Religion

Weekend Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Please Don’t Join A F**kin’ Cult-Some Gathered Links And Stray Thoughts

Technology can affect each of us personally and intimately; vast distances suddenly bridged and scaled downwards.  Endless distractions.

How to live and what to do?  Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, people in the academy; some people are handling this change better than others, personally and professionally.

High rates of technological change are likely a leading cause for our institutional chaos right now; the political extremes dominating discourse, the shifting middle, the more visibly grubby political class members ascendance and the social media mobbing.

From where I stand, it seems some on the religious and political right suggest withdrawal from the public square entirely.

It seems many on the ideological Left are thinking the same (back to the Commune), despite a longer, rather successful march through many institutions and likely being overstretched at the moment (the dark web cometh).

I figure if you know how to value that which matters most, you’ll navigate alright.  Don’t forget to do right by those you love, and those who love you:  Work, effort, and sacrifice.  Take a look at the stars when you can.  Keep learning.  Take it easy, sometimes.

And don’t join a f**kin’ cult!

-Nxivm is pronounced ‘Nexium,’ which sounds prettly classy (the purple pill) and legit (like something carved at Caesar’s Palace parking lot) : The ‘Sex Cult’ That Preached Empowerment

-Is Nxivm lower on the rung of ‘bad ideas’ than Heaven’s Gate (a steaming pile of scripture, New Age lunacy, weird sexual abnegation and half-baked astronomy..):

-Lawrence Wright on his book-Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison Of Belief.

Maybe I’ll help gore a sacred cow or two:

Dorothy Thompson speculates who would go Nazi in a room full of people at a dinner party.

‘Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes–you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success–they would all go Nazi in a crisis.’

Power through discipline!  Strengthen your will!

Intellectuals running things…who joins mass movements?

Ross Douthat made similar arguments some years ago while promoting his book ‘Bad Religion:

‘…what is the idea of universal human rights if not a metaphysical principle?  Can you find universal human rights under a microscope?

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As previously posted:

Part 10 of a discussion between Douthat and Will Saletan here.

Natural law, Christian theology and metaphysics meet liberalism, gay rights, and a more rights-based definitions of liberty. Saletan and Douthat are discussing Douthat’s new book Bad Religion and having a back and forth.

Douthat puts forth the following:

‘Indeed, it’s completely obvious that absent the Christian faith, there would be no liberalism at all. No ideal of universal human rights without Jesus’ radical upending of social hierarchies (including his death alongside common criminals on the cross). No separation of church and state without the gospels’ “render unto Caesar” and St. Augustine’s two cities. No liberal confidence about the march of historical progress without the Judeo-Christian interpretation of history as an unfolding story rather than an endlessly repeating wheel’

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself.  Here’s a quote from Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism. The first was a “brutal” nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered. The second type – the “gentle” nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies – was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic”permissive egalitarianism”, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.”

And another quote on Strauss, which seems more compelling to me:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

I’m more interested in the many people who are claiming that more freedom is necessary to reach a liberal ideal as they go about extending it to another group of people.  They aren’t just asking for a little more freedom, for as we humans do, they are striving to make their ideal the highest thing around, as well as a source for the laws, and a way to organize people and a path to political power and influence.  That seems to be part of the deal, but rarely discussed and I think should be open for debate a la Strauss. Christianity certainly has a lot of experience in that realm.

Related On This Site: While politically Left, Slate used to be a bit edgy, thoughtful, occasionally more of a haven for artists, writers, creative thinkers and iconoclasts (Christopher Hitchens was a good example). At least Saletan thinks pretty deeply  From Slate: William Saletan’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

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

Nussbaum argues that relgion shouldn’t be a source for the moral laws From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum…More on Strauss as I’m skeptical of his hermeticism and his strong reaction to Nietzsche and some things he may have missed about the Anglo tradition: From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’From The Selected Writings By And About George Anastaplo: ‘Reason and Revelation: On Leo Strauss’

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

Full piece here.

-Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (an unfortunate photo at the link).

