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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Humanism’

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.”

Posted in Anthropology, Appologetics, Christian Education, Culture & Politics, Economics, History, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Philosophy, Politics, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sleeping with Maggy and Ayn, Two of my Platonic Loves…and why I ditched them both!

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 5, 2009

Up from Cuturalism to Individualism…and Beyond

So far I havn’t gotten to the point where I think that anyone will be highly entertained by details of  my past erotic shipwreaks.  Those who arn’t satisfied with their own can have recourse to the National Inquirerer.  But in the case of my intellectual biography I think it is high time that I confess a few errors of my steamy (at least cognitively speaking) past.  Having been born at the mid point of the Twentieth century there are few intellectual errors of the last half of that century which I havn’t at least sampled, but there are only two which, in Goethe’s phrase I have “swilled with large goblets.”  Again, one can do other things with goblets, but even less than sex, these are hard to enjoy on line.  The two opiates to which I was mostly addicted were Culturalism and Objectivism, both excellent ideologies as ideologies go, and each presided over by a latter day embodyment of the Pallas Athena archetype, Margaret Mead and Ayn Rand respectively.

Margaret Mead I was actually able to meet personally, however briefly, while I was young and she was…to put it unchivalrously, entering into advanced decay.   Yet antique though she might have been, I got the definite impression that she was attracted to me, however on the occasion I was uncharateristically disinclined to act the jigolo, thus depriving myself of any deeper knowlege, Biblical or archeological, which might have ensued.  But even to glipse her from afar was a kind of epiphany, in her robes her beads and her forked staff…she was less a scientist than a shammaness.

That last point has been the entire point of anti-Mead criticism during the last few decades.  At the time I met her I was still an innocent (not sexually) and could hardly have guessed that Derek Freeman was rigorously at work in Samoa undoing Mead’s life work.  It would not have mattered much even had I known, since the criticisms of Freeman (and fellow New Zealander Roger Sandall) in a sense upstaged the criticisms of Culturalism which I felt to be salient.  Freeman discovered that Mead’s work was a hoax, although who was the hoaxer, Mead or her informants, remains a legitimate subject of debate.  However the attraction of Culturalism was never its scientific rigor.  At least in its Ruth Bennedict/Margaret Mead form it was tactily understood by its devotees as a kind of sociological poetry somewhat along the lines of, and ultimately inspired by, the poeticized philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

The question in my mind was not so much whether Culturalism was scientific…but rather, was it good or bad poetry?  Granted that it was all a conspiracy, and that Mead was using the Samoans as a ventriloquist would use a dummy, to articulate the values that she would like to see acendent in a future world society…were the values themselves coherent or catastrophic?  I eventually decided that I couldn’t “stay with the program”…if only because the premises and the conclusions of the Culturalist program contradicted themselves.  The premise (for the benefit of anyone who happened to miss the XXth century runup to the multiculturalism of the XXIst century) was that all cultures developed in isolation and could not be judged by any common standard, but that when these cultures were inductively surveyed a posteriori, their very  incommesurability gave support to that atavism which is loosely termed “liberalism” in emergent world culture.  In the specific variation which Mead espoused, this meant that pan-eroticism gained an important butress distinct from previously existing naturalism (eg. Rousseau) in that post tribal Western Bohemians could (while still honoring the tribal, and perhaps thinking of themselves as tribal) choose pan-eroticism on inductive grounds, thus avoiding the appearance of being coerced by nature.  Thus culturalism provided the best of all possible worlds (at least for Western Bohemians) by conflating the ecstasy of instict with the autonomy of the free will.

At the time I certainly had no quarrel with the so-called “sexual revolution.”  What troubled me was the deeper logical contradiction implied by the program.  The classical notion of the “consensus gentium” was to be supplanted by a purely statistical/comparative study of cultures.  Yet when, as was inevitable, this comparason was used to support the default policies of progressivism and liberalism…ie. as pure potential unrestrained by the shackles of narrow tradition or an illusory “human nature”…then at precisely that point the chorus of the “consensus gentium” shouted out in a unanimity too loud to be ignored.  Against the background of the poly-form, pan-erotic global culture, or at least its Bohemian advanced guard, the traditional cultures started to look remarkably similar, with systems of sanctions and authority which all bore a striking family resemblance.

