Two Quotations-Michael Oakeshott

‘This is, perhaps, the main significance of Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom–not the cogency of his doctrine, but the fact that it is a doctrine.  A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but belongs to the same style of politics.

and:

‘Among the other evidences of Rationalism in contemporary politics, may be counted the commonly admitted claim of the ‘scientist, as such (the chemist, the physicist, the economist or the psychologist) to be heard in politics; because, though the knowledge involved in a science is always more than technical knowledge, what it has to offer to politics is never more than a technique.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

The Anti-Rationalist:’

‘Rationalism, then, is an active drive in our civilization leading us to construe politics (and much else) as an activity of solving problems by applying to them the latest in expert knowledge. The problems are identified by rather grand abstractions, such as war, conflict, poverty, underdevelopment, and the rest. “The problem of poverty,” however, makes sense only if one imagines a set of puppets with nothing in common except the lack of a square meal. If that were the problem, the solution would indeed be obvious. In fact, of course, “the poor” are a highly miscellaneous set of people with thoughts, emotions, projects, and habits of their own. When rationalist benevolence collides with the actual inclinations of the poor, the result is frustration and disappointment at best. No matter: The bright-eyed rationalist will soon have another analysis, and another project, and off we go again in hot pursuit of a perfect world.’

And:

‘In that real world, however, something more is needed to succeed, something much harder to define. Oakeshott called this thing “practical knowledge”; it is often what we refer to as “common sense.” The dominant form taken by rationalism today can be studied in the American vogue for practical handbooks explaining how to succeed, which is perilous unless the reader has some “feel” for the skill in question. One of the great rationalist masterpieces of earlier times was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. Marvelous! What more do you need in life? All you have to do is follow Carnegie’s rules. But beware: If you lack common sense in following these rules, you come across as some dreadful kind of creep or sycophant. Modern politics often replays this cycle of bright idea followed by disappointment.’

From the most accessible book of Oakeshott’s:

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

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

Watch out for the assumption of rational and knowable ends, and the one-stop-shop of modern doctrines promising radical liberation. All that’s left is to implement such knowledge into systems that will lead all men to some point outside of themselves.: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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

Positive and negative rights are also a part of Leo Strauss’ thinking (persona non-grata nowadays), and Strauss thought you were deluded if your were going to study politics from afar, as a “science.”  There has been much dispute about this: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Three E’s Found Within Enlightenment Thinking: Ethics, Empathy & Equality-I’m Not Sure You’ve Thought This Through

This blog is still welcoming critiques of reformers, progressives and liberators who seem pretty certain of what they are against, if not always certain, just what exactly, they are for.  I could be persuaded to become a liberal, on certain matters, if I thought that the people seeking to change our current traditions, customs, and laws understood just which habits of mind, character and ideas they will rely upon for our freedoms going forward.

Which knowledge should become the basis to guide the moral foundations for new laws and the rules which we all must follow? Which customs should become the basis for new arrangements, gradually hardening into traditions?

Who should be in charge of these institutions going forward and how should their authority be limited?

A 20th century address of some of those claims to knowledge:

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

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

The Puritan past of Boston directs many Bostonians, nowadays, into acting like members of something like a church of high-liberalism.  Very buttoned up behavior but not necessarily the same holy denials.

I would be more comfortable leaving my freedoms to many high liberal priests if I thought they were more competent.

I’m not sure many people have thought these changes through:

‘The effect of modern liberal doctrine has been to hand over the facts of moral and political life into the maladroit hands of social and political scientists, and the results have been intellectually disastrous. For moral issues, shuffled into the logician’s column, turn into formalized imperatives; transferred by the device of generic man to the sociologist, they turn into culturally determined norms. As likely as not, the psychologist will regard them as neurotic symptoms. Politics similarly loses its autonomy, dissolved into a set of reactions to supposed external causes. The criterion of a “value-free science” is no doubt scientific in excluding propaganda from intellectual investigation. But it is merely superstitious when it turns “values”—in fact the subject matter of ethics and politics—into an intellectual red light district into which no thinker may stray, on pain of losing his respectability.’

Minogue, Ken. The Liberal Mind“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

The actual Communists, committed Socialists, and narrow dogmatists, well, they’re pretty up-front about their intentions and aims.  Once the rational ends of man are known within these doctrines, every single one of us becomes the means to reach these ends through radical revolution, the logic unfolding towards its murderous outcomes.

Apart from people pursuing defunct ideologies, frankly, I think most people go along to get along.  If enough truths about a particular injustice emerge through radical protest, social change, and appeals to reason and non-reason, then many everyday people slowly follow the logic of social reform.

There are moral gains and there are freedoms, but they don’t come without costs.

Many of these changes weren’t driven by deep knowlege claims nor ‘science,’ but rather by committed social and political actors with visions of the future.

Something I think might help unite the Anglosphere, even though I think America might still have the largest stores of healthy religious conservative tradition:

In dealing with the Enlightenment, frankly, I’m a little more comfortable with the English/Scottish liberal tradition than the German idealism found on the Continent.

A quick quotation.  Leo Strauss On John Locke:

‘Hobbes identified the rational life with the life dominated by the fear of fear, by the fear which relieves us from fear.  Moved by the same spirit, Locke identifies the rational life with the life dominated by the pain which relieves pain.  Labor takes the place of the art which imitates nature; for labor is, in the words of Hegel, a negative attitude toward nature.  The starting point of human efforts is misery:  the state of nature is a state of wretchedness.  The way toward happiness is a movement away from the state of nature, a movement away from nature: the negation of nature is the way toward happiness.  And if the movement toward happiness is the actuality of freedom, freedom is negativity .’

Strauss, Leo.  Natural Right And History.  Chicago:  The University Of Chicago Press, 1965. (Pg 250).

According to Strauss, the rational life for an individual, from Hobbes to Locke, is defined negatively, respectively as either a removal from fear or a removal from pain. And more broadly: Strauss has Locke remaking Hobbes’ more intrusive Leviathan into a smaller role for government:  to secure them in their lives, liberty and estate (property).   The key formulation of nature here, though, remains the same.

The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy elaborates:

‘Leo Strauss, and many of his followers, take rights to be paramount, going so far as to portray Locke’s position as essentially similar to that of Hobbes. They point out that Locke defended a hedonist theory of human motivation (Essay 2.20) and claim that he must agree with Hobbes about the essentially self-interested nature of human beings. Locke, they claim, only recognizes natural law obligations in those situations where our own preservation is not in conflict, further emphasizing that our right to preserve ourselves trumps any duties we may have.

On the other end of the spectrum, more scholars have adopted the view of Dunn, Tully, and Ashcraft that it is natural law, not natural rights, that is primary. They hold that when Locke emphasized the right to life, liberty, and property he was primarily making a point about the duties we have toward other people: duties not to kill, enslave, or steal. Most scholars also argue that Locke recognized a general duty to assist with the preservation of mankind, including a duty of charity to those who have no other way to procure their subsistence (Two Treatises 1.42). These scholars regard duties as primary in Locke because rights exist to insure that we are able to fulfill our duties.’

And of course, there’s this problem:

‘Another point of contestation has to do with the extent to which Locke thought natural law could, in fact, be known by reason.’

So what does Strauss offer instead as a possibility for man and nature?  Nature revealing itself to man without the use of his reason…or through his reason without a lot of Enlightenment metaphysics? Or through some return to Natural Right?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Here’s another quote:

 That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

From the Declaration Of Independence.

Some Weekend Quotations-Men Of Systems

‘The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board.’

-Smith, Adam. Part VI-Of The Character Of Virtue“. The Theory Of Moral Sentiments. 

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

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


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

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

A 20th century address of such problems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Quotation-Michael Oakeshott

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

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

Two Quotations Regarding Oakeshott On Rationalism

From the Stanford Encyclopedia’s Page on Michael Oakeshott:

‘The fallacy of Rationalism, in other words, is that the knowledge it identifies as rational is itself the product of experience and judgment. It consists of rules, methods, or techniques abstracted from practice, tools that, far from being substitutes for experience and judgment, cannot be effectively used in the absence of experience and judgment.’

Many political ideologies, upon this view, which claim to be universal are not necessarily so. Individuals lacking experience, knowledge, and understanding must merely master the logical rules of a rather closed system of political ideology.  Applying these logical rules in meeting rooms, in the public square or university quadrangle, inspired by their universal claims to knowledge and truth, identifying so often who/what one is against in the process, usually confirms some kind of group membership.

One need not have actually ever taken a course in the sciences, nor carefully have examined historical events, nor actually worked in law nor government for long years to suddenly gain an associative importance and believe one has actionable knowledge of the Sciences, History and Truth (of course, individuals inspired by ideologies gain experience, knowledge and understanding through their lives, and may spend a lifetime within the ideology, or may outgrow, drift away, or become heretical regarding its claims).

Democratic institutions are rather fragile, alas, easily manipulable, and open to corruption and ‘tyranny of the majority’ scenarios in a Constitutional Republic such as ours.

‘The pedigree of every political ideology shows it to be the creature, not of premeditation in advance of political activity, but meditation upon a manner of politics. In short, politics comes first and a political ideology follows after;…’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Political Education. Bowes & Bowes, 1951. Print.

A Response To Andrew Sabl’s ‘Liberalism Beyond Markets’

Andrew Sabl at the Niskanen Center: ‘Liberalism Beyond Markets

If I’ve understood Sabl correctly: Neo-Kantian libertarians are epistemologically mistaken in holding the individual inviolate, free but duty-bound from within Kant’s transcendental idealist framework (the starry heavens above and the moral law within).  They are being unduly and Continentally rationalist, beginning and ending with an abstract chain of reasoning which fails to understand the ‘normative’ and ‘realist’, non-teleological interactions going on between individuals and liberal institutions as Sabl presents them.

2. Sabl claims that a Hayekian classically liberal view is what makes his alternative understanding of liberal institutions possible (any order they possess is essentially undesigned and undirected, spontaneously emerging from human nature and human interactions, just as do bartering and currency). Thus, liberal institutions should be thought of much the same as individuals within a Hayekian market system:  We each possess more knowledge and unique experience than any top-down system can hope to order or direct, and like markets, liberal institutions need not necessarily meet the demands of neo-Kantian rationalists to provide sufficient moral justification before they start directing our lives, liberty and happiness.

So, what then are some of Sabl’s ‘normative’ and ‘realist’ knowledge claims as to which principles should guide liberal institutions…or at least: What’s going to fill the hole left by Neo-Kantian rationalists and insufficiently classically liberal Hayekians who haven’t made the leap from individual to institution?

Would anything need to fill the hole?

Sabl:

1. ‘A modern institution must be large-scale and anonymous; The guiding analogy is technological progress in response to experienced flaws and demonstrably useful innovations, not reverence for “the mores of our ancestors.’

Here, Sabl’s model of governance comes from the sciences, and from a debatable ‘building’ epistemological model of the sciences (building-up one floor at a time..Newton, you’ve got floor 8, Einstein, floor 10).  In turn, this depends upon a tenuous analogy that city councils, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and hashing-out problems with your neighbors etc. are really the same kind of knowledge as the Special Theory Of Relativity, and should be thought of as such.

This leaves a lot to be desired.

***Frankly, I think neo-Kantians get closer to a decent understanding of scientific naturalism and the mathematical sciences’ ability to discover, understand and predict nature even if I may not agree with some Kantian metaphysical claims.

***Notice the jab Sabl takes at what I’ve often considered to be a wiser, and more humane, Burkean formulation of the ‘mores of our ancestors’ (much more humane than anonymous and large-scale institutions, it would seem). For Burkeans, you have duties to your grandparents, parents, kids and grand-kids.  You try and leave things a little better than you found them. Institutions have longer histories, rules, and practical wisdom (not all worthy of conserving, but quite a bit is worth conserving and you may not yet know what’s there until you’re involved). Few of us are ever that far away from families, loved ones, and our own limitations and self-interest, even if one of us is President or happens to be serving in high office.

Sabl:

2. ‘Second, modern liberal institutions owe their past development and present stability to their ability to serve the interests of all members of society.’

I see this is an ideal, one I could be persuaded is a reasonable formulation of the common interest, but one that will probably always fall short in the real world.

There’s no question that civic duties like voting and public service stir deep pride and loyalty to one’s fellows, often bringing out the best in us to overcome challenges.  But, clearly, out in the political realm people get factional and coalitional, there are winners and losers every cycle, and it can get bloody.

I’m deeply skeptical that our vastly differing personal experiences, moral beliefs and guiding principles would be sufficiently united by liberal institutions alone according to this line of thinking (this sure does seem to me a lot like standard, technocratic Statism).

Thus, whether through religious affiliation, Sabl’s claims to emergent and non-teleological liberal institutions, Platonic idealism, Constitutional Republicanism etc. there probably need to be deeper values and virtues uniting people before they start looking to politics and liberal institutions to help address these deep disputes.

Sabl:

3. ‘Third, a modern liberal institution promotes indefinite and multiple values and purposes, rather than giving priority to any one.’

Well, I’m quite partial to the Friesian formulation as to why Isaiah Berlin’s ‘value pluralism‘ may fail to provide sufficient justification to make the kinds of moral distinctions necessary to form stable institutions (even though I’ve ceded a flavor of pluralism/relativism above).

Some neo-Kantians also do a damned fine job of addressing the products of Hegelian rationalism and Marxism, as well as various idealists, some obvious authoritarians, and even totalitarian radicals in the modern world, often found simmering in a postmodern stew, constantly undermining institutions which they do not recognize as morally legitimate even as they take up positions within those institutions.

Such folks aim to bend our laws away from religious and traditional conceptions of the good, and generally toward their own conceptions of the good which can involve mild protest up to radical disruption.  For many, adherence to a grab-bag of various post-Enlightenment doctrines and ideologies is common on the way to radical change and the frequent politicization of all areas of life (functionally, I think, radicals over time succeed in destabilizing many existing arrangements and making obligations more a matter of individual choice and legal contract, gay marriage being a good example).

4. ‘Fourth, modern liberal institutions value diversity and conflict up to a point; and their first preference in dealing with agents who threaten to bring about truly dangerous conflict is to marginalize and discredit them, limiting their influence and impact, rather than resorting to direct coercion.’

Non-aggression works for me, but since we’re already talking principles and sufficient justification for coercion, that’s much easier said than done.

5. ‘Fifth, modern liberal institutions need not reflect a prior plan, nor a post-hoc consensus: they typically arise largely accidentally, and persist in the face of sharp disagreement (or, more commonly, mere ignorance and unconcern) as to their essential nature and proper working.’

Again, we’re back to the Hayekian liberal-institutions-as-markets formulation (how many other civilizations have produced similar institutions?) This is a formulation of which I’m skeptical, but remain open to further argument.

6. ‘Whether a certain realm of life will be subject to market exchange or not, or whether it will be subject to general laws or left to individual choice, is a question that is always important and interesting but rarely existential. Different societies can each have viable liberal institutions while answering these questions in somewhat different ways.’

Perhaps true, but we’re not in different societies, we’re citizens of this specific Constitutional Republic with a functioning democracy, in possession of its own legal history and political institutions.

According to Sabl, the value-pluralist conception of liberal institutions means sometimes they’ll weigh in, sometimes not.  Those running such institutions at any given time will try and marginalize violent actors, not simply use physical force at the first sign of any dissent. The market will be left to sort out some problems, the force of law guided by liberal institutions other problems.  These liberal institutions don’t necessarily have purposes, nor ends, and the people who make them up certain of their ends won’t be able to exert too much personal interest.  They’re like markets, springing up as they do rather spontaneously.

Dear Reader, are you persuaded?

Also as sent in by a reader this week:

On this site, see: A Few Responses To Kant’s Transcendental IdealismLink To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

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

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ 

Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

From Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Does the Moral Flynn Effect Support Flynn’s Democratic Socialism or Murray’s Classical Liberalism?’