-This is not a commentary on Koons’ art, some of which I like well enough, it’s a much worse beast: Another attempt at cultural criticism.

In the talk around Koons, what often stands-out to me is how much talk there is about Koons himself, and the search for meaning in all that talk. The concept of artist-as-individual is nothing new: An isolated Self, quite apart from society, mining his interior life and experiences in order to represent beauty, meaning, and some attempt at expressing universal truths through his work and craft. This is unsurprisingly part of what all artists do, and the extreme individuality of this process is what Western artists somewhat consciously have been doing for a few centuries now, from musicians to writers to sculptors, from romanticism to modernism to post-modernism and beyond.

The fact that Koons is doing this with such relentless self-promotion and while also courting celebrity is arguably a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon. A certain amount of melliflous, abstract bullshit seems part of the Koons’ game, as if you’d walked onto a used-art lot as Koons tours you around, asking what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-you-into-one-of-his-pieces, yet with soothing, professional demeanor, offering an invitation to return a part of of your Self to you and make you whole again within the work produced by his Self. Jeff Koons is a brand.

Perhaps this is what it takes these days to make a living by schmoozing with wealthy art-buyers, but in some ways, it has a distinctly American feel as well. High and low culture mix in a highly commercial, utilitarian way. The urge to merge abstract art and the avant-garde with mass, pop-culture is expressed. Fame and meta-critiques on fame, celebrity, money, the Self amplified for all the other Selfs to see has implications for much of our culture, I suspect.

As to establishing Koons’ bona fides enough to merit attention by Vanity Fair…here are a few quotes from the piece:

“Jeff is the Warhol of his time,” proclaims Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.

Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!

‘The reference to Curtis ties Koons to the last true avant-garde—a pedigree the artist likes. Curtis, who refused to be called a drag queen, was a pioneer of the L.G.B.T. movement and, like Candy Darling, was made famous by Warhol’

You need the cultural legitimacy of an L.G.B.T. blessing to be truly avant-garde these days.

‘What Warhol and Koons do have in common, though, is an uncanny ability to nail an image or an object so that it catches the Zeitgeist.’

Partially true, perhaps, but what if the Zeitgeist is nothing but a leafy suburb full of good schools, intact families, and moderate lives? Isn’t this why some youngish people (ahem…many hipsters) often leave their small towns and suburbs looking for meaning, group membership and purpose in what can end-up vaguely collectivist and vaguely individualist lives in cities?

Everyone’s an artist, these days.

Establishing modernist credentials for the brand:

‘Koons’s job at MoMA gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the history of modernism, in particular the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, who changed art history by showing how everyday objects, or “readymades,” could be elevated into the realm of art, depending on context. Duchamp’s theories were a revelation to Koons.’

Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:

‘Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’

And finally, while I have no quarrel with neurosicence, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self:

‘Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was so impressed with the show that he e-mailed Koons afterward. I asked Kandel why. He explained, “I have been interested in the ‘beholder’s share,’ an idea that came from the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl. It involves the concept that when a painter paints a painting or a sculptor makes a sculpture it is not complete unless a beholder, a viewer, responds to it.”

Kandel adds, “When you looked at the sculptures you saw yourself embedded in the gazing balls. Artists sometimes put mirrors in works, but they don’t design the work so that you find yourself in the arms or chest of a statue, which is what Jeff did.’

Go and find your Self and be made whole, dear reader, within Jeff Koons’ work and the Jeff Koons brand, and try and tell the dancer from the dance.

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Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And Bubbles, Winter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.

Some quotes from Koons:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it. I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’

Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:

Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: WomanGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

 

Downward To Darkness: Friday Poem From A Reader-Wallace Stevens’ ‘Sunday Morning’

A return to Nature?  To origins of faith?  To a simple freedom in a wild land, and new understandings, with death in view? To visions of Romantic Primitivism becoming modern?:

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

Wallace Stevens

Full poem here.

Read it aloud, for God’s sake, as the meaning lies in the experience of saying.

The Perilous State Of The University: Jonathan Haidt & Jordan B. Peterson

Jonathan Haidt (moral/social psychologist) and Jordan Peterson (clinical psychologist) discuss how they view what’s going on within our universities:

I’d like to think that there’s a reasonable conservative position which is agnostic, and respects the depths and dangers of religious experience, faith claims to knowledge, and the profound impact Christianity has had upon our legal and social institutions.

In essence, this blog believes such moral reasoning can provide a profoundly wise framework for understanding one’s own nature.  It can also help understand the problems which arise from our interactions with each other, with positions of authority, and with the world.  These depths can orient one towards what’s worth conserving (just as can a good humanities or social sciences education), despite being at odds with many other things of value.  Discovering what is true is a continuing job (and blessing) belonging to each of us, especially since the Enlightenment, but this apparently comes with the dangers of ideology, bad ideas, radical resentment, and totalitarian dead-ends still with us.

This agnostic position can, I believe, with some accuracy, view the depths and dangers of fundamentalist Leftism; how swiftly it can take over institutions, and how it appeals to many of the same old human nature problems with often pseudo-religious claims to knowledge.  Marxism, after all, is designed to take people up towards a promised endpoint to human history, and incite individuals into action towards ideals (revolutionary praxis-radical liberation) happy to trammel over the Sciences, the Social Sciences, the Humanities, and much truth besides.

See Also On This Site: The comments section of Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems…Repost-Theodore Dalrymple: ‘What The New Atheists Don’t See’

From New York Magazine: If God Is Dead, Who Gets His House?

A Brief Defense Of Agnosticism

Did the ground shift some time ago?  Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube

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

Related On This SiteFrom 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’

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

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution Of War And Lethal Violence’

Full post here.

‘Over the years, I have written a long series of posts on whether evolutionary science can adjudicate the debate between Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau over whether our earliest human ancestors were naturally violent (as Hobbes argued) or naturally peaceful (as Rousseau argued). Many social scientists have been vehement in taking one side or the other in this debate. But I have argued that John Locke took a third position that is closest to the truth–that our foraging ancestors lived in a state of peace that tended to become a state of war. Hobbes is partly right. Rousseau is mostly wrong. And Locke is mostly right.’

Much depends on where you start, for in seeking a definition of man’s State in Nature, enough to claim a moral and legal foundation for the justification of authority, this definition matters a lot. Much modern political philosophy has been engaged in trying to define who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge (I personally find myself attracted to the government having a role to secure life, liberty, and property…and little else).

Arnhart:

It’s easy to understand why the Rousseaueans love the bonobos–there’re the hippie apes who make love not war.

On the other hand, it’s also easy to understand why the Hobbesians love the chimps and not the bonobos, because the chimps are closer to Hobbesian expectations for a evolutionarily close human relative. Frances White once observed…’

Darwinian science can explain quite a bit about our behavior, both individually and in the aggregate, yielding insights grounded in data and close observations of how we actually behave, and how our closest ancestors in the wild also actually behave.

Yet, this field will also interact with what we already know of our natures based on the political, civil and religious institutions we see around us every day which I presume also reflect much of who we are and how we behave…especially with power (and why the separation of powers is so important).

This blog is concerned with a fundamental problem in the West since the Enlightenment: Some people are seeking to mold human nature and smash civil society and its laws (to be replaced with something else, often the remnants of failed authoritarian/totalitarian rationalist systems or…nothing).

Other folks are seeking inclusion into civil society from previous injustice and oppression by vast expansions of Federal authority. This has had important consequences for the moral claims to authority which currently justify that authority.

Still others are claiming legitimate moral authority from the Sciences and Human Reason which can easily outstrip the ability of the Sciences and our Reason to justify such claims. I often find myself retreating to a position of Skepticism regarding many such claims.

As has been pointed out to me, Lockean liberty does correct for Hobbes’ Leviathan, but when did individuals consent to such authority in the first place?

As previously posted:

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Presented by Lawrence Cahoone, at College Of The Holy Cross, and focusing on ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.’

Via a previous post:

‘If a man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to nobody, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which ’tis obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others. For all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very insecure. This makes him willing to quit this condition, which however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and ’tis not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others who are already united, or have a mind to unity for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.’

