Three Quotations On Liberalism-Lionel Trilling, Michael Oakeshott & J.S. Mill

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

Trilling, Lionel.  The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society.  The Viking Press:  New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal.  What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?

A 20th century address of such problems:

But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

One of the more solid moral foundations for why you should be liberal still comes from J.S. Mill:

“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.

Watch out for the assumption of rational and knowable ends, and the one-stop-shop of modern doctrines promising radical liberation. All that’s left is to implement such knowledge into systems that will lead all men to some point outside of themselves.: -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”

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

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

Full post here.

Bonus quote:

“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”

Thursday Quotation-Ken Minogue

‘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.

‘Quasi-Religious Moral Imperatives’-James Lindsay & Michael O’Fallon On Climate Justice

The most morally righteous (not necessarily right) can be found most vocally pushing ‘Climate Justice’. The conflict between Conceptions of (S)cience as a tool of the ‘oppressor’, AND as intellectual justification for technocratic, dirigiste, authoritarian and Statist rule is never fully resolved, nor does it have to be. The (S)cience is clear. ‘We’ must act now!

When your own moral philosophy fails to resolve deeper problems regarding human nature, proper epistemological and metaphysical foundations, and the consent of the governed, you don’t necessarily have to resolve these conflicts. Rather, you just have to gather in the public square (pursuing a kind of ‘Rapture’).

This is a fairly influential coalition, now more visible in Congress and the Senate on the Democratic side of the aisle. Through recent legislation, they are now trying to consolidate political and economic power. The political economy is where we all lose our most important freedoms (to think and speak against authority, to get a job, to try a new venture, to manage our own time and energy). This is where new rules and ‘rule-following punishers’ will be made.

This blog has been seeking to anchor liberal thinking in more tried-and-true moral philosophies of J.S. Mill, Scottish Enlightenment empiricism, and a return to neo-classical thought, for starters.

Good luck, folks.

As posted:

William C Dennis of the Liberty Fundhad a 1990 review at Reason Magazine of Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, by Anna Bramwellwhich highlights the libertarian dispute with environmentalism. He quotes Bramwell thus:

“For today’s ecologists, their hope of regeneration presupposes a return to primitivism, and thus, whether they wish to enunciate it or not, concomitant anarchy, the burning before the replanting, the cutting down of the dead tree. The father of the movement is an utter rejection of all that is, and for at least three millennia all that was.”

Libertarians would generally see many environmentalists as a threat to their definition of liberty.

-Another environmentalist root comes by way of the’ Tragic Earth’ romantic lament, which may have as much to do with the rise and fall of post-modernism in American Universities as it does with Nature, and the restless attempt to fill the post-modern void in a post-Nietzschean world.  I think part of this is due to the collapse of the modern liberal arts curriculum to its current state, which has followed excessive relativism and multi-culturalism to some of its logical conclusions.  The “science is settled” may be appealing to many in filling that void.  Of course, good poems and poets transcend the often strange things good poets can believe, but I suspect this has something to do with it. Al Gore has probably been influenced by this school of thought, though he is a politician, carbon-credit-salesman, and a poet.

Whatever your view of the science, its transition and use for ideological, economic and political purposes should give intelligent people pause, not just those who see threats to liberty.

Self-reliance may still be a better intellectual American influence, even with some downside to pragmatism.

I don’t mean to imply some people have turned their limited understanding of climate data into an anti-human, anti-science cult. Given human nature, such a turn of events is completely unforseeable!

Aside from passionate crazies, however, there are certainly not people who’ve turned global warming into a gnawing, apocryphal certainty; certain enough to offload their own fears of death into abstract ideals which might live beyond them.  This can lead to technocracy as a form of leadership; knowledge implemented through institutional bureaucracy and more diffuse accountability.  Plenty of journalists and aspiring professionals will follow those incentives into careers, opportunity and authority.

Some poets, even, and there’s certainly not any postmodern mysticism, anti-science rationalism and irrationalism to be found around and about:

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

Oh boy.

Older folks are left to display one’s virtue, good behavior and rule-following among the living.  That Tesla sure is sleek. Show off that new canvas bag.  Scowl at the plastic one. This binds people up together and keeps social harmony.  The knowledge is here, all that’s left is the wise, equal, and just enforcement of new rules.  Don’t you want to be good?

Maybe we can turn this thing around after all, discovering that Romantically primitive modern Eden upon the horizon.  We must act.

Alas, young, true believers, reformers and the narrowly righteous see deeper, of course, through the hypocrisy of a more settled complacency.  Tim Black at Spiked: “The Ongoing Creation Of Greta Thunberg.

They can become heroes to some, rather pathetic ciphers to others:

‘It is all very disconcerting. From her breakdown, to her recitation of carbon-emission facts, the Greta that emerges in Our House is on Fire doesn’t feel like an individual. She feels like a fictional device. A God’s fool-style character, descended down to Earth to expose our folly.’

