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

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

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

‘Long before the Revolution, then, the disposition of mind of the American colonists, the prevailing intellectual character and habit of politics, were rationalistic.  And this is clearly reflected in the constitutional documents and history of the individual colonies.  And when these colonies came ‘to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,’ and to declare their independence, the only fresh inspiration that this habit of politics received from the outside was one which confirmed its native character in every particular.  For the inspiration of Jefferson and the other founders of American independence was the ideology which Locke had distilled from the English political tradition.’

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

I have trouble imagining Oakeshott having much sympathy with our founders’ direct experience and developing practice alongside and against King George III and the Redcoats; the slow-rolling revolution these men found themselves within.

Larry Arnhart here.

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

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

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

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

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

More Scruton here.

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

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slight Update & Repost-From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Might Makes Right’

Full post here.

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

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

Arnhart:

‘The problem, of course, is that the vigilantism of the state of nature easily collapses into perpetual feuding, and then people will consent to establish formal governments and the rule of law.  To do that, people must give up their executive power to the government, which then might become even more oppressive than any individual in the state of nature.  But if the people feel oppressed, they can take back their natural executive power in an “appeal to Heaven” in war.

Hobbes and Locke were not just speculating about this.  They had seen the English Civil War.  They had seen that Roundheads can defeat Cavaliers, and that kings can be beheaded.  Locke had plotted with the Whigs in assassination conspiracies directed against the King.

Hobbes and Locke had also studied carefully the reports about the foraging societies of New World, which Hobbes and Locke used as the basis for their depictions of the state of nature.

Here is the full passage of Locke’s “appeal to Heaven”:

‘Sec. 20. But when the actual force is over, the state of war ceases between those that are in society, and are equally on both sides subjected to the fair determination of the law; because then there lies open the remedy of appeal for the past injury, and to prevent future harm: but where no such appeal is, as in the state of nature, for want of positive laws, and judges with authority to appeal to, the state of war once begun, continues, with a right to the innocent party to destroy the other whenever he can, until the aggressor offers peace, and desires reconciliation on such terms as may repair any wrongs he has already done, and secure the innocent for the future; nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.’

To repeat: On Locke’s view, the state of nature is not sufficient to handle the injustice that two warring groups do unto each other lest they keep fighting in perpetuity.  Both must have recourse to fair determination of the law, some body to whom they can appeal, and so must have faith in some form of government.  Yet, that government (possibly filled with those having won the struggle, and hopefully being recognized by the opposition as having some legitimacy lest the process begin again) can also become a threat itself, to which Locke allows great leeway in response:

Another quote from Locke:

‘This is to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes, but are content, nay think it safety, to be devoured by lions.’

Arnhart:

‘Eventually, human social and political evolution has brought a general decline in violence (as Steven Pinker has shown).  But that decline in violence can never bring perpetual peace (contrary to the utopian pacifism of people like Herbert Spencer), because the enforcement of the liberal norm of voluntary cooperation will always depend on the threat or use of force against those who would violate that norm.’

I’m still a little skeptical of the argument for overall ‘human social and political evolution,’ but won’t respond at the moment.

I find myself wishfully thinking it’d be nice to have a return to Lockean liberalism.  With all the appeals to science and much scientism, top-down rationalism, the social sciences and the eventual social engineering that can come through public policy administered by experts with tax-payer money, too many modern liberals are uncomfortable with limited government.

Locke was not, as he understood many of its dangers, especially the danger of slipping us back into perpetual warfare in a state of nature (not in, say, a more Rousseauian state of nature where man is free, and the individual forms a much more anarchic relationship with all civil institutions, still visible in France today, with more of a tilt between anarchy and hierarchy and with intellectual ‘rock stars’ and a more libertine morality in the public sphere).

**As a brief thought experiment:  Could the ‘appeal to heaven’ argument apply in the same capacity for black folks in America held in bondage by the laws?  Any ‘natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation‘ by black folks was met with both lawful and unlawful violence, psychological humiliation, punishment, and usually sympathy and support for those doing the punishing or simple indifference by the society at large.  The response to such injustice is worthy of note given such circumstances, and has manifested itself in various ways, some violent, some non-violent but all affecting our current cultural and political landscape and our national character (e.g. The Nation Of IslamThe Black PanthersThe Civil Rights MovementMLK’s theology, social gospel, Gandhian nonviolent resistance and support of rights enacted at the Federal level, and many others).  Perhaps an ‘appeal to heaven’ is no doubt a genuine appeal to heaven in faith, to maintain the body and spirit against such injustice.  Locke, in response to Enlightenment developments around him, laid some of the first foundations of empiricism, which reached its peak with David Hume, and which generally leads to atheism.  Locke’s defense of his own rationalism (he argued forcefully against Robert Filmer and others who wanted to maintain a kingdom of heaven here on earth) and the possibility of transcendent objects like God is incomplete at best.

John Gray’s review of Pinker’s book. A response to that review.  An FAQ page by Pinker.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition:

Such formulations like Locke’s will increasingly come under scrutiny. Private property will likely come under increasing attack:

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From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Jonathan Haidt’s Darwinian Conservatism’From Edge: ‘Re: What Makes People Republican? By Jonathan Haidt’…Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

God and continental philosophy…regulated markets and progressive liberation theology?: Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Timothy Fuller At The New Criterion: ‘The Compensations Of Michael Oakeshott’

Piece here (subscription required)

‘I sat down to read the Introduction and, reading it straight through, found it to be such an exciting intellectual experience that it was a spur to my embryonic commitment to the study of political philosophy.’

From Ken Minogue’s ‘Swimming With Leviathan,‘ also published at the New Criterion:

‘What then is the Hobbesian theory of the state? It is distinguished from more conventional modern conceptions by leaving aside all substantive considerations of justice or rights—how the state ought to be constituted. Its essential character is to distinguish all constitutional aspirations from the prior question of getting a state into being in the first place. His aim is above all to distinguish statehood from constitution, the civil association from any concern with how that association is actually ordered. The state, in other words, must be distinguished from any particular opinions dominant within it. Failure to meet this condition would generate in some degree or another an ideological version of statehood. Hobbes’s great admirer Michael Oakeshott poses the same problem in On Human Conduct, and solves it by distinguishing “enterprise associations” (based on one or other enthusiasm within the state) and “civil associations.” The essence of the state itself may thus be found in civil associations, whose entire point lay in associating individuals together on the basis of nothing more substantive than an obligation to conform their conduct to a system of law. In Hobbes, the basis of statehood similarly lies in the recognition of the conditions declared by the sovereign. Any actual state, of course, will contain both types of allegiance.’

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

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

At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Relevant diavlog here.

In the discussion, Pinker borrows from Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan,”  to put forth the argument that one reason for what Pinker claims is an overall decline in violence (at least recently, since 1945) is the development of the modern State.  It has the lion’s share of power, and puts its own citizens at ease from a natural state of potential violence and rational calculation they find themselves in regarding other individuals, groups, and rivals, including other States (see also: game theory) a la Hobbes.  Nature is rough.  Citizens become protected from this state of nature in which escalating violence, revenge and brinksmanship are always present and thus defer these activies to the 3rd party of the State….internally and externally…to get on with their lives in relative security.  On the large scale, States, Pinker points out, still fight each other, and he furthers two more arguments:

1. The State is a somewhat outmoded covention, having served its purpose during the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment to produce the flowering plants of individual rights, human rights, and other products of modern Western society (that are being exported with and without force around the globe, to varying degrees of success).  The kind of loyalty States require for their existence and to which its citizens give their lives is not necessary to the same degree on this view.  This is highly debatable. Pinker also mentions Norbert Elias, a German sociologist, and the data Pinker cites suggest both a lower frequency of wars and lower frequency of violence per war since the end of the WWII.  Pinker also attempts to isolate Locke, Spinoza, and Kant from other reactions to these thinkers which he claims produced the kind of fascist, marxist/communist, and Nazi movements that have wracked Europe since.

2.  Pinker then mentions an “international Leviathan”  which would be a potential consequence of this view. Much like Hobbes found himself in the throes of a more feudal, warring, Reformation England (the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches), it’s possible to imagine not just a large barganing table with plush chairs for world government, but one in which that world government(s) takes the lion’s share of force from its members and requires submission (as Hobbes agued is necessary for the Leviathan).

Food for thought. Here’s a quote from John Locke:

‘This is to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes, but are content, nay think it safety, to be devoured by lions.’

Addition:  A reader sends in a link to an Intro to Political Philsophy course at Yale, discussing the Leviathan, and the scope of Hobbes project to essentially create a “civil science” in response to conditions and Enlightenment developments around him.  As the video points out, perhaps one of Hobbes’ central questions is: “How is legitimate authority possible?”

Hobbes throws out the biblical vision of Eden and of man’s fallen but once perfect relationship with nature, as well as the Aristotelian model of man’s pursuit of his best nature in the polis (and man’s arts & sciences) also with it roots in nature, which was a common view of the time.  Hobbes replaces these, after Machiavelli, with the modern conception of the State.  On this view, man must turn away from nature to some degree, as he has done with the then New science.  He must put questions to nature and reason his way along.  He must impose some order upon nature and discover her laws. Perhaps he can create an enclave where man must make his own order carved out of nature and build for himself civilized society, a society that finds itself in a state of brute nature, fear, violence and mistrust among it members.  The Leviathan is partly that answer for Hobbes, the creation of a sovereign, and a sovereign which has the consent of the people (for this sovereign is also an abstraction, an “office” to be filled by successive men), and is a sovereign that requires the people’s submission.

So, what will prevent the endless strife that consumed both England and Italy of the time for Hobbes and Machiavelli?  How do you maintain respectable authority upon this new vision?

Is this the beginning of Leo Strauss’ 1st crisis of modernity?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition:  As a friend points out, Hobbes’ thinking contributes heavily in developing the commonwealth, an Anglo-American model which has proved remarkably stable.  Perhaps Strauss reason/revelation distinction and his project just really didn’t understand parts of American life and intellectual history.

Another Addition:  Perhaps we should identify a liberal American tradition that does not contain the seeds of its own nihilism and destruction a la Europe via fascism and value-free relativism and hedonism.  Perhaps there are empirical traditions already in place that escape such a diagnosis.

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