In short, the culturalists had argued for moral relativism (and hence “liberalism” as the default option) in bad faith.  I considered this far worse than any hoaxing or novelization of the ethnographic data.  At least the hoaxing could be justified on esthetic (not to say erotic!) grounds.  But the disjunct between the tribal base and the Bohemian concusions of culturalism involved trickyer matters of contradictory logic and values.  Something had to go, either the mystical group-mind of the tribes, or the rebellious individualism of the Bohemians.

Anthropology turned left (to the tribes) but I turned right…all the way right to Ayn Rand.  It struck me that Western liberalism had gone a bridge too far in the 1960s, when the classical bases of the Whig/progressive historical tradition were thrown overboard in favor of a world view based on existentialism and cultural anthropology.  As much as I was alarmed by the eroticism and anti-intellectualism of the Bohemians, I far prefered any defense of the individual against the prospect of a return to the tribe…which was the logical conclusion evisioned by the emergent ecological and counter-cultural movements.  (Nota bene: the earlier Bohemian denizens of the American academy were anarchic individualists, like Benedict and Mead.  As time went on and culturalism became the  ideological foundation of revolt, Bohemians became tribal…as in “counterculture” and the switch from self identification as “beatniks” to “hippies.”  For what it is worth, I was a kind of post-hippy.)

Against a sophisticated dialectical non-synthesis of Bohemianism and tribalism in Mead’s culturalism, the multiculturalism of the American XXth century tended more and more towards a fundamentalist culturalism.  This wasn’t, counter Sandall, primarily manifested in “designer tribalism.”  There were never that many hippies, and they died out pretty quickly.  But the forced analogy between a functioning tribal society and modern state tended to wedge itself into the sociological imagination, and turned “liberalism” which originally designated the rights of the individual, into a tag for  its polar opposite, social democracy.  In desperation I turned to “fundamentalist individualism”…which at the time people were calling libertarianism.

In those days libertarianism meant Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism.  Unlike Mead, I never actually met Rand in person, and indeed by the late 1970s when I started getting interested in the movement, the party was pretty much over.  Rand and her lover, Nathaniel Brandon, had split up in 1968, and the salad days of people prancing around in capes and sporting jewel-encrusted cigarette holders was pretty much (fortunately) over.  I did meet Brandon, who was by now married for the third time and synthesizing a new philosophy based around something called “biocentrism.”  Biocentrism sounded to me like naturalism, and I was still wedded strongly to the superorganicism which I had come by via the tuition of the culturalists.  If I had met Rand a few years earlier I would probably have wound up as a cult follower, since the pure conceptual quality of Objectivism appealed greatly to me, but the more Rand and Brandon (now at dagger points) claimed to be the first worthy successors to Aristotle in 25 centuries, the more I suspected that they were just “padding their resume.”  I also had the great pleasure of making first hand aquaintance with the philosophers of German Idealism at the time, and while I would be loath to defend Hegel, Schelling et al today, I got enough out of them to realize that the screeds Rand had written against him (lifted in turn from Popper) were written out of ignorance.

In short, I fell out of love with Rand even more quickly than I did with Margaret Mead, a process confirmed when I made aquaintance with the Austrian economists and learned that there was far more to libertarianism than Objectivism.  Many a year has elapsed from then to now, but at this moment, as I set down these words I can see connections which at the time escaped me between my two (now rejected) loves.  First of all, both Culturalism and Objectivism are poetry.  Second, I stand by the statement that there could be ideologies (perhaps saying “philosophies” is a bit much) which are legitimately poetic.  Moreover, not only could thought which is poetic be sociologically valid, but thought which is erotic (in the sense of Plato’s Symposium) could also be sociologically valid.  Not only Socrates, but Max Scheler who spoke of an “order of loves” in the human heart, would agree with me here.