And by no means are those on the political Left, often seeking radical revolution and ‘Capitalism’s’ overthrow for the new ‘scientific’ Socialism to come, involved here.   Institutions are clearly not susceptible to committed ideologues, operating upon failed theories of (H)istory, forcing themselves into institutions (which radicals don’t normally recognize as having moral legitimacy, unless and until it’s their moral legitimacy).

What if you have an opposing, or different view to a majority?  Isn’t that the point of free speech?

Bruce Everett on this book:

‘It’s de rigueur on college campuses to pledge allegiance to the climate agenda, denouncing Luddites who impede progress on the climate policies that all right-thinking people support. Those of us who work in academia are used to this ritual, but every once in a while an academic decides to distinguish himself by making his denunciation louder and more strident than the rest of the crowd. ‘

From a reader: Christopher Essex discusses ‘Believing In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, And Climate Models:’

It really shouldn’t be that difficult a thing to keep a strong interest in the natural world and a desire to understand it quite apart from such true-belief, collectivist virtue-signalling, hyperbole and ideology.

This stuff is complicated!
As previously posted:

Repost-‘Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?’

Land Art Links Along A With A Quite Modernist W.S. Merwin Poem

William Logan At The New Criterion: ‘Pound’s Metro’…Monday Poem: ‘A Pact’ By Ezra Pound

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

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

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

I’d argue that this ‘postmodern’ problem also likely bleeds out into other causes, and abstract ideas, like the Climate.

Repost-Plenty Of Reasons To Lament The Losses

Theodore Dalrymple:  ‘The Will To Outrage

‘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.’

Michael Totten: ‘The Ghost Of Communism In Asia’ And A Few ThoughtsMichael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’…Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

As previously posted:

Full piece here.

There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.

Minogue framed it thusly:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

And:

‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and other forms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion

As previously posted, Minogue discussed ideology (Marxist ideology in particular), and modern promises of radical and revolutionary freedom: To go deeper and replace Science and Religion, Economics and Politics, on the way to some knowable end-point to human affairs.

Does Nature need to lead, follow or get out of the way?  Can we know Nature’s Laws?

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason? Or:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

Kant chopped the head off from German deism and the German State has been reeling every since…is value pluralism a response?: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Is there a move afoot in America away from religion, social conservatism, and toward morality via secular Enlightenment ideals…towards value-free relativism?  toward secular morality?:  Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksRoger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Will Wilkinson At Forbes: ‘The Social Animal by David Brooks: A Scornful Review’..

Roger That-Will Video Games Corrupt Your Soul And Do You Already Have An Innate Knowledge Of Such Things? Some Links

Some years ago, Stuart Lawrence, on the late Roger Sandall’s site, imagined Plato and Aristotle having a conversation about Grand Theft Auto.

Lawrence:

‘Used judiciously and with a suitably grim humour I think Plato can be a help. On the one hand he suggests that the issues raised by the relation of Showbiz to the rest of society have changed little over more than two thousand years. On the other, that the myriad effects of high-tech modern illusionism, both social and political, should not be too casually brushed aside.

The ‘is-ness’ of say, Unit Vector scaling (used in game dynamics) need not answer the many questions we might have about reality and the world (how should I behave? why am I here? what is my purpose? where is all this headed? when should I turn GTA off and go to bed?) but hopefully, such knowledge will simply produce people capable of understanding this knowledge and applying it, as well many others just enjoying a game.

Against the modern grain of having such questions asked solely by the religious, countered by the New Atheists and the secular, but also by the increasingly moralistic ‘-Ismologists’ and ‘Wokists’, it’s interesting to cast such a debate in more ancient terms.

Such framing can even provide breathing-room beneath the arguments flung over the table between analytic philosophers and many a postmodern nihilist.

Do Roger Scruton’s argments hold up, disassociating the arts and humanities from simply copying the Sciences, but also keeping the arts and humanities out of the hands of Marxist materialists, New Atheists, ideologues and ‘-Ismologists?’

Full piece here

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather ‘scientism.’

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead.’

Hmmm……

Repost-Some Practical Solutions For Threats To Free Thought, Free Speech & Freedom Of Expression

Who are the actual stakeholders in refusing the tactics of ostracism, intimidation, and threats of violence on campus curently coming from the far Left?:

Jonathan Haidt continues to have interesting ideas:

It may be as simple as just letting the true-believers, zealots, and ideologues have their own place, having to compete in the marketplace of ideas ($80k a year….for this?). Yes, often it’s a form of capitulation, but such true-believers, zealots, and ideologues depend upon the institutions they colonize for their survival (disrespecting the rules and legitimacy of the institutions from the get-go; seeking radical transformation and control of the institutions nonetheless).

