Repost-The Moral Decline Of A Nation?-Ross Douthat At The NY Times: ‘The Perils of Anti-Decadence’

Full piece here.

(This piece has been altered to reflect an accurate reading of Douthat’s piece. Better late than never. Original copies can be provided.)

There’s certainly been a lot of Kennedy talk in the air, lately, and Douthat makes the Aldous Huxley/C.S. Lewis case for moral decadence regarding the heroic elevation of JFK, and the Kennedy clan.

‘So it isn’t quite sufficient to say that the cult of John F. Kennedy is merely a case where admirable energies and impulses have been misdirected toward an unworthy hero figure. Rather, the biggest problems with the Kennedy era — the way that “missile gap” rhetoric led inexorably to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and then a near-nuclear war, the sleepwalking escalation in Vietnam, and then what my colleague David Brooks rightly calls “the mirage of religiosity” around the modern presidency that Kennedy’s rhetoric and martyrdom helped conjure up — are all characteristic and recurring problems with the attempt to resist, through politics, the trends and tendencies that books like “The Abolition of Man” and “Brave New World” discerned and warned against.’


‘These problems are among the reasons why so many contemporary writers, mostly liberal and libertarian, are inclined to dismiss the very concept of decadence … or at least to say that while we probably wouldn’t want to go the full Mustapha Mond, that kind of danger is still extremely remote, and so long as growth continues, living standards rise, and equality advances, anything that’s lost along the way is probably well worth giving up.’

Click through.

Another addition: Just read Douthat’s article. He is critiquing something that progress and the creature comforts of a material culture provide and which both Huxley and Lewis warned against: A soporific attitude towards life because much immediate suffering has been vanquished. Our technology and progress can lead to a sleepy drift where we are happy to trade security for freedom because many of us don’t know any better, and don’t want to risk finding out.

JFK was a receptacle for national liberal greatness, and for a lot of Americans’ sense of civic duty, membership to the national identity, and perhaps cause for moral action like joining the Peace Corps. Such calls to ‘national greatness’ politics as in the case of JFK can be intended to take advantage of the sense of purpose such politics bring to individuals’ lives. This can lead to great error and consequences on down the road, especially surrounding the myth of politics. JFK admirers can be a rather deluded bunch when the facts of his Presidency are enumerated (to say nothing of the conspiracists) and a poor receptacle for such hopes and dreams.

There seems to me to be a deeply personal line of reasoning behind much of this argument, which might require an individual to enter into a complex relationship with God through church doctrine, or at least to recognize the dangers of false idols and the celebrification of our culture. We should be skeptical of such mythmaking and what ‘national greatness’ politics can do to our commitments in life. I can respect such an argument, even though I may not agree.

I should say it’s nice to have a contrarian voice around in the face of a popular, secular humanism promising ever more individual freedom, ever more equality, and ever more progress. Those goods will clearly come into conflict with one another. Douthat, as a conservative columnist, seems to be living up the the Buckley-esque mandate of standing athwart histoy yelling: ‘Stop.’


A few more thoughts, for what it’s worth:

The progressive, activist Left seems perfectly happy to achieve its goals through charismatic, populist leaders engaged in majoritarian politics, often willing to push through ambitious laws impossible for even a competent technocracy to administer. This can easily go beyond science and wise policy-making into rabble-rousing street politics and a naive idealism wedded to the logic of political power.

Douthat, at least, gives me that courtesy of explaining his reasoning without immediately seeking control over my life through his political coalitions.

Of course, as Douthat points out, the decadence criticism would be applicable to the Right as well, and a surging conservative populism: Just repeating the names of Reagan, Churchill, and Calvin Coolidge doesn’t necessarily absolve one of one’s freedoms and responsibilities. Simply appealing to God and/or Ted Cruz comes with all the realities of human nature, policy-making, laws, and grubby politics, too. Skepticism is certainly warranted, and actions always speak louder than words.


On that note:

Free-market libertarian Ira Stoll wrote ‘JFK, Conservative

Libertarian Virginia Postrel has a new book entitled ‘The Power Of Glamour: Longing And The Art Of Visual Persuasion.’ The Kennedys and their representation in the popular media and public mind certainly involves a lot of glamour. I like some of what she does:

The NY Times op-ed writer and a practicing Catholic? William Saletan and Ross Douthat At Slate: ‘Liberalism Is Stuck Halfway Between Heaven And Earth’…Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’… Behavioral economics and libertarian paternalism and below all that some liberal totalitarianism (the personal is political crowd)…Ross Douthat Responds To Paul Krugman At The NY Times: ‘Can We Be Sweden?’

Are these the enemies of the future?: Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘How The Elites Built America’s Economic Wall’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.

Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on ConservatismCharles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

From The Entry On Liberalism At The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy

Full entry here.

A reader sends in the final paragraph:

Given that liberalism fractures on so many issues — the nature of liberty, the place of property and democracy in a just society, the comprehensiveness and the reach of the liberal ideal — one might wonder whether there is any point in talking of ‘liberalism’ at all. It is not, though, an unimportant or trivial thing that all these theories take liberty to be the grounding political value. Radical democrats assert the overriding value of equality, communitarians maintain that the demands of belongingness trump freedom, and conservatives complain that the liberal devotion to freedom undermines traditional values and virtues and so social order itself. Intramural disputes aside, liberals join in rejecting these conceptions of political right.’

Related On This Site:   Tuesday Quotation: J.S. MillPeter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?  What about Kantian transcendental idealism (and empirical realism)…or is that part of the Enlightenment project of reason that Libertarians perhaps ought to be more careful with?:  A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …Some Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

British conservatism with a fair amount of German idealist influence: Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: ‘Farewell To Judgment’

Via A Reader-‘John Searle On The Philosophy Of Language’

Via a readerJohn Searle on The Philosophy Of Language as part of Bryan Magee’s series:

It’s always a pleasure to observe someone with deep understanding explain a subject clearly.

There’s some interesting discussion on modernism and postmodernism too, or the tendency for the ‘moderns’ to focus on language itself as a problem to be re-examined and possibly solved, or the study of linguistics to be put upon a foundation similar to that of many sciences.

As we’ve seen in the arts, the poem, a novel, the very written words themselves can become subjects which poets, novelists, and writers examine, doubt, and in some cases ‘deconstruct.’

As to that tribe in South America, cited as evidence against Chomsky’s claims of necessary recursion and the existence of a universal grammar, Searle has some things to say in the interview below.

As previously posted: Paul Ibbotson & Michael Tomasello at Scientific American: ‘Evidence Rebuts Chomsky’s Theory Of Language Learning:’

‘But evidence has overtaken Chomsky’s theory, which has been inching toward a slow death for years. It is dying so slowly because, as physicist Max Planck once noted, older scholars tend to hang on to the old ways: “Science progresses one funeral at a time.”

Worth a read.

As posted:  Caitlin Flanagan reviews Tom Wolfe’s new book ‘The Kingdom Of Speech.‘ Jerry Coyne, ecologist, writing in the Washington Post, was not impressed:

“Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”The Politics Of Noam Chomsky-The Dangers Of Kantian Transcendental Idealism?

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge


Some Updated Links On Postmodernism…Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism…And Truth’

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems


Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘Miles Burnyeat On Plato’…Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘John Passmore on Hume: Section 1’

Via Reuters-‘Jordan Writer In Anti-Islam Case Shot Dead At Court’

Via Reuters:

Those people with whom you disagree, do you kill them?

‘A prominent Jordanian writer was shot dead Sunday on the steps of a court where he was facing charges for sharing an anti-Islam cartoon on Facebook.

Nahed Hattar was struck by three bullets before the alleged assassin was arrested at the scene of the shooting in Amman’s central Abdali district, said the official Petra news agency.’


‘Hattar was a political commentator known for his antipathy towards Islamists including Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood and also his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.’

Back to Yale with Christopher Hitchens:

Full post here.

Reason post here.

NY Times piece here.

Old news I know, but it seems that the Yale Press was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could potentially lead to violence, and that they are responsible for the consequences of such potential violence.


“…Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

If you thought the cartoons were bad, more on the Fitna movie here.  From The NY Times: Review Of Christopher Caldwell’s Book “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West”  Libertarians love this issue:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra Levant 

An Act Of ‘Commercial Violence?’-They’re Still Trying To Kill Lars Vilks

In The Mail-More On The Boston Marathon Bombers: ‘The Fall Of The House Of Tsarnaev’

Ira Stoll At The NY Sun: ‘Will Trump Target The Times The Way Hulk Hogan Wrestled With Gawker.Com?’

Full piece here.

‘The Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, is taking aim at the nation’s largest and most powerful left-of-center newspaper, the New York Times, in an attack that may expose how the newspaper is being propped up financially by a Mexican billionaire.’

Interesting times.  Lots of food fights.

As previously posted: Who reads the newspapers?

As for my own conspiratorial suspicions, I expect an influential cohort, if not an editorial majority of the NY Times, to soon resemble that of Britain’s ‘Guardian‘ (that’s Vanguardian to you, you neoliberal bourgeois sell-out).

Here is a Guardian headline tumblr page to help clarify: So.Much.Guardian.

Jezebellians writing about the NY Times have discovered a plot:

Do I make any predictions?

Predictions require knowledge I don’t actually have and committing to a standard to which I could actually be held.

I simply brace myself for these things ahead of time, and invite you into a confederacy of predictive anticipation, dear reader.

Related On This Site:Nir Journalism-Via Reason-‘NY Times Public Editor Acknowledges Errors in Nail Salon Expose In Response to Reason’s Reporting’

Michael Kinsley At The New Republic Via Althouse: ‘A Q & A With Jill Abramson’

From Slate: “Newsweek Has Fallen And Can’t Get Up”

A Few Thoughts On Blogging-Chris Anderson At Wired: ‘The Long Tail’

You could do like Matt Drudge, but the odds are stacked against you.

Ah, But Pigeons Can Shit On The Shoulders Of Statues-Gay Talese on Journalism

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

A video supplement to a course taught on the classical liberal tradition (~28.00 minutes long):


Note those liberal thinkers who do not posit a telos (knowable endpoint and purpose) to human affairs and how they arrive at their positions…

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

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

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

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

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 SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

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’

Friday Quotations-Henry Hazlitt

Two quotes from Henry Hazlitt, libertarian economist, that have been repeatedly posted since this blog’s early days…:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”


“The first requisite of a sound monetary system is that it put the least possible power over the quantity or quality of money in the hands of the politicians.”