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When the deeper troubles arrive, will today’s shame-mongers take the blame?

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 6, 2020

An abject lesson in human agency, culpability, and imprecation

How can we balance the highly profiled threat of a pandemic with the invisible requirements of something called “the economy” which most people are either blind to, or have been trained not to see?   This incapacity reminds me of a scene in the original Star Trek in which, far removed from the range of the star ship Enterprise‘s sensors, an inhabited planet is suddenly and totally destroyed.  Mr. Spock, executive officer of the Enterprise and native of the planet Vulcan, suffers an acute mental shock, a clairvoyant and non-local reaction to the termination of “millions of lives.”  Neither Captain Kirk nor any other of the (presumably non-Vulcan) crew experience any such hybrid empathic/cognitive experience.  Two interesting science fiction premises of this incident are that, first, members of the Vulcan species (though supposedly emotionally inhibited) are capable of experiencing death and suffering as magnitudes, while typical humans can only empathize with suffering among individuals, and furthermore, Vulcans can sense disasters at distant points in the space-time continuum.  Today when political leaders in jurisdictions across America and the world are shutting down economies and accusing those who object to these measures of moral insensitivity, I can almost hear the impetuous Captain Kirk and the emotional Dr. “Bones” McCoy ganging up on the wise Vulcan.  The human officers can’t distract themselves from the present danger long enough to buy into any Vulcan nonsense about mentally sensing death from afar. Proximate deaths are accounted real, while those distant in time or space are purely hypothetical.  “You’re a cold fish Spock!”

Is Spock’s supra-normal endowment of sensing suffering at a distance a quality that we, as beings capable of imagining the future, can mimic?  I think to a large extent we can, however it involves not just going against the grain of the emotions and the senses, but cutting through a lot of modern ideology as well.  To begin with, there is a strong human bias towards the present and the concrete.  After all, suffering presents itself to us as something immediate and particular, while future suffering seems unreal until it arrives.  At its most basic, this is a manifestation of the human preference for present over future goods.  We all have this preference, although some to a greater extent than others.

However additional difficulties present themselves whenever the costs of an immediate medical (or other easily observable) emergency is weighed against the costs of a future economic disruption.  A present medical emergency is tangible and immediate in the way that future economic conditions are not.  This in itself would weigh the scales against economic considerations.  However the problem is further complicated by the fact that the majority of the population have been educated into the belief that economics (i.e., a systematic body of knowledge about human decisions) is not real.  Granted, everyone agrees that there are many phenomena, like work, consumption and money which could be grouped under a category that people have agreed to call “economics.”  Yet the idea that these “kinds of stuff” have to be coordinated by some overarching principle seems as fantastic as unicorns.  Indeed, if the post-modern imagination were forced to choose between the reality of the economy and the unicorn, surely the unicorn would emerge as the sentimental favorite.

Granted, everyone is very concerned with the problem of “how to get stuff” now and in the future, although now is usually more important than the future.  Furthermore, everyone has a nagging fear that if the means for “getting stuff” were disrupted on a large scale, then it might cause intense suffering for many, not excluding a rise in mortality.  Moreover, everyone knows that “the economy” isn’t a tangible entity which kills people directly like a freight-train bearing down on a woman tied to the rails.  Rather the means are indirect, most obviously through starvation, malnutrition, and lack of access to medical supplies, and down to less obvious causes like suicides and a rise in criminal homicides.  Short of death, a depression (its called that for a reason!) impacts people to the extent that those who survive often find life barely worth living.  Everyone pretty much knows and acknowledges all this, regardless of ideology.

However there is a troublesome complication.  For while everyone knows and fears the lethal effects of an economic depression, many believe that the scenario can be averted by non-economic means.  Again, most people have no objection to the use of the word “economics” as long it doesn’t designate a science which subjects human behavior to laws which are inherent to reality .  Hence there have arisen theories (perhaps reducible to two main ideas) which claim to deliver on the promise of “getting stuff” by making a detour around markets. These theories are often designated “economics” even though they ignore fundamental principles integral to any economic reasoning.  To make the argument ridiculously simple, why don’t we call one of these theories just plain “stuff-theory.”  The other theory we can call “magic.”

According to stuff theory there should be no such thing as scarcity, let alone depressions.  After all stuff comes either from factories or farms.  Once it is produced it can be easily distributed.  Problem solved!  Anybody can run these operations.  Why not the government?  Why not the Army?  Why not robots?  Problem solved!  I am tempted to say “capital idea” but that would introduce a term which might undermine our confidence in the “stuff theory.”  The modern idea of “capital” might warn us that economic production has an organic and adaptive quality which is quite different from the notion of a self-maintaining machine.  Whatever an “economy” might be, it is certainly not a miniature version of Newton’s cosmos, wound-up at the beginning of time and left to orbit in perpetuity.  An economy is not just a dance of naked matter, it seems to involve human minds.  And minds change.

Sensing that that there is something human, even psychological, about the economy, another theory arose during the last century or two, to counter-balance and supplement the “stuff” theory.  This was the magic theory.  According to the magic theory “stuff” is created by money.  More money, more stuff.  Double the money, double the stuff.  I won’t elaborate since you can clearly see where this is going.  If stuff doesn’t come magically from money, something terrible might happen.  Like if you double the money and to your indignation you wind up with the same amount of stuff for twice the price.  At that point, if you are left holding the bag, the only thing to do is to shoot the messenger.  The messenger is economics.

Dupes and knaves

I know the above is idiotically simple minded.  But I am trying to make a point.  Seeing economic danger in the future is not something which requires Vulcan mind techniques.  It just requires a bit of prudent analysis.  Even so, it is beyond the capacity of many people.  I’m not talking about people with low intelligence and little education, although those people have as much right to know the truth as anyone else.  I mean people who have passed through the halls of higher education, but were never taught the legal, moral, or as in this case, the economic basis on which our society is secured.  I call these people the dupes.

Because these people are presented with a trade off between a tangible medical crisis and a conceptual economic crisis, they react to any attempt to balance these threats with the same indignation as Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy would to the dispassionate warnings of a Vulcan.  “You’re a cold fish Spock!”  Unfortunately as time waxes on, the devastation of the economy will be felt increasingly at the personal level.  Wages lost, jobs lost, empty shelves, worthless money, broken relationships, and broken hearts.  Can the morbidity index lag much farther behind those other metrics?  Will those of us who cried out in warning turn the tables on those who were so narrowly focused on the pandemic that they couldn’t see any other dangers?  Will we call them out as insensitive and callous to the risk of human life?  I hope not.  Tragically, because of an incorrigible incapacity of human mind, ignorance really is a kind of excuse.  Or as someone once said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

Rather, I hope that on their own, and using whatever face-saving rationale is available to them, that the dupes will come to their senses.  They will see that they were not only tricked into exacerbating a more easily controllable medical crisis, but were complicit in promoting the cover up for a financial crisis which resulted in an economic depression.  After all, we’ve all made our share of mistakes, and God loves those who repent.

More troubling are the knaves.  With a bit of forethought and discipline anyone can do a rough approximation of the Vulcan mind-over-time trick.  Some people use their predictive powers for the good of humanity, and others see exactly what is coming, but fail to warn, hoping that a duped humanity will fall into the pit. These latter are the knaves, the coldest of cold fish, and they are no concern of ours.  Furthermore, who is a knave and who is a dupe is no easy task to discern.  They are the wheat and tares to be sorted out as time permits in the slowly grinding mills of justice.  And in the event that Earthly justice fails, there are celestial venues far beyond even the orbit of Vulcan.

Posted in Christianity, Constitution, Culture & Politics, Economics, Ethics, Libertarianism, Media, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Ivan Illich, a philosopher for our times

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 11, 2020

Ivan Illich 1926-2002

Who’s afraid of Ivan Illich?

Friends and fellow Americans, I ask not your praises of Ivan Illich, but only note that we bury his memory at our peril in times which have rendered his work disturbingly prophetic.  If there were ever a neglected thinker who deserves a reading, or a corrective re-reading it would be Ivan Illich.  A radical critic of institutions, his writings are indicative of our present moment, when institutions have suddenly been either abolished or sanctified.  Yet who knows him today?  If he is not mistaken for the fictional character of Tolstoy’s famous short story, then he is pidgon-holed as a hot-headed educational refusenick.  Where is he encountered in our world, except perhaps on the musty knick-knack shelves of old hippies (the Bernie bros of their day) hiding somewhere under half-used packs of Zig-Zag “cigarette” wrappers?  As a European (Austrian) who adopted Latin America as his spiritual home at the height of Fidelismo he had numerous unkind things to say about the United States and the American way of doing things.  To be sure, we needn’t accept him as either priest or prophet, for like us all he was a creature of his time and place.

Yet, whether we can dine at his table or drink the cup that Illich drank from,  we can at at least accept him as a gifted philosopher and gather up the mental crumbs which have been scattered throughout his diverse and unsystematic works.  The first step in granting Illich our full intellectual attention is to demystify the paralyzing left/right dichotomy, and see him as an independent thinker who’s insights ought not to be swept under omnibus historical categories like “liberation theology” or “60s radicalsim.”   As a man of engagement rather than a contemplative thinker his actions were taken in response to particular constellations of ideology and power salient at a given historical moment.  Yet the controversial activism was rooted in an appreciation of human dignity, a perrenial philosophy far closer to libertarianism, populism, or even conservatism, than any form of Marxism.  A passionate defender of the so-called “Third World” against what he deemed the corrosive effect of North American influence, his writings are increasingly relevant to the United States, a society which in some respects has joined the ranks of the Third World itself.  For, as they would have said in the 60s, “the chickens have come home to roost.”

WWIIT:  What would Ivan Illich think?

Think, not do, since we are interested in applying his thought to the contemporary situation, which in many respects is both different from, and an intensification of, the world Illich worked with.  Significantly, the kind of policy recommendations which would have once seemed leftish, today resonate as well, if not better with libertarian and conservative thought.  Application aside, what principles of thinking guided Ivan Illich, and are these the sort of principles which might miraculously turn the zombies of today’s chattering classes into independent thinkers?  At the risk of oversimplification, let’s pick out just three of Illich’s methodological principles: radical nominalism, methodological anti-institutionalism, and a critique of pure life.

1) Radical nominalism.  As a paleolibertarian I can empathize with what Richard Weaver called “Realism” to the extent of lamenting how modern education has abandoned Platonic ideals such Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  However in the dirty and detailed world of social criticism, nominalism, as a style of thought, comes into its element and leaves realism behind.    This is because a critical examination of the relationship between terms and their referents is a powerful antidote to uncritical acceptance of state and media propaganda.  Especially so, as the power institutions which dominate society are as much the creatures of nomenclature and modes of thinking as they are of human, material, and organizational factors.  Granted, unbridled nominalism can lead to magical thinking, but Illich was not building up castles in the air, he was critiquing the correspondence between words such as health, wealth, knowledge, and life one the one hand, and the phenomena which they so often misrepresent.  Illich realized that the nomenclature which large institutions use to capture “objective reality” is largely a mishmash of self-serving propaganda rather than a world-view based on disinterested observation.  Importantly, the kind of nominalism which Illich employed owed little if anything to the tradition of British analytic philosophy.  Rather it seems to have been a pragmatic adoption of the methodology which he encountered in anthropological linguistics.

2) Methodological anti-institutionalism.  As a dissenter from the world of “progress” I cherish institutions.  When I think of institutions my first reference is usually to family and kinship systems, religious organizations and whatnot.  In the unequivocal anti-institutionalism of Ivan Illich there are no sacred cows.  None the less, it is clear that his critique of institutions is primarily directed at the misuse of power, and especially the abuse which is characteristic of highly asymmetric power relations.  In the context of his writing the paradigmatic example would be a Third World village seduced by the blandishments of a multinational corporation.  Illich was aware that there are indeed institutions which are primarily dedicated to their functions, however he pointed out that beyond certain levels of scale and entrenchment, whatever remains of their functionality becomes secondary to the enhancement of power, wealth, and status.  As a Catholic Christian Illich was probably aware of Acton’s saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, but regardless, the principle itself was a touchstone of his own understanding of institutions.  Illich was and is a helpful thinker since he understood that the injustices of modern institutions were seldom carried out as extensions of naked tyranny.  Rather they are typically cloaked with the trappings of benevolence and progress, the toxic effects of which only become observable in the long run.

3. A critique of pure life.  Illich came into his full powers when he turned his attention to bioethics.  He was investigating the meaning of medicine and health a generation in advance of the year 2020, when epidemic news suddenly seized the headlines.  His crucial contribution was the notion of a “biocracy” i.e. the superseding of democratic society in favor of the rule of life by experts, and especially medical experts.  This thesis of a developing rulership over all life in turn begs the question of what is meant by life.  Here Illich reveals himself to be a profound Christian philosopher, and perhaps a radical heretic within the context of his own church, for he insists on differentiating spiritual from biological life and affirming the ultimate priority of the former.  Indeed, Illich boldly hypothesized that the last and greatest idolatry would be an idolatry of life in which life itself was reduced to a matter of biological survival.

From Marxist to Mystic

In a more subtle fashion than, say, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who was once a Soviet officer) Illich seems to have awakened to the injustices of the world while he was still primarily a man of the left.  Always a priest and a Christian, his life took a more spiritual turn as his thought matured.  This sort of maturation, which is normally observed in an evolution of attitudes towards politics, morality or economics, showed itself in Illich predominantly with regard to language.  Originally an advocate of verbal communication as a panacea among contemporaries practicing “conviviality” Illich in his maturity acquired increased respect for the written text.  Interestingly enough, he turned his attention away from the 20th century and towards the work of Hugh of St. Victor in a book called In the Vinyard of the Text.  Here he tied together his insights about verbal communication with an appreciation of the way in which texts and manuscripts were used, as well as the use of the alphabet as a universal cognitive map, something we are inclined to take for granted today.

Surely few of Illich’s original fans would ever consider In the Vinyard of the Text the apex of his work.  After all, in the revolutionary ’60s it would not have been considered “relevant.”   Yet in taking up themes from the middle ages and Scholasticism (granted the many limitations of the latter) Illich was expanding “conviviality” from a social bond limited to the present, to a mystical conversation binding together the present, past, and future.  In other words, he was coming out in favor of tradition and the inheritance which the present receives from the past.  If that isn’t the earmark of a conservative thinker I don’t know what is.  Moreover I doubt that this was a novel turn in Illich’s thought, but rather the public revelation of a deep strata of his mind which had long been obscured by his active engagement with the hot-button issues of his times.

Whether or not, as I have been hinting, Ivan Illich can be repackaged as a conservative or a libertarian, his works deserve renewed appreciation.  At the very least, we should be looking at his work on bioethics, which ought to challenge the doctrinaire and dangerous consensus which has emerged at the top of our political class.  And as a final benefit, perhaps a rereading of Illich can bring together all those, of either the left or right, who are committed to human well-being, dignity, prosperity, and freedom.

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christianity, Conspriacy Theory, Economics, History, Medicine, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, propaganda, Science, technology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Flesh Gordon, or why the crises are different these days

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 2, 2020

Elite Panic

It seems we have entered into a new age.  I doubt that the present “health crisis” should be taken as its onset, but rather as the symptom of something which has been building up for a long time.  Furthermore the “something” which I refer to isn’t a  biological threat in our environment, as real as the biological threats might be.  Rather, the something which has broken out, and which has been a long time simmering, is panic.  Furthermore I don’t mean mass panic, although toilet paper and other goods disappearing from shelves would indicate that mass panic is latent and dangerous.  Rather I mean a new kind of panic, a panic which is both opposite to, and in some way symbiotic with, the panic of the masses: elite panic.  The masses haven’t shut down the world, although so far they have complied with that shut down.  Only the elites had the power to shut down the world, and they have demonstrated that power, with great authority, during the past few weeks.

For those of us who talk, perhaps too glibly, of “elites,” this should prompt a critical review of our principles.  After all, as our theories go, the elites control the world, and the world-system is the source of their power.  A shut down is against everybody’s interest, but it is most of all against the interests of the elites themselves.  What are we to make of this?  I am skeptical enough to think that there has been an overreaction to the pandemic, although the pandemic is a reality.  Of course I might be wrong, but even if I were wrong, the salient point is that one would expect the elites to err in the opposite direction.  One might expect elites to sacrifice public health to economics.  But that hasn’t happened, and instead the world economy has been put on indefinite hold.  This bodes poorly for the near term future.

Indeed, it bodes so poorly, that, for those of us who think that a world depression would kill far more people than a pandemic, the possibility of malice naturally occurs.  Perhaps the elites, like Ming the Magnificent in the space opera Flash Gordon, tiring of using planet Earth as their plaything, have resolved to destroy it.  However I think not.  As bad as the elites might be, they are neither wicked spirits nor space aliens, but rather composed of the same flesh as you and I.  In destroying the world they would destroy themselves as well.  While to the masses the elites appear to be in the drivers seat, they are actually driven themselves, by desire, by fear, and ultimately panic.  As pawns in their own game, they resemble a desperate Dr. Faustus more than a scheming Mephisto, let alone a planet destroying Vader or Ming.  Here I want to make a conjecture as to what drives them, and ironically drives them to destruction while seeking self-preservation.  And sadly, not just “them” but us as well, elite or non-elite.  I will try to avoid demonizing anyone, and will stop just short of the diabolical, to pause in the kingdom of the magical and the heroic.  Along the way we may have to make a stop at the planet Mongo as well, but not to see the Emperor.  I am more interested in the fatal flaws of heroes than the malice of villains.  Perhaps we can survive the onslaughts of villains, but can we see through the fatal flaws of our own best intentions?

From God to heros

Furthermore in criticizing elites, I’m not necessarily talking about world political and financial elites, although that class is obviously riddled with bad actors.  I mean the kind of elite which you or I would be flattered to belong to, as if someone exclaimed,”Wow, you’re elite stuff!”  I’m talking about the ideals and aspirations of our professions and the power of expert knowledge.  We assume that this is good stuff, even “the right stuff.”  We all embrace the principle that knowledge is superior to nescience, and that skill is superior to inability.  Generally speaking, this is true.  However as with everything in life, there is a limit to the application of the general principle.

By the third decade of the 21st century, we have reached some sort of tipping point.  Call it “the singularity” if you want, although I dislike the term.  None the less, we have gotten to a place where most people, at least in the West, consider expert knowledge the world’s highest source of wisdom.  All other forms of wisdom, whether that be revelation, tradition, or personal experience, are considered either bogus or supplementary to expert knowledge.  Of course there are dissenters to this world-view, but such dissent no longer plays much of a role in broad social discourse.  It is assumed that humanity has attained its maturity and has cut the cords which once kept it under the control of nature, let alone God, assuming that the latter had ever existed.  The world is now humanity’s to make, break, or repair.

According to Issac Asimov, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Today the priests of the High God have been banished (literally, in the case of the present shut down of churches) and the magicians are now in undisputed control.  We have arrived at the age of the unchallenged expert.  Only the trappings of our once vaunted “democracy” remain, and as for our religions, sometimes not even the trappings.

By and large, people seem happy with this.  All the divine qualities that were once imputed to the High God have now been transferred over to the expert: omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.  This is not just a magical age, but an epoch of magical monotheism, an era where the magician has no competitors.  This is accepted because the millenia in which the High God ruled are now considered backward, and the handful of centuries since the Enlightenment seem, if not yet having delivered, at least showing promise towards fulfilling the demands which humanity makes of its gods: infinite life, perfect health, and universal prosperity.  After having patiently endured through a series of rough industrial stages an expectant humanity now awaits the full fruits of science and technology.

Malpractice and Magical Monotheism

In short, the modern magician (whatever professional label secular society might apply to him or her) has inherited the mantle of the High God.  At first blush, this is an exhilarating ascendance.   Yet, delving into the dark psyche of human history, one is alarmed to discover that the deepest collective emotion of the human race is an implacable hatred of God.  Here followers of the Abrahamic religions will instantly recognize the ubiquity of sin.  Yet even those who deny the Torah or its sequels will find disturbing pointers towards god-hatred throughout the anthropological record.  Like Job, humanity frames its own questions and hurls them out into the void: “Who is the mysterious bad actor who has managed to ruin humanity’s prospect of infinite life, perfect health, and universal prosperity?”  The riotous masses are ill-disposed to blame themselves.  Instead, they search for a scapegoat.  From the beginning, the obvious scapegoat was the Creator of the world.  Ignoring the scriptures, humanity concocted its own gnostic myths which portrayed the creator as a blind and potentially malevolent being.

As shocking as that might be, what ensued was even more shocking.  Miraculously, God, concurring with the desires of humanity, willingly offered himself up as a scapegoat.  Out of this miracle issued what Alexander Solzhentizen called “the fragile and diminishing capital of the Christian centuries.”  As a spiritual legacy this is simply the principle of charity but in terms of social capital it had the effect of underwriting the benevolent principle of limited moral liability.  Though never perfect, this enabled God-complient societies to function with temporary moratoriums on vendettas and witch-hunts.   In effect, God offered himself as a buffer between the warring tribes of humanity.

Today this spiritual capital is all but exhausted, and the magicians (i.e., experts, professionals) sit on the seat of the Almighty.  However the masses still assert the same list of non-negotiable demands as they did during the theological ages: infinite life, perfect health, and universal prosperity.  With the disappearance of God, the burden of satisfying these demands has shifted to the expert classes and professions.  They can no longer afford to fail, and yet they are human, only too human.

This hatred remains latent until the experts exhaust their resources, and then it flares forth with implacable fury.  Here we find the answer to our question: What is the origin of elite panic?  It is the fear of total liability.  A total liability assumed for the finite conditions of the human condition, mortality and scarcity.

Can flesh save flesh?

Whether or not the top elites of the political and financial worlds are worried or not, the professional and expert elites are most certainly living in a state of constant anxiety.  It is not the villains, the bad actors, who have a panic problem.  Rather it is the good actors, the heroes, who face the prospect of damnation by humanity if they fail to acquit themselves as beings who possess the qualities of omniscience and omnipotence.

There is nothing worse than the fate of a failed magician who is being hunted down as a sorcerer.  Yet this is one consequence of the new Godless social construct which has been erected on the foundation of modern propaganda and technology.  The salient effect of total liability is to render expert elites extremely cautious.  Since the prospect of utter damnation in the court of humanity is so frightful, whether or not it leads to ostracism or the guillotine, prudence borders on panic.  Prudence is, of course, a virtue.  But a new fear seems to have pushed the frontier of prudence towards panic.  What is this new fear?  It cannot be the fear of germs or bullets, meteorological or geological calamity, for these things have been with us for a long time.  If this new fear had any antecedent in traditional societies, it would be what anthropologists call “the evil eye.”  However this new “eye” has been magnified to the dimensions of a global village.  Like the local village of yore, the global village keeps it’s eye on the gods-d’jour waiting for the smallest infraction to cast them in the role of scapegoats.  Under such stringent conditions is it any wonder that panic prevails over common sense?

Yes, we love our heroes of the professional and expert elites, perhaps we even love them to death.  For in removing God from our presence we have also given our elites a deferred death sentence, a question of moral if not physical death.  Their newfound omnipotence is as toxic to heroes as it is intoxicating to the masses.  As Queen sang of Flash Gordon, “He’s saving every one of us!  He’s saving every one of us!”  Yes, that is our unilateral and non-negotiable demand, that everyone be saved.  Unfortunately our Flash Gordons are not up to the task, because Flash is, after all, only flesh.  It is murderously unfair to ask of flesh what can only be accomplished by God.  And yet, there is One who indeed can save, but he is not, contrary to Queen‘s lyrics, “…just a man.”

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Conspriacy Theory, Culture & Politics, Economics, Ethics, Paleoconservativism, propaganda, Science, technology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can the Praxiology of Mises be considered a special case of Max Scheler’s value objectivism?

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 25, 2020

The thin ethics of libertarianism: In search of a solution

Daniel Ajamian has recently restated Murray Rothbard’s philosophical foundation for libertarian ethics.  As all who are familiar with the philosophy of “paleo-” (or somewhat misleadingly “conservative” ) libertarianism will be aware, Rothbard rejected the utilitarian framework of Ludwig von Mises in favor of an absolutist theory based on natural law.  By the stadards of today’s market of ideas this is a superb world-view, and one which I would be very happy to endorse.  None the less, I am not convinced that Rothbardian natural law theory, based ultimately on Aristotle and Aquinas, is the best that we can do.  Thus in the interests of that “competition” beloved of free-market theorists, I would like to propose an alternative.

Specifically, I would like to consider Max Scheler’s value-objectivism as a meta-ethical framework, within which Misesian praxiology can be comfortably placed as a specific science with its own principles and parameters.  Not only would this be far superior to the vulgar libertarian elevation of Praxiology into a “theory of everything” or TOE, but it would provide an equally ethical, and more integral, meta-ethics compared to that offered by the natural law/virtue theory approach.

Libertarian promise and poverty

Among the deepest objections raised against libertarian ethics are those concerned over the primacy of negative formulations.  Such objections bear a family resemblance to anti-legalistic arguments.  Hence libertarian ethics is seen as a “thou shall not” philosophy.  Of course libertarian legal theorists rightly endorse the primacy of negative rights over the modern obsession with entitlements.  However this is a principle proper to the science of law, a particular department of life and one which falls short of a philosophical anthropology.  Defining human beings as “the animals who can and ought to obey the non-aggression principle” is not an adequate statement of human essence, even if certain libertarians might find it sufficient for their immediate purposes.

One can imagine a world in which all human beings have vanished from the Earth.  In such a world written formulations of the non-aggression axiom would still survive, in libraries, on computer hard-drives and elsewhere.  Even in this scenario, such statements of the non-aggression axiom would remain formally true.  However they would lose all their application, together with most of their meaning.  Such meaning as was retained in a depopulated world would pertain only to a kind of potential being which was no longer actual.  Any non-human intelligences as might decipher these formulae (angels, AI, aliens or whatever) would understand that they referred to some species no longer found on Earth.  If, for example, tigers still remained on the planet, it would be manifest that the non-agression principal had no application to tigers, and was certainly not an artifact of tiger thought or communication.

Perhaps one can think of other, and better, illustrations.  However the inescapable truth is that ethics, not just the non-aggression principle (NAP) but any possible ethics, is a branch of philosophical anthropology, and not the other way around.  To clarify, I use the adjective “philosophical” to distinguish the science of human nature from that interesting and occasionally useful discipline (also called anthropology) which studies bones, tools, genes and words in minute detail.  It is a science which can provide many facts about human beings, but which has become too focused and materialistic to pose philosophical questions about the human essence.

Not that there have been any lack of philosophical anthropologies in the strict sense.  A particular variation of philosophical anthropology is one of the twin pillars on which the whole of Judeo-Christian thought rests, the other being theology.  As for Greek humanism, we tacitly invoke its anthropology whenever we employ the post-Linnean term “homo sapiens.”  Even non-Western thought could not escape the problem of anthropology.  For example Buddhism, though talking grandly of “sentient beings” when called upon to get down to details, expounds on the unique promise and responsibilities of a human incarnation.

On all the above, there is little argument between myself and Mr. Ajamian, or for that matter Rothbard himself.  Unlike the vulgar libertarian for whom a particular (albeit correct) version of ethics has become a religion, the natural law libertarian understands that the non-aggression axiom is meaningless unless it is embedded within a larger theory of nature, and specifically human nature.

Virtue ethics vs. an objective ethics of values

In short, I agree with Mr. Ajamian, Murray Rothbard, C.S. Lewis and all the other good guys that “the abolition of Man” is something we don’t want to do.  Not only do we want human beings as such to thrive and survive, but we want to preserve the unique place in our sciences for “the human” as a category within the cosmos.   However, and this is where I begin to part company with Rothbard and Ajamian, there are several ways in which this might be done.  One is broad path laid out by Aristotle, Aquinas, and the late Scholasitics, starting out with the Catholics, branching out to Protestant Scholasticism, and on down to our day, possibly including such offshoots as the Straussians.  This is the natural law tradition, in all its venerable, rational, and well-demonstated glory.  However I think there is at least one other way to embed libertarian principles within a larger human and natural context.  This other way is less familiar and somewhat more difficult to understand than the natural law tradition.  However I think it holds the promise of a closer connection between ontology and ethics than is possible in the hybrid natural-law-plus-libertarianism approach of Rothbard and his close adherents.  Without depreciating the genius of Rothbard, for me it is enough to be a loose adherent.

This path less chosen is the non-formal ethics of values discovered by Max Scheler.  The key concepts in Scheler’s ethics are value and person.  In contrast to the economic concept of value (found in its pure form only in the Austrian school) Scheler’s ethics are objective, not subjective.  This sounds, at first blush, like a basic incompatibility.  However Scheler’s system of ethics is notable for its hierarchical arrangement of values.  This calls to mind the way in which Austrian graphs demonstrate valuation in ordinal units.  However Scheler’s hierarchy is much broader in scope, dealing with the basic structure of human needs rather than individual acts of choice.  In general, Scheler’s hierarchy ranges from material values at or near the bottom, up to spiritual values at the top.  Hence it is not a value-free method, of the sort endorsed by Ludwig von Mises, but later criticized by Rothbard as an inadequate basis for ethics.  Of course Rothbard endorsed both subjectivism and value freedom within the parameters of the theory of exchange.  Like Scheler, Rothbard did not feel that economic subjectivism could be expanded into a “theory of everything” and to head off any such vulgar assumption he had recourse to the bedrock notions of natural law theory.

Rothbard’s natural-law objectivism provides a workable philosophy for libertarians who sense they need to base their opinions on something more substantial than utilitarianism, even the judicious meta-utilitarianism of Ludwig von Mises.  However, as Mr. Ajamian is candid enough to admit, there is something adventitious about Rothbard’s synthesis of modern libertarian theory and the natural law tradition.  Anyone with a historical appreciation of that tradition will realize that, from Aristotle onward, that it contains the concept of the “political animal” as an integral component.  Born out of the pagan polis, albeit Christianized over the centuries, the bedrock layer of natural law theory is collectivist, albeit a collectivism which has been increasingly modified in the direction of individualism with the passing of the ages.

Up until Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard (the former presenting any historian of thought with peculiar problems) the modern libertarian movement bore much greater resemblance to Kantianism than the natural law tradition.  The representative American libertarian of the 20th century was, like Kant, an advocate of the supremacy of ethics over life.  This may be considered a gross overstatement, and unfair both to the subtlety of Immanuel Kant and the benevolence of libertarians, but I am trying to paint the spirit of a movement in the boldest possible colors.  Yet at a more cognitive level, it should be obvious to any philosophically informed reader of Ludwig von Mises that he was a very original, but also very orthodox neo-Kantian.

Mises vs. Scheler, the men vs. their methods

Unfortunately it appears that Mises and Scheler, though contemporaries, never met.  Worse, what they knew of one another, either through publication or third parties, was mutually misunderstood.  What Scheler thought of economics is probably irrelevant.  What is more relevant is his historical relationship to Immanuel Kant.  Up until Scheler all philosophy was either non-Kantian (Thomism, Scottish Realism etc.) or neo-Kantianism.   Scheler, at least according to his own claims, was the first genuinely post-Kantian thinker.  In other words, he was the first philosopher to critically examine Kant, extract what was true in his thinking, and then set out in a completely different direction.  One might think this was of relevance in light of what I mentioned concerning the affinity between American-style libertarianism and Kantian thought.

At a more substantial level, Scheler’s thought was tightly wrapped around the primacy of persons.  He made a sharp distinction between the person, which he considered a real entity, and the individual which he deemed little more than an abstraction.  Given this, and that he had no great regard for either Manchester Liberalism or Herbert Spencer, it is no wonder that the insights of Scheler’s thought have remained largely invisible to libertarians.  None the less, a strong family resemblance remains between personalists and individualists.  In the case of Scheler, the theory of personalism is developed to such depths that it can incorporate both individualist and collectivist approaches to the person.

Finally, and most critically, we arrive at the objectivity and hierarchical nature of values.  This, it seems to me, is the most promising alternative to natural law theory as a foundation for libertarian thought and practice.  The question of the compatibility of Austrian value-subjectivism and Schelerian value-objectivism is easily answered by noting that first, that “values” referred to are different concepts , and second, that one is a special case of the other.  Scheler actually hints that the subjective nature of economic calculation is intrinsic to its (rather low) position on his hierarchy of values.  This might be a blow to the ego of economists, but should bear no reflection on the worth of their science.

Both Schelerian value-ethics and the virtue ethics of natural law theory are adequate to circumscribe and support libertarian thought.  This is because both assert the value and dignity of the human person.  My preference for Scheler is based on a hunch that value-ethics will tend to be more flexible and less collectivist in the long run, while remaining just as objective as the natural law tradition.  A correlative hunch is that virtue ethics bears considerable affinity with statism (remember Robespierre’s “cult of virtue”).

Whether I am right about this or not, it is better not to approach Scheler’s philosophy with excessive veneration for Scheler’s opinions, political or otherwise.  He was a man of constant changes, embracing a wide variety of causes, and equally willing to repent of his past mistakes.  Libertarians should view his sneers at Manchester liberalism and Herbert Spencer as typical of a man of insatiable curiosity who frequently jumped to conclusions before jumping off to other matters.  However this was only at the edges, at his core Scheler professed a deep and consistent theory of ethics, one which in its objectivity and compatibility with human dignity rivals the natural law tradition.  One should not expect to agree with the man entirely, any more than Murray Rothbard would have agreed with Thomas Aquinas entirely.

Posted in Anthropology, Ayn Rand, Christianity, culture, Economics, History, Judaism, Law, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mendenhall throws in the towel: The reality and reputation of Cultural Marxism

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 10, 2019

The Fish, the Ocean, and Cultural Marxism

“Is Cultural Marxism real?”  That is the question which the intellectually well-endowed Allen Mendenhall asks, and answers in the affirmative.  Whether or not this is good news depends on what is really meat by “real.”  Is the “real” in question a stamp of authenticity, as per “the real deal” or is it something more sinister, a negative reality better expressed as “the clear and present danger.”  In lieu of a direct answer to this question, Mendenhall gives us a brief walk through the last century-and-a-half’s developments in the humanities and social sciences, just in case anyone was sleeping.  What is seemingly at issue is whether or not these developments are uniformly circumscribed  within the ambit of “Cultural Marxism.”  Again, Mendenhall answers yes, that for better or worse, we live in a world where the cultural turn of Marxism has become the cynosure of all social thought.

It doesn’t take a genius, or even an Allan Mendenhall, to understand why the phrase “Cultural Marxism”, as opposed to the movement it describes, has been brought into question by those who would prefer to keep their actions and allegiances tacit.  Whenever a phenomenon becomes ubiquitous in the world, and assuming that it might be viewed as noxious in certain quarters, it behooves those in sympathy with the phenomenon to hide its existence, or at least to deny that it has any special defining characteristics.  Rendered nameless and invisible, the phenomenon recedes into the background noise of existence and is thus insulated against overt criticism.  Or as people say these days, “it just is what it is.”

Allan Mendenhall and other scholars (he mentions Alexander Zubatov), are wise to this recent ploy and willing to call it out as a denial of reality.   Clearly, Cultural Marxism is more than just a cypher, a mythological snark roaming through the ruins of what were once called the Western Humanities.  It has a demonstrable pedigree, names, dates, books, and manifestos…aside from manifest consequences.  Ostensibly,  Mendenhall seeks to refute the premises and program of the Cultural Marxists,  a critical enterprise which can only commence after the object of criticism has been acknowledged.  However Mendenhall goes further and conveys the attitude that Cultural Marxism must be respected, at least in the basic sense that any scientific enterprise must respect the object of its investigation, whether the intent of the investigation be positive or critical.  In his own words,

“Scholars versed in [the] Theory [of Cultural Marxism] are reasonably suspicious of crude, tendentious portrayals of their field.  Nevertheless, these fields retain elements of Marxism that, in my view, require heightened and sustained scrutiny.  Given estimates that communism killed over 100 million people, we must openly and honestly discuss those currents of Marxism that run through different modes of interpretation and schools of thought.  To avoid complicity, moreover, we must ask whether and why Marxist ideas, however attenuated, still motivate leading scholars and and spread into the broader culture.”(1)

The question of complicity

The last sentence from the above quote is noteworthy for its candor.  By declaring “In order to avoid complicity…” Mendenhall has acknowledged the danger of any engagement with Cultural Marxism, an engagement which is in some ways analogous to those who dabble in the occult in order to “research” and “refute” the occult.  It is the perennial dilemma of those who seek to unravel a cat’s cradle by adding complexity to complexity until it becomes an insolvable Gordian Knot, or one of those silly but effective Chinese puzzles which trap your finger in a tiny tourniquet.  After all, Cultural Marxism would not have become a predominant force within the humanities unless it had the ability to subtly absorb and convert its harshest critics.

Precisely because the danger that Mendenhall alludes to is terrifyingly real, we are justified in holding him to his word.   Is he complicit? No matter how earnest his dismay at the present academic culture might be, does Mendenhall’s survey of the subject serve to refute or, conversely, to legitimate the hegemony of the left over our so-called humane letters?  His essay is a concise and usable survey, one that could be handy for an aspiring undergraduate to use as a “crib” in discussing the various fields of the human and social sciences as they developed, or were perverted, in the course of the last few generations.  Though already a miracle of economy, I will try my hand at further simplifying the essay’s contents.

According to Mendenhall the relevant trends in the humanities and social sciences can be grouped under neo-Marxism, Structuralism, Deconstructionism, and the New Historicism.  These taxa should be enough to show that the Cultural Marxist world-view is not a single set of ideas, rather, that it consists of a large number of people attempting to look at human behavior from a variety of perspectives.  Those of us who have studied in these fields are aware of this variety, and those new to the subject shouldn’t be surprised.  Even for critics of Cultural Marxism, this variety of thinkers and theories can be a legitimate source of intellectual stimulation and interest.  Hence any naive critic who assumes that the obnoxiously “politically correct” tenor of higher education derives from a single source can be easily refuted.

However this representative naive critic, allegedly inhabiting what Zubatov called “the dark, dank silos of the far right” while certainly (like the Cultural Marxists themselves) more than mythological, also serves Mendenhall as a straw man against which his sophisticated and variegated treatment of neo-Marxist schools is shown to full advantage.   Again, there is nothing wrong with this, as long as one doesn’t allow one’s awe at the variety and creativity of error lead one into an attitude of endearment.   In the systematic study of intellectual error, as with the study of medical pathology, the variety of the phenomena should not lead to engrossed fascination.  It should not make one forget that the thing you are dealing with is something fundamentally bad.

The unifying framework

Variety tends to exculpate.  The slogan “Let a thousand flowers bloom” gives us a warm and optimistic feeling, and gratifies our libertarian conscience, even if we are mentally aware that the person who coined the phrase (Mao Tse Tung) was a bloody tyrant.  When intellectuals are introduced to Cultural Marxism in a variety of flavors, they are more apt to savor than criticize them.  Yet, as even Mendenhall understands, behind all these collectable cognitive butterflies lurks a master theory.  Indeed, this is Theory with a capital T since he admits,

Despite the bewildering range of controversies and meanings attributed to it, cultural Marxism (the term and the movement) has a deep, complex history in Theory.  The word “Theory” (with a capital T) is the general is the general heading, for research within the interpretive branches branches of the humanities known as cultural and critical studies, literary criticism, and literary theory–each of which includes a variety of approaches from the phenomenological to the psychoanalytic.(2)

So these schools of thought, in spite of their surface variety, are united at their apex by something called “Theory.”  And what is “Theory”?  Mendenhall gives us a reasonably concise and accurate definition of “Theory” when he alludes to interpretive approaches in the social sciences and the humanities.  What should arouse our suspicion is that we now have a definition of something which has no name.  “Theory” is not a name.  Etymologically and historically “theory” derived from an ancient Greek verb, which once applied to the mystical contemplation of a god (i.e., theos, zeus).   However in early modern usage “theory” became a noun roughly corresponding to what Kuhn later clarified with his (then, 1962) neologism “paradigm.”  In other words, a “theory” was a  scientific conjecture about the nature of reality, a conjecture which might, or might not, be backed up by subsequent evidence.

In post-modern usage “theory” seems to have lost the hypothetical and tentative connotations which it once had for modern science.  Insidiously, it has become synonymous with the unquestioned foundation of the human sciences, and perhaps soon the physical sciences as well.  Yet common sense informs us what is now called “Theory” was once just one competing paradigm among many.  Mendenhall’s failure to name the paradigm and his complicity in referring to it as simply “Theory”  leaves him with little more than gentlemanly condescension towards his more leftward adversaries.  Apart from this condescension he can also share with his readership a sense of dread, dread of a beast which is once again on the march, the same beast which notoriously slaughtered 100 million in the course of the 20th century.  Then again, we might get lucky the next time around.

Naming names, The Hermenutic Invasion

While Mendenhall’s stance may not constitute willful complicity, neither does it provide any salient argument against Cultural Marxism.  With the mention of “Theory” we have come full circle.  Having pinned down Cultural Marxism as something identifiable, Mendenhall (following Zubatov) has preserved the possibility of criticizing the Left Academy.  Retaining the possibility of criticism isn’t much, but it is better than nothing.  However Cultural Marxism is itself only the consequence of something further upstream, something which Mendenhall is unwilling to name specifically, although he alludes to it using the originally nondescript term “Theory.”  Hence we are confronted with the same sort of problem which had been solved by the willingness to identify Cultural Marxism, but on a higher level, the problem of the unnamed common denominator.  Hence we must unmask “Theory” as no more than one theory among others, or to use Kuhn’s nomenclature, a paradigm.  As always, the consequence of not identifying a ubiquitous phenomenon is to render it natural, normal…or better yet in the case of mischief, invisible.

Before it became “Theory” the paradigm in question was called Hermenutics, or Cultural Hermenutics to distinguish it from the Hermeneutic branch of Theology which dealt with interpretation of the Bible.  Since Christians and Jews believe in an objective revelation, hermenutics in the the old style remained a sifting and seeking of truth, though necessarily approximate and incomplete.  In contrast, Cultural Hermentutics, as inspired by Martin Heidegger and elaborated by Hans George Gadamer is restricted to a framework immanent to this changing and contradictory world,  it is therefore an interpretation by the subjective, of the subjective, and for the subjective.  Thus its touchstone is not a natural order, whether or not such a natural order is discovered by either science or revelation or both.  Rather, it sees reality as the outcome of social and cultural self-creation, a kind of collective poetry in motion.  While this may seem charming at first blush (think of Boazian anthropology in the first half of the 20th century) a consistently subjectivist world-view ultimately leads to an outcome where there is no objective criteria through which to  resolve inter-group conflict.  This is the point at which we have arrived in American higher education, where ostracism has supplanted debate as a means of ensuring group consensus.

Mendenhall is well aware of this catastrophic outcome, and his essay highlighting the dangers of misidentifying Cultural Marxism is clearly intended to stem or even turn back the tide of academic persecution.  Yet oddly he fails to trace the present intellectual climate back to an arbitrary decision in favor of the interpretive paradigm, a.k.a., Hermenutics.  For him, Theory with a capital T seems to be something we must acquiesce in, just as if it were a force of nature.  Accordingly, we must accept that the only possible basis of the human sciences is interpretation, and our job as non-Marxists is to engage Marxists in dialogue, enlarging their scope of thought and bringing them around to a more charitable understanding of their fellow human beings.  To me this seems at best quixotic, and at worst complicit.

I don’t know Allan Mendenhall, who seems to be an earnest and engaging person, and I am not sure why he has pulled his punches in quite just the way he does in Cultural Marxism is Real.  I certainly don’t think he relishes complicity, or views himself as such.  None the less there are certain centrifugal forces which draw one towards the center of our post-modern world.  I have a hunch that Mendenhall, in addition to his aversion to Marxism, has an equal and opposite aversion to Positivism, and the way in which modern higher education has been turned into an adjunct facility for corporate research.  I can understand that as well.  Cultural Hermenutics promises the humanist (in all senses of that word) autonomy.  It promises a vast principality which is safe from the predation of the hard sciences.  Fine.  There is no compelling reason for humanists (qua professionals) to believe in the circulation of the blood or the sphere of the Earth.  However there is one science that it behooves humanists to pay homage to, and that is lowly and despised economics.  It was through the postern gate of economics that Marxism crept in and spoiled the utopian garden of the humanists.  God willing, I hope to explore the relation between hermenutics and economics in a future post.  For the time being I am sure that I have given poor Dr. Mendenhall too much of my attention already.

 

(1) from Cultural Marxism is Real by Allan Mendenhall James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Jan. 4, 2019  https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2019/01/cultural-marxism-is-real/

(2) ibid.

 

 

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Economics, History, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

A Song of Ascents: Some curmudgeonly criticism of the Southeast Students for Liberty Conference

Posted by nouspraktikon on October 5, 2018

Why is freedom good?

The regional Students for Liberty southwest regional conference was held on October 29th.  Being a fellow-traveler of all things libertarian I was pleased when a friend of mine told me he was scheduled to speak at the conference and I was invited to attend.  There are many things that might be said about SFL, both pro and con, but the salient issue on today’s campuses is the issue of freedom of speech and how to make an informational end-run around what has been dubbed “the Left University.”  SFL is one of a handful of organizations seeking to give college students a perspective which differs from that of the compulsory Left Classroom, and hence I deem it worthy of everyone’s support.

The alleged topic of the conference/seminar was “The problem of Authoritarianism.”  I have no idea why SFL picked that theme, but it was largely honored through avoidance.  Instead, another theme seemed to emerge spontaneously as the talks progressed.  It was briefly articulated by the philosopher who spoke mid-way through the conference: “Why is freedom good?”  Indeed, that is the nub of everything, is it not?

I suspect that I was the oldest person at the conference, and probably the only one who had the privilege of meeting such bygone freedom advocates as Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio.   As such,  I was well positioned to play the role of the old curmudgeon bringing to bare all sorts of technicalities and arcane lore.  However, my better self realized that was unsporting, so I decided to join in the applause and stuff my carping criticism into these notes.  After all, the conference did what it did quite well, since, to put it in Biblical terms, there is “milk for babes” and there is “meat for the apostles.”  Now is the time to raise up children for the freedom movement, the business of ideological fine-tuning can be left to the apostles of the future…if there is to be a future.

Yet, to my surprise and delight, the talks seemed to mount a stairway of increasing significance and application.  Indeed, I felt myself riding on an intellectual escalator, at the top of which was the supreme answer to our question: “Why is freedom good?”  Of course this was just my personal perception, and each person’s mental escalation may be the moral deflation of someone else.  So let me give you a brief critical treatment of five speakers from the conference, and you may decide if you agree that the order of presentation was also an order of ascending significance.

The five presenters, each of whom represented a significant rung on the stairway to freedom, were in sequence: 1) an Advocate for Entreprenuership, 2) a Philosopher, 3) a Movement Leader, 4) a Libertarian Muslim, and finally 5) a Rogue Scholar.

 

The Advocate for Entrepreneurship

This presentation was the real milk for babes, and it was well done indeed.  Is there anyone who doesn’t realize that freedom, economic efficiency, and technological progress go together?  Unfortunately, yes, today’s youths, living within a cornucopia of technological wonders, are blocked from seeing the obvious connections between information and the free market through the interference of the Left Academy.  That’s why we need informal presentations to help people see the forest of capitalism from the trees of technical devices.  As the speaker noted, technological progress gets a spurt every time there is deregulation of an industry.  Today’s smart phone applications are an outcome of the unregulated environment of the 90s.  The Advocate did an excellent job of illustrating this with copious examples.  He was by far the most trend conscious and personable of the presenters, only occasionally slipping up with a reference to Taylor Swift, who apparently is now passe.

Nuf said!  After all, we all need to recognize that freedom promotes technology, the spread of information, and economic efficiency.  Well, except that, being the curmudgeon that I am,  I can’t help but peer around the corner of this tried-and-true thesis.  Is there no dark shadow behind the cheery gospel of technological optimism?  Are not command economies more efficient at generating instruments of destruction?  Not all technologies are benevolent.  What kind of technologies would we have today if the First and Second World Wars had never occurred?  In the absence of those cataclysms perhaps our technology today would resemble developments along the lines laid out by Tessla (the man, not the company)?  Instead we have a wide spectrum of technologies, some of them benevolent, but others highly problematic.  Just a thought…which I am tossing out like a monkey wrench into the wonderful but fragile works of the Randians and kindred humanistic utopians.

 

The Philosopher

The first job of a philosopher is to find the salient question in any venue and then pose it with clarity.  The fine representative of that profession who appeared at the SFL conference was able to articulate its basic theme: “Why is freedom good?”  He then proceeded to give what seemed like an exhaustive survey of all possible answers to the question.  He attempted to accomplish through analysis what I am trying to recap here synthetically.  Is there not a hierarchy of motives which impel us toward freedom, some of which are closer to wanting freedom for its own sake and some of which are only using freedom as an instrumentality for some other value which is considered the supreme end of life and action?  In short, the visiting philosopher seemed to be treating us to a “Critique of Pure Freedom.”  Fortunately his presentation was not quite as long or as frustrating as any of Kant’s critiques.

Again, the curmudgeon must make a confession.  I don’t particularly care for this kind of approach.  I’m sure that the visiting philosopher would have been miffed if I had labeled him as an “analytic philosopher”…since that moniker rightly belongs to the linguistic philosophers of the last century.  Rather, his philosophy, or rather his presentation was analytical in the sense that it came down to decision trees and processes of elimination.  If you are reading this and you don’t know what the heck I am talking about, that is understandable, since such a method is better shown graphically than discursively.   I consider that a weakness.   Its not that analysis doesn’t have its place.  The image of correct demonstration I have in mind is that of Kierkegaard using the ladder of reason to mount up to faith (or some primary axiom) and then throwing it down after having reached the summit.  To my mind, the visiting philosopher seemed overly attached to the ladder.

 

The Movement Leader

I am keeping people in this essay anonymous,  ostensibly to protect them from persecution.  To tell the truth, that’s mostly bullshit…I just have a bad memory and seem to have lost my notes.  None the less, there is some justification for the ostensible reason.  As they say, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.  Here I will outdo myself in subtlety and keep not only the speaker but his country of origin anonymous.  Actually, if you have a computer and the intelligence of a six year old child you should be able to find out the names of all the presenters in under three minutes, maximum.

Having said that, the next speaker was no mere scholar, but a front lines political activist from one of the most important nations of Latin America.  In the 1970s and 1980s this nation was the freest and most prosperous in the region.  Then something happened, and today it has become a brutal, impoverished, Marxist dictatorship.  Certainly this defies all logic, at least the utilitarian logic which states that people, having once tasted freedom, will never go back to slavery.  How is this possible?  Fortunately this speaker opened the floor to Q&A so that the attendees of the conference could probe him on this enigma.

According to the speaker, the key institution implicated in the downfall of his country was the military.  Although a “showcase of democracy” his country’s military retained the same privileged position which the armed forces of lesser developed Latin American nations occupied in their respective societies.  As the economy of the nation contracted after the oil boom of the 70s, the military contracted an unholy alliance with left wing politicians to retain its wealth and influence at the expense of other sectors of society.  I was not surprised at this analysis, but somewhat disappointed.  What, I wondered, about the influence of other sectors, notably the universities.  He said, yes, the universities were leftist, but the military factor outweighed all other sectors of the society.

He ended with an appeal for support, and an admonition that people in the United States maintain vigilance over their own freedoms.  He remained rather more sanguine about the prospects for freedom here than in Latin America, which is understandable given his perspective.  My own take away was that the notion of an irreversible evolution of freedom is part of the Hegelian, not the Classical Liberal, tradition.  For better or worse institutions need to be under constant repair and renewal in the face of the entropic forces of power lust and opportunism.

And again: “Is freedom good?”  This speaker did not directly address the question, taking it as a given.  However the context of his talk indicated a striving for societal good, a populist or democratic freedom rather than a libertarian ideology.  Freedom is good because it advances the well being of the nation.  It is well known that, until recently, libertarians had nothing but scorn for populism and nationalism.  However presented in the context of a Latin American country struggling against tyranny, one can more easily see that patriotism (in spite of its collectivist overtones) can be a potent adversary against the kind of left-wing nationalism which (paradoxically) is often in secret or not-so-secret alliance with the forces of globalism.  Perhaps for most people, freedom under an independent and limited national government is the most realistic goal on the historical horizon.  None the less, being a utilitarian construct, it falls short of the Holy Grail of libertarian theory…freedom for its own sake.

 

The Libertarian Muslim

Our penultimate speaker was that rarest of animals in the libertarian menagerie, a libertarian muslim.  Opening with a prayer, which I couldn’t follow well because of my extremely limited Arabic, he launched into his forceful and very articulate presentation.  Unfortunately it was pitched far above the heads of the audience, who were thinking of little other than “How in heck can you be a muslim and a libertarian?”  They had trouble getting beyond the messenger and into his message, a message which in itself was quite sophisticated.  I didn’t agree completely with his thesis, and it could have been challenged on its own premises, but so far as I could tell nobody else was in the mood or equipped for that kind of conversation.  This isn’t a dig at young people or college students, who I think gave the libertarian muslim a more courteous reception than he would have gotten among almost any other audience.  Of course I am discounting the two-faced reception of politically correct crowds, who would have smiled at the muslim in hopes of political alliance while secretly despising him for his belief in God.

However I relished the libertarian muslim’s talk as a survival, or perhaps revival, of a line in libertarian thinking which has long been dinned out by the clash of rival civilizations.  It is the same thread of reasoning which Rose Wilder Lane took up, only to be dropped by subsequent publicists.  This notion indicates that freedom is good because it advances the cause of civilization.  In this view, civilization is understood as a vast tapestry stretching, without significant breach, over the course of roughly the past five thousand years.  The term civilization therefore is twofold, having both a general and a specific meaning.  One the one hand there are specific civilizations, Chinese, Indian, Muslim, European etc., and on the other hand there is the cumulative civilization of humanity.  At critical points of juncture, the cumulative knowledge of the human species “jumps” from one regional civilization to another.

In tried and true Rose Wilder Lane fashion, the libertarian muslim was at pains to illustrate that the pedigree of rationalism, a key component of the freedom philosophy, was not indigenous to Europe, but rather jumped into Western Scholasticism from the “filosofia” of the muslim sages.  In truth, and in very truth, and not in lies, say I, this is pretty much correct.  The tradition of rationalism did indeed pass through a muslim (or at least Arabic) parenthesis from about the ninth to the twelfth centuries of the Western era.  I could quibble about a meta-civilization which absorbs all previous civilizations, but I won’t at this juncture.

Rather, the foremost question regarding the Lane thesis should be the relationship between reason and freedom.  Many philosophers who have claimed that their systems were the acme of rationalism have also claimed to be champions of freedom.  The prime example of such a philosopher, who’s claims are generally acknowledged by the Left but rejected by Classical Liberals is G. W. F. Hegel.  According to the Lane thesis, ibn-Rushd, (latinized as “Averroes”) is a kind of Hegel for Classical Liberals (a.k.a., contemporary conservatives and libertarians).  He was the bridge who transmitted reason from the Middle East to the Western World, thus becoming the middle term between Aristotle and Modernity.   This broader view of history eliminates any “dark ages” or rather localizes it in Europe.  Hence the light of reason never goes out, indeed, it never even flickers.  This view is comforting to those who seek to identify the progress of freedom with a putative uninterrupted progress of civilization.  Naturally, it is also very congenial to those who are either religiously or ethnically connected to the Middle East.  For the most part, the libertarian muslim’s presentation involved a restatement and elaboration of the Lane thesis, but this seems to have generally gone over the heads of those in attendance.

Although many other Middle Eastern luminaries can be thrown into this kind of discourse, ibn Rushd/Averroes (properly speaking an Andelusian, not a Middle Easterner) is the man to beat.  Unsurprisingly, nobody at the conference jumped into a technical discussion of Averroism…not even the philosopher, who I believe still remained in attendance.  If such an engagement had occurred, someone would have eventually broached the question of whether the rationalism of Averroes is indeed a philosophy of freedom.  Actually the metaphysical views of Averroes in relation to the human individual and freedom are highly problematic, and in many ways he is less a predecessor of John Locke (as per the Lane thesis) than the metaphysical collectivism of Teillard de Jarden.  Few people think of Teillard as a libertarian, in fact few think about him at all, they just hear about his system and say “gee wizz!”

In lieu of meaningful philosophical engagement, by the end of his talk the libertarian muslim was reduced to abandoning the philosophy of history entirely and switching to an impassioned cry for libertarian activism on the part of people from all faiths and factions.  Actually he didn’t advocate abandoning theory, only an obsession with redundant arguments over shopworn libertarian issues.  This is certainly a sensible admonition.  However there is also the troubling prospect of people forgetting or altering their fundamental principles in the heat of political conflict.  Certainly in today’s political hothouse, with its clash of civilizations and so-called “cultures” it is more difficult than ever to keep a rational head.  Meanwhile one must remember that rationality is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for “freedom” in the sense that libertarians use that term.

This is because “freedom” as it has come down through the Classical Liberal/Old Right/Libertarian tradition, e.g., through thinkers such as von Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard, means individual freedom.  In the system of Averroes, perhaps even more so than in the system of Hegel, “freedom” is an attribute of a collective organism which we would feign call by the reassuring name “civilization.”  While a sophisticated civilization may nurture individual freedom, excessive veneration of civilization and especially “a” civilization can be dangerous for liberty.  Furthermore, from any religious point of view (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, etc.)”civilization” construed as the supreme value of human life can be considered a form of idolatry, or at least an attempt to reduce the transcendence of God to immanence.

Bearing this in mind, it should be clear that Averroism and Islam have little in common, other than coexisting in the head of an individual philosopher who lived nine centuries ago.  How Ibn-Rushd reconcilled his “filosofia” and his faith, I don’t know and it is not my place to know.  Similarly, there is something paradoxical about a libertarian muslim, but the speaker at our conference acquitted himself with courage and clarity.  If he failed to impart a deeper understanding of “civilization” to his audience, at the very least he inspired them with a clarion call for libertarian activism and engagement.   Similar to being a movement leader in militarized Latin America, being a libertarian muslim is a tough row to hoe.  The speaker has obviously experienced persecution, and expects further challenges in the future.

 

The Rogue Scholar

There are Rhodes scholars and there are rogue scholars, and which kind you are inclined to trust says a lot about you.  The legendary Justin Raimondo, writing from his sick bed, is presently lamenting the fact that his organization never received any awards.  True.  The information and research organizations which got the awards, never spoke up and changed the consciousness, or afflicted the conscience of America like the Randolph Bourn Institute and its web presence, the antiwar.com.  As for the decorated and the endowed, it is written “They have their reward already.”

Likewise, the late Rene Girard, though amply recognized in the twilight of his life by a seat in the French Academy, never fit comfortably into the departmental cubbyholes of academia.  Expatriated from his native land and with no proper profession, he was seen variously as an itinerant literary critic, a sociologist, a psychologist, a philosopher, or an anthropologist.  If he had lived a hundred years earlier he probably could have founded his own discipline, but he lived in an era when Western thought had ossified into exclusive, jealous compartments.  He brought a form of wisdom to the study of human behavior which was at once new and yet discoverable in both the Bible and the corrupted witness of mythology.  It showed how the bond of society was forged through force of imitation, and yet how, at a critical point in each society’s foundation the bond turned into the blood of sacrifice.  He called this mimetic theory (MT for short) and it has become a growing undercurrent in the social sciences for the last few decades.

In Girard’s understanding, increasing convergence on a model for imitation creates the primary tension within societies, as they reach the point where individuals lose their individuality in the frantic search for identity with the model.  The tension is only relieved when the model is expelled (through exile or death) and demonized, relieving the jealousy in society and replacing the dynamic of imitation with the bonds of collective guilt in the aftermath of mutual conspiracy.  This is what Girard called the scapegoat mechanism, and he saw in it the basis of all societal transformation.

The Rogue Scholar stumbled, unfashionably late, into the conference.  It was not a promising beginning.  I asked him if he had a power point presentation prepared.

“No.”

I wondered how he would explain the subtle nuances of the Mimetic Triangle without graphic support.  It didn’t seem to bother him.  He strode up to the front of the hall with confidence and pulled out his sole prop, his cell phone.  Then he dialed a federal prison in the state of Illinois.

“Hello, can I speak to Craig Cesal?”

“Hi, it’s me!”

As it turned out, Craig Cesal was serving a life sentence without parole for a victimless crime.  According to the Rogue Scholar, Craig had been a garage mechanic occasionally repairing trucks destined for shipping marijuana across the US/Mexican border.  Apparently many of the big guys in the smuggling conspiracy had gotten off making pleas for lighter time, but Craig had neither clout nor information to bargain with.   When asked what the most bitter aspect of his existence was, Craig mentioned the fact that perpetrators of violent crime, up to and including murderers, routinely rotated through the system with five, ten, or fifteen year sentences, while he was stuck there for the rest of his life.

Craig was a scapegoat.

Instead of explaining what a scapegoat was, the Rogue Scholar gave us a heart rending example of how human societies, whether those societies are criminal or civil, routinely scapegoat individuals.  The session ended with a heartfelt appeal to support Craig and his family.  In the end, nobody felt that they had been deprived of a thorough explanation of Rene Girard’s theory.  The theory had actually become incarnate, through the witness of an incarcerated man.

 

Conclusion:  Why is freedom good?

Freedom is good for any number of reasons.  It grows technology and expands the economy.  It gives us more choices and let’s us choose our own ideologies, even if they happen to be inimical to freedom.  Free minds and free markets strengthen every nation which embrace them.  Finally, liberty gives meaning to the story of human civilization, which is, or at least ought to be, a record of freedom’s victories.

Yet ultimately, for the libertarian there is no such thing as civilization, or even the human species, apart from the individuals who comprise it.  Just as the cosmos has no existence apart from the brilliant stars of which it is composed, society has no meaning apart from the individual person.  The dignity and autonomy of the person, although subsisting in relation to other persons, should be the building block from which all social realities are constructed.  Yet historically we see that societies are built not through trade and coexistence, but through sacrifice.

It was Satan speaking through a human mouth who said, “It is expedient that one man’s life be taken lest the people perish.”   Yet the measure of meaning is the sanctity of the individual.  Freedom is good because it is an inalienable aspect of the person.  On the other hand, it makes good political sense to isolate a small group and use animus to increase the degree of social cohesion among the majority. By logical extension, the most efficient and economical way of attaining world unity would be to turn the universal hatred of the human race against one man.  Yet such a unity would be a toxic unity, based on bloody sacrifice.

In the end it is a choice between human sacrifice and the Tenth Commandment, the word against envy.  We must learn to live and let live.  And more than just coexist, we must tolerate the fact that some people will be happier than ourselves.  We must resist the urge to destroy them, in full knowledge that as long as they live, our own happiness will be inferior to theirs.  That is the bare minimum requirement for calling oneself a “libertarian.”  The opposite of a libertarian would be an egalitarian.  All egalitarianism ends in human sacrifice, i.e., in death.   As long as there is even one sacrifice, even one individual to whom the great rights (great because negative, not their positive counterfeits) of life, liberty, and property  are not granted, then that is not a free society.

Or as they say these days, “Where we go one, we go all!”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christianity, Culture & Politics, Economics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Theology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The case against Space

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 7, 2018

Losing my religion?

Space is a hoax!

I don’t mean that Apollo 11 and the others didn’t go to the Moon.   I’m quite sure they did, and although I can’t prove it, nobody can prove the contrary.  Sure, we all know that it is harder to prove the non-existence of a nothing-burger than a fistful of factual fries, but clearly, even the best (non-rocket) shots of the Apollo skeptics miss their target by a wide margin.  By far the most salient objection to the historical reality of the Moon landings is the supposed impossibility of passing through the Van Allen radiation belts.  Although these ugly belts (which actually make life on Earth safe from cosmic rays) conjure up grotesque images of astronauts being zapped into zombies, they are actually pretty easy to navigate, once the ballistics of trans-orbital insertion has been mastered.  Granted the belts are not very good to lounge around for any considerable duration, which is why the International Space Station and similar ventures always park themselves at disappointing altitudes like 200 miles above Earth.  However the Apollo rocket was able to zip through the belts before the astronauts got zapped through the guts, at least by anything close to a lethal dose.  And from an engineering point of view, it was actually easier for the vacuum-tube technology of the 1960s to traverse the belts than for the sensitive circuitry of the 21st century to endure cosmic bombardment.  Even down on the ground, our cell phones, TV remotes, bluetooth interface and other devices, the more intelligent they seem, the more they seem to go haywire.  Back then,  they had safety brakes called “retro-rockets” and it seems that when it comes to rocket science, retro often rules!

Oh yeah, and there is all that suspicious photography.  I still can’t figure out what made the American flag flap in a vacuum, but I am sure some future genius will figure it out.  To me, a far greater enigma would be some sort of omnipotent gag rule which prevented tens of thousands of NASA and affiliated personnel from leaking the hoax of the millennium.  Furthermore, it would be a sad comment on some of the most intelligent and heroic persons in our nation’s history if they had been secretly recruited into a conspiracy to hoax the public.  These persons, the engineers, scientists, technicians, support staff, and (most importantly) the astronauts themselves, were the cream of American society in the ’60s and early ’70s.  Whatever their failings as sinful human beings might have been this didn’t extend to such a gross crime as faking a Moon shot.

None the less, while the astronauts and their support team did their jobs superbly well, like anyone else they were not necessarily happy with the way their “shop” was run.  With the termination of the glamorous Apollo space program they were “rotated out.”  In other words, they lost their jobs on a massive scale.  Today, those of us struggling between the heroic official narrative and the inverted narrative of the Apollo deniers have to be willing to lose something more than a job, we have to be willing to lose our religion, the Religion of Space.  This is hard, because the Religion of Space is one of the most beautiful and compelling myths ever to be hatched from the minds of men or demons.  Let me elaborate on that.

Misdirection more powerful than any hoax

Even though the Apollo astronauts really did go to the Moon (albeit Apollo 13 only orbited, not land) the space program of the 1960s was in essence a grand illusion.  Subsequent programs have also been illusory, albeit progressively diminished from the grand gesture of the Moon landings.  That those landings had a palpable reality adds, rather than subtracts, from the illusion.

Consider stage magic.  A magician might draw the attention of her audience to an egg in her right hand while concealing a bird under her left sleeve, ready to be produced as “the prestige” i.e.,the reappearance of something which had mysteriously vanished.  Now does the egg itself have to be illusory?  Certainly not, and in fact a tangible egg is all the better, since its function is to misdirect the attention of the audience from the bird.  Likewise, the space program has accomplished actual feats of engineering and events in space.  However it has seldom (even today, and certainly in the 1960s)  been motivated by any intrinsic scientific or economic benefit.  Rather, it has functioned as propaganda for a hidden political order.  Much like the misdirecting egg in the hand of the magician, the space program has managed to draw attention away from affairs on Earth which were thought best unnoticed.

Thus have our eyes been drawn towards the Heavens.  Compare the space program to the Bible.  Perhaps 2% (being very generous!) of the Biblical narration consists of scenes which take place in the courtyards of the Lord.  For example, there is the famous audience of Satan with God at the beginning of the Book of Job, and a few other passages scattered throughout scripture, which leaves  98% of the action to occur on planet Earth.  Indeed, the Bible is an anthropology book written by God, not a theology book written by men.  Since the Bible is intended to enlighten us, it  draws our attention towards those matters which ought to be of most concern to us.  Thus there is mention of angels in the Bible, enough to let us know that angels exist and have importance, both to our persons and in the history of the world.  However those individuals who have sought to major in “Angelology” often express frustration at the lack of information provided by scripture, and eventually resort to extra-canonical sources.

Hell on Earth and Pie in the Sky…circa 1957

The Cold War was a kind of hell on Earth, a hell with which historical accounts have never been adequately settled.  Of course, as General Grant famously said, (hot) war is  hell, however the Cold War had certain peculiar characteristics, for in addition to circumscribing a number of actual hot wars, it raised the level of political duplicity to heights perhaps unparalleled in the history of civilization.  If the general run of American citizens had possessed both discernment and adequate information, and they had access to neither, they might have sensed something sinister in the zeitgeist…left wing Western elites professing opposition to Communism, joined in semi- (or perchance pseudo-) conflict with right wing Eastern elites professing opposition to Capitalism.  These battle lines, or lack thereof, were fundamentally at variance with the narrative which represented the acceptable limits of opinion for the ordinary citizen, a narrative in which the American government was supposed to be a sincere advocate, on a global scale, of freedom along the lines represented by its Founders.  Actually, though the fearful motifs of the Cold war were ubiquitous throughout the 1950s and early 60s, sustained meditation on the topic was tacitly discouraged.  It was just part of the atmosphere, something not to be analyzed.   Then as now, there were plenty of distractions, from music to movies to sports to humor…but the situation was so grave that mere distraction was insufficient.  What was needed was misdirection, and misdirection on that order of magnitude required nothing less than a new religion.

“Sputnick,” the first man-made satellite, provided the new gospel with a convenient incarnation, an orbiting spermatozoon launched by the spirit of Antichrist.  After a moment of terror, it impregnated the American consciousness,  eliciting admiration, and more importantly, emulation.  Suddenly, the Religion of Space, which had been little more than a cult of Russian rocketeers and futurists dating back to the early 1900s, acquired a mass following in America.   It broke in at an opportune time, when political sleight of hand was gestating what we today call “the deep state” and when the traditional Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism of America had lost their unifying power.  Americans at last had something which would provide them with a rallying point.  Not something negative like anti-Russian xenophobia, but something they could be proud of, something daring, and something which prolonged the traditions of manifest destiny all the way to infinity…a “new fronteer.”

A god which failed

If the Apollo moon landings had been a hoax, they would have been much more cost-effective.  For better or worse, they were for real, and drained a vast amount of revenue from the federal government at the time.  By any objective measurement, it was a colossal waste.  However values are not objective.  The value of a national religion, one which persisted throughout the otherwise factious 60s, was incalculable.

Furthermore, affection for the religion was not feigned.  I know because I was one of the more fanatical followers myself.  Even after official support for the faith had been withdrawn, it experienced a major revival during the late 70s, with the “O’Neel concept” of artificial habitats in space.  Leading the charge was the arch-hippy Timothy O’Leary,  for whom psychotropic chemicals were but an entrance drug to the stronger and more addictive Religion of Space.  However time and tragedy took their toll on the faithful, until the Religion of Space dwindled to what it is today, a minor cult within the pantheon of the 21st century’s secular gods.  On a positive note, space is at last becoming a legitimate industry, with sustained revenues flowing from essential services.  That holds true especially for near space, however the further out in the cosmos one goes, the more likely that the old religious mentality will cling to a project, the latest refuge of dream-mongering scoundrels being…drum-roll….Mars.

In retrospect, the period from 1957 to the mid-70s of the last century witnessed a dislocation of America’s social consciousness, not dissimilar to the dislocation created by the events of 9/11 post-2001.  However there were significant differences.  The shock of Sputnick was not altogether unpleasant.  Rather, it combined on the one hand numenous terror with, on the other, an almost erotic desire for rapture, the essential components of all religious feeling.  It was remarkably effective for many years, then, like a drug, it wore off.  Most people barely noticed its disappearance, but others, addicted to space, fought against the powers that be to reinstate the “new fronteer” on something like its 1960s scale.  To no avail.

The moon landing denial movement, though bizarre in its claims, is perhaps the final stage in the extinction of the Religion of Space, at least in its classic 1960s form.  As with any broken trust, the victim lashes out in hostility to whatever has previously given life meaning…now exposed as a fraud.  In the case of space, not a literal fraud, and we can expect the garden to technology to continue its outward growth from the Earth.  None the less, the materialistic spirituality of the Religion of Space served the forces of corruption well, a story which is seldom grasped in its entirety.  The damage that it did was commensurate to the high ideals and daring that it exploited.

 

 

 

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Human Action as a treatise on Philosophical Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 4, 2017

Human Action;  It’s not your college “Economics”…but what is it?

Anyone with even the slightest acquaintance with the works of Ludwig von Mises knows that, while his works deal with economics, his thought is distinguished by what might be called,  misleadingly, a “multidisciplinary” approach.  I say misleading because Mises doesn’t just wander into various fields of history and policy at random.  Rather, at least in his magnum opus, Human Action, von Mises bases his exposition of economics and other social phenomena on a level of abstraction far too general to be circumscribed within one particular field of the social, or better said, the human sciences.  Even the term “science” here is somewhat suspect as importing all sorts of positivist notions regarding predictability, measurability, and so forth.  Perhaps “human studies” is the broadest description of areas which Mises was wont to involve himself in.  If we were to find a single word equivalent to “human studies” then certainly Anthropology would be the most apt substitute.  Yet nobody calls Human Action a work of Anthropology.  Why?

Superficially, this is because Mises takes an implicit understanding of Classical Christian anthropology and develops it in the direction of what we call “economics.”  More fundamentally, it is because few people today would even recognize Classical Christian anthropology, especially when it manifests itself in the work of an author who neither professed Christianity nor was writing explicitly on anthropology.  After all, von Mises embraced all sorts of moral and intellectual tenants which comport poorly with the classical Christian world-view, such as evolution and (fortunately, non-quantifiable!) utilitarianism.  None the less, because von Mises was part of the broader Judeo-Christian tradition, the bedrock of Christian Anthropology frequently breaks through the surface exposition of his putative “economic” treatise.  However, you won’t see it if you don’t know what to look for, and it doesn’t help that this classical, or Christian, anthropology goes against the very grain of Modernist and Post-Modernist “common sense.”

While in most Modernist views the human race is little more than the end result of myriad material causes, in classical Christian anthropology, “Man” in the sense of a singular “Anthropos” is the principle behind the universe, from which, as “Word” or “Logos” all other realities proceed.  The entire framework of this classical anthropology can be summarized as a movement through four terms, as follows:  From the Anthropos proceeds the individual, from the individual proceeds the species, from the species proceed groups.  Elsewhere I will try to explicate the framework in more detail, here I want to show how it is manifested in such an unlikely place as von Mises’ treatise, Human Action.

Again, I don’t want to make von Mises into some sort of Christianizing Platonist, or deny that much of the content of Human Action is based on Neo-Kantian or utilitarian principles which are alien to the basic framework.  None the less, the classical framework manifests itself in the very organization of the work, as can be seen from the arrangement of the contents.  The organization of the work in seven parts actually can be reduced to four themes.  I have highlighted the ontological/anthropological categories which Mises seems to have in mind at the right hand column.

I. The ideal

  1. Action as human essence         pt. 1            Anthropos–>Individual
  2.  Society                                         pt.2            Species–> Groups
  3. Individual exchange                 pt. 3             Anthropos–> Individual
  4. Market                                        pt. 4           Species–> Groups
  • The pathology, collectivism pt. 5              Groups–>Individual
  • attempts to compromise the ideal and pathology  pt. 6
    • History                              pt. 7

Structure of Human Action itself points the reader in the direction of methodological individualism.  You should be able to see the topical movement from essence, to individual, to species to group, repeated twice.

It may be that this organizational structure is not to be taken literally as von Mises’ last word on the ontological place of humanity within the universe.  It may even be that this organization was just the way von Mises thought a primary treatise on human action should be properly structured, somewhat like the scholars of the middle ages who felt that all treatises should be arranged according to the framework of Peter the Lombard, whether or not they agreed with Peter’s content or not.  None the less the framework bears the imprint of the classical Anthropological model, and testifies to  that model’s ubiquity and importance.  Certainly it differs from standard modernist and positivist expositions, which are based on the framework “from matter proceeds things.” This latter being what your man or woman on the street thinks of as “economics.”

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In the aftermath of Irma, these volunteers won in Florida

Posted by nouspraktikon on September 19, 2017

We were still surrounded by the debris of Hurricane Irma when the Volunteers showed up

Actually, it was a football game, one of those compulsive rituals which neither “the powers that be” nor the hoi poloi can ever say no to.  After all, who could deny the local fans their bread and circuses in the aftermath of a disaster?  Well, everything depended on who won…whether the spectacle would go down in the record books as a morale booster or moral misdemeanor.  As providence (do I hear someone say luck? Nah!) would have it, Florida won in the last seconds of a crazy game who’s merits on either side will be endlessly debated.  The Tennessee Volunteers returned home, perplexed and saddened.  Florida had, once again, been saved from itself.

But there were other volunteers in town that day.  Linemen of a different sort, hailing from Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and even parts of the state which were nursing their own hurts.  They weren’t watching football, although sometimes they worked within earshot of cheers and jeers from the high-tension game.  And yes, they were volunteers, even though they had been sent down by mammoth utility firms and could expect to draw overtime.  This is still America and nobody is forced to do any job they can walk off from.  But instead of “You can take this job and  shove it!” they arrived in large numbers, willing to work 24/7 in the humidity, often in the dark, and among the local fauna (think “gators” of the non-football ilk) which were spreading out into newly flooded zones.

In our neighborhood we had transformers down.  On the night of the storm, people had heard the  blast and seen the blinding blue ark light as the lofty cylinders seemed to turn into electric grenades.  Then darkness.  Days later there was still no electricity, and the Florida jungle was beginning to reclaim its own.  No heat, no cool, no refrigeration, no communication, and living off of canned and dry goods.  It could have been far worse as the water mains had kept their integrity.  Still, we were starting to wonder…

Then we saw the trucks.  We noticed (by we I refer to those who could read a map) a seal with the outline of the state of Indiana on its sides.  They had come a thousand miles, but the hardest part of their journey were the days of street by street, block by block progress until the worst hit part of town was rewired and on line.  They weren’t all from Indiana.  The man who went up in the bucket to replace our utility pole was from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Bowling Green, Bowling Green

I wish I was in Bowling Green

Good old Bowling Green

And I bet he did!  But he had heeded the call to do a job which required a critical mix of physical endurance and intelligence.  The dead transformer was dangling in a virtual cats-cradle of wires and woods. When I murmured, “I can’t see how you will ever get that pole up.”  The Kentuckian answered, “Stick around and you may see more than you wager for.”  By literal hook and crook, mechanized to be sure, it all got up, poles, wires, transformers, until we heard the go ahead signal and the power returned.

I couldn’t help thinking that these men, who had come down from the regions around the Ohio river, were lineal descendants of the “volunteers” of yore, legendary men like Boon and Crockett, and the countless others who never became legends.  Historians can argue ad infinitum whether or not these were the men who “made America great,” or as per cultural Marxism, they were just land-pirates building a sand-castle civilization called the United States.  What is not arguable is that on short notice, their descendants had been mobilized and formed into an effective army to see that the swamp (here literally!) didn’t reclaim that network of urban humanity which calls itself modern Florida.

My general impression was that the whole operation, as befits volunteers, looked more like a “spontaneous order” than a command structure.  This was not to say that there was no planning, of which there was much evidence, but that the planning was horizontal rather than vertical, with the local agency and the out-of-state personnel cooperating on a case by case basis, combining local knowledge with volunteer can-do.  The federal government was invisible, although you could say that Floridians were the beneficiaries of a “national” effort by localities which had sent their people and resources across state lines to get the job done.  In military lingo you couldn’t say they weren’t regulars…just regular folks.

And that, my friends, is what makes America great.

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From Ike with love: The Age of Deception (1952-2016)

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 5, 2017

Nothing has changed except our point of view, but that counts for something

It is easy to think, as the left continues to overplay its cards, that something significant has occurred, and that our trajectory towards an Orwellian future has accelerated .  On the contrary, the Trump victory has triggered a new gestalt in people’s minds.  By 2017 fairly average people can see what only hardened conspiracy theorists were willing to hypothesize as late as 2015.   Whether or not we are at the beginning of a new era, for good or ill, is a matter of conjecture.  Indisputably, we have taken our leave of a period in political history which will prompt nostalgia among anyone but truth-seekers.  While it was hardly an era of good feelings, it was held up by its laureates as a time of consensus, or at least bi-partisanship.

Rather, it seems better to call our recent past the Age of Deception.  The Great Deception consisted in draping a de facto one party system in the vestments of a two party system.  If you had said this in 1965, or 1975, or 1980, or 1994, or 2001, or perhaps even 2008…most people would have called you an extremist.

However somebody, somebody who thought extremism in the cause of truth was no vice, had already pointed this out as early as 1958.  Sure enough, his opponents, and they were legion, labeled this man a slanderer, effectively burying  his work from the sight of the general public, first using savage opprobrium, subsequently silence, and at last retrospective ridicule.   The man was Robert Welch, and the “book” he wrote, initially penned as a private circular and later published as The Politician, targeted none other than President Dwight Eisenhower as an agent of communism.

Then as now, to the half-informed mind of the general reading public, such an allegation was patently absurd.  Eisenhower was venerated as a war hero on the basis of his direction of the Allied war efforts in Europe.  Now admitedly, there are a number of ways to think about the “heroism” of strategic commanders as opposed to direct combatants, but generally, if the war is won, the public will grant the former a triumph and allow them to retire in luxurious obscurity.  “Ike’s” not-so-obscure military retirement consisted of becoming President of Columbia University.  After that, for reasons most people are rather vague about, he was drafted to become the Republican candidate for another kind of presidency, nominated over Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, the last champion of the “Old Right.”

After that, we usually go to sleep in our American history class until it is time to wake up for Kennedy.  Indeed, this might be a kind of clue that something is amiss in the standard Eisenhower narrative, like the barking dog who falls strangely silent in the dead of night.  How many books, popular and scholarly, are published each year about JFK in comparison to good old “Ike” (even subtracting those chillers which focus entirely on Kennedy’s murder)?  I doubt that a ratio of a hundred to one would be far off base.  Either America’s political ’50s were incredibly boring, or there is a story which, in the view of some, were best left untold….

A few history mavens might even remember that “We…(presumably all Americans)..like Ike”…because (warning, redundancy!) he was “…a man who’s easy to like.”  And furthermore, as the campaign jingle continued with mesmerizing repetition…”Uncle Joe is worried, ’cause we like Ike!”  Of course, if Mr. Welch was anywhere close to on-target in The Politician, “Uncle Joe” a.k.a. Joseph Stalin had little to be worried about, at least in regard to Dwight Eisenhower.

If you are skeptical that “Ike” could have been a communist front man, then I can sympathize with you.  Frankly, I was skeptical myself…indeed, everybody has a right to be skeptical of startling claims.  On the other hand, if you think that it is disrespectful to raise the issue of presidential duplicity at all, then you are on shaky grounds.  You are on especially shaky grounds if you happen to be one of those people who think that our sitting president was sponsored by (today’s post-communist) Russia.

You see, after 2016 everything has changed.  Whether or not Mr. Welch’s claims regarding “Ike” can be vindicated, at the very least we are now in position to read The Politician as an objective historical account.  The Politician is a strong and scholarly witness of an already forgotten time, one that now can, and should, be approached without bias or malice.

Why Robert Welch didn’t “like Ike”

It is an uncomfortable but inescapable truth that once certain things come to one’s attention it is impossible  to “unsee” them.  There is a shift in perception which renders impossible any  return to “normal” however rosy that mythical past might have been.  For example, a beloved though eccentric uncle can seldom be restored to a family’s unguarded intimacy once he comes under suspicion of pederasty, and rightly so.  Likewise, the image of Eisenhower would be shattered, not so much as war hero, but as the epitome of a stable, normal and normalizing politician, were he to be exposed as a willing agent of communism.  Conversely, just as the suspect uncle would insist on due process, even if he knew himself to be guilty, the upholders of the Eisenhower legacy are apt to clamor for iron clad proof of what, according to mainstream historiography, would be considered an outrageous accusation.

Sadly, for the reputation of Eisenhower and our national narrative, the claims of Mr. Welch are well documented, coherent, detailed, and were compiled by a contemporary who knew the American political class of the 1950s like the back of his hand.  If you wish to keep Eisenhower in your pantheon of heroes, read no further.  If, on the other hand, you would like to see the claims against him substantiated, read The Politician.  Here, I can only provide a brief, albeit damning, sampling drawn from Mr. Welch’s researches.  Therein he documents the following egregious policies which were either authorized or enabled by Eisenhower:

*Even in his role as allied commander, the fountainhead of his public esteem, Eisenhower was allegedly (The Politician provides graphic details) complicit in the nefarious Operation Keelhaul, a rendition program which forcibly repatriated ex-Axis agents collaborating with the American forces to their home countries behind the iron curtain.  This eliminated numerous sources of “worry” for “Uncle Joe.”

*Eisenhower was instrumental, as President of Columbia University, in pushing that already left-leaning institution further in the same  direction.  He continued to associate with and hire left-wing and communist front faculty, procuring for them teaching/research endowments.  Again, the allegations in The Politician have been strengthened in the light of subsequent events.  Just ten years after the publication of Welch’s Eisenhower exposure, the University of Columbia erupted as an epicenter of the spreading “new left” movement of the ’60s.

*At the heart of The Politician’s allegations is “the politician” himself.  Prior to Eisenhower’s nomination as a candidate for president on the Republican ticket, all of his political associations had been with the left-wing of the Democrat party.  This is perhaps the most uncanny aspect of Eisenhower’s career, and the one most germane to the establishment of a faux two-party system beginning in the ’50s.  The only fig leaf concealing this duplicity was the absence of any prior political office holding (Democrat or Republican) by the President-to-be.  Again, historical retrospect adds, if not new facts, new irony to the narrative of The Politician.  Our current presidency is commonly considered exceptional, if not down right illegitimate, on grounds that Mr. Trump held no prior office and was not sufficiently initiated into the mysteries of the political class.  In the light of Eisenhower’s prior example this current “exceptionalism” can only be caviled at by those who either 1) adhere to the dangerous proposition that generalship is a political office, or 2) are willing to admit that such rules can only be broken on the left.

*Once inaugurated President Eisenhower continued the policies of FDR’s New Deal.  Indeed, programs and bureaucracies which existed only in embryo in previous administrations were fleshed out, expanded, and duplicated.  The agricultural sector is typical, and just one of the many that Welch enumerates. Amazingly, farm subsidies swelled to half of farmers’ revenue, a fact of which “Ike” was very proud.  Moreover, unlike FDR and the Democrats of the ’30s, these programs were not justified as “emergency” measures, but were considered a permanent and “normal” restructuring of the relation between the public and the private sector, i.e., de facto socialism.   This was enabled by the collapse of any meaningful two-party opposition due to the alliance between left-wing Democrats and the establishment Republicans who backed Eisenhower.  The monolithic bureaucracy, exemplified by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, long resisted by the “Old Right” was institutionalized under the faux two-party consensus.  Hence the public sector actually saw a spurt of growth in terms of employees and expenditure in the transition from Truman to Eisenhower.  Consequently, the national debt rose at a rate several times higher than even the Democrats had been willing to incur.

*As shocking as many of the above allegations might seem, the most controversial aspect of the Eisenhower administration was its acceptance and further entrenchment of the post-WWII National Security State system inaugurated under Harry Truman.  This has to be remembered both in conjunction with, and contrast to, the only quote that most people today are likely associate with Dwight Eisenhower, namely, his “prescient” warning against the dangers of the “military industrial complex.”  This utterance was prescient only in so far as Eisenhower was speaking prior to the Vietnam debacle, after which such forebodings became commonplace.  To the best of my knowledge Mr. Welch doesn’t reference this quote, which dates from a time subsequent to the initial redaction of The Politician, although not prior to later editions.  However, Mr. Welch frequently draws attention to rhetorical gestures made by Eisenhower through which he exculpated himself from responsibility for his suspect policies by seeming to condemn their inevitable negative consequences.   Thus he might condemn “galloping socialism” while rapidly expanding the public sector.  Seen in this light, we might take Ike’s warning against the “military industrial complex” to heart, while doubting the speaker’s innocence of the very thing he condemned.

Does this “Ancient History” even matter?

The short answer…yes, it does.

You might recall a scene in Starwars where Luke Skywalker asks Yoda about the future.  Yoda answers, “A strange thing the future, always in motion it is…”  In a sense the past is also in motion, shaped by the interpretation given it by the present.  Yet it would be too great a concession to the irrational forces of our times to say that this was a real, and not an apparent, motion.  The past must be uncovered, not invented…although the temptation to  invent myth is strong.

There is always a strong mental resistance to meddling with any society’s pantheon, or in more American terms, we might say, tampering with Mt. Rushmore.  In Mr. Welch’s day, The Politician seemed rude to the point of slander, while today it seems impious.  We might say “only” impious, when actually it’s the primal sin.  Mr. Welch mentioned something nobody was supposed to notice.  That’s impiety.

Or is it?  Note another odd thing about the Eisenhower myth, that there is no such myth!  Somehow or other Eisenhower has eluded both the pantheon and the rogue’s gallery of American history.  If the entire history of the Presidency during the ’50s elicits very little commentary, is that because the whole period was boring?  Hardly.  Rather, might not such a presidency be likened to a constant background noise, or better yet a universal solvent…the purpose of which is to set the standard of normality for “the end of history”?

Today we have come out the other end of “the end of history.”  Not that we really know how things will end, or for that matter continue.  All we know is that, for the first time in a long time the carefully scripted design for the future has suffered a setback.  The planners, whoever and whatever they may be (though from a galaxy far away I think they be not!) are in disarray and many things are back on the table which once were considered “settled.”  This may be a good thing, it may be a dangerous thing, and most likely both, but this is where we seem to be at present.

Consequently, under today’s conditions, reading, and taking seriously, the thesis in Mr. Welch’s The Politician, is no longer an act of impiety.  It is an essential measure of the road which we have traversed through the land of manipulated consensus.  Having finished that journey, we can look back at the trail-head, take stock, and get a new perspective.  However, in contrast to the fantasies of the “progressives” no perspective is better just because it is newer…only if it is truer to realities which transcend perspective itself.  Furthermore, to get at those realities one has to crunch a lot of historical data, and there is a lot of data to crunch, most of it rather unpleasant, in The Politician.

Only those with a deep urge for enlightenment need apply to the task.

 

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