Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category

Aesthetic Aristocracy vs. Liberal Democracy

March 21, 2008

Jeff Taylor (not to be confused with Jeff A. Taylor, or other Jeff Taylors) is one of the most interesting Jeffersonian-minded political scientists/philosophers around. His review of Joel Johnson’s Beyond Practical Virtue: A Defense of Liberal Democracy Through Literature furnishes some evidence to back up my claim. Johnson’s book pits what Taylor calls “the anti-liberal, anti-democratic leanings of Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence” against James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, and William Dean Howells — a match-up of aesthetic aristocracy vs. liberal democracy (sort of), though I might have wished Johnson were talking about “Jeffersonian republicanism” rather than “liberal democracy” (Taylor would prefer “Jeffersonian democracy,” I think.) Actually, what I favor myself is “liberal aristocracy.” But in any case, Taylor has written a thoughtful review of an intriguing book.

In addition to his Beyond Practical Virtue review, Taylor also has another new article on-line, an interview in which he talks about America’s five-years’ war (and counting) in Iraq. And his 2006 book, Where Did the Party Go?, is well worth a look in its own right.

Postcript: I should have mentioned Taylor’s endorsement of Ron Paul, which Dylan Waco helpfully reminds me about.

After drafting this post, I googled around a bit to see if anyone else had used the phrase “liberal aristocracy,” and in particular whether anyone else associated one figure I had in mind — Jacob Burckhardt — with the phrase. Not in that order, it turns out, but reverse the terms and one of the first things that pops up in a search for “aristocratic liberalism” is … a book about Burckhardt (as well as Mill and Tocqueville). In the American context, the archetype for aristocratic liberalism probably has to be John Randolph of Roanoke.

A Short History of Political Philosophy

June 15, 2007

I spent last week attending David Gordon’s seminar on political philosophy (from Plato to Rawls, Nozick, and Rothbard) at the Mises Institute. You can hear the lectures on-line here. Not only does Dr. Gordon marvelously integrate material appropriate for both neophytes and those already well-versed in the history of political thought, he also successfully untangles the convoluted questions I would put to him after the talks. Well worth a listen.

Viereck in Print

June 7, 2007

My essay on Peter Viereck is now out, in the June 18 issue of The American Conservative. It doesn’t thoroughly address the points Will Hay and Daniel Larison (among others) raised a few months back after I blogged on Viereck, but the piece gives some indication of why I find Viereck valuable, despite his flaws.

The magazine’s early July issue will include my review of John Lukacs’s recent book on George Kennan, I believe.  There are a few other things in the pipeline, too, so keep your eyes glued to TAC (which you ought to be doing anyway, of course!).

Straussian Anti-Federalism?

March 27, 2007

Georgetown government professor Patrick Deneen was one of the speaker’s at last weekend’s “Liberty, Community, and Place in the American Tradition” shindig in Charlottesville.  He made a very interesting case, drawing on Leo Strauss, for what he called America’s “alternative” tradition, of which the Anti-Federalists were the prophets.  Deneen has a blog and has posted the first segment of his remarks here. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the portion that cites the Anti-Federalists.)  Though I disagree with a great deal in the talk, it’s interesting enough to be worth flagging up for attention.

The Strauss Story

March 16, 2007

Steven Smith, who himself has recently published on Leo Strauss, reviews two new biographies of the “skeptical friend of democracy.” Here’s a bite:

Central to Strauss’s understanding of the Medieval Enlightenment [of Farabi and Maimonides] was the claim that revelation is the medium of the moral and political life of the community. No community, not even the modern liberal state, can entirely escape theology. Philosophy must therefore pay its respects to religion by concealing its deepest and most disturbing truths by adopting a rhetoric of piety and obedience to the law. The model of this kind of “noble rhetoric” can be found in Plato. It was in Farabi’s interpretation of Plato that Strauss first discovered the famous doctrine of the “double truth” to which he gave expression in his famous 1941 essay “Persecution and the Art of Writing.”

Like every reader of Strauss, Mr. Tanguay wants to know whether Strauss’s recovery of esoteric writing was intended purely as a historical insight or whether he incorporated the techniques of Plato and Farabi into his own writing. “Why did Strauss,” Tanguagy asks, “who lived all his life in democratic regimes where freedom of expression is guaranteed by law, feel the need to employ an art of writing that is justified in part by fear of persecution?”

Strauss did not live in fear of persecution; he was not a paranoid. But his adoption of this “Farabian” rhetoric was his way of protecting his adopted homeland from the skepticism that is the mark of all true philosophy. Strauss’s use of a rhetoric of discretion was his way of showing respect for democracy.

Dubya Immanentizes the Eschaton

October 27, 2006

Gene Callahan consults Eric Voegelin for insight into the Bush administration and its ideological supporters:

Since the Gnostic is, like the Blues Brothers, “on a mission from God,” like Jake and Elwood he is not constrained by the moral rules that apply to the non-elect. Voegelin says, “Types of action which in the real world would be considered as morally insane because of the real effects which they have will be considered moral in the dream world because they intended an entirely different effect.” The ongoing train wreck that Iraqi society has become was the predictable and often predicted result of the US-British invasion of the country. But the promoters of the disaster accept no guilt for their role in bringing about the present, horrible situation, because in their dream world they intended a quite different outcome. “No one,” they protest, “could have foreseen the actual course of events,” while ignoring the fact that many people did foresee it, at least in its broad outlines.

Today, at last, the force of reality is beginning to compel them to acknowledge that their grand adventure in Iraq has gone terribly astray. But many neocons are still not willing to concede that therefore launching the war was a mistake. A popular dodge is to ask their critics, “So, you’d prefer it if Hussein was still in power, still oppressing the Iraqi people?”

Well, if I could have magically ended Hussein’s tyranny in a way that wouldn’t have made life even worse for those I sought to help, I would have done so. Unfortunately, as the past three years demonstrate, it was quite possible to depose him in a way that makes the average Iraqi nostalgic for “the good old days” of Saddam’s reign of despicable but limited violence. Traditional western morality rejects the notion that an actor’s “good intentions” alone are enough to absolve him from blame for the consequences of his actions, insisting that he also has an obligation to prudently consider the probable effects of the options he is contemplating. But in the Gnostic dream world, it is morally irrelevant if the “beneficiaries” of your assistance wind up significantly and predictably in worse shape than they would have been had you simply left them alone. What matters is that in your dream everything was scheduled to come out fine, and you are righteous solely based on your admirable intentions.

Read on.

I’m Voegelin-deficient, by the way, having read none of his major works.  I oughta remedy that in the next year or so.

Invasion of the Hermeneuticians

October 15, 2006

A classic from Murray Rothbard (who also takes a well-deserved shot at economists /econometricians invading other fields):

In recent years, economists have invaded other intellectual disciplines and, in the dubious name of “science,” have employed staggeringly oversimplified assumptions in order to make sweeping and provocative conclusions about fields they know very little about. This is a modern form of “economic imperialism” in the realm of the intellect. Almost always, the bias of this economic imperialism has been quantitative and implicitly Benthamite, in which poetry and pushpin are reduced to a single level, and which amply justifies the gibe of Oscar Wilde about cynics, that they [economists] know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The results of this economic imperialism have been particularly ludicrous in the fields of sex, the family, and education.

So why then does the present author, not a Benthamite, now have the temerity to tackle a field as arcane, abstruse, metaphysical, and seemingly unrelated to economics as hermeneutics? Here my plea is the always legitimate one of self-defense. Discipline after discipline, from literature to political theory to philosophy to history, have been invaded by an arrogant band of hermeneuticians, and now even economics is under assault. Hence, this article is in the nature of a counterattack.

[Read the whole thing here.]