Reasonably smart people and relatively deep thinkers feel the need to matter, just like everyone. They also feel the need to explain.
How much do you really know?
Patrick Deneen discusses recovering the ancients to re-orient the present and modernity towards flourishing (likely on the Straussian curve). The elites and the people each have their talents, but right now everyone seems to be either within or against a faltering structure of elites.
Is that really what’s going on?
There are people who can, and people who can’t. There are rules and ‘rule-following punishers’. There is constant reinforcement of what is good and what is not, and there are ends contained within ideas. We’re now selecting for abstract, symbolic and practical intelligence very strongly, and very early on.
But what about virtue amongst institutions full with a lot of virtue-signalling? What about small towns?
Oh, there will be ambitious people, strong and smart people, and warriors. But what about when people are or become rotten in some way? Or wrong and there too long? What constrains the folks making more important decisions and what constrains people downstream of them (from becoming violent, especially)?
A lot of folks on the dissident right see libertarianism/liberalism as two sides of the same, modern coin. Some folks on the far right live in identity politics and power-all-the-way-down theories (a natural reaction to the Hitler-year-zero Left…though some of it was always there…here I go again on the Straussian curve). Others are pointing out the virtues of neo-feudalism and monarchism (power matters) while still others are Catholics (certainly a hierarchy there).
There’s a lot of searching. Dear Reader, I still have my doubts.
Food for thought. Thanks for reading. I’m busy with life and work, mostly.
‘Fukuyama advanced three main claims, all of which he asserted were drawn not from the more abstruse realms of political theory (at a conference dominated by Straussian political theorists), but grounded in empirical observations about the world. His three main claims were:
Liberalism arose in the aftermath of the Reformation as a solution to the wars of religion, and provided a way of arriving at peace and political stability without requiring metaphysical or theological agreement by citizens.
What we today regard as the ills of liberalism (economic and social) in fact are pathologies that do not necessarily arise from a healthy liberal order. They are, rather, contingent and accidental and thus can be cured without killing off the patient.
Liberalism should look to its many past accomplishments for evidence of future results. Because liberalism abandoned an effort to achieve “the common good,” it allowed for the flourishing of individual goods that culminated in a wealthy, tolerant, and peaceful political order. Its ability to provide prosperity and peace are proven by appeal to evidence and reality.‘
On this site, see: At the Bari Weiss substack: Frank Fukuyama, Walter Russell Mead, and Niall Ferguson have a discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.
‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):
‘In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’
It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:
‘If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion. If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’
‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?
KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’
I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.
A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:
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.
Without a stronger moral core, will liberalism necessarily corrode into the soft tyranny of an ever-expanding State?
Since the 60’s, and with a lot of postmodern nihilism making advances in our society, is a liberal politics of consent possible given the dangers of cultivating a kind of majoritarian politics: Dirty, easily corrupt, with everyone fighting for a piece of the pie?
As an example, Civil Rights activists showed moral courage and high idealism, to be sure, but we’ve also seen a devolution of the Civil Rights crowd into squabbling factions, many of whom seem more interested in money, self-promotion, influence, and political power.
The 60’s protest model, too, washed over our universities, demanding freedom against injustice, but it has since devolved into a kind of politically correct farce, with comically illiberal and intolerant people claiming they seek liberty and tolerance for all in the name of similar ideals.
Who are they to decide what’s best for everyone? How ‘liberal’ were they ever, really?
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?
Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.
Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).
This blog seems to be drifting along deeper currents, leaving many issues unresolved:
Often when I seek reasoning on why one should be liberal, moral & otherwise (how to live a good life, what to do, what’s true & what one can know), I find many ppl committed to ends which are destructive of that which they claim to serve, save, or pay forward, as in ‘Mankind’. https://t.co/dfWkhfnPZz
There’s something almost religious about the way some people go about pursuing their non-religious ideas.
Ken Minogue framed it thusly (as posted so often these days):
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘
I once became mildly practiced at writing prose, but the writing was always clunky and ambitious at best, making large intellectual leaps. It’s probably worse these days given all the other things that matter. The people who pay in having opinions always want many other things, besides.
Thanks for stopping by, and to everyone that has. Sorry that I may not respond quickly, nor as often as I probably should.
‘The Ahmari vs. French standoff is a version of what Patrick Deneen, in a 2014 TAC article, identified as “a Catholic showdown worth watching.” Deneen identifies the antagonists not as left vs. right, but a dispute between two kinds of conservatives within US Catholicism. On one side are classical liberals — the Neuhaus/Novak/Weigel folks — who believe that Christianity can be reconciled with liberalism, and enrich it. On the other are those — Alasdair MacIntyre, David Schindler — who believe that they are fundamentally incompatible.’
‘Where do I stand? Somewhere unsatisfying between Ahmari and French, for reasons I will explain. Essentially, I lack French’s faith in classical liberalism, and I lack Ahmari’s faith that this is a battle that can be won (also, I’m not quite sure what “winning” would look like, but I’ll get to that).’
Addition: File this under the ‘Mill touchstone.’ Better Mill than points further Left.
‘So it is today—the faculty largely accept as true most liberal mantras, including the widely-embraced view in academe that the Pope is wrong on abortion, its support for gay marriage, and avoidance of not only racism (agreed), but “triggers” of “classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” They are the fruits of Mill’s transformation—the defenders of “experiments in living.” Sandra Korn has not called for a fundamental change, but described how things are.
The real debate lies not between Sandra Korn and the defenders of “academic freedom,” but the truth or falsity of the commitments that are most deeply held. Mill was right about conservatives if we think that they “win” by upholding an academic freedom that has issued progeny like Sandra Korn. I agree that we should be committed to academic justice; I disagree that today’s academy has defined justice correctly.’
Ken Minogue (in discussion with William F Buckley) touches on similar ideas, including Mill (starts at 1:20):
‘The exercise of arguing against falsity strengthens truth.’