*Locke, John. Two Treatises Of Government. London: Everyman, J.M. Dent, Orion Publishing House. 1993.

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And the comments:

–Chris, do you have the exact date when man agreed to “join in society with others”

My response which has not really answered the question:

I’m still trying to figure out exactly when, or how, it was that each man was granted rights derived from God, or reason, or some sufficiently abstract principle(s) that keeps him free enough to be neither master nor slave, and at least free enough to choose voluntary association through protection of law, property, contract, and some of the ‘negative’ liberties.

Given my understanding of human nature and my own experience, I don’t see how this is possible without family, the dependence upon institutions, tradition and the habits derived from them forming the backbone of civil society. That may well be a lack of faith in human nature, but I consider it quite realistic

How the voluntary association and the obligations and duties to these institutions fit together is a matter of deep debate and one I clearly haven’t resolved.

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Smith and Strauss on Bourgeois Liberalism and the Philosophic Life’…Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

 

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Repost-Thomas Sowell Discusses ‘A Conflict Of Visions’

A Few Links On Human Rights Idealism

There are many people pursuing secular human rights ideals within many a Western governmental agency, international institution, and activist quarter these days.  They claim the person who seeks to be virtuous, pursuing an ideal vision of the good society, simply by sharing in this ideal, has immediate access to a global human community and as such, moral duties to this community.

Many ambitious and reasonably well-intentioned young people are hearing its call.

On some level, most of us seek some kind of greater life purpose (guiding ideals and principles) and we seek for our inborn talents and natural abilities to merge hopefully, with our responsibility to feed ourselves and serve others in making a living.

These ideals allow some people, some of the time, to transcend many personal responsibilities along with many of the duties of family, neighbor, friend, the local, the state, the national.

Yet, at what cost? How are they working out in the world, our institutions, and in our lives?

During the recent migration crisis, Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in Europe. However, the exact link between sex crimes and immigration is not known, since the Swedish government will not update its statistics, and the data, which are still being collected, have not been made available to the public.

If there’s anything universal in human affairs (math, the sciences, music, self-interest?), how is the universal to be codified into laws (rules), rights and responsibilities, and who makes the laws and who enforces them?

What is right, exactly, and where do ‘rights’ come from?

How does one person do lasting good for another while pursuing his/her own self-interest within the institutions and organizations that have developed and are often controlled by those adhering to such ideals?

As posted (may you find the thread running through the post, dear reader.  I know it’s a lot to ask…especially with all the unanswered, open-ended questions):

What is humanism?

“‘…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.”

A Roger Scruton quote that stands out in the video below, while discussing moral relativism to an audience in a country once behind the Iron Curtain:

‘There’s an attempt to produce a universal, objective morality, but without any conception of where it comes from.’

Where does the moral legitimacy come from to decide what a ‘human right’ is? A majority of ‘right-thinking’ people? A political majority? Some transcendent source? German Idealism?

As sent in by a reader: Louise Arbour displays this thinking in spades below (you are bad, and maybe even wrong for disagreeing):

Full paper here.

Perhaps modern American liberalism can claim other roots for itself.  Here’s a quote on Leo Strauss, who has influenced American conservative thought heavily:

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

 

Via A Reader-Douglas Murray Speaks At ‘The Danish Muhammad Cartoon Crisis In Retrospect’ Conference

~39:00 min speech with some questions at the end.  Most of what Murray says strikes this blog as factual and true, and in the face of many beliefs and incentives created for politicians and authorities, those facts and truths remain mostly unaddressed as the years roll on (the cartoons were published in 2005).

It’s unfortunate that people only seem to gather after each violent murder and attack, such as Charlie Hebdo, as a relative minority, and that many in positions of authority display such cowardice in addressing the issue.

Most on the British Left, liberal-Left, and near center seem to accept the logic that Islam is one of the minority groups which must be identified and protected as oppressed on the way towards an ideal, inclusive vision of the good society (under the extended logic that the world and all things in it can, to some extent, be explained as people who have either seen the light against those who are merely ignorant, intolerant, oppressive, racist, xenophobic etc).

What about the differences between Islam and Islamic civilizations and the post-Enlightenment West?  Point them out at your own risk.

Violate the secular humanist conventional wisdom and be ignored. Stand against the oft radically driven causes of the Left and possibly be threatened with violence.  Draw cartoons insulting the central figure in Islam and maybe be murdered.

Those aren’t great options, but the underlying defense of Western institutions such as the freedom of speech (to criticize and mock) are happening right now.

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Salman Rushdie at about minute 57:00:  This idea of separate treatment for separate cultures…I think essentially if we follow that to its conclusion…destroys our ability to have a really moral framework for society.’

Six writers apparently know what is acceptable speech and what isn’t, and thus don’t think the folks at Charlie Hebdo engaged in acceptable speech.

Christopher Hitchens (nearly a free speech absolutist, railing against many of his former friends on the Left) discussing the Yale Press, which was genuinely afraid that publishing this book could lead to violence in the Muslim street:

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

Cartoons here.  The cartoonist is still in some danger.

Food for thought.

A British Muslim tells his story, suggesting that classical liberalism wouldn’t be a bad idea…as a more entrenched radical British Left and Muslim immigration don’t mix too well: From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’

Free speech (used both well and unwell) meets offended Muslims: Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’

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

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?’

Repost-Roger Scruton Discusses Islam And The West

A few key arguments Scruton makes:

1.  The drive to expunge religion from public life in America is, in some cases, being pursued with a zeal that is not un-religious.  It is a largely unreasonable interpretation of the no-establishment clause.

I would even suggest that the argument allows that if such secularists are successful, they could open the door to government bloat (after all, welfare is given out for moral and moralistic reasons) if the church were gotten out of the way.  It is a key platform for most on the Western left to sacralize Muslims as the latest victim group against the forces they seek to overthrow within the West itself.  This makes them blind to many facts. Most people up-top in the Western liberal world are not as attuned as they should be to the potentially incompatible elements of Islamic civilization and the dangers of the radical and activist Left.

Against this,  I think many reasonable people would say that they just want to keep religion out of politics for the sake of both, and that they’re not attacking religion per se, but merely adhering to a reasonable interpretation of the no-establishment clause. Scruton is casting light on the zealots here.  Religious belief however, especially Christian belief in the U.S., really isn’t going anywhere.

2.  Scruton also argues that under the banner of secular multiculturalism, the extremely intolerant views of some Muslims, and the religious idealism of most Muslims (and all true religious believers) has found too free a home in Britain.  For Scruton, the development of secular society and the rule of law is perhaps a uniquely Christian phenomenon (he makes the argument here).   The Christian doctrines that laid such groundwork are conveniently bashed while Muslims pour in from societies without such rule of law and a pretty frightening idealism (how much of this is due to being an immigrant is worth examining, but the separation of church and state is conspicuously absent in Muslim societies).

One of the most dangerous consequences of this approach by is the idea of concurrent Sharia law for Muslims, and British law for British subjects. This is basically an admission of many in British society that they can’t fully integrate many Muslims and they don’t have a way forward to include them either.  Many wanted cheap labor, felt guilty at the colonial past, and apparently desire to see their country as a kind of way station on the way to a global, one-world superstate and home for refugees.  Scruton points out that human nature, the locality and practicality of politics, and the reality of these universalizing, Western ideals directing politics and policy is unable to account for much reality on the ground.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

See Also On This SiteFrom The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”/Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism/Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Ayan Hirsi Ali in The NY Times: Lee Harris’s ‘The Suicide Of Reason’

Free speech and Muslims From Kenanmalik.com: ‘Introduction: How Salman Rushdie Changed My Life’… Via YouTube: ‘Christopher Hitchens Vs. Ahmed Younis On CNN (2005)’…  Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks HeadbuttedDuring Lecture’From The OC Jewish Experience: ‘UC Irvine Muslim Student Union Suspended’From Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’… More From Spiegel Online After The Westergaard Attacks Via A & L Daily: ‘The West Is Choked By Fear’