The question which must be posed is not “can thinking about human society be poetic” but rather “is this particular thinking good or bad poetry”?  I found that ultimately both Mead and Rand were bad poets, however technically brilliant they might have been as novelists and thinkers.  To be sure, I would rather inhabit a dream-world ruled by the shamaness Mead or the romantic philosopher Rand than a world (as indeed our world increasingly becomes) ruled by cold technocrats.  But neither Mead’s tribal world or Rand’s heroic world represents that apex of the “order of loves” which all hearts strive for.  Furthermore, I have a hunch as to why this is, one that I should have figured out long ago…but that a slovenly combination of indecision and pride barred my way.

You see, Mead and Rand, who are seldom mentioned in the same breath anywhere in literature or cyberspace, these two women are progeny of a deeper, and darker thinker.  Yes, these two titanic women, who have probably had more influence on American (and hence world) popular culture than any two other individuals, are the obverse/reverse sides of  the same philosophical-philosophical coin, one originally struck by none other than Friedrich Nietzsche.  Both Mead and Rand covered their tracks somewhat, for the former wanted desperately to be the expositor of her beloved Samoans, as the latter wished to be the continuator of Aristotle.  But these were just masks for an unacnowledged oracle, one which pronounced the philosophy of moral inversion.

And that is why I call both Mead and Rand bad poets.  Not completely bad mind you, in fact both charming in their own way, as was Nietzsche himself.  It is a tribute to the great heartedness and then innocence of Americans in the XXth century that they couldn’t drink in their Nietzsche with frothing goblets, that, horn-rimmed academicians aside, they had to be spoon fed by two female social philosophers representing, as it appeared at the time, the diametrically opposite ideologies of tribal naturalism and romantic rationalism.  These were, of course, both transvaluations of Western Culture as it had existed up until that time…as it had been been informed (i.e., in the Platonic-Augustinian sense of “formed into”) by Christianity.

Which brings us to the ultimate question, what is “good poetry” in social philosophy, or in life generally.  If we are to follow the argument in Plato’s Symposium, then it is poetry which leads us from eroticism in the vulgar sense to some higher, and ungessed at, love.  This is precisely what the hot primitivism of Mead and the frenzy of heroism in Rand cannot do, indeed are not intended to do.  Love for Mead, however promiscuous, can at most lead to horizontle  bonding of the tribe in a participation mystique, one where the individual mind is effaced in the collective.  From there, events are allowed to take their course, perhaps in an orgy of passion, or perhaps (a la Rene Girard) in a climactic homicide.  Rand’s love is, in contrast, a jealously exclusive kind of love, the love of a hero…which is to say a man who is almost, but not quite, God.  Yet, if not God, such a man may at least succeed in becoming a type of god.  In Rand’s fiction a single act of love, or a single successful creative accomplishement, is enough to stand against all eternity.  Its the sort of stuff that we Americans just can’t get enough of, that is the heroism, not the eternity.  Nietzsche at least had the integrity to call this kind of heroism tragic.  Rand would have disowned any attempt at calling her fiction tragic…and it is probable that she wouldn’t have liked the term “comic” any better.  Perhaps, in spite of her vaunted “rationality” there were many things which she simply didn’t think out to their logical conclusions.

For all of that, I still have a warm feeling for both these fictive daughters of Nietzsche (as opposed to his very real and very evil sister).  All I question is whether the philosophy of love got very far in the secular world of the last century.  We must look elsewhere to find a poetry of eros which takes us from the world of vulgar passions to the sublimity of a love founded on truth.   Our souls testify to the impossiblity of a Jacob’s ladder which leads halfway up to heaven and then stops.  Yet all our attempts to break through into the emprean by violence have, in the last and all other centuries, come to what King Soloman rightly called “vanity.”  No, rather we must wait patiently at the bottom of the ladder and wait for our Lover to descend and take us into His embrace.  Then we shall say, with the Shulamite,

I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil;

I heard my lover knocking:

“Open to me, my sister, my beloved,

my dove, my perfect one!”  (Song of Songs 5:2)

Then we shall find that Love that Plato could only dream of…a Love of which nobody shall tire!

Posted in Anthropology, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Libertarianism, Philosophy, Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Crisis of Christian Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 31, 2009

God isn’t an Old Man with a White Beard, He’s a Young Man With a Black Beard

I have a bone to pick with Creationists, and it has little to do with the age of the Earth, for I consider myself a Creationist myself.  Rather, it is that the Christian imagination sidetracks itself when it flees from the human into the natural sciences.  As its name would surely imply, Christianity is the religion which combines a Theocentric Anthropology, and an Anthrocentric Theology.    This is such a basic fact that people constantly loose sight of it.  Calvin famously took Ostiander to task for predicating a connection between the Logos and the human species even before the fall.  Yet surely Ostiander had a point, in that the expression “made in our image” is antecedant to the fall and redemption.

Even the most elementary survey of comparative religion will show that the Christianity’s claim to be the “human religion” is no idle boast.  Once, that is, we have extracted ourselves from the contemporary rhetorical quagmire which conflates “humanism” and “secularity.”  The philosophy of Yoga, for instance, seeks with great ernestness to reduce the human entelechy to the various elements constituent of the universe (in non-Brahminical sects) or divinity (in Brahminism).  Shamanism, a widespread and primal notion, seeks with equal ernestness to assimilate the human spirit to that of various animals.  On the other hand, the various non-Christian psychisms, spiritisms, and occultisms promote a commerce between the spirit of their practitioners and various preternatural beings.  It is only Christianity which holds out for humanity qua humanity as central to divine concern.

One would think that contemporary Christian thinkers would see in Anthropology the strong suit of any contemporary evangel.   All the more so in that the force which opposes Christianity is so blatently anti-anthropic (i.e., as epitomised in C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man”) and one can usually chart a sure course by going in a direction opposite irrelgious resistance.

Yet sadly there is no movement in the cutural sciences which Christians have granted the kind of importance (before even coming to assent) which has been lavished on opposition to Darwinism in geology, biology, and that kind of anthropology which would be better termed “human zoology.”  This is what I consider the “crisis of Christian anthropology.”  This is not to say that there is no Christian (cultural) anthropology whatsover, indeed there are several, often noncommunicating, paradigms which might be called (and sometimes are called) Christian anthropologies.  To the best of my knowlege these can be grouped into the following five categories, which I have listed in acending rank of scientific promise.  Note that here scientific promise correlates to lack of respectability and to some extent presence of danger.

Five Possible Christain Anthropologies

1.  There is a kind of mainstream anthropology which is done by Christians as well as secularists.  So we find textbooks written by Christian authors largely for missiological purposes which in no way challenge the material basis of secular anthropology.  In this category one can also put several institutes which translate Bibles and mission literature into isolated and/or minority languages, and which sometimes do original research in the area of linguistics.  These people are generally bright and respectable, but are in no way challeging secularist presuppositions in culturology in the way a Creationist might (rightly or wrongly) challenge Darwinian geology.  (Which is not to doubt their physical courage, after all missionary-ethnographers are more likely to suffer martrydom than the theorists of the other categories!)

2. “Anthropology” as it is construed as a category in Scholasticism and Protestant Systematic Theologies.  This largely centers on pneumatology or the nature of “the soul”, its distinction, or otherwise, from the spirit and relation to the body.    In many respects this is a well picked over field which consists in numerous opinions on how to, or if to, baptize Aristotel’s “De Anima.”  The focus is so narrowly focused that much of what constitutes the human sciences (eg. the history of technology, art, language) escape it.  Still it contains a number of Christian classics which should be on everyone’s “must read” list.

3. Philosophical Anthropology in so far as it is Christian.  And indeed, philosophical anthropology tends to be Christian, not only because of the major premise stated at the beinging of this essay but because in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries this was the dicipline which sought to retain the realist assumptions implicit in the question “What is Man?” after the hyper-nominalism of empirical, secular anthropology had endeavored to render the idea of a common species-nature for humanity meaningless.  Perhaps the best example of this is Max Scheler’s value-based anthropology.  Also I am inclined to put Ivan Illich’s varied speculations into this category, rather than the subsequent one, even though Illich (no more than Scheler) was no realist or scholastic…none the less such thinkers attempted to fill the lacuna left by philosophy when it surrendered the idea of a unified human nature to the various empirical sciences.  The present consensus is that none of these systems were entirely satisfactory, and indeed, Scheler was finally unable to reconcile his ideas with theological orthodoxy.

4.  Christian Culturology, in the sense of anthropological speculations which subsist with the salvation history contained in the Bible as part of a single unbreached continuum.  To the best of my knowlege the only representative of this type is the mimetic theory of Rene Girard and sundary variations and responses thereto.  Girard goes beyond Freud’s notion of the primal murder as the foundation of all culture in “Totem and Taboo” and sanctifies the process, showing that the revelation of human cultural mechanism was made transparent through the passion and the resurection of Christ.  This is a purely naturalistic explanation of culture, which most Christians seem perfectly comfortable with.  What almost all Christians baulk at is the uncomfortable feeling, in spite of Girard’s reasurances, that it implies a naturalistic explanation of the atonement and justification.

5. Preternatural explanations of culture.  In my opinion this is the ultimate goal…nothing less than the restoration of the original Christian, and Biblical, understanding of culture.  It is also the most dangerous option, both professionally and spiritually.  The truth of the matter is that, apart from eschatological rhetoric, Christian thinkers want to have as little as possible to do with supernatural…or more precisely preternatural.  That is to say, while giving lip service to the notion that we live in a multi-storied world, they are unwilling to use this notion as a tool for understanding culture in anything but the most general sense.  Yet the Bible and many traditions clearly indicate that much of what we call “culture” is a gift, even if a treacherous gift, from preternatural beings.

I am glad to mention two European thinkers of the last century, who whatever their failings, were brave enough to speak of civilization and the supernatural in the same breath.  One was Rene Guinon, who converted to Islam, but wrote extensively on symbolism as a clue to the mysterious forces which have interfered with the development of civilization.  The other is Valentin Tomberg, who did yeoman service for the Roman Catholic faith, but is still viewed with suspicion for possibly importing ideas of his earstwise mentor Rudolph Steiner into Christian mysticism.  Tomberg did not shy away from using the concept of the “eregevor”…i.e., the cognitive and spiritual prenumbra cast by a preternatural being over a population or an institution.  In this view eregovors, rather than human interaction, are the source of much which we commonly designate as culture.

I am not saying that this last category should be used as an exclusive explanation of human culture.  Indeed, such a thesis would sugest to certain minds that all culture is demonic!  None the less, it is fitting that the Christian anthropologist  recognize “all truth” without being intimidated by either the prejudice of naturalists or the specter of the preternatural itself.  However slight the inflence of the preternatural might be on human cultures, the total exclusion of this influence as a possible hypothesis (under naturalist pressure) introduces a systematic bias into our understanding of human events.

Conclusion: A Possible Synthesis

If Christianity is the Anthropological religion, then its advocates should not only “be all things to all men” but should also have a coherent and comprehensive understanding about what we mean by “Man” (Or if you will “the human race”…but this is really a nominalist/realist issue rather than a feminist/antifeminist one!)

The following is the most simple, reasonable, and Biblical schematism that I can deduce at present, and as you can see, it really involves two anthropologies.

“Adamic” or Negative Anthropology

consisting of three components:

a. Undefiled creational nature: elements, corporal entity

b. Nature perverted on human initiative:

“Cainite” culture, murder/sacrifice

c. Preternatural “gifts” to human culture, language, and tools

by sundry genii forming group eregevorim

i. angelic

ii. demonic

iii. neutral or confused

“Deutero-Adamic” or Positive Anthropology

Christ as federal head of assenting logoi

I know that someone will say that this is all terribly simplistic, or that perhaps I have reinvented the wheel.  Come to think of it, could anybody reinvent the wheel without downloading the information from a preternatural being?  (Sorry about that, after this super-serious article, I have to lighten up a bit!)

Posted in Christianity, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Traditionalism | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Could Albert J. Nock stomach contemporary American Libertarianism?

Posted by nouspraktikon on November 27, 2008

Short answer…NO

This isn’t a rant against the recently defeated Bob Barr, not that Barr doesn’t deserve a stern recapitulation of his errors.  Even if Barr had been a “good libertarian” would that have been enough?  Methinks not!  The idea that there is such a thing as a pure libertarianism which somehow provides an axiom for all moral inquests is itself a delusion.  Yes, the state, and specifically the unrestrained modern state, is at the root of much of  our discontent but simply to describe one’s world view as “anti-statist” is no more adequate a philosophy than any other sort of “anti-” ism.  The case against the “anti-” mentality, namely that one is ruled by a passion which depends on the existence of an adversary, and which assures one’s obsession with that adversary, is prima facie.  In this case it is easily substantiated by the fact that most libertarians are political junkies 24/7. Indeed, just to take one alleged progenitor, if they resemble Thoreau in any of his phases, it is not the anarchistic Thoreau but the manic-depressive Thoreau who found renewed reason to live in the outbreak of the Civil War.  Surely a more expensive remedy than retirement to Walden Pond!

Libertarianism has a more imitable progenitor in Albert J. Nock.  I am not sure to what extent he used the title “libertarian” at all, but I am sure that if he did it was probably towards the latter part of his life, when others like Isabel Patterson and Rose Wilder Lane were already being described as such.  His self description was originally “radical” but like many another advocate of liberty he found to his bemusement that the New Deal turned him into a conservative.  None the less he would not have considered himself to have been exhausted by the phrase “radical” even more than “conservative” or “libertarian.”  He was a man who insisted on being sui generis, deeper than the party to which he affiliated, even if that party was not a real organization but a mere school of thought.  His politics followed from his being…not vice versa.

Yet it would be nice, for our purposes, to give his general turn of mind…inclusive of but not exhausted by political ideology, a kind of name.  Somehow I doubt that Nock would have objected to the name “Christian Humanist.”  But what does that really mean?  Putting aside the shallow opinions of fundamentalists who would consider it an oxymoron, there are a great many Christian Humanisms to choose from.  This blog’s patron, Pico della Mirandola, was one of the more famous of them, and term itself seems irrevocably stuck in the time somewhere between Petrarch and Galileo.  After a great meditation on the subject I have come up with a succinct definition of Humanism, at least as it was understood in the Renaissance.  A “humanist” was a scholar, invariably male, who preferred Cicero speaking in good Latin to Aristotle speaking in bad Latin.

I can hardly think of a definition less adaptable to our time, or even the relatively proximate time of Nock.  Yet Nock was in some sense precisely that kind of Humanist.  I’m not claiming this because Nock happened to make a study of Rabellais.  Anybody could, and anybody has, been a Rabellais scholar…and that would not necessarily a humanist make.  Nock was a kindred soul to Ciceronian rhetoric, and scorned the kind of dialectic which is the only thing that students pick out of the Aristotelian corpus.  Thus when Nock argued for freedom he didn’t start out a priori in the manner of Mises, Rothbard, or Rand.  He started out more like Hayek, with an examination of history and institutions, but his American wit kept him from the kind of ponderous system-building which confounded Hayek’s radicalism and made his thought fodder for  political obscurantism.

The problem with contemporary libertarianism is its obsession with axiomatic systems and intellectual purity.  This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be grateful for a priori reasoners like Mises, Rothbard, and Rand.  Rather, it is their numerous intellectual progeny who have lost the thread of discourse in the maze of intellectual dialectic.  Few of them would see themselves as dialecticians of course, knowing the term only  under its Marxian variant…and perhaps only refering to themselves as “thinkers” or “intellectuals.”  But it is the narrow and uncongenial ambiance of these “thinkers” and “intellectuals” which drives otherwise sane people into the hands of outright opportunists like Barr.

Nock talked around problems rather than dogmatizing.  None the less his talk always had a direction which led deeper into freedom.  It was, as it were, a libertarianism of the will rather than a libertarianism of the concept.  We already have libertarian utopias of the mind…what we need is a libertarian topos, a free country…or even a free world.  We will never get there by the deductions of “thinkers” and “intellectuals” and we will never get there by selling out to opportunists.  We might, I don’t know for sure, but we might, get there through the efforts of those who are broad enough in their minds to use persuasion, rather than coercion, in argument as in life.

Something like that, I submit, would be the recommendation of Albert J. Nock.

Posted in Culture & Politics, Libertarianism | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »