Bryan Magee Speaks To Isaiah Berlin On Why Philosophy Matters

Of note to this blog:

Sociological theories of history, functioning as presumed ‘scientific’ maps of Man’s place in Nature, claiming knowledge of presumed rational ends (‘final solutions’), have proven to be the sources of monstrous totalitarianism.

Isaiah Berlin spent more time with the works of Karl Marx than most; positing that even Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism (Stoic aestheticism) had within it conflicts leading to unintended Hegelian-Marxist manifestations.

Philosophy, at best, can perhaps work to point out such conflicts, while creating new ones of its own, presumably, in pursuit of truth.

Perhaps popular sentiment in the Marxian direction can, somewhat, explain popular movements attempting to medicalize, categorize all human behavior, and generally ‘banish’ evil from what is being called the modern world.

It’s not that I think these fields of knowledge (e.g. psychology and sociology) aren’t valid, nor that they aren’t making imporant discoveries, nor even that the synthesis of mathematics and empirical data within them isn’t progressing.

It’s rather that such disciplines attract many people sharing in a set of common principles, beliefs and sentiments, the stuff, really of human nature; people self-selecting for pre-existing ideological commitments while pursuing ends of their own.

This has consequences for the rest of us.

***Another favorite of this blog, Kenneth Minogue, tried to identify the connective tissue common to ideology: ‘Alien Powers; The Pure Theory Of Ideology‘.
Update And Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”
How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Also On This Site:  Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch  
A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

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’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…

How Much Of It Is Social Media? How Much Of It Is Just Human Nature?

Joseph Heath from ‘In Due Course:’ ‘Response To Tabarrok

Interesting piece.

‘To all these charges I plead guilty. Substantively, the book is actually a work of profound pessimism. The key point of chapters 6 and 7 was to show that rationality does not just come and go (or as Jonathan Kay suggested, “these things move in cycles”), but that there is actually a hazardous dynamic at work in our culture that tends to crowd out rationality. The real model for my thinking here is addictive substances, the accumulation of which is clearly directional, and the net effect of which is to create an environment more hostile to rational life-planning.’

Any thoughts are welcome.

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The below paragraphs are worth the price of admission, and a ramble through the bramble:

I tend to look at much post-Enlightenment rationalism as dealing with the same stuff of human nature that the major religions have for millennia.  Even very smart people I’ve known (great hardware, quick and ready acquisition of knowledge, powerful and precise memories) usually know more than everyone else about a one or two things, a little about a lot of things (albeit a wider range), and virtually nothing about most everything under the sun.

Some have been people of great and admirable character while many others, simply put, have not (with a few cranks and crackpots thrown in for good measure).  Even decent men can end-up in a bad way given a few bad choices, but a man making clear arguments for well-reasoned positions in full possession of his faculties is a thing to behold. As for final judgment, this is, alas, a blog, dear reader, so I trust you have your grain of salt ready.

Now, we’ll always need smart people where it counts, in some combination of nature/nurture (natural gifts + experience + hard work + decent incentives + character) making important decisions, or as part of institutions which often have to make the hardest decisions, but I tend to look skeptically at the lone architect, the ‘best and brightest’ and skeptically at positions of power (I positively bristle when all are combined).

The lone architect often desires recognition, or at least critique, challenge, and understanding of his work, not necessarily power and/or acolytes, but it can come to that.  The ‘best and brightest’ simply need to step out into the real world and see what endures (there is so much we all know that just ain’t so).  Bright, decent people can easily be ground under and put into service of poorly functioning institutions, for like all of us, they want some regularity, to know their place, a paycheck, a house, kids, respect and a vacation every now and then.  Power still seems to enhance what was already in a man, giving him greater scope, and so should be limited and checked often.

Perhaps it’s a good that some post-Enlightenment rationalists have gotten far enough to say:  ‘I recognize that ‘liberal democracy’ is an ideal and likely ‘pure democratic representation’ as well.  Man is often no good and it’s questionable how much he can be made to use his reason and the American system is falling apart.’

This is more soothing to my ears than ‘man will yet be made better when the ideas I hold and which are clearly universally true are put into practice.’

***Further afield beyond the rationalist/anti-rationalist debate, this blog remains not only skeptical, but proactive against most of those pursuing political activism upon post-Enlightenment political doctrines which advocate radical and revolutionary change.

Feel free to let me know just how much I’ve got wrong.

***Addition: I should add that I don’t necessarily believe ‘man is no good,’ but it’d be nice if more people, in lieu of championing the latest causes, were to admit that after the promises, this is what remains in their pursuit of power and advocacy in the real world.  How the leaders often act, not what they say.

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

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to Robert Nozick’s ‘night-watchman’ state:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On KantRepost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’…Anarcho-capitalism:  Pro-market, anti-state, anti-war…paleo-libertarian: Link To Lew Rockwell Via A Reader

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’

Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: 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’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Repost-A Fight Is On, But It Will Be Generations

If a tendency towards true-belief, occasionally visible in one’s (S)elf, and like all behaviors, transparently visible in others, means anything, it must mean less truth-seeking, less tolerance and less openness in the minds and institutions captured by such true-belief.

The resentment within some need only find expression through narrow, rigid ideologies (destroying what’s here for the utopia to come, promoting action with epistemologically questionable areas of knowledge), for there to be consequences for all.

As I see things, this is still the greatest threat to freedom found within American educational, cultural and political institutions right now.

Many dangers of a particular ideological true-belief occur in the enormous blind spot beneath many liberal idealists and secular humanists/rationalists, who, as I see things, often mistake all 60’s radicalism for benign, well-intentioned change. Beneath the doctrines of (M)an are actual men, and the same old human nature.

There are also deeper currents, dragging us this way and that, often only making themselves clear after many years and some quiet reflection. Some of these currents push and pull the (S)elf (where self-knowledge begins of course) along, but downwards towards the nihilism, existentialism and radical stance of a (S)elf outside of all tradition, religion, obligation and custom.

As posted:

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

As a Straussian might see it: Once you set up (S)cience on the positivist definition, as the only arbiter of facts, one can very easily invite the anti-(S)cience response in kind, which manifests itself here as the retreat into a victimhood/oppressor ideology.

‘(S)cience’ was only a tool of the white oppressor, anyways, don’t you know (and no one actually has to do the hard work the sciences require…how convenient):

Jonathan Haidt At Heterodox Academy on these new ‘blasphemy laws:’

In the wake of the violence at Middlebury and Berkeley, and in the aftermath of the faculty mob that coalesced to condemn gender studies professor Rebecca Tuvel, many commentators have begun analyzing the new campus culture of intersectionality as a form of fundamentalist religion including public rituals with more than a passing resemblance to witch-hunts.’

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following:

If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it. We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events. In the meantime, free speech and free thought will not be upheld, except with moral courage against the mob we’ve helped incubate and gestate.’

-Via an interview with Ken Minogue from 2006:

‘BC: What do you make of political correctness? There are those who would argue it’s a thing of the past. Frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems to me that cultural Marxism is more regnant than ever, would you agree?

KM: In my time, a great deal of what used to be intuitive and instinctive (such as good manners) has been replaced by the rule-bound and rationalised. Political correctness is a politicised version of good manners offering power to the kind of meddlesome people who want to tell others how to behave. As to Marxism, it was merely one more illusion that purported to be the key to life. It is significant in that it reveals one of the dominant passions still at work in our civilisation – the passion to create happiness by technology in the hands of a supposedly enlightened elite.’

I’m looking around and not seeing too much decency in American politics, lately.

A.C. Grayling makes one of the better cases for morality without religious doctrine, I’ve heard of late, but I’m not entirely sold these particular problems can be addressed sufficiently:

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism. Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven: Everyone’s a (S)elf.

On this site, see:

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

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?

Rainbows: Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Strands of a New, New Left are likely forming out of the excesses of identitarianism. From anti-trans TERF feminists, to many anti-establishment, anti-Boomer types (anti- sisterhood of the travelling ‘bourgeois’ pantsuit criticism), the identity-center is probably not holding.

A new strand of radical chic is all about ‘it’s not race, it’s class’ traditional Marxism, combined with lots of Democratic Socialist sympathies (Bernie over so many ‘neo-liberal‘ sellouts).

Perhaps Tom Sowell’s ‘Black Rednecks and White Liberals‘ is worth revisiting, at least to break out of the white savior complex (which manisfests itself both in original Marxist class-warfare and current watered-down identity Marxism).

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

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

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:

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

LLOL (Loud Losers OnLine), Wikipedia, The Frontiers Of Knowledge With Spock, & Lawrence Krauss-Some Links

There are many reasons for the capture of existing and emergent communication platforms by loud voices and true believers.

Here are three I can think of:

  1. Liberation movements aren’t necessarily freedom movements-I suspect there is an inability of some secular humanists and liberals to realize their ideas have provenance, and limitations in reality. The knowledge transformations going on within many intellectual fields won’t necessarily translate to conceptualizations of ‘shoulds’ nor ‘oughts’ for all of ‘society.’ Don’t hold your breath expecting too much honor nor honest reflection regarding your politicians, either, especially when you give them bad incentives. One may find out well past a popular opinion, fervently held, how wrong many elements of that popular opinion have been. Also, radicals may simply come to destroy you last, or first.
  2. Attention feels good, especially when you’re not getting attention anywhere elseIt’s not all losers online, but the people with the most time on their hands, and/or the most reasons to be marginalized by everyone else, often gain the most through the time and distance shortening elements of online platforms. This can be quite a good thing, mobilizing talents and skills. This also partially explains the allure of ideology, identity politics, and the downstream dangers of political idealism (making political causes into morally virtuous crusades). Quite a bit of human activity boils down to resentment, jealousy, and the same human vanity, pride and prejudice there’s always been. A lot of religious doctrine, as I see the world, at least has foundational limiting principles when mobilizing human passions into direct political action (as if that were enough to prevent the worst abuses and cycles of dysfunction). Watch out for this stuff within yourself.
  3. The regression to the mean of human behavior as it appears on the new communication platforms. Do you remember Craigslist? It was the new want ads and a useful place to communicate. Many years later, it still serves some of these functions, but has regressed to an online flea market with the the usual stuff found in the alleyways of all marketplaces (scam artists, scoundrels, junkies, prostitutes and johns etc.)

On that note, I enjoyed this discussion with one of the co-founders of Wikipedia on how he views Wikipedia now. I do agree with him a movement towards internet decentralization is one way to go, is beginning to happen now, and could bring a lot of good.

Just a reminder, a lot of people don’t know what the f**k they’re talking about, and I could be one of them.

Dear Reader, I can’t help notice a tendency to offload the fear of our own demise into causes likely to outlive us. The sweet nectar of catastrophizing and doomsaying is…sweeter than the vengeful lust fueling Khan’s relentless quest to defeat James T. Kirk.

Add the patina of scientific authority by way of character acting, the dipshittery of celebrity…and:

***Chef’s Kiss:

***Note that the video will probably not have a link to the U.N., nor Wikipedia, nor any other semi-functional authority with the same ol’ design problems.

This is how I choose to remember Spock:

You had me at ‘diamond-quilted red velvet.’

Perhaps you’re thinking that’s a standard 1978 ‘Custom Star Trek ‘boogie’ van: The kind you might see parked at a ‘Bad Company‘ concert, or maybe pulling next to you at a stoplight, blasting Journey’s ‘Wheel In The Sky‘ or  Heart’s ‘Barracuda.’

The interior certainly conjures some ‘If This Van’s A Rockin’, Don’t Come A Knockin‘ sentiment.

Move-in a little closer, however, and that sweet exterior paint-job begins to reveal mysterious depths of the human condition.

No, I’d say someone involved here has the soul of a poet.

Is Spock in possession of that bare-chested space Amazonian?

Have we, the observers, already stumbled unawares into a supreme space drama unfolding in real time?  Some potential new danger calling-up our best selves to triumph as we too gaze to the horizon along with them…to the heavens…to Dairy Queen or the gas station…to that final frontier?

You try and learn from people, especially from people who know stuff you don’t.

Just ’cause you know about physics (theories grounded in evidence and experiences explaining all known evidence and experiences), doesn’t mean you know everything, but you do know some important things.

A COVID-19 Discussion Probably Worth Having-Schisms Abound And The Dead/Undead Horse Of The Humanities

Bhattacharya’s view of the potential Covid-19 end-game: Everyone’s likely to get the disease, and you may even end-up getting it twice. It will circulate like the flu.

In the meantime, for your consideration: Get vaxed, and/or accept the much, much higher risk of severe illness and harm against the much lower risk of vaccine damage. The older you are, and the more co-morbidities you have, the more risk you carry. The goal is to reduce the severity of the disease upon first contact. Try not to get it, but deal with risk appropriately, balancing your interests accordingly. If you get it, increase your odds to get over it with as little loss as possible.

Of note: This logic runs counter to many current political and bureaucratic incentives to contain the disease, claim credit for current institutional authority and outcomes, or write it off altogether. A lot of people are heavily invested (personally, emotionally, identity-wise, money-wise, career-wise and ideologically etc.) in all kinds of stuff.

Unfortunately, the disease has coincided with our crises of instutional authority.

‘Interesting times’ indeed…what’s your strategy?

My dead horse: If you accept that (S)cience only gives you a method and a process for arriving at truth, you’re a lot closer to living reasonably than not. Such ideas can be life-altering enough.

A caveat: If you find (S)cience to be a source of moral worth and political identity, suffusing you within the warm glow of belonging, you’ve probably missed a lot of the plot.

I expect a lot of scientists, many ‘rationalists’ and many New Atheists to continually become disappointed with human nature, the depth of ignorance found therein, and the incentives of politics and bureaucratic authority. Sooner or later, folks find themselves exasperated with the ideological zealot demanding to be heard from the back pews, claiming ideological certainty from a position of emotional righteousness.

So, put this method of knowing and arriving at truth in its proper place, and appreciate just how wonderful and useful it is. Integrate it and pursue it with respect. Have some courage when it’s needed. Know that it will always have skeptics and enemies, too.

Schisms abound.

—On that note:

How about we reclaim a good Humanities education?

Trying to ‘nudge’ good ol’ classical liberals back to sources of moral philosophy which prevent ideological takeover?

Interesting paper presented by Erika Kiss, beginning about minute 32:00 (the whole conference is likely worth your time for more knowledge on Oakeshott).

According to Kiss, Oakeshott’s non-teleological, non-purposive view of education is potentially a response to Friedrich Hayek, Martha Nussbaum, and Allan Bloom, in the sense that all of these thinkers posit some useful purpose or outcome in getting a liberal education.

Friedrich Hayek’s profound epistemological attack on rationalist thought is still a system itself, and attaches learning to market-based processes which eventually drive freedom and new thinking in universities. The two are mutually dependent to some extent.

Martha Nussbaum attaches liberal learning to ends such as making us ‘Aristotelian citizens of the world’, or better citizens in a democracy, which has struck me as incomplete at best.

Allan Bloom is profoundly influenced by Straussian neo-classicism, and wants love, classical learning, honor and duty to perhaps be those reasons why a young man or woman should read the classics. This, instead of crass commercialism, the influences of popular music, deconstructionism and logical positivism.

Via A Reader-Isaiah Berlin’s Lectures On The Roots Of Romanticism.  Romanticism–>Modernism–>Postmodernism–>Wherever We’re Heading Now

Maybe it all started with Beethoven:  Everyone’s a (S)elf.

Isaiah Berlin pretty much blackballed Roger Scruton, so it’s not all roses.

Scruton had some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

“…in the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

Quite importantly:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, debates Scruton below.

Will Marxism & continental philosophy become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America as we find much more so in Britain?

See Protein Wisdom for a discussion about language and intentionalism, and how it gets deployed.

-Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

The nihilist claims are deeper than you may think, and the Nietzschean, and Will–>Will to Power German influence is also deeper than most people think; offering profound criticisms of the scientific project, liberalism, liberal institutions, and a secular humanism which is the air many folks breathe these days.

Here’s a somewhat similar vein of thought.  From friesian.com:

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…’

Two Weekend Quotations-Michael Oakeshott

‘To the firm believer in this idea of ‘rationality,’ the spectacle of human behaviour (in himself and in others) departing from its norm may be expected to confirm his suspicion that ‘rational’ conduct of this sort is difficult, but not to shake his faith in its possibility and desirability.  He will deplore the unregulated conduct which, because it is externally unregulated, he will think of as ‘irrational.’  But it will always be difficult for him to entertain the notion that what he identified as ‘rational’ conduct is in fact impossible, not because it is liable to be swamped by ‘insane and irrational springs of wickedness in most men,’ but because it involves a misrepresentation of the nature of human conduct.’

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.

Related On This Site: Repost-John Gray At The Literary Review Takes A Look At A New Book On Michael Oakeshott: ‘Last Of The Idealists’

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”

Repost-Reasonable-Sounding Schemes, Rosy Dreams & Plans From Above: Some Links On Michael Oakeshott’s Rationalism In Politics

‘…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…’

Pg 6.

But in particular, the following:

‘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.’

Pg. 10.

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

Oakeshott again:

‘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.’

Pg 31.

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?

To Hounds!:

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.

Beware the Man Of System?

And one should also probably remember this, from Hamlet’s Ghost:

‘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.

Also on this site:

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott…Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

It Seems Claiming To Be The Most Rational Locks One Into A Trap With The Irrationalists-Ah, Modernity-Some Links On The Highest Thing Around

Perhaps the core of rational behavior is the idea of flexibility or resilience. The rational man, seeing his world collapse, will never turn his face to the wall (like a tragic hero) if there is the slightest possibility of accommodation with the force which has overwhelmed him. Hobbes, the uncompromising rationalist, deals with this possibility without attempting to disguise it. Overwhelming force determines the will of the rational man whose primary aim is to stay alive; there is no place for honor or heroism. The importance of flexibility also comes out in the hostility of rational thinkers to the social institution of the oath. One cannot rationally make a promise binding beyond the point where one gains from it, a point which Spinoza, for example, brings out [27] clearly. The oath, in fact, is a feudal institution which seemed to liberal thinkers an attempt to impose more on the human flux than it could bear.’

Minogue, Kenneth.  The Liberal Mind. Liberty Fund, 2001. Print. 

‘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.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.  Pg 31.

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.

Larry Arnhart here.

‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism:  natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’

A deep and interesting argument.  Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.

Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

More Scruton here.

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism through post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Fries):

Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

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

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Kenneth Minogue At The New Criterion: ‘The Self-Interested Society’

As originally posted ~ nine years ago now.

Full essay here.

Thanks to a reader for the link.   Deep but very readable.  How universal is the desire for individual freedom?:

‘Some people take the view that we in the West are fortunate to enjoy freedom, because it is a universal human aspiration that has been commonly frustrated in most societies. This is one of the more pernicious illusions we entertain about human kind. Most people have never lived in free societies, nor exhibited any desire or capacity for freedom’

and:

‘What most people seem to want, however, is to know exactly where they stand and to be secure in their understanding of their situation.’

Isn’t that last part a universal claim upon human nature?  If so, Minogue generally resisted the idea that evolutionary theories could be transferred successfully to Statecraft.

He is arguing that it’s easy to mistake your experiences and ideas within our Western tradition for that of peoples everywhere.

Maybe you’ve traveled and experienced the tribal taboos and family/kin loyalties of smaller bands and ethnic groups.  Maybe you’ve been up close to the transcendental submission of will in faith in Islam, uniting a patchwork of tribes and peoples under its claims with high honor ethic and a strong warrior tradition (the individual doesn’t choose whether to drink or have women work outside of the home).   Maybe you’ve seen the caste system in India, or the authoritarian feudal landownership structure in Pakistan, or the ancient, imperial Chinese structure with a Han core, now still a strong State structure charting some kind of course out of Communism.

What is unique about our traditions?

Towards the end of the essay:

‘The balance in our tradition between the rules we must respect because they are backed by the authority of law, and the free choice in the other elements of our life is one that free agents rightly will not wish to see disturbed.’

Food for thought.

Roger Kimball quoting Minogue:

‘The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Rulers are adding moral judgments to the expanding schedule of powers they exercise. Nor does the state deal merely with principles. It is actually telling its subjects to do very specific things. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?’

R.I.P.

——————–

Related On This Site:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’

..Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New HumanismEd West At The Telegraph: ‘Conservatives, Depressing Everyone Since 500BC’

Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

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

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

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

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?’