Some More Collected Links & Quotes On The Passing Of Roger Scruton-Douglas Murray, Robert George, Larry Arnhart & Kelley Ross

Douglas Murray on Roger Scruton:  ‘A Man Who Seemed Bigger Than The Age:

‘A man other than Roger might have become bitter about some of the treatment he received, but he never did. Whatever his complex views on faith, he lived a truly Christian attitude of forgiveness and hope for redemption. His last piece for The Spectator – a diary of his last year – radiates this. If he sometimes fitted uncomfortably with the age in which he found himself, it was principally because he did not believe in its guiding tone of encouraged animosity and professionalised grudge…’

Robert George on Twitter:

Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism:  ‘Roger Scruton, 1944-2020: The Romantic Conservatism of Atheistic Religiosity:’

‘As is often true of the traditionalist conservative thinkers today, his thought was shaped by the Kantian Romantic tradition of the Nineteenth Century that saw a religious attitude as essential for a healthy moral order, so that traditional religious experience needed to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature. And yet–again like many traditionalist conservatives–Scruton did not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.’

Kelley Ross at Friesian.com, discussing ‘Scruton’s treatment of Wittgenstein:’

‘At the same time, there is the irony and paradox of this treatment that Scruton is “considered to be one of the world’s leading conservative philosophers” — which is what it says on the cover of his own book. Now I see Scruton called “Our greatest living conservative thinker,” by Daniel Hannan (an “author, journalist, and politician”), and “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world,” by Robert P. George (a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence). But “conservative” thinkers are not generally happy with the cognitive and moral relativism, if not nihilism, that follows from anything like Wittgenstein’s thought, and even from, as we shall see, Scruton’s own analysis of Wittgenstein’s thought. This is particularly surprising given the devastating critique in Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Thinkers of the New Left [Bloomsbury, 2015], which exposes the irrational “nonsense machine” of “post-modernism” and “Critical Theory” Marxism. But even in that book, and in the passage I have just quoted, there is a clue to what is going on and to what kind of “conservative” Scruton may be. And that is, in the former, his benign and complacent attritude towards Hegel, and, in the latter, the impression he gives that the “ambition” of Kant and Hegel is comparable or even equivalent.’

As previously posted:

I recommend the below video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

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A quote that stuck out:

‘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?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions (also the kind produced by Hegelian Conservatism). It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

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’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?

R.I.P. Roger Scruton

I will miss his keen mind, moral and intellectual courage, and humility.

He spent the last six months battling cancer.  Press statement from his website here.

As a young man, Scruton watched the Generation of ’68 go by, gathering anger and righteousness with them through the streets of Paris.

‘In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing.’

Many are still passing by our windows, so to speak, heading to some undetermined point in the future.  Whether speaking postmodernese, Marxist economics, or the politics of intersectionality and identity, many are still ready to bring about utopia; enforcing it if necessary.

Many years ago, watching what seemed like an endless protest near the campus of Penn State, chatting with the State Cops assigned to keep order, I felt much the same way. Somewhere in all this were a few truths, and meanwhile, a lot of endless abstractions and falsehoods.

Watching what seem like endless protests bubbling up in the streets of Seattle (from WTO to Pussy Hats to Antifa to anti-Trump), I still feel much the same way.

Thanks, Roger.  Godspeed.

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

Scruton suggests Richard Dawkins to be an example of the new humanists.  Also, an interesting quote:

“Having shaken off their shackles and discovered that they have not obtained contentment, human beings have a lamentable tendency to believe that they are victims of some alien force, be it aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, capitalism, the priesthood, or simply the belief in God. And the feeling arises that they need only destroy this alien force, and happiness will be served up on a plate, in a garden of pleasures. That, in my view, is why the Enlightenment, which promised the reign of freedom and justice, issued in an unending series of wars”

The Garden Of Eden? What about the unitarian universalists?

-Fukuyama’s Marxist/Hegelian influence and the re-purposed Christian metaphysics and Statism found within much German Idealism:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

Getting A Good Read On The Institutional Capture Going In Universities-Bret Weinstein & Mike Nayna Discuss Evergreen And Something Like A Postmodern Theology

It’s possible that liberatory movements (sexual, moral, political) aren’t always what they appear at first glance.

The pursuit of truth can become lost in vaguely theological, ideologically driven witch-hunts like the one Bret Weinstein experienced at Evergreen State (racist/non-racist, oppressor/oppressed).  Ideologues can be ridiculously incapable of dealing with human nature (their own, especially).  The institutions harboring ideologues can become taken over from within.

The search for the good can become attached to abstract doctrines of (M)an or ideologies promising collective liberation over individual responsibility and Free Will.  The search for the good can become full of moral scolds enforcing the new, emergent rules they might not even follow themselves.

The pursuit of beauty can become constrained by the both of the above:  Narrow ideological thinking and/or the familiar modern cycles of utopia/dystopia, idealism/materialism and postmodernism’s relentless focus on the (S)elf.

Roger Scruton tried to tackle a rag-bag of postmodern thinkers:

It’s also possible that many people supporting (R)eason, scientific inquiry, and who value free thought are a little naive when it comes to making one’s primary value change over conservation.

There are dangers:

The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.

I may not be politically Left, nor sympathetic to many progressive causes, but I support the attempt at truth and understanding

One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):

Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:

‘And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’

Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?

Interesting read here.

As found in a yard, on Capital Hill, in Seattle:

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I’m not sure the intellectual provenance of such ideas, nor even if they form any kind of coherent doctrine, but they strike me as a melange of Christian principles, liberal idealism and radical activist causes.

I still don’t see the greatest threats to political liberty coming from the political right at the moment:

John Locke found here:

“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”

 

Repost-A ‘Postmodern Conservative’ View?-Some Links

Via David Thompson’s Greatest Hits: ‘A discussion on the state of the left with Ophelia Benson, editor of the rationalist website Butterflies & Wheels and co-author of Why Truth Matters.’

‘Our criticism of [Judith] Butler was quite independent of the merits or lack thereof of Derrida – but perhaps a criticism of his defender amounts to a criticism of him and is therefore not allowed. At any rate, Butler’s open letter to the Times is a classic example of precisely this evasive non-substantive suggestion of impropriety that you mention. It’s basically an argument from celebrity. ‘How dare you publish such a snide obituary, Derrida was hugely influential, he was celebrated, he was a big deal.’

Hmmm….Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Strolling along, Avital Ronell, professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU, invites you for a walk in the park, for whom 10 minutes of profound explication can never be enough:

I’m guessing that in the past, and maybe still in the present, some Nimrods find both the Catholic Church and/or the Priesthood of Impenetrable Jargon attractive life options.

It is not always the best among us who pursue ideas:

‘In September 2017, New York University launched a Title IX investigation into Avital Ronell, an internationally acclaimed professor who had been accused of sexual harassment by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.’

Roger Scruton suggests that the co-opting of university philosophy and literature departments by similar postmodern schools of thought (post-ish Marxist) does a disservice to young people interested in both philosophy and literature:

On that note, it doesn’t matter so much if ideas are true, or falsifiable, but rather if they can be held with conviction, made into policy, and acted upon in the world. People are going to do politics, whether you like it or not. It’s a basic human activity.

I’d argue that the decline of religion along with the intellectual currents in many academies have conspired to produce enough space for the following in our politics: Morally righteous people interested in how you should live your life. People who are deeply anti-religious and narrowly ideological:

Moving along still, Sam Harris and Ezra Klein (editor of Vox) debate Charles Murray’s work, which goes to a central critique of progressive doctrines which conflate moral and political reasoning: How to live and what to do become intimately united with immediate political action and coalition-building (forgetting, or perhaps never understanding, what politics can actually do and at what costs).

My take: There’s an inherent belief that political activism is ‘scientific.’ This belief is strong enough that when decent and conflicting social science comes along, it becomes morally suspect and a threat to money, politics and identity (the royal road to utopia):

It’s actually less important whether or not you agree politically with Charles Murray, but rather whether or not you’ve understood what he’s saying. It used to be, at least, that if you couldn’t understand what someone was saying, you still didn’t prevent his saying it in public.

Both Sam Harris and John Derbyshire (of differing political views) seem to understand quite well the crux of Murray’s reasoning:

Notice the people trying to shut Murray down are not reading his book, nor really interested in what he’s saying.

Not a good sign:

Repost-Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism

Full post here.

Perhaps Scruton is just being nostalgic for what he describes as the old humanism:

“There is no need for God, they thought, in order to live with a vision of the higher life. All the values that had been appropriated by the Christian churches are available to the humanist too.”

And he laments the new humanism, which lacks the noblility of purpose of the old, and offers nothing positive:

“Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness”

Scruton suggests Richard Dawkins to be an example of the new humanists.  Also, an interesting quote:

“Having shaken off their shackles and discovered that they have not obtained contentment, human beings have a lamentable tendency to believe that they are victims of some alien force, be it aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, capitalism, the priesthood, or simply the belief in God. And the feeling arises that they need only destroy this alien force, and happiness will be served up on a plate, in a garden of pleasures. That, in my view, is why the Enlightenment, which promised the reign of freedom and justice, issued in an unending series of wars”

The Garden Of Eden? What about the unitarian universalists?

See also on this site:  Similar topics from Britain:    From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

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

Maybe It’ll Become Cool To Skeptically Observe Coalitional Political Idealism. Maybe Not.

From Edward Feser: ‘Continetti on post-liberal conservatism:’

‘Continetti notes that post-liberals are “mainly but not exclusively traditionalist Catholics,” and proposes a test for determining whether someone falls into the category:’

One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.

Feser again:

‘The late Michael Novak, who was no post-liberal, made a useful distinction between liberal institutions on the one hand, and liberal philosophical foundations on the other. Examples of liberal institutions would be the market economy, limited government and its constitutional constraints, and the rule of law. There is in fact nothing essentially liberal about any of these things, but they have certainly come to be closely associated with the modern liberal political order. Examples of liberal philosophical foundations would be Locke’s version of social contract theory, Kant’s conception of human civilization as a kingdom of ends, Rawls’s egalitarian theory of justice, and Nozick’s libertarian theory of justice.’

My speculation:  A deeper, broader American conservative coalition has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), and some religious folks no longer see a path forward through current culture and/or politics.  Some are recommending a retreat into communities of like minds in order to build again.  Retreat and regroup, even in Britain.  Genuine persecution is coming from radical activists pushing liberatory doctrines (Equality, Social Justice, Sexual Liberation), and these doctrines have increasingly become institutionalized (academia, government & corporations).  Coalitions of liberal idealists fail to observe the barbarians agitating at their own gates; the instability of their own foundations.

Looking at a liberal, Left and Democrat coalition, it too has broken apart (or is being renegotiated), the most true-believing Socialists and Communists still seeking authoritarian/totalitarian utopias here on Earth.  The persecution is coming from all existing forms of illegitimate, oppressive moral and political authority.  Violent revolution remains an option.  Anarchy is preferable to stability and slow change.

Coalitions of conservatives fail to observe the suffering and injustice of those not included within their closed-minded conceptions of home, hearth, family, Nation and God.  Progress is generally a moral good.  Coalitions of open-minded, educated, tolerant, individuals can make a better, human, more globally connected world.

John Locke quote found here:

“7. What is meant by enthusiasm. This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either of those two, or both together: men being most forwardly obedient to the impulses they receive from themselves; and the whole man is sure to act more vigorously where the whole man is carried by a natural motion. For strong conceit, like a new principle, carries all easily with it, when got above common sense, and freed from all restraint of reason and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination.”

A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

I’ll keep putting it up, as it’s so relevant. A few central quotes from this article here:

Huntington was instinctively a conservative because he valued an ordered society, but he also championed conservatism as a necessary instrument to defend liberal institutions against communism. In many of his books he attacked idealistic liberals for holding such institutions to impossible, utopian standards that undermined their effectiveness in the world.”

and:

“An iconoclast to the core, Huntington never threw his lot in with left or right. He was too statist to be a libertarian, too realist to embrace neoconservatism, and too sympathetic to nationalism, religion and the military to identify with liberal Democrats. As a conservative Democrat, then, he is an intellectual rarity.”

Political Order In Changing Societies info here, a book likely worth your time.

Roger Scruton-Sad News

Roger Scruton has announced this bit of news via his newsletter.  I have quite a few of his books, and have been quite influenced by the man.  Get well.  Take it one day at a time.

In honor of his influence:

First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University-In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

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

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

Below is some criticism of Scruton from a Kantian-Friesian line of thinking.

Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’

Scruton’s attractive and practical deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships) provides robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians.  This has been highly valuable and rather courageous.

Are the potentially Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?

‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.

First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.

Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? 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?’

Addition: As a friend points out: Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone. The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends. This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…

Repost-Six Somewhat Relevant Links In The Current Political Landscape

I’m still getting accustomed to the post 60’s political and cultural landscape in America, at least in response to the current round of progressivism; the idealism and utopianism of many collectivist platforms, and the election of Trump as some sort of response.

As someone of more conservative and religious temperment, but as someone who is not a believer and deeply committed to many projects of the Enlightenment, I’m just looking around for different types of liberalism.  Does equality always run aground on human nature?  Will pursuing broad definitions of the public good always lead to a corruption of the ideal of equality, and less freedom?

Joel Kotkin had an interesting piece Class Warfare For Republicans:

As a Truman-style Democrat left politically homeless, I am often asked about the future of the Republican Party.’

The Tea Party probably might not agree, nor maybe many social and religious conservatives.  The party is deeply, deeply divided.

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Walter Russell Mead seems to be envisioning a reinvigorated liberalism 5.0, arguing that the current union fights, ecotopia, high-speed rail plans, and progressivism aren’t necessarily the best way forward given America’s challenges.  There’s been a fundamental shift that we must adjust to, and it involves technology and globalization for starters.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

Interesting post here:

‘It is important to note, however, that rampant government dependence and economic mismanagement are not exclusively blue-state pathologies. Corrupt and crony Republicans can be every bit as sleazy and dangerous as their Democratic counterparts. South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi are on this list for good reason.’

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Perhaps conservative Briton Roger Scruton is just being nostalgic for what he describes as the old humanism, but there sure is a lot of Hegel informing his thought:

Hesitate!

“There is no need for God, they thought, in order to live with a vision of the higher life. All the values that had been appropriated by the Christian churches are available to the humanist too.”

And he laments the new humanism, which lacks the noblility of purpose of the old, and offers nothing positive:

“Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God and attacks the belief in God as a human weakness”

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Copied from Will Wilkinson’s piece on Gerry Gaus’s then new book:

In sum, OPR defends public reason liberalism without contractarian foundations. It is Kantian without being rationalistic. It is Humean without giving up the project of rationally reforming the moral order. It is evolutionary but not social Darwinist. It is classical liberal without being libertarian. It is Hegelian and organicist without being collectivist or statist. It shows us how political authority can be justified but only by accepting that moral authority limits it. It pushes us to look towards the practical and reject the utopian while simultaneously maintaining that a truly free and equal social order is within our grasp. It rejects the aspiration of political liberalism to neutrality among conceptions of morality while simultaneously retaining its spirit by sectioning off social morality from other normative domains.

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Theodore Dalrymple on the new atheists.

Dalrymple:

‘The search for the pure guiding light of reason, uncontaminated by human passion or metaphysical principles that go beyond all possible evidence, continues, however; and recently, an epidemic rash of books has declared success, at least if success consists of having slain the inveterate enemy of reason, namely religion. The philosophers Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Michel Onfray, and Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens have all written books roundly condemning religion and its works. Evidently, there is a tide in the affairs, if not of men, at least of authors.’

As to these more radical groups splintering and applying pressure upwards upon institutions of learning (or at least remaining very vocal and demanding voices within them), I remain skeptical of merely relying upon an adaptable and healthy post-Enlightenment humanism to push back against them in the long-run.

It seems groups of post-Enlightenment individuals gathering to solve commonly defined problems is a risky business, indeed, or at least subject to the same old schisms and problems religious institutions underwent and continue to undergo regarding human nature. I think it’s fair to say people and institutions are often requiring of constraints, especially when it comes to political power and lawmaking; especially when it comes to the challenges our civilization faces from within and without in maintaining institutional authority.

I’d like to think that secularly liberal leadership, more broadly, including the people who want to be in charge of all of us (at their best operating from within moral communities of not too great a solipsism and self-regard) can resist such pressures. For there certainly are those who would fracture our institutions into rafts of post-Enlightenment ‘-isms’ and politicized movements often driven by illiberal ideologies; movements relying on the presumed self-sufficiency of reason while behaving quite irrationally.

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

Post-60’s, I’m seeing a lot of people sucked into radical discontent, righteous certitude and often religion-deep belief in secular ideals and ideologies, demanding immediate change often faster than institutional stability can keep up.

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

His recent public statements don’t help

People on the modern American right take issue with Rawls, but have they addressed his depth?:  From The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls…Utilitarianism leads to problems.  Will the Rawlsian center-left hold up?:

From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’… From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke in a strong, libertarian defense of the individual A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’

Some Friday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce

Repost-Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘Scientism In The Arts & Humanities’

Full piece here (link may not last).

Scruton:

‘It is true that the theory of the meme does not deny the role of culture, nor does it undermine the nineteenth-century view that culture properly understood is as much an activity of the rational mind as is science. But the concept of the meme belongs with other subversive concepts — Marx’s “ideology,” Freud’s unconscious, Foucault’s “discourse” — in being aimed at discrediting common prejudice. It seeks to expose illusions and to explain away our dreams. But the meme is itself a dream, a piece of ideology, accepted not for its truth but for the illusory power that it confers on the one who conjures with it. It has produced some striking arguments, not least those given by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell, in which he explains away religion as a particularly successful but dangerous meme.’

Those concepts according to Scruton, are not science, but rather scientism.

And he focuses back-in on judgment, or the capacity for judgment attached to ‘I,’ and an ‘I’ which looks towards transcendence:

‘Surely human beings can do better than this — by the pursuit of genuine scientific explanation on the one hand, and by the study of high culture on the other. A culture does not comprise works of art only, nor is it directed solely to aesthetic interests. It is the sphere of intrinsically interesting artifacts, linked by the faculty of judgment to our aspirations and ideals. We appreciate works of art, arguments, works of history and literature, manners, dress, jokes, and forms of behavior. And all these things are shaped through judgment. But what kind of judgment, and to what does that judgment lead?

Interesting quote by Scruton in a debate about Islam, at min 6:35 of video 4/4:

‘Universal values only make sense in a very specific context…the attempt to universalize them, or project or impose them…just leads to their appropriation by sinister forces.”

Worth a read.

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60′s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

So, how do you teach the arts and tilt the culture? Camille Paglia has some ideas, including the idea that George Lucas has taken root in more 20th-century minds than anyone else with his space opera:

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Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

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

Problems Of The Minority-Cross Your Heart

Via Althouse on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

‘That’s the line up in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the case about the 32-foot cross on public land that honors soldiers who died in WWI. The American Legion won — the case is reversed and remanded. It will take me a little time to find my way through those opinions. The precedents in this area of the Establishment Clause have been very confused, and (as someone who taught those cases for many years) I want to know how the Court puzzled through them this time.’

As posted many years ago now:

Strausberg Observers post here

Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notes.  All parties involved didn’t think it’s a good idea to strip the cross from it’s religious meaning in law.

Aside from an interesting comparison on a specific legal question, perhaps there are underlying currents as well.

Full post here.

‘The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered by 15:2 in Lautsi v Italy (App. No.: 30814/06) on the 18th March 2011 that it is justifiable for public funded schools in Italy to continue displaying crucifixes on the classroom walls.’

Here’s a quote from The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:

“The philosophy of human rights addresses questions about the existence, content, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of human rights. The strong claims made on behalf of human rights (for example, that they are universal, or that they exist independently of legal enactment as justified moral norms) frequently provoke skeptical doubts and countering philosophical defences.”

And further on down the line, some humanists are pretty ‘aspirational’ as well as having a logo and a revised manifesto.

Martha Nussbaum argues profoundly for more equality but also removing religion as a source for the laws:  From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

…Sometimes a cross isn’t just a cross, as Stanley Fish notesFrom Law At The End Of The Day: ‘Torn Between Religion And Law In Spain’

Low European Birth Rates In The NY Times: No Babies?

I’ll repost the below again because, in America,  I believe we’ve likely tipped from a majority religious civic fabric and culture to something more like a majority secular culture.   This likely brings a lot of European problems over (people searching for meaning, membership, group belonging).  We’ve got less frontier and more hierarchy and more reactions to inequality and the same old socialism gaining deeper representation in our politics.

Ack, mutter, so much German theory and deep, metaphysical maps:

I’m sure some will be eager to note that this took place in Budapest, Hungary, a country currently under politically right leadership, out from under tradition and institution-destroying Communist bureaucracy, in the news these days for refusing many Middle-Eastern refugees.

I recommend the video, as Scruton spent many years behind the Iron Curtain, working with folks to help chart a course out of Communist rule.

Moral Relativism is actually quite hard to define:

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A quote that stuck out:

‘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?

As this blog has often noted, such secular idealism can lead to an ever-expanding list of human-rights, demands, and obligations; these in turn leading to rather sclerotic, over-promising, under-delivering, deeply indebted European states and poorly functional international institutions. It can also produce a kind of liberal bien-pensant worldview, which can catch a radical cold every now and again, but which generally supports political leaders claiming such ideals and causes. Oh yes, most folks nowadays believe we’re progressing, but where was that we were progressing to, exactly? How do you know this to be true?

Many Christians in the West tend to see such secular idealism and humanism as being birthed from Christianity, and as being unmoored from the duties and obligations that come with religious belief in a transcendent God. People haven’t changed that much, after all, nor has human nature, they often subtly argue, pointing out the many consequences such secular humanist claims have in the world by placing all kinds of laws, duties, and obligations upon us all.

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’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?