because he did not believe in its guiding tone of encouraged animosity and professionalised grudge…’

Robert George on Twitter:

Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism:  ‘Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity:’

‘As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’

Kelley Ross at Friesian.com, discussing ‘Scruton’s treatment of Wittgenstein:’

‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’

As previously posted:

I recommend the below video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

========

A quote that stuck out:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions (also the kind produced by Hegelian Conservatism). It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle? Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

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

As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself. Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

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

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people. They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence. That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

Repost-Theodore Dalrymple At The City Journal-The Persistence Of Ideology

Interesting read.

Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.

Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).

Dalrymple:

‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:

-Fukuyama’s Marxist/Hegelian influence and the re-purposed Christian metaphysics and Statism found within much German Idealism:  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

-Are we really progressing…can we be more clear about means and ends? Via Youtube-Samuel Huntington On ‘The Clash Of Civilizations’Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Sunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper By George Walsh: The Objectivist Attack On Kant…From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

-The Englightenment/Romantic tension…the horror of rationalist systems which claimed knowledge of man’s ends, but also a defense of both positive and negative liberties-Appeasement Won’t Do-Via A Reader, ‘Michael Ignatieff Interview With Isaiah Berlin’…A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

***Why so many Britons on this site? (J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)

I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance.  I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order.   There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.

Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left.  They can know intimately whereof they speak.

It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:

washingtonburns.jpg

This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.

A Few More Links On Ferguson On Kissinger And His Idealism

Some interesting takeaways from the interview above (Kissinger was a young man whose family fled the Nazis and who not long after served in the American military, helping to free a concentration camp).

-In writing an entire undergraduate thesis on Kant’s transcendental idealism, Ferguson sketches a Kissinger who bypassed the historical determinism of the Hegelians and the economic determinism of the Marxists.  Freedom has to be lived and experienced to thrive and be understood, and Kant gets closer to championing this conception of individual freedom than do many German thinkers downstream of Kant.

-According to Ferguson, this still tends to make Kissinger an idealist on the idealist/realist foreign policy axis, but it also likely means he’s breaking with the doctrines which animate many on the political Left, hence his often heretical status.

***I’d add that unlike many thinkers in the German philosophical and political traditions, the Anglosphere has economic idealists and various systematists battling other systematists, yes, but there are looser networks of free, civic association and more avoidance of top-down organization and fewer internalized habits of order.

Perhaps such looser civic associations, broad geography and rougher, cruder practices of freedom help keep power and authority dispersed.  Kissinger came closer to being ‘America’s Metternich‘ than have all but a few other actors, and Kant was quite serious in the scope of his metaphysics.

Interesting piece here:

‘The most original and interesting aspect of the biography is Ferguson’s ability to engage with and analyze Kissinger’s ideas as set forth in the voluminous letters, papers, articles, and books written by Kissinger as a student, academic, and policy adviser. According to Ferguson, Kissinger the political philosopher was closer to Kant than Machiavelli. While he admired the brilliance of Metternich and Bismarck, his ideal statesmen (e.g., Castlereagh) sought to construct international orders that did not depend upon a guiding genius for their stability.

He was not, however, a Wilsonian idealist—idealism based on abstraction instead of experience, he believed, was a “prescription for inaction.” “The insistence on pure morality,” Kissinger once told a colleague, “is in itself the most immoral of postures.” Statesmen must act under a cloud of uncertainty and often their decisions reflect a choice among evils.’

As previously posted: – ‘Kissinger: Volume I: The Idealist.1923-1968:’

FT review. 

The Economist

Previously on this site:

Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft here, long before any Iran dealing.

Some thoughts on Fukuyama and Leo Strauss: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

For Today, I Suppose This Will Do-Two Quotes From Roger Scruton

‘The same idea occurs in Schopenhauer, for whom the truth of the world is Will, which cannot be represented in concepts.  Schopenhauer devoted roughly 500,000 words to this thing that no words can capture…’

‘…I too am tempted to eff the ineffable.  like my philosophical predecessors, I want to describe that world beyond the window, even though I know that it cannot be described but only revealed.  I am not alone in thinking that world to be real and important.  But there are many who dismiss it as unscientific cast of mind are disagreeable to me.  Their nerdish conviction that facts alone can signify, and that the ‘transcendental’ and the eternal are nothing but words, mark them out as incomplete. There is an aspect of the human condition that is denied to them. ‘

Scruton, Roger. Effing The IneffableConfessions Of A Heretic. Notting Hill Editions Ltd, 2016. Print. (Pgs 87 & 88).

Personally, I’m not sure that all naturalists and people in the sciences I’ve known wish to reduce the world to strictly mathematical laws, nor consign all domains of human endeavor to ‘non-science.’

