Saturday, September 06, 2014

John Dewey and the Cult of Superficiality

         Estase has read his share of philosophy.  John Dewey is a particular bĂȘte noire of his, for the simple reason that Dewey proposed solutions that have no depth of thinking to them.  Following John Stuart Mill, the idea that rule by experts was desirable was the theory of Dewey.  Unlike Mill, Dewey had little idea of how complex this might actually be.  Mill was at least man enough to realize that there would be a debate on who the experts were.  Dewey seemed to think that being progressive was evidence that one was entitled to be an "expert."  Dewey provides no insight on how to balance popular government with rule by experts.  Dewey provides no insight on how to balance religious or minority rights with rule by experts.  Dewey's acolytes in the Roosevelt administration had zero respect for kosher butchering, as can be seen in the Schechter poultry case.  The only value was economic manipulation--religious freedom did not register, nor did the right to do business as one chose.
          Rule by experts is a concept that will not die, no matter how ridiculous it may be when applied to reality.

Well the Line Forms, On the Right, Babe

   "Less known to our intelligentsia is an aphorism in Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, a book well known to {Bertholt} Brecht, entitled "On the Pale Criminal," which tells the story of a neurotic murderer, eerily resembling Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who does not know, cannot know, that he committed murder out of a motive as legitimate as any other and useful in many important situations, but delegitimized in our pacific times:  he lusted after "the joy of the knife."  This scenario for "Mack the Knife" is the beginning of the supra-moral attitude of expectancy, waiting to see what the volcano of the id will spew forth, which appealed to Weimar and its American admirers.  Everything is all right as long as it is not fascism!  With Armstrong taking Lenya's place, as Mai Britt took Dietrich's, it is all mass-marketed and the message becomes less dangerous, although no less corrupt.  All awareness of foreignness disappears.  It is thought to be folk culture, all-American, part of the American century, just as "stay loose" (as opposed to uptight) is supposed to have been an insight of rock music and not a translation of Heidegger's Gelassenheit.  The historical sense and the distance on our times, the only advantages of Weimar nostalgia, are gone, and American self-satisfaction--the sense that the scene is ours, that we have nothing important to learn about life from the past--is served.
       This image can be seen in our intellectual history, if only one substitutes Mary McCarthy for Louis Armstrong and Hannah Arendt for Lotte Lenya, or David Riesman for Armstrong and Erich Fromm for Lenya, and so on through the honor roll of American intellectuals.  Our stars are singing a song they do not understand, translated from a German original and having a huge popular success with unknown but wide-ranging consequences, as something of the original message touches something in American souls.  But behind it all, the master lyricists are Nietzsche and Heidegger."  The Closing of the American Mind by Allen Bloom, pgs. 151-52.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Bloom on New Left

       "But the activists had no special quarrel with the classic texts, and they were even a bit infected by their Frankfurt School masters' habit of parading their intimacy with high culture.  Radicals had at an earlier stage of egalitarianism already dealt with the monarchic, aristocratic and antidemocratic character of most literary classics by no longer paying attention to their manifest political content.  Literary criticism concentrated on the private, the intimate, the feelings, thoughts and relations of individuals, while reducing to the status of a literary convention of the past the fact that the heroes of many classic works were soldiers and statesmen engaged in ruling and faced with political problems(p65).
       Herbert Marcuse appealed to university students in the sixties with a combination of Marx and Freud.  In Eros and Civilization and One Dimensional Man he promised that the overcoming of capitalism and its false consciousness will result in a society where the greatest satisfactions are sexual, of a sort that the bourgeois moralist Freud called polymorphous and infantile.  Rock music touches the same chord in the young.  Free sexual expression, anarchism, mining of the irrational unconscious and giving it free rein are what they have in common.  The high intellectual life I shall describe in Part Two and the low rock world are partners in the same entertainment enterprise.  They must both be interpreted as parts of the cultural fabric of late capitalism.  Their success comes from the bourgeois' need to feel that he is not bourgeois, to have undangerous experiments with the unlimited.  He is willing to pay dearly for them.  The Left is better interpreted by Nietzsche than by Marx.  The critical theory of late capitalism is at once late capitalism's subtlest and crudest expression.  Anti-bourgeois ire is the opiate of the Last Man(p.78).
       Woody Allen's comedy is nothing but a set of variations on the theme of the man who does not have a real "self" or "identity," and feels superior to the inauthentically self-satisfied people because he is conscious of his situation and at the same time inferior to them because they are "adjusted."  This borrowed psychology turns into a textbook in Zelig, which is the story of an "other-directed" man, as opposed to an "inner-directed" man, terms popularized in the 1950s by David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, borrowed by him from his analyst, Erich Fromm, who himself absorbed them (e.g. innige Mensch) from a really serious thinker, Nietzsche's heir, Martin Heidegger.  I was astounded to see how doctrinaire Woody Allen is, and how normal his way of looking at things--which has immediate roots in the most profound German philosophy--has become in the American entertainment market.  One of the links between Germany and the United States, the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, actually plays a cameo role in Zelig(p. 144-45).
        Get rid of capitalist alienation and Puritan repression, and all will be well as each man chooses for himself.  But Woody Allen really has nothing to tell us about inner-directedness.  Nor does Riesman nor, going further back, does Fromm.  One has to get to Heidegger to learn something of all the grim facts of what inner-directedness might really mean.  Allen is never nearly as funny as Kafka, who really took the problem seriously, without the propagandistic reassurance that Left progressivism would solve it.  Zelig has a flirtation with Hitler--whose appeal, it almost goes without saying, is to "other-directed persons,"  or to use an equivalent expression popularized by another German psychoanalyst, Theodore Adorno, to "authoritarian personalities"--but is rescued by his psychiatricus ex machine.  (Flirtation with Stalin never needs explanation in this intellectual universe.)  Woody Allen helps to make us feel comfortable with nihilism, to Americanize it.  I'm O.K., thou art O.K. too, if we agree to be a bit haunted together(p. 146).
       Herbert Marcuse's accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsche label has been replaced by a Made In America label;  and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family(p. 147).
       I shall not comment on the Nazi period of the now de-Nazified Heidegger, other than to remark that the ever more open recognition that he was the most interesting thinker of our century, formerly chastely displaced in admiration for his various proxies, gives evidence that we are playing with fire.  His interest in new gods led him, as it did Nietzsche, in his teaching to honor immoderation over moderation and to ridicule morality.  Both helped to constitute that ambiguous Weimar atmosphere in which liberals looked like simpletons and anything was possible for people who sang of the joy of the knife {ed.--Mack the Knife} in cabarets(p. 154).
       Vulgar Marxism is, of course, Marxism.  Nonvulgar Marxism is Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, Heidegger, as well as the host of later Leftists who drank at their trough--such as Lukacs, Kojeve, Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre--and hoped to enroll them in the class struggle(p. 220).
       This is what we find in Marcuse and many others, who simply do not talk about the difficulty posed by the contradiction between Marx's fundamental principles and those of Freud.  Two powerful systems are served up in a single package.  Freud is the really meaty part of the concoction.  Marx provides a generalized assurance that capitalism is indeed at fault and that the problems can be solved by more equality and more freedom, that the liberated people will possess all the virtues(p. 223).
       Weber at least provided some examples, even though his definition may have been problematic.  One wonders whether Weber's contention that the value giver is an aristocrat of the spirit is less plausible than that of those who say that just anyone is, if he has the right therapist, or if a socialist society is constructed for him.  This egalitarian transformation of Weber permitted anyone who is not to the left to be diagnosed as mentally ill.  Left critics of psychoanalysis called it a tool of bourgeois conformism;  one wonders, however, whether the critics are not manipulators of psychological therapy in the service of Left conformism.  Adorno's meretricious fabrication of the authoritarian and democratic personality types has exactly the same sources as the inner-directed-other-directed typology, and the same sinister implications(p. 225).
       Marcuse began in Germany in the twenties by being something of a serious Hegel scholar.  He ended up here writing trashy-culture criticism with a heavy sex interest  in One Dimensional Man and other well-known books.  In the Soviet Union, instead of the philosopher-king they got the ideological tyrant;  in the United States the culture critic became the voice of Woodstock (p. 226).
       The New Left in America was a Nietzschanized-Heideggerianized Left.  The unthinking hatred of "bourgeois society"  was exactly the same in both places.  A distinguished professor of political science proved this when he read to his radical students some speeches about what was to be done.  They were enthusiastic until he informed them that the speeches were by Mussolini.  Heidegger himself, late in his life, made overtures to the New Left.  The most sinister formula in his Rectoral Address of 1933 was, with only the slightest of alterations, the slogan of the American professors who collaborated with the student movements of the sixties:  "The time for decision is past.  The decision has already been made by the youngest part of the German nation (p. 314-15). "

All from The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Francis Fukuyama and Zombie Movies

      The events of the last week are making me remember the famous t-shirt slogan of the 80s:  Choose Life.
        Right now Christians are being purged from Iraq by ISIS, a bloodthirsty terrorist group.  Nigerian Catholics have been burned alive by their Muslim neighbors.  An unarmed young African-American in Ferguson, MO is shot for no apparent reason.  To top it off, comedian Robin Williams hangs himself.
          I have started to wonder if one of the reasons for the popularity of zombie movies is that, in a perverse way, the total breakdown of society isn't unthinkable any more.  One reason we got into this situation with Iraq was that the Bush administration's bible was Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man .  It was the Condaleeza Rice view of things that all human beings desired to live in western democracies.  One only needs to look at what happened to Iran after the Shah to see that, no, not all human beings wish to live in western democracies.  Indeed, the first thing that some people will do with their votes will be to install religious extremists as their government.  The Bushies made this mistake in its most extreme form when they encouraged the creation of the Palestinian Authority under the mistaken belief that Palestinians would create a moderate, democratic government.  When they actually installed Hamas as the ruling party, Israel was now faced with the necessity of treating people who will not accept their existance as the Palestinian government.
               The zombie movie resounds with people because it refutes the neoconservative idea that people have an intrinsic love of democracy and order.  Humans everywhere do not love freedom, at least the western idea of freedom as being liberal democracy.  This relentless crusade for making the world democratic has only put the most barbaric and retrograde elements in positions of strength in Iraq and Gaza/West Bank.  Indeed, how other than the existance of revived corpses could there be more chaos in the world right now?
          The movement in the world, and especially the middle east, is towards governments that utilize mass murder as a tool for uniformity.  In that sense, the Yugoslav civil wars in the 1940s and 1990s are the template for groups such as ISIS.  Why persuade people to support a government when you can just kill off your opposition?  Why worry about drawing national borders to account for ethnic groups when you can just destroy minority ethnicities?
            Choose Life isn't just a t-shirt slogan anymore.  It is the most basic and anachronistic aspiration for today's blood-soaked world. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Aims of Government

       The following is from Cato's Letters, #63:
       While the people have common-sense left, they will easily see whether they are justly governed, and well or ill used;  whether they are protected or plundered:  They will know that no man ought to be the director of the affairs of all, without their consent;  that no consent can give him unlimited power over their bodies and minds;  and that the laws of nature can never be entirely abrogated by positive laws;  but that, on the contrary, the entering into society, and becoming subject to government, is only the parting with natural liberty, in some instances, to be protected in the enjoyment of it in others.

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Nineteen

       "By the fall of 1920 the Kemalist army was acting on its committment to destroy Armenia, now a precarious, isolated country of genocide refugees ravaged by disease and famine.  Once again Armenia found itself in a situation beyond its control.  In the summer of 1920, the Soviets were pressing Armenia to join the Soviet Union, and war actually broke out between Armenia and the Soviet Union in July.  From the other side of the world--so it seemed--the West was urging Armenia not to join the Soviets, which in the end would cost Armenia even more territory.
       In this tense period a draft of a treaty between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey remained unratified in Ankara because the Soviets now asked that some of Turkish Armenia be awarded to the present Armenian Republic.  The Soviets also asked that the peoples of Turkish Armenia (the term used by the Soviets) and Batum, eastern Thrace, and the regions inhabited jointly by Turks and Arabs should be given the right to decide their own fate.  Refugees living in Soviet Russia, and those who had been made homeless by war and massacre, were to be allowed to return to their homes and participate in a referendum.
       The Turkish response to the Soviet requests is revealing.  Kiazim Karabekir's answer is an early and quintessential statement of Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide.  He retorted:' In Turkey there has been neither an Armenia nor territory inhabited by Armenians. . . . Those [Armenians] living in Turkey committed murder and massacres, and have escaped to Iran, America, Europe, and some of them to Armenia.  How is it possible to call back these murderers and give them the right to vote?'  When Soviet foreign commissar Grigori Chicherin put the same proposal to the Turkish delegation in Moscow, he was told the same thing:  'No Armenian provinces have ever existed in Turkey.'  In this way, the Kemalists were continuing the work of the Young Turks in their effort to erase Armenia in fact and idea from the map it had inhabited."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian, pgs.325-28.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Impending Doom of Nation-States (As We Know Them)

      The following is a guest commentary by Tom Usher.

       Those lamps were the lamps of independence.  In Europe, independence meant conflict, just like it did here in the states.  We succumbed to central control first and then it was forced on Europe by America as a result of the war.
      I think that America was designed originally as it was because the founders looked at European history and realized that independent states would always be at war.  They designed a system that was supposed to allow for a common governmental framework in which these conflicts could be defused without the loss of independence.
       It took less than one hundred years to find out that peace among independent states is not possible and that a little control with only the power of man as its basis won't maintain it.  Peace, or at least the fiction of it, can only be maintained through force of a more eternal kind.
        And that's the real story of history.  Who has the power to enforce peace and whether or not they do it with justice or terror.  After the fall of Rome Europe became a place where subsidiarity was the rule.  City states and small kingdoms all competed for power.  Because there were many different actors and power was diffused a chaotic system kept any one group from holding too much power for too long.
       During the Middle Ages the system the American founders wanted actually existed, though to read modern historians one would never know it.  The Catholic Church became the great arbiter, a clearing house for grievances large and small which kept most of Europe independent and from each other's throat.  Most rulers had an allegiance to the Church and the Pope which gave the Church the power to step in when needed and decide the issue at hand before war broke out.
       A perfect system?  No.  But a better one than the one that came into place after WW I.  The American system of top down central control, developed after the Civil War, came into its own during the Roosevelt and Wilson administrations, and at the same time as the rise of the other centrally controlled system, Communism.  And Europe became the testing and battle ground for global central government. 
       In the Middle Ages, Europe stayed relatively peaceful (at least for Europe) due to the fear of God.  The limits imposed by the Church were shattered by the Reformation and the Age of Reason, culminating in the French Revolution and finally the force of government enforced through the fear of man and his arms after WW I.  Nations no longer feared God.  {Estase's note:  "God is dead"--Nietsche's statement was more sociology than philosophy.  Old Friedrich was only describing what had long been the case}  They looked to themselves for authority and the guys with the biggest guns had the most.  So, with the governors off, with nothing apart from national force as the benchmark of truth, we entered into a century of global conflict, a tug of war on a global scale;  an unnatural state of never-ending warfare on a global and all-consuming scale.
       That is the legacy of WW I and all that led to it.  A war that has never been decided, a peace that can only be maintained through massive force, which requires an expenditure of resources that cannot be maintained over time on a global scale never before attempted.  Entropy writ large.
       We're out of energy to apply to the false system of peace that was put in place at Versailles.  The system is collapsing and a new one will rise in its place.  We're about to see why, on the biggest human scale ever, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is not just a suggestion--it's a law.
       Personally, I think that we'll use the last of our rapidly dwindling energy reserves fighting to damn near global exhaustion this time and then we'll see the injection of God into history.  The power to rebuild had to come from the outside to keep the human system going or it will completely collapse and disappear.  God uses nature and He pretty much follows the laws he designed.  So buckle up.  Those that make it to the other side of this will have stories that will need to be passed down through the generations as a warning to those that come after.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Eighteen

         "By the fall of 1919, as the Kemalists were taking on the Greeks, Damad Ferid's government fell, and the Kemalists accrued more influence in government in Constantinople and throughout the country.  In the coming years there were three Greco-Turkish battles, and in September 1922 the Turks would burn Smyrna to the ground after killing tens of thousands of Greeks and Armenians and expelling the Greeks and remaining Armenians from the city and the region.
        As Kemalist nationalism found its footing and assumed unofficial political leadership, the nationalist stance against Armenia became increasingly virulent.  Procrastination by the Entente in Paris gave the Turks the time they needed to invade Armenia.  But before that happened, politics at the peace conference and in the United States made Armenia's situation tenser and even more complex.  In April 1920 the Allies asked President Wilson to draw a boundary line for the western part of Armenia;  but in May the United States rejected a proposed American mandate for Armenia.
        And on August 10, 1920, the Allies brought Damad Ferid Pasha and his government to the conference table with a treaty they had been preparing for months.  Like the Greek occupation of Smyrna, the Treaty of Sevres came as an affront to the Turks and especially to the Kemalists.  Because the Ottoman Empire had been a multicultural empire comprising numerous ethnic groups, many of which were living on their historic lands, the Treaty of Sevres in some ways was aimed at decolonizing the empire.
        Section VI, articles 88-93, of the treaty dealt exclusively with Armenia:  1)Turkey was to recognize Armenia as a free and independent state;  2) the president of the United States would determine the boundary between Armenia and Turkey, a boundary that would pass through the provinces of Erzurum, Trebizond, Van, and Bitlis;  3)the boundary was to include an outlet for Armenia on the Black Sea;  4)Turkey must renounce any claim to the ceded land;  5)although Armenia had been crippled by massacre and deportation, the European powers were asking Armenia to assume financial obligations for the former Turkish territory that was awarded to it;  6)Armenia would agree to protect the interests of minorities in its new state.  The treaty was at least a fair settlement for Armenia, but by the time it was signed, the politics in Turkey and the military advances against Armenia had made it almost obsolete.  Now the Kemalists were determined to revoke the Treaty of Sevres with its awards of territory not only to Armenia, but to Kurdistan and Greece.
        The 'National Pact' the Kemalists had drawn up in 1919 demanded all of Turkish Armenia, including areas that had been in Russia (Kars and Ardahan) that were now part of the Armenian Republic.  The Armenians desperately clung to the promises of the Europeans at Versailles and in the Treaty of Sevres, but the tide was turning.  The Kemalists were solidifying Turkey, and no foreign power was willing to accept a mandate for Armenia, even though the Europeans were agreeing to ask the League of Nations to consider the idea.  In the West the commitment to Armenia, in the wake of postwar fatigue, was dying fast."   The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian, pgs. 324-325. 

Brave for Liberty

       The following is from Cato's Letters #62:
       They who are used like beasts, will be apt to degenerate into beasts.  But those, on the contrary, who, by the freedom of their government and education, are comparing one man with another, that all men are naturally alike;  and that their governors, as they have the same face, constitution, and shape with themselves, and are subject to the same sickness, accidents, and death, with the meanest of their people;  so they possess the same passions and faculties of the mind which their subjects possess, and not better.  They therefore scorn to degrade and prostrate themselves, to adore those of their own species, however covered with titles, and disguised by power:  They consider them as their own creatures;  and, as far as they surround themselves, the work of their own hands, and only the chief servants of the state, who have no more power to do evil than one of themselves, and are void of every privilege and superiority, but to serve them and the state.  They know it to be a contradiction in religion and reason, for any man to have a right to do evil;  that not to resist any man's wickedness, is to encourage it;  and that they have the least reason to bear evil and oppression from their governors, who of all men are the most obliged to do them good.  They therefore detest slavery, and despise or pity slaves;  and, adoring liberty alone, as they who see its beauty and feel its advantages always will, it is no wonder that they are brave for it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

King's Bench

       It's been a while since Estase has blogged about King's Bench (AKA, the American Supreme Court).  One ingredient of the imperial presidency created by Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and strengthened by presidents as varied as FDR and George W. Bush, is that the court of King's Bench no longer decides on what the black-letter constitution says, but engages in dishonest though creative misreadings of this original document.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court has become an extension of the executive branch.  Justices are picked due to their predictable ability to tow the party line of whoever appointed them.  (One must concede, however, that Democratic presidents are much more adept at this than their Republican counterparts.  Anthony Kennedy votes far more like a liberal than would seem appropriate for a Republican appointee.  Even Sandra Day O'Connor had her embarassing Lemon case, which was also a lemon in another sense.)   Long ago cast to the winds was the Political Questions Doctrine as established in Luther v. Borden .  Today's Kings Bench is replete with such characters as Ruth Bader Ginsberg and "wise Latina" Sonya Sotamayor, who never saw a case of First Amendment religious freedom they thought deserved respect.  It is hard to imagine any of the more conservative members standing up to the executive, never mind the peril, in the same sense that James I and Francis Bacon clashed with Edward Coke.   It reminds one of W.B. Yeats' The Second Coming ,where the better people lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.   In a world where liberals think presidents are elected kings (see movies such as The American President and With Honors), Supreme Court justices are just another way to obviate the power of House and Senate.