It will also require the backbone of many in academia and intellectual pursuits to stand-up to charges of thinking differently and violating the holy ‘-Isms’ from time to time. Especially when it has to do with one’s own discipline, domain, and methods.

Eventually, the mobs will come after you, too.

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

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.

On this site, see: Mark Pennington Via Vimeo: ‘Democracy And The Deliberative Conceit’

A taste of her Nussbaum here. Also, see:From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

…Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Related On This Site: Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff At The Atlantic: ‘Why It’s a Bad Idea To Tell Students Ideas Are Violence’

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

See the previous post.The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

Repost-From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

Related On This Site:From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Jonathan Haidt At Heteodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’

Repost-Some Practical Solutions For Threats To Free Thought, Free Speech & Freedom Of Expression

Who are the actual stakeholders in refusing the tactics of ostracism, intimidation, and threats of violence on campus curently coming from the far Left?:

Jonathan Haidt continues to have interesting ideas:

It may be as simple as just letting the true-believers, zealots, and ideologues have their own place, having to compete in the marketplace of ideas ($80k a year….for this?). Yes, often it’s a form of capitulation, but such true-believers, zealots, and ideologues depend upon the institutions they colonize for their survival (disrespecting the rules and legitimacy of the institutions from the get-go; seeking radical transformation and control of the institutions nonetheless).

It will also require the backbone of many in academia and intellectual pursuits to stand-up to charges of thinking differently and violating the holy ‘-Isms’ from time to time. Especially when it has to do with one’s own discipline, domain, and methods.

Eventually, the mobs will come after you, too.

More here.

Link sent in by a reader.

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

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 ne0-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.

On this site, see: Mark Pennington Via Vimeo: ‘Democracy And The Deliberative Conceit’

A taste of her Nussbaum here. Also, see:From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom

…Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

Related On This Site: Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff At The Atlantic: ‘Why It’s a Bad Idea To Tell Students Ideas Are Violence’

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

See the previous post.The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

Repost-From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often

Related On This Site:From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Jonathan Haidt At Heteodox Academy: ‘The Blasphemy Case Against Bret Weinstein, And Its Four Lessons For Professors’

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?

Self-Interest, Moral Sentiments & Rationalism-Some Links

Many reactions to the market are moral ones, from the anti-corporate, romantically primitive, ideological collectivists on the Left to the biblically inclined, revelatory faithful who clearly see in the teachings of Jesus Christ reasons to doubt:

And Larry Arnhart looks at a Straussian: ‘Joseph Cropsey’s Straussian Attack On Adam Smith:’

‘Thus, Smith showed how the opulence and liberty of a commercial society would provide philosophers like Hume and himself with the intellectual commerce, the individual liberty, and the leisured independence necessary for living a philosophic life with their friends. Cropsey ignores all of this because it contradicts his argument that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith’s commercial society.’

Worth a read.


A brief introduction to Adam Smith’s ‘Theory Of Moral Sentiments’

Beware the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians:


As previously posted: Steven Poole at Aeon: ‘We Are More Rational Than Those Who Nudge Us.’

‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences. It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

Related On This Site: Cass Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

I’ve got enough friends, thanks: Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

New liberty away from Hobbes…toward Hayek…but can you see Locke from there?: Repost-From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

Leo Strauss argued there is great danger in this approach, i.e. the problems of Europe. Political science, the social sciences, economics and the explanatory power of these products of reason and rationalism could increasingly form the epistemological foundation for explaining the world, people’s interior lives, how we ought to live and what we ought to do. This includes where our rights come from and who should be in charge: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Repost-From Bloggingheads: Robert Wright And Robert P George Discuss Natural Law

Full diavlog here.

Mentioned:  Natural Law Theory (Greeks and Romans…Aquinas) Utilitarianism, Mill’s Harm Principle, Kant’s potential relation to Natural Law Theory and his deontologism)….

Where I very much agree:  George’s acknowledgment that there may be no fundamental way to determine, in the aggregate, the utilitarian maxim.

***As to politics and man, and political philosophy, the people most convinced of their reasons and their own moral and ideological lights, often seem the ones most attracted to power and influence.

Make a chair, a seat of scope and influence, and all the wrong sorts seem to gather around eventually, quite certain they should be the ones sitting down.  The decent, and what’s decent in people can easily become subjects.

Addition:  Has George made the case for natural law…that morality is somehow a law…and connected to nature and that which is beyond us?

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

On This Site:  Somehow, the idea of philosopher-kings, and a group of men who’ve left the cave, only to venture back in guiding everyone with their reason is a little problematic for me.  It was that whole gold/silver/bronze thing…and seeing all the problems of the ‘intellectuals’ and ‘vanguard’ these past few centuries… Sunday Quotation: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

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?’

What are some of the arguments for building a secular structure…or at least for deeper equality through the laws: : Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum