Repost: A Bit Apart, But Still Standing Around Hoping Many People Would Hesitate More Often-A Few Links And Thoughts On Leo Strauss and Rene Girard

One major shift in my thinking occurred while reading Leo Strauss, and approaching Nature from a position where the reason/revelation distinction was suddenly in play:

‘Strauss was a Jew who promoted a pre-Christian, classical understanding of “natural right” as found in Plato and Aristotle. Yet after the publication of his Natural Right and History in 1953, Strauss was sometimes classed alongside Catholic scholars of political philosophy who aimed to revive the natural law tradition of Aquinas. Strauss recognized that these Thomists were fighting some of the same battles against historicists and philosophical modernists that he was fighting. Nonetheless, his own position was quite distinct from theirs. Natural right, unlike natural law, is changeable and dependent on circumstance for its expression, says Strauss. As he puts it: “There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.”

Such thinking made me question many modern epistemological foundations I had been taking for granted: Perhaps (H)istory doesn’t necessarily have a clear end, no more than does any one of our lives (other than a death forever beyond our full imagining). Perhaps (H)istory is long, often bloody, and takes a lot of work to understand.

Nature, too, in its depth and majesty, often Romanticized and Idealized by many moderns (collectivists and Hippies, especially), can be terrible, cruelly indifferent and the source of much of our suffering. These debates are old, and deep, so why not return to many original thinkers like Plato and Aristotle?

Politically and socially, I suddenly doubted that we’re necessarily heading towards knowable ends, individuals achieving a kind of virtue in declaring loyalty to the latest moral idea, protest movement, or political cause. Progress is complicated.

[Although] the (S)ciences are so successful in describing and explaining the Natural World, such knowledge can’t simply be transferred and implemented into policy and law, a bureaucracy and a technocracy [full of] of people who are often not even scientists. Perhaps there are many modern fictions abroad.

The more individuals are either liberated or freed (from tradition, from moral obligations to family and friends, from insitutions, from religious belief) it doesn’t necessarily follow such freedoms will be used wisely.

In fact, some individuals are clearly coalescing around narrow, totalitarian ideologies and failed theories of History through the road of radical chic (Marxism, Communism, Socialism). Other individuals are exploiting our current insitutional failures in favor of political extremism (alt-right and alt-left) while yet others are spending their formative years flirting with nihilism and anarchy in the postmodern soup.

Cycles of utopianism/dystopianism, and idealism don’t necessarily lead to stability, and more liberty.

Where I might agree with the moderns: I do think that Man’s reason, individual men’s use of mathematics applied to the physical world, sometimes occurring in flashes of profound insight, often after years of study and labor within and perhaps outside of a particular field, are tied to a reality which empirically exists. One could do a lot worse than the best of the Natural Philosopher.

It typically takes years to imbibe the necessary and often counter-intuitive tools to ‘see under the hood’ of Nature. Then, it often takes very long and close observation to make some kind of contribution. Unlike the Oakeshottian critique of rationalism in favor of tradition, I do think there are gains in basic competency from an education in the sciences that are not exclusive solely to the genius. Some of this can scale. Many laymen can become aware of how deterministic and probabilistically accurate these laws govern the world in which we live.

To be sure, we are undergoing a renaissance in certain fields: A technological revolution in our pockets and work lives, an explosion in space science, for starters.


As to my view of human nature, and a depressive realism, often informed by the humanites:

There’s something about Rene Girard’s work that strikes deep chords within me. I must confess, though, as a non-believer, I remain skeptical that a lot of Christianity isn’t Platonic Idealism + Synthesized Judaism + Transcendent Claims to Truth & Knowledge that gained ascendance within the Roman Empire. My ignorance shows.

A Christian and religious believer, Girard synthesizes psychology, literature, history, anthropology and philosophy along with his Christian faith into something quite profound.

Recommended. The mimetic theory of [desire] can really can change how you think about the world:

A briefer introduction here:

Girard and Libertarian thought?:

The closest I come to religious belief: Writers and musicians, at a certain point, give themselves over to their own mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, creative processes. If you practice enough (muscle memory), play your instrument alone and play with others, counting the time signature, you can makes sounds in time which express something deep about our condition, sharing it with others.

Even after the well runs dry, creative artists often go back to the bottom, finding themselves spent. The stronger the emotional loss and more real the pain; often this translates into the pleasure others take in your creation. But what is it you’re sharing exactly, from mind to mind and person to person?

This [can] produce something like a divine, God-worshipping, vulnerable state of mind and being, which is just as dangerous and corrupting as it is bonding and enriching. From Bach, to Prince, to now even Kanye West, apparently, religion can suddenly sweep into the gap.

Of course, studying and playing music is a conscious, reasoned process, more than many people know, but it also, very clearly isn’t entirely planned in the moment of its synthesis and creation.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

I’m missing a lot, here, folks, but doing my best with current resources. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

Repost-Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’

From Nextbook: Philosopher Of Science Hilary Putnam On The Jewish Faith

Postmodern Pushback-Some New Links & Lots Of Old Links Gathered Throughout The Years

Radical Academics Jumping Turnstiles, Decadence & Tilting At Windmills

From the NY Post:

‘A New York University professor is one of the masterminds behind the anarchist group that organized the rampage through the subways last month, destroying turnstiles, stranding thousands of commuters and spray-painting “F–k Cops” on station walls.’

Spring 2020 tuition at the NYU Gallatin School of Individual Study seems a little high.  Can’t I just show up at the next rampage for free?  With a mask and a bat?

On that note, Peter Thiel reviews Ross Douthat’s new book.

Sexual, moral and political liberation movements (the ’68ers) have a lot of downside costs.  There’s been lots of talk of freedom, the (S)elf, and intentions, but little talk of responsibilities, other-directed loyalty, and results.

I don’t expect folks caught up in liberation movements to accept that they may, in fact, be responsible for their own behavior as well as the political economy they’re helping to create:

Are we making progress? Not so much, Douthat answers. Baby boomers will wince at his title, since “decadence” sounds to them like the complaint of an old curmudgeon. They cannot stand to think of themselves as old, nor can they bear to think of the society they dominate as dysfunctional. But this is a young man’s book. Douthat can see our sclerotic institutions clearly because his vision is not distorted by out-of-date memories from a more functional era.’

Are you convinced?  Kirkus review here.

Hmmmm…

Mike Shellenberger leaves the environmental reservation.

Would you like more people staying warm, being able to read at night, and eating food without parasites?  Hopefully, yes.  You can still care about the natural world, genuinely sensitive ecosystems, remarkable creatures and, you know, other people.

But wherever you go, there you are. This probably means living in a place, (alas, a Nation), stuck with yourself, your family, your friends, your responsibilities, your duties and your own boredom.

What does scale?

Globally, nuclear energy produces nearly twice as much electricity at half the cost. And nuclear-heavy France pays little more than half as much for electricity that produces one-tenth of the carbon emissions as renewables-heavy, anti-nuclear Germany.

Whatever you may think about conservation and your relationship with the natural world, the environmental movement has become big business, big politics, and big money.

I have never really been a member of what I see as rather Romantically Primitive, collectivist utopian groups, overlapping with Left causes and producing much economy-regulating techno-bureacracy in practice.

It’s good to see some reasonable discussion.

Will You Become The Next Global Secular Human Administrator? E.G.H.E.A.D Will Provide New Questions & New Answers-Also, A Link To John Gray

First off, John Gray’s take on Brexit and Boris Johnson’s win: ‘Why The Left Keeps Losing:’

‘For the two wings of British progressivism – liberal centrism and Corbynite leftism – the election has been a profound shock. It is almost as if there was something in the contemporary scene they have failed to comprehend. They regard themselves as the embodiment of advancing modernity. Yet the pattern they imagined in history shows no signs of emerging.’

Where have you put your mind?  Your habits?  Your hopes, love and labor?

Your own nature, and that of others; in fact Nature herself, may have other plans.

The knowledge for some to be in charge, after the smoke of liberation clears (sexual, moral, political), will surely come from the most abundant known element in our Universe:

Some unassuming square of sky will justify a vanguard of polymathic geniuses to design new laws.  Surely, these great men of (H)istory will not be beholden to the radical impulses of revolutionaries beneath them.

Technocracy is dead!  Long live Technocracy!

On that note, all that’s left is to make honey for the hive, raising our (C)hildren to become good citizens of a global community.  Collectively aware individuals reject traditional notions of gender, race and class.  (S)cientartists, working for the common good, will rise through the ranks of existing institutions:

Can you feel these Putumayo rhythms?:

This is one classy blog.

Repost: The Founder Of Peace Pavilion West-The Early Years

The following is absolutely, 100% true: Dale Lonagan is back in the news, and the usual ‘Cult Leader or Visionary of The Modern Age?’ rumors have resurfaced. I thought I’d add some color to this barely sketched tale of peace and progress (how did The Human Pagoda come to be)?

Not Dale Lonagan!:

218px-jim_jones_receives_the_martin_luther_king2c_jr-_humanitarian_award_-_january_1977_28229By Nancy Wong – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44427361

The backstory (indoor gamin): Dale Lonagan is the illegitimate child of an international bureaucrat and the climate change journalist sent to cover him. Like so many orphans, Dale’s early life is one of hardship. He was abandoned and neglected, but fortunately for humanity, he was cast adrift within the bosom of collective progress.

The lad learned to survive within the corridors of diffuse economic and unelected bureaucratic power, selling stolen hand-soap at the bathrooms and cafeterias of 405 E. 42nd St.

Aerial view of the United Nations headquarters, New York City

O Global child, brilliant and wild, Earth calls before the Fall

512px-vincent_van_gogh_-_gamin_au_kc3a9pi_28camille_roulin292c_1888Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]

For years, the boy knew only the touch of linoleum and cold marble, drifting off to sleep to the soft sursurrations of motions passing the floor.  How such bureaucratese might have nested in his brain is anyone’s guess, but I once heard him recite nineteen climate resolutions consecutively from memory.

***How the outside world may have looked to a young wharf child, peering out from within The International Style:

512px-united_nations_-_new_york2c_ny2c_usa_-_august_182c_2015_08Giorgio Galeotti [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

‘I’d just grab the gallon bags off a the truck at the loading docks. The 10 gallons were bigger than my head. I’d stash ’em alongside my bed (a bed made of shredded U.N. resolutions). I slept myself the world.’

Enter Marine Stroop-Gruyere, Ambassador Minister Undersecretary for the Culture Of Peace. This committed global citizen noticed a young boy darting and wrapping himself awkwardly within a row of global flags.

He wore no socks, nor shoes, and the flags seemed to keep him warm.

After months of debates within her own heart and mind, she took action. She coaxed the young savage from a translator’s booth with morsels of locally sourced honey graham crackers sold for $13.99 a package. She took young Dale to her bosom. Stroop-Gruyere enrolled Dale in the United Nations Tour Guide Program.

After some months, Dale blossomed, soon becoming the youngest ‘Ambassador to The Public‘ in the history of the institution.

Year after year, watching the gavels lift and drop, seeing the commmittees come and go, a long view developed within this growing visionary leader’s heart and mind. Dale began to see that his thoughts, words and actions could make a difference.

He was becoming fully human.

To Be Continued

A Few Thoughts On Steven Pinker’s Appearance On The Rubin Report

Via a reader, Pinker’s book here.

My current views on Pinker’s four categories, for what they’re worth:

Reason-I’ve been exploring philosophically ideal Oakeshottian ‘modes of experience’ lately.  Our thoughts and basic sensory experiences are intertwined within modes, but these modes are not necessarily connected to a larger, hierarchically arranged superstructure.

‘The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

I view this approach as particularly useful for the humanities, as it could be tonic for the nihilism, existentialism and post-Romantic, post-Modern individual isolation found throughout the Western World (arts, academies, ‘culture’).  This approach could be especially useful where narrow ideologies and righteous belief go about picking up the slack.

I do think Pinker is properly humble about the influence of reason (it won’t scale to everyone, and only to those of interested in engaging their reason in a direction Pinker might help instruct and with which I find much to agree).

More on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘The illusion that there are “correct” answers to practical questions Oakeshott called “Rationalism”. It is the belief that practical activity is rational only when it rests on moral or causal laws whose truth can be demonstrated. In Marxism, for example, one encounters the claim that laws of historical change can be discerned scientifically and that practical guidance can be derived from them. But this claim, Oakeshott thought, should be understood as a rhetorical one that presupposes a certain kind of audience: it can be persuasive only for those who already believe that such laws exist and that they dictate correct decisions (Oakeshott 2008: 168–177). The error of Rationalism is to think that making decisions simply requires skill in the technique of applying rules or calculating consequences.’

As a brief aside, Oakeshottian pluralism perhaps doesn’t have much overlap with Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism with regard to political philosophy, but it does remind me of the following: Oppressed individuals may actually have good reasons for change, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that oppressed individuals possess knowledge of the direction nor ends of (H)istory, nor those of (M)an.  In fact, some of the greatest dangers of the 20th century came from individuals believing they knew of such ends while instituting those ends into social and political revolutions.

Berlin:

“Everything is what it is:  liberty is liberty, not equality or justice or fairness or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.  If liberty of myself or my class or my nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.  but if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

Food for thought.

Science-I believe the sciences yield the best knowledge we have of the Natural world, and attract some of the best minds, but it takes many years of long practice, hard work and habit to gain a sufficient mental map and the mathematical problem solving skills necessary to advance a field.  Not all sciences are equal, and some social sciences, like psychology, have had serious reproducibility problems of late.

Just as the Oakeshottian critique of ‘rationalism’ display themselves with regard to reason, there is also a critique of ‘scientism‘ on this view.

In the wake of people actually doing science, are many people practicing in a field with scientific elements and varying but respectable degrees of probabilistic accuracy, and further downstream, people with little to no training in the sciences doing something quite different altogether (politics, journalism etc).

There is a reductionism, and a kind of fetishiziation of scientific knowledge around which many gather.  Should one usefully rank order the sciences, a little epistemological humility might still recommend that human knowledge may not all be successfully synthesized into one model nor accounted for within such a model.

Also (I’m sure you’ve probably noticed this, too) smart people, scientists included, are subject to the same blind spots, hubris and group-think as any of the rest of us.  Sometimes smart people are more likely to assume their knowledge in one domain qualifies them for knowledge in another, especially when others pay them a lot of attention.

Humanism & Progress Through Humanist Institutions (The Problem of ‘Isms’)

I wonder if Pinker would accept this definition of Humanism as found here:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Perhaps.

From an interview with Pinker:

Naff: Let’s talk about humanism itself. You say that progress without humanism really isn’t progress at all. And you’ve just made the point that humanism can occupy a place in various different perches. But there is a secular humanist movement that is at the forefront of humanism today.

Lots of other “isms” have faltered because of human foibles, jealousies, power divisions, ideological differences and so on. What makes humanism so special that you single it out as essential to progress?

Pinker: Not so much the humanist movement, although I do endorse it as a valuable development, but rather the overall morality of humanism [is what’s essential], namely that human wellbeing is the ultimate good—and also the wellbeing of other sentient creatures. “Humanism” is a bit of a misnomer in singling out Homo sapiens; it’s a larger commitment to sentient beings.

But the effect of humanistic institutions very much depends on how they organize, how they conduct themselves, how they manage their own affairs. Although they’ve been a force for good, I’m not calling for a blind trust in a particular organization that happens to have “humanist” in their title.

Of course, progress is possible and is actually occuring in many fields and such progress filters down to all of our lives through various channels. Yet, as Pinker notes, it’s not clear what prevents unfalsifiable ideas from becoming ascendant and dominant, and the loudest, most committed ideologues from gaining humanist institutional control through administrative maneuvering and confrontational shakedowns.

The schisms within the Progressive movement, for example, and the radical liberationists often driving the latest moral cause are very interested in making all the world, all the people in the world, and all of our institutions [on top of that], reflect their moral and ideological lights, often through very illiberal means.

How much am I missing?  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department…

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So.

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature.  For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book here:

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings?  Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

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

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

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…… From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism On Moral Virtue, Individual Freedom And Possibilities For Liberal Order

Full piece here.

Religious believers, religious conservatives, traditionalists, Natural Right Straussians and theists are mistaken, on Arnhart’s view, in thinking there are diminishing stores of moral virtue to be found in America, Western nations more broadly, and throughout a global liberal order partially emanating from the Anglosphere.

Perhaps some fusion of Scottish Enlightenment liberal thought (Adam Smith, especially), Lockean natural right, and Darwinian truth claims upon our origins are enough to maintain moral virtue in keeping individuals and ‘us’ upon a glide-path to progress.

Arnhart:

‘A bourgeois liberal society conforms best to human nature, because a liberal open society will secure both natural liberty and natural virtue–the liberty of individuals to develop those moral and intellectual virtues that express that ranking of the generic goods of human nature that constitutes the best life for those individuals.’

On that pesky God question:

‘To the question of why nature exists, or why it has the order that it does, there are only two possible answers. Either we say this is a brute fact of our experience: that’s just the way it is! Or we move beyond nature to nature’s God as the creator of nature, but then we cannot explain why God is the way He is. In looking for an ultimate explanation, we must stop somewhere with something that is unexplained–either an uncaused or self-caused nature or an uncaused or self-caused God.’

Hmmm…

Related On This Site: Are the empirical claims demonstrating continued progress true? To some extent, I think, yes, they are. Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

What about that old Church Of England belief via a lot of German Idealism? Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Smith and Strauss on Bourgeois Liberalism and the Philosophic Life’..

What about the Nietzschean influence and its attendant nihilism?:From YouTube: J.P. Stern On Nietzsche Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’..

How might this relate to the Hegelian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…

Is value pluralism really enough?:  A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Smith and Strauss on Bourgeois Liberalism and the Philosophic Life’

Full piece here.

This blog is still exploring some ideas of where Leo Strauss’ thinking might lead as a positive doctrine.

Arnhart on this book:

‘The basic idea for Smith’s book comes from Strauss’s “Three Waves of Modernity”–the idea that the first wave of liberal modernity is theoretically flawed in ways that provoke two waves of illiberal attacks on modernity. This suggests the question of whether Strauss and the Straussians are proposing some illiberal alternative to the bourgeois liberal order.

Some advantages:  Strauss’ scholastic, esoteric doctrine can provide a platform on which to understand and critique many aspects of modern life, especially moral relativism.  Many people within the liberal and secular democratic West naturally view liberalism and secular democracy (humanism, more deeply) as part of the air they breathe and the water they drink.

Strauss, to a large extent, was a liberal thinker in this regard, but he drew some sharp lines and saw very illiberal forces at work.  For him, these were urgent matters.  Beginning with Machiavelli, three crises of modernity have shaken liberal democracies to their core from within.

‘Strauss especially worried about the modern philosophical grounds for political and moral normativity as well as about the philosophical, theological, and political consequences of what he took to be modern philosophy’s overinflated claims for the self-sufficiency of reason.’

From ‘The Truth About Leo Strauss,‘ an excerpt from Catherine and Michael Zuckert’s book:

‘A composite picture of Strauss’s Wilsonian idealism would run something like this: Strauss’s chief motivation as a thinker derived from his desire to oppose the twin forces of positivism and historicism, which separately and in combination produce relativism in political thinking. Positivism is the theory that says only scientifically (empirically) supportable claims merit the label of truth; all claims of the sort we have come to call values (for example, judgments of what is morally and politically good, right, and just) are pronounced merely subjective preferences, which can never be rationally validated. Only facts and broader theoretical conceptions built upon facts can be rationally established and defended. Values are thus “subjective” and “relative” to their holders.

Historicism goes even further than positivism in a relativistic direction: even truths of the sort positivists are willing to accept as rationally defensible are rejected as being subjective, as being dependent on or expressive of values—indeed, identified as value judgments themselves. In contrast to positivism, historicism, and relativism, it is said, Strauss taught “the immutability of moral and social values.” This commitment to what is often technically (though never in the popular media) called “value cognitivism” ran contrary to the “moral relativism” dominant in the 1960s and1970s.

Moral relativism was not, in the eyes of Strauss and his followers, a merely academic foible; it underlay, among other things, the dominant foreign policy approaches of the era.’

Harvey Mansfield, Harvard professor and someone who came under Strauss’ influence, expresses some of these ideas in the discussion below with Bill Kristol:

Science (positivism) and History (historicism) on Strauss’ view have helped to create the radicalism, nihilism, and fascist elements deep within civil society and political parties on both the Right and Left in Europe.

Arnhart, meanwhile, seems committed to the idea of progress, as well as there being a sound enough moral and philosophical footing that will not necessarily lead to the problems Strauss defines:

‘Because of market freedom, cultural pluralism, and the bourgeois virtues, our life today is generally more peaceful, more just, and richer in both material and spiritual goods than has ever been the case for human beings at any previous time in history.  Does Smith really believe that that is not progress?’


As previously posted:

Correspondence here.

Link sent in by a reader.

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?

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

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Related On This Site:  From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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

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

From A Reader-Link To A Transhumanist Case For Progress

From SlateStarCodex: ‘Anti-Reactionary FAQ

The transhumanist case for the world getting better within the ideals generally promoted by progressivism, including democracy, human rights, multiculturalism, and secularism.

‘Neoreaction is a political ideology supporting a return to traditional ideas of government and society, especially traditional monarchy and an ethno-nationalist state. It sees itself opposed to modern ideas like democracy, human rights, multiculturalism, and secularism.’

Apparently, disagreement means reaction or neo-reaction within the framework presented (with empirical claims, crime stats, and charts).  In other words, it’s monarchists, ethno-nationalists, and utopian universal-type reactionaries all the way down.

These doomsayers distort/ignore statistics which show progress is being made, tilting at the windmills of Crown, Church, and any other ‘anti-democratic’ ideal State that would challenge such idealism/rationalism/utopianism.

Apparently, this has been going on for a while:

“For things will never be perfect, until human beings are perfect – which I don’t expect them to be for quite a number of years!”

Sir Thomas More

Related On This Site:

So, what’s getting better and what isn’t…is progress really possible in ethics and politics?-Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’-Various Products Of Radical Reason And Reactions To Them- John Gray At The New Statesman

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’

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?’

.A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSome Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

A Quotation From Emerson-Some Thoughts On Hipsterdom & ‘The Culture’

“I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the Stern Fact, the Sad Self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Apologies for dragging Emerson into this, but have you ever wondered what the often lonely and philosophical search for truth, Self, and meaning have to do particularly with business?

Why have large numbers of people from the suburbs and small towns been migrating to Brooklyn, for example, seeking to make what they do what they love, engaging in the creative process and almost fetishizing the idea of ‘craft’?

Below are the Mast brothers, taking the hipster ethos into the business and branding of themselves as chocolate-makers, along with an entirely ‘old-timey’ aesthetic. Few chocolate-makers take pains to mention Mark Twain & Ralph Waldo Emerson in their promo videos:

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I’ve been thinking that upon examination, hipsterdom (not necessarily the Mast Brothers) may reveal DNA strands of previous American counter-culture movements: Some hipsters have adopted milder forms of the bohemianism and cultural withdrawal of the Beats, others the collectivism, activism and ‘social conscience’ of the Hippies (along with many tenets of the feminist and environmentalist movements).  Some others still the disposable income and professional ambition of Yuppies (see: Park Slope).

Overall, in terms of political philosophy, I’m guessing such strands would most likely unite under a rather standard-issue secular-liberal humanism or post new Democrat alliance (how tolerant such a voting bloc would be of progressive activism, redistributionism, and true radicalism remains to be seen when the chips are down). Throw in some postmodernist art-theory and nihilist performance artists seeking human connection in the meaningless void, such as Matthew Silver, and we may be getting somewhere (apologies if I’ve unfairly reduced you to a bit part in a bad theory…such are the wages of cultural criticism in the blogosphere).

Another explanation I’ve heard floated is that hipsterdom is partially the product of the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation. Everyone’s a special snowflake. Every minute of every day can be planned and some parents are still hovering like crazy in the lives of their children. The Self-Esteem movement can then loom large in the rather rarefied atmospheres that some kids have grown-up in. How to live, what to do? Where to find meaning, purpose and connection?  Perhaps many people making American businesses run are more likely to respond to the language of psychology and pop-psychology, neuroscience and pop-neuroscience, literature, ethics gurus and even the kinds of self-help books to be found on Oprah, whatever wisdom and truths they may contain.

Or, at least this stuff is bigger business these days.

As for Emerson, and the transcendentalist, perhaps even somewhat pragmatist, search for the Stern Fact & Sad Self, I suspect it will still figure heavily in American life and culture for quite some time.

Let me know what I’m missing.

***In terms of starting some kind of business or appealing to popular sentiment, I would recommend the safe option of a time-lapse a video of the stars, adding some quotes about living in a globalized world, the importance of (S)cience, (A)rt, people and progress, then some background indie music and you may well have a Kickstarter campaign.