Some people, I suspect, have the onboard wiring and have pursued learning which make them profoundly interested in order, patterns, and logic. Some people are just really smart and dedicate themselves to a particular problem or two, maybe possessing the genius and courage, even, to define a new problem after years of hard work of mastering a field, leading to genuine new knowledge.

I am grateful for the Mars Curiosity Rover, and the hundreds of engineers that worked for much of their professional lives to land this thing on Mars.  It’s still yielding valuable data.

Now, there’s arrogance, hubris and false pride to be in all of us, to be sure, and many sharp thinkers are no exception (in some cases the bigger the brain (or ego), the bigger the fool).  I don’t find foolish and/or earnest conviction in any short supply on this Earth.

To be fair, I don’t think this proves, nor does Scruton even attempt to prove, that the ineffable, therefore, exists (or if the ineffable does exist, as it reveals itself to us, that it requires saying or expression through us, nor through Handel or Bach or post-Kantian German thinking).

Such expression surely offers me consolation, though, for I take refuge in works of art.  I am profoundly grateful to walk at evening and listen to a few minutes of music:

I am profoundly grateful that I may share in someone else’s pain, suffering and disconsolation, across centuries, transmuted into an act of beauty and wonder, through a centuries-developed form and method (an orchestra is rather a thing of technical achievement, too, just as is a store-bought guitar or a Korg).

Sure, there’s much epistemological ignorance amongst some in the sciences and, frankly, within all of us.

Come to think of it, I think most of us manage one or a few things well, and mess up at least a few areas of our lives without even trying.  It’s also very, very tempting to talk about that which we know very little (this blog, for instance), as though something is known.

This may make me no more than a 2nd or 3rd rate idea man, taking, essentially, more than has been given.

For today, I suppose this will do.

Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To JudgmentFrom YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky

 

You Do That Taboo That You Do So Well?

This blog is still baffled by Angela Merkel’s decision to let in so many migrants in short-term, without seemingly having addressed many long-term immigration and integration issues.

What’s the plan, here, exactly?

‘Solomon Michalski loved going to his new school on a leafy Berlin street because it was vibrant and diverse, with most students from migrant families. But when the teenage grandson of Holocaust survivors let it slip that he was Jewish, former friends started hissing insults at him in class, he says. Last year some of them brandishing what looked like a gun took him aside and said they would execute him’

Perhaps there isn’t such a good plan, but this is the political will, expediency and leadership there is.

A good start for most media outlets might be just reporting the facts.  Letting the chips fall where they may; having the courage to discuss more sensitive matters in public forums is a balm desperately needed (plenty of crazies, idiots and ideologues all around…plenty of real elephants in the room).

Douglas Murray at the Spectator: ‘Why Can’t We Speak Plainly About Migrant Crime?:’

‘In Germany friends and readers describe to me how they are learning anew how to read their daily newspapers. When the news says that ‘A person was killed by another person’ for instance, and no names or other identifying characteristics are given, people guess – correctly – that the culprit is probably of migrant background. For the time-being serious crimes are still reported, but the decision has been taken that the public should not really be informed about them. Of course if you were to report them, or mull on them on social media then you would now risk losing that platform. So the media isn’t much use. And social media isn’t either.’

Typically, the kinds of failures we’re seeing means that deeper models are not robust! Many in the media, politics and academia are simply regurgitating parts of questionable models for as long as they will work, and for what they will cover.

There are deeper philosophical, ideological, political and thinking conflicts here, and few will be easily resolved.

It must be a strange time when self-described ‘libertarian Marxist’ Brendan O’Neill is advocating for the liberty of the man-on-the-street to live his own life.

He’s really bringing it to many nannying Eurocrats, techno-Davosians, the radically chic, the well-to-do daughters and sons of the liberal European Left claiming some variant of victimhood while up to their eyeballs in opportunity and material comforts.

This, as many populist responses fill the void:

Everyday people might be able to live their own lives!

But…to what end?  Revolutionary Praxis? A return to Marx?  A life well-lived?

It reminds this blog of Camille Paglia’s return to the promises of liberation baked-in into the radicalism of the 60’s (when she knew real Marxists just as she holds the academocrats who filled into their wake with contempt).  A welcome and bold voice, but…to which ends exactly?

Do you trust yourself enough not to know what could possibly be best for others, and thus default to basic liberty?

What about authority?

Do most people really just want to know where they stand in a hierarchy?

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.’

What can some moderns tell us?:

T.S. Eliot (Preludes: Stanza 3)

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

On Marianne Moore at The New Criterion-‘Armored Animal:'(behind a paywall)

‘A first-time reader of Marianne Moore’s poems might be forgiven for thinking that they were dictated on the sly in some uproarious menagerie of the imagination.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thank you for reading!