I’d been charting the return to ‘Hitler Year-Zero‘ as a product of the Frankfurt School and the radical Left’s infiltration of the American academy. ‘Anti-fascism’ was, after all, driving many socialists, communists, and various other collectivist utopians into war with the fascist right (see Orwell in Spain). Through the Straussian lens, at least, both these manifestations of Left/Right are two sides of the same coin. Their highest goods are totalizing, collectivizing ideologies, coalescing into warring political factions.
Left-leaners dislike the suggestion that supporting radical activists while supporting ‘classical liberalism’ (free-speech, free-markets, individual liberties as many do in their personal lives) might be conflicting goals, requiring of hard choices.
The drive towards ‘democracy’ and ‘equity’, mobilizing every injustice in activists’ lives, often falls apart in the face of definitional scrutiny. So, only you support ‘democracy’ and your political adversaries don’t? What do mean by democracy, exactly? Rule by the demos? Which problems arise from rule by the demos?
As I see the world: Such ideologues, within coalitions, drive against enemies as much as towards such shared conceptions of the moral good. Thus, not all things religious, traditional, and conservative are ‘evil,’ nor are people who defend some tradition or religious belief ‘fascist,’ unless your own ideas are….totalizing and fascist.
The lesson: Basically, if all you’ve got are are socialists, communists and ‘anti-fascists’ claiming to stand for liberty, you’re f**ked.
A harder task: Convincing many liberal idealists, soft collectivists, secular humanists and ‘one-worlder’ types that harder choices are on the horizon between their ‘freedom-is-next-I’m-a-good-person’ mindset and the radicals.
I’m expecting most to slip into the blame, resentment and anger at anything conservative, traditional and religious. Most of us, most of the time, play the political games of the day even as the Overton Window shifts. This is much easier to do if people like Donald Trump arise to stand up for conservative ideas (I suppose I’m Trump-skeptical, but next time ’round I’ve got one vote and two choices like you). Most media and most of the academies will be teaching such ideas from young ages, and in high-places.
It will be harder to convince many people who might be conservative, traditional and religious that not everything ‘liberal’ is far-Left, radical and activist, even though we’re all arguably running aground in the postmodern muck. Here, too, the political games of the day will usually triumph. The once-conservative, patriotic, traditional American cultural majority is now more of a minority, needing more legal protections and possessing more good reasons for truth and reflection now that the liberal types are arguably a majority.
I’m just trying to keep one-foot-in and one-foot-out, moving all about.
‘We interview John about Seeing Things as They Are: A Theory of Perception (2015). What is perception? Searle says that it’s not a matter of seeing a representation, which is then somehow related to things in the real world. We see the actual objects, with no mediation. But then how can there be illusions?
Well, we see things under an aspect: a presentation of the thing. And that presentation presents itself as caused by just that thing that the perception is of. If these “conditions of satisfaction” (i.e., that the perception is actually caused by that thing) are not met, then we have a case of illusion: we thought we were perceiving that thing, but we really weren’t. Simple! Right? Searle lays out his theory for us and amusingly dismisses much of the history of philosophy.’
‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.
You can’t just toss direct experience, long history, developed traditions and deep practice into a pot, can you? Were you just going to bring your pot to a rolling boil, skim the top, bottle it up and sell it as the ‘Last Cookbook You’ll Ever Need’?
Who is Oakeshott’s Rationalist? Perhaps nearly all of us:
‘At bottom, he stands (he always stands) for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligation to any authority save the authority of ‘reason.’ His circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious: He is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual. His mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and judge it by what he calls his ‘reason:’ optimistic because the rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason’ (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propiety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind…’
‘He is not devoid of humility; he can imagine a problem which would remain impervious to the onslaught of his own reason. But what he can not imagine is politics which do not consist of solving problems, or a political problem of which there is no ‘rational’ solution at all.’
We Americans are Rationalists, to some extent, with our founding documents kept under glass:
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”
‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic. And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies. And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular. For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’
I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.
What should ‘common men’ have done with relatively limited experience and practice of their own, but such a long and mixed inheritance to draw upon?
Hasn’t our American solution (posing admitted cultural threats to established English traditions) helped ameliorate the effects of long-stratified classes, resentments, and bitternesses which have allowed a much deeper Marxism (ideology par excellence) to flourish in the U.K?
Has the American influence made them worse?
Perhaps if long history and deep practice have helped organically produce Monarchy, Aristocracy, landed gentry and unlanded serfs; a country where an accent can immediately rank order one’s class and status, then America’s rationalist common man has gotten some things right?
Food for thought.
Is that the sight of tweed moving amongst the trees upon the horizon?
I must say Oakeshott offers refreshing critique of thinkers from Descartes to Bacon and Marx to Hayek, and I imagine he can easily be applied to Rawls, Nozick and any other very bright, systemizing thinkers of the 20th century.
Often times, brilliance and genius in the mathematical sciences can help reformulate and solve some of the deeper problems of the Natural World, but such thinking doesn’t necessarily travel well beyond these spheres.
‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your Philosophy’
Thinking of politics as just a ‘science,’ can obviously be a problem, for example. Thinking all the reasons for deep disagreement between people (religion, belief, habit, custom) are going to be solved with the latest theory or a new politico-managment style is full of obvious problems.
Rationalism, on this view, decays frequently into ideology, as well, and there’s no shortage of ideological doctrines nor ideologues and narrow, doctrinal sorts this past century.
On that note, please let me know what I’ve gotten wrong, or missing thus far.
***Dear Reader, I beseech you to recall that I’m full-time employed elsewhere and this blog is a labor of love; a means to keep learning. Please send $1,000,000+ checks discreetly in the mail.
The idea of bronze men (appetitive, trading), silver men (guardians), and gold men (philosopher-kings) rings authoritarian to the modern ear. Plato’s Ideal City has a rigid, birth caste system.
Yet, he founded the first university, more or less, and grounded learning away from Homer and towards a different set of truth and knowledge claims. Many of these claims became intertwined within Christian doctrine later on.
Reading Thrasymachus more as a nihilist, too, has its uses (as a counter-balance to Marx, to the radical utopians and to the postmodern power-all-the-way-down theorists).
This blog remains skeptical of the idea that ‘political theory’ and the modernization of new and emergent fields of thought will meet the claims of many political theorists and modernizers.
If you want to acquire or re-acquire a deep map of understanding, and one of the founding doctrines of Western thought, here’s the material presented pretty clearly and knowledgably.
Really, it’s conversational, like a good podcast ought to be:
“The Peloponennisian War created the sorts of tension in Athens that would appear to support Thucydides’ analysis. Obligations to the community required greater sacrifice and presented a clearer conflict with the self-seeking “Homeric” pursuit of one’s status, power and pleasure. In political terms, people had to decide whether or not to plot against the democracy to bring off an Olgarchic coup. In moral terms they had to decide whether or not to ignore the demands of the community, summed up in the requirements of “justice,” in favor of their own honor, status, power, and in general their perceived interest. Plato was familiar with people who preferred self-interest over other-regarding obligation; his own relatives, Critias and Charmides, made these choices when they joined the Thirty Tyrants.
Arguments from natural philosophy did not restrain people like Critias and Charmides. Democritus argues unconvincingly that the requirements of justice and the demands of nature, as understood by Atomism, can be expected to coincide. Protogoras rejects the view that moral beliefs are true and well grounded only if they correspond to some reality independent of believers; admittedly they are matters of convention, but so are all other beliefs about the world. This line or argument removes any ground for preferring nature over convention, but at the same time seems to remove any rational ground for preferring one convention over another.”
From a previous video:
‘Along comes someone like Pilate, Pontius Pilate, and says something like: ‘What is truth?’ and everybody goes sort of dizzy, and you look to the philosopher to provide a suitably abstract and highfalutin answer. The minimalist says you shouldn’t answer Pilate, or rather, if you answer Pilate, you answer should take the form of a question…which is “What are you interested in?’
So basically, you throw the question ‘What is truth?’ back until the person who’s interlocuting you… gives you an example and says ‘Well, I’m interested in whether penguins fly’ and you say ‘Okay well the truth there…the truth would consist in penguins flying…’
From Kelley Ross, who takes a step back from moral relativism and good ‘ol American Pragmatism:
‘It is characteristic of all forms of relativism that they wish to preserve for themselves the very principles that they seek to deny to others. Thus, relativism basically presents itself as a true doctrine, which means that it will logically exclude its opposites (absolutism or objectivism), but what it actually says is that no doctrines can logically exclude their opposites. It wants for itself the very thing (objectivity) that it denies exists. Logically this is called “self-referential inconsistency,” which means that you are inconsistent when it comes to considering what you are actually doing yourself. More familiarly, that is called wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” Someone who advocates relativism, then, may just have a problem recognizing how their doctrine applies to themselves’
‘Pragmatism is really just a kind of relativism; and, as with Protagoras’s own strategy, it is a smoke screen for the questions that ultimately must be asked about what it means that something is “better,” or now that something “works.” Something “works,” indeed, if it gets us what we want — or what Richard Rorty wants. But why should we want that? Again, the smoke screen puts off the fatal moment when we have to consider what is true about what is actually good, desirable, worthy, beneficial, etc. All these responses are diversions that attempt to obscure and prevent the examination of the assumptions that stand behind the views of people like Rorty. It is easier to believe what you believe if it is never even called into question, and that is just as true of academic philosophers like Rorty as it is for anybody else. Being intelligent or well educated does not mean that you are necessarily more aware of yourself, what you do, or the implications of what you believe. That is why the Delphic Precept, “Know Thyself” (Gnôthi seautón) is just as important now as ever.’
Heather MacDonald pits the goals of diversity and equality (pursued zealously within many an administrative hierarchy) against the quest for knowledge in the sciences.
I’m fairly certain that many people, in pursuit of their religious beliefs and in holding sacred the metaphysical doctrines which frame those beliefs, can and do bear hostility to the natural sciences, free-thinkers, and any challenge to those beliefs. The truth of such a statement seems self-evident.
But often in many educated circles, the ‘Grand Inquisitor‘ scene from the Brothers Karamazov seems to be playing on an endless loop, and all the darkness within the human heart, all the potential for stupidity, corruption, and incompetence within human organizations (the incredible difficulty of design and stability), is still directed against the Church (not the Mosque, of course) or some barely recognizable conception of authority.
Many current dangers are conveniently ignored, misunderstood, and/or tacitly supported under an umbrella of political idealism. Movements which support radical and revolutionary freedom tend to shift the beliefs and moral sentiments beneath the umbrella and within our institutions, but with little discussion of the costs involved.
Question the telos at the end of the rainbow, for which the umbrella will one day be shed, and all the old human problems return.
‘For Minogue, freedom led to “oppositionality,” a topic he explores in “The Conditions of Freedom and the Condition of Freedom.” Oppositionality is the idea that citizens may exercise an independent judgement on questions of their obligations that were once off-limits for discussion; everyone simply accepted them. Opposition and is seen both as a “disruptive and dynamic” part of freedom but also a threat to it – “fundamentally parasitic” on society and often praising dissent for its own sake.
This leads naturally to “The Modern Liberal’s Casebook,” which contains Minogue’s well-known comparison of liberalism to the legend of St George and the Dragon. In his telling, St. George didn’t know when to stop fighting battles and grew breathless in pursuit of smaller and smaller dragons, as big dragons were harder to come by. In this Minogue is quite correct. Taking his analogy further, there must come a time when dragons become extinct and younger versions of St. George are misguided into pursuing chickens and other desirable species instead.’
It also seems individuals tend to come in out and of belief, whatever their experiences, choices, genetic and biological proclivities. We constantly negotiate personal commitments and obligations, needs and wants. This is to say nothing of basic self-interest. There are too many variables to count and I can’t proclaim to count nor understand them all (I doubt the social sciences can either, and I’m wary of the belief they can and/or should, at least in the context of popular culture as they incorporate more data science, mathematics and empirical evidence.
I can say that trying to criticize and contextualize many modern and postmodern movements and thinkers seems a lonelier task at the moment, as is casting a skeptical eye upon many liberal political ideals currently reigning within many Western institutions.
Here’s another take, building upon an anti-Hegelian, pro-Kantian, pro-Popperian metaphysical platform:
‘Although Anglo-American philosophy tended to worship at the feet of science, the drift of academia to the left has led to characteristically totalitarian political attacks on science itself — this despite the leftist program to use “climate science” to impose a Sovietized command economy on energy and the tactic to smear climate skeptics, i.e. “Deniers,” through associaton with Creationism or Neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. None of that has stopped the “post-modern” move, which may even be called the “post-Copernican” move, where the “de-centering” of meaning and objectivity, returns the “marginalized” literary critic or theorist to the Ptolemaic center of the universe, whence modern science, now demystified and unmasked as an instrument of white, male, homophobic, Euro-centric oppression, had proudly thought to have dislodged an arrogant humanity. This has given new meaning to the words “obscurantism” and “sophistry.” Where the arrogance (let alone the intolerance and “extremism”) has settled now is all too plain to those familiar with American academic life, where a majority of American colleges have “speech codes” or equivalent regulations that openly violate the First Amendment.’
‘Hayek’s argument against planning was rooted in his views about how to assimilate the knowledge relevant to economic decisions that, necessarily in a modern society, is dispersed among millions of distinct individuals. What feasible mechanisms of social action would allow this diffused information to be most efficiently brought to bear on decisions about the use of scarce resources? How can the actions of myriad individual producers and consumers be so coordinated as to exploit most effectively the specialized knowledge which each possesses about their respective circumstances?
His answer, of course, was that central planning could not improve upon — and invariably would lead to outcomes much worse than — what can be achieved via the price system operating within competitive markets where institutions of private property and freedom of contract are respected, and where individuals enjoy liberty to puruse their own best interests, as they understand them.
This, I wish to insist, is a profound insight into the functioning of economic systems which — though subject to qualification and exception — is largely a correct conclusion with far-reaching implications for the design of economic institutions and the conduct of public affairs. To my mind, the world’s history since publication of The Road to Serfdom has largely vindicated Hayek’s concerns…’
‘What multiculturalism does is it paints people into the corner in which they happen to be born. You would think that people on the left would be very sensitive to the notion that one’s whole destiny should be determined by the accident of birth as it is, say, in a caste system. But what the multiculturalism dogma does is create the same problems that the caste system creates. Multiculturalism uses more pious language, but the outcome is much the same.’
Heavily influenced by the Chicago School, here he is arguing that the welfare state maintains some of the same dependence in the black community that slavery required.
Within the embrace of political coalitions promising a better world to come, ever on the horizon, uniting individuals beneath the ‘-Isms,’ against ‘the system’ in perpetuity, the maps don’t always line-up with the terrain.
The moral sentiments are engaged, certainly, and there are truths to tell, but not all the truths, and within groups on the march under a professed political banner, many important truths have already been ignored, trampled or passed on by.
Ideals, abstractions, self, professional and political interests are often no match for one’s own doubt in moments of quiet and honest reflection: The simple pleasures and patient work of the home and family. The lessons great works in the humanities can offer, the years-long deep dives into data and the mathematical patterns one didn’t expect to find in one’s backyard or on Mars; the long, bloody struggles of the past and the wisdom of experience, speaking to you directly after hundreds or thousands of years.
Freedom and thinking for one’s self is often harder, lonelier, more challenging and more rewarding than the modern ideals, moral crusades, and political activists would have you believe.
In pursuit of truth, your work is never done.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
My summary of Smith’s take: ‘I still read Andrew Sullivan and his thoughtful, potentially evil views, but when the mob comes to town, I’ll pretty much cave to the mob (The ‘-Ism’quisition). Although the NY Times is increasingly displaying the ideogical capture of the radical Left, as have many institutions, I really do need the paycheck.’
‘The New York Times, by its executive editor’s own admission, is increasingly engaged in a project of reporting everything through the prism of white supremacy and critical race theory, in order to “teach” its readers to think in these crudely reductionist and racial terms. That’s why this issue wasn’t called, say, “special issue”, but a “project”. It’s as much activism as journalism.’
A link on this site in support of Sullivan’s Oakeshottian political philosophy:
‘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‘
My rather cynical take on California, for which I harbor deep fondness: Many folks on the political Left tend to imagine that most deep knowledge and truth questions have been, or will soon be, settled in favor of their ideals (Equality, Peace, Diversity). They often make what I see as category errors when it comes to (R)eason and (S)cience.
If the big questions are settled, then, all that’s Left is to build the collective, human-rights based institutions which will guide (H)umanity to its (E)nds.
Ignore those radicals over there, they’re simply reacting against Enlightenment year-zero fascism:
To someone with such a point of view in California: Religious and social conservatives become a bothersome, backwards minority, while the honor and duty required to maintain a military are seen as antiquated, often ‘male’ and agressive (Colonial). The prudence required to maintain a balanced budget, and many basic rules, are increasingly seen through the ideological, tribal lens of identitarian politics (shut up, Karen).
Freedom comes with responsibility, but ‘liberation’ comes with many violent radicals, crazies, and true-believers.
How many actual individuals are leaving California because of the increasing social disorder in the cities, high costs of living and one-party politics?
‘I’m writing in response to your “Goodbye, Blue America” post, with its large “Leaving California” graphic. I left California four years ago. (It happens that I live in a different blue state now, and I want to leave this one, too.) There are so many reasons I left, but the urban unrest was a big part of it.’
Many people from other States (and countries)–>California
Many people from California–>Other Western States (Arizona/Nevada/Colorado/Oregon/Washington/Idaho) and back to their home States.
‘Noyce was like a great many bright young men and women from Dissenting Protestant families in the Middle West after the Second World War. They had been raised as Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, United Brethren, whatever. They had been led through the Church door and prodded toward religion, but it had never come alive for them. Sundays made their skulls feel like dried-out husks. So they slowly walked away from the church and silently, without so much as a growl of rebellion, congratulated themselves on their independence of mind and headed into another way of life. Only decades later, in most cases, would they discover how, absentmindedly, inexplicably, they had brought the old ways along for the journey nonetheless. It was as if . . . through some extraordinary mistake . . . they had been sewn into the linings of their coats!
If you view the modern project as sailing the gulf between Nature (wonderful spring days, happy babies, Pompei, The Plague), and human nature (love, mercy, humility, hatred, cruelty, egoism), then a certain depressive realism seems reasonable.
Part of my journey has involved being interested in the arts, making my way to Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Leo Strauss and Plato early on. After giving the arts a go, I made an attempt to broaden my scope, trying to better understand a particular set of problems.
While attending Penn State, I sat-in on a lecture by Jacques Derrida. He discussed his work on the work of Romanian Jewish poet Paul Celan. Listening to the arch-deconstructionist spending an hour discussing Ashglory was interesting, if a bit baffling. There was a lot of brilliance, gibberish, insight, ambition, and hubris in that room. Looking back, if I’m honest, I suppose some of it was mine.
I didn’t take notes and kept wondering why so many did.
In bearing witness to the modern quest of wringing every last drop of meaning from the Self (Self-Help books, confessionals, gurus), I get worried. When I look around and see so much energy spent ‘deconstructing’ comedy, cartoons, pop-culture and political ideals, I worry deeper trends are playing out (see the confessional postmodern poets of the 1950’s).
It’s not so much (R)eason, but the attempts to define Man’s (R)ational Ends within political doctrines I worry about. The less people have in their lives about which to feel purpose, the more many will look to political movements.
I worry that trying to synthesize the arts and sciences in popular fashion will not halt the turn towards postmodern anti-reason and irrational modern mysticism.
It’s not so much neuroscience and psychology as expanding fields of knowledge which worry, but the oft smug certainty of many institutionalized folks justifying personal and political interests in the wake of such thinking. It’s all too easy to mistake the edges of one’s thinking for the edges of the world.
It may be meritocrats all the way down, lightly tapping upon the heads of radicals.
It’s not so much progress which bothers me, but progressivism writ large (and so many other ‘-Isms’) uniting in-groups against out-group enemies insisting change ought to be the default position.
Where your thoughts are, your actions and hopes tend to follow.