benoist, strauss, and the metaphysical problem

Dropping the mask of the political — for a moment — we see in the core of Benoist’s work a hatred of subjectivity; and perhaps fear is a better word. Fundamentally, he sees subjectivity as the ground for egalitarianism and universalism. [BHR, 21] On the face, it’s a strange line of thought; if everything is valid (as he defines relativism), why is egalitarianism the natural end? Why is there a natural end at all?

Benoist writes that a law which can be seen as for a man outside of social life would be inherently subjective. [BHR, 26] All legal rights — as they inhere in individuals regardless of their place in society — are subjective by definition. The natural question is whether or not all legal rights are merely legal rights. In the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it is easy to argue that many of the rights — while perhaps based on natural ones — are actually legal rights or, at least, legal prescriptions… or, at worst, nonsense. A right like Article 24 — ‘Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay’ — is so specific to a particular condition as to be absurd. If this is right, all of Benoist’s fury on the idea is justified.

Benoist approvingly quotes another writer, André Clair, who writes on the transition between rights as being ‘essentially present’ and now ‘a system of distributing and awarding lots’; but it is that latter definition that Clair sees as fundamentally subjective— not the former. Benoist follows this by claiming that rights are, indeed, merely law ‘contaminated by morality’ (via, of course, Christianity). [BHR, 34-5] It seems, from here, that Benoist really does reject natural right as well, not just legal right:

…the theory of human rights creates a radical novelty: a freedom independent of all participation in political affairs, a freedom of the individual seperated from the freedom of the political community to which he belong, an idea which in Antiquity would have been considered ‘absurd, immoral, and unworthy of a free man.’ (Carl Schmitt).

…the French Revolution tried to reconcile human rights with those of the citizen — a question which, in many respects, resembles of the old problem of the union of the soul and the body. …Revolutionary right aims, quite evidently, to reconcile the subjective right and the objective right, the natural right and the positive right, to ensure the union of citizenship and one’s membership in humanity. … Rousseau, for his part, had already declared that he was for the primacy of the citizen in a famous page: ‘We must therefore choose whether we will make a man or a citizen; we cannot do both.’ [BHR 91-2]

And Benoist is with Rousseau, here. (He also approves of Rousseau’s honesty in admitting his concept of the state of nature could be fictitious, see BHR 48.) Rousseau, along with Montesquieu and Jefferson, is the major proponent of the classical republican tradition in the 18th c, which places freedom within the concept of popular & parliamentary sovereignty. (Milton, Parker, Sidney, and ‘above all’ Harrington are its representatives in the 17th.) [BHR 113] This follows a surprisingly warm discourse on feudalism:

Describing the feudal regime, Fustel de Coulanges writes, ‘At the top of the hierarchy, the king was surrounded by his great vassals. Each of these vassals was himself surrounded by his own feudatories and he could not pronounce the least judgment without them… The king could neither make a new law, nor modify the existing laws, nor raise a new tax without the consent of the country… If one looks at the institutions of this regime from close quarters, and if one observes their meaning and significance, one will see that they were all directed against despotism. However great the diversity that seems to reign in this regime, there is, however, one thing that unites them: this thing is obsession with absolute power. I do not think that any regime better succeeded than that in rendering arbitrary rule impossible… Feudalism was an association of free men’. The end of the feudal regime marked the beginning of the disintegration of this system under the influence of Roman authoritarianism and the deadly blows of the centralised state. Little by little, hereditary royalty implemented a juridical-administrative centralisation at the expense of intermediary bodies and regional assemblies. While the communal revolution sanctioned the power of the nascent bourgeoisie, the regional parliaments ceased to be equal assemblies and became meetings of royal officers. Having become absolute, the monarchy supported itself upon the bourgeoisie to liquidate the last resistances of the nobility. [BHR 112]

This positive reading of the series of rights and obligations within feudalism is hard to reconcile with his love of popular sovereignty (discussed in the prior post, as well): Feudalism was essential hierarchical and not popular. While it would be easy to claim that natural right was more respected, and that legal right did not attempt to interfere with the normal political relations of members of society, it could only be a popular sovereignty in the dimmest sense. Benoist makes something of the election of kings (particularly in France, an anecdote he seems fond of, due to its repetition elsewhere), but these were not even elections by representative except insofar as a feudal lord may be able to be said to ‘represent’ his vassals; but the fashion in which he represents them is how a parent represents a child before the legal establishment. If you want to see the people as sovereign, you have to see those under lieges as children in one fashion or another. This ambiguity regarding the meaning of sovereignty is the most disturbing part of Benoist’s political philosophy; while I think ‘fascist’ would be too cute a term for him, the parallel is irresistible:

The Reichstag, 12.11.1941

Is this democracy?

Landsgemeinde in Appenzell, Switzerland (1973)

… or is this democracy?

The Reichstag never (formally) dissolved; the German people never voted to say, ‘we are no longer a democracy!’… so is there a mystic sentiment of the people than can preserve their sovereignty without direct rule? Benoist’s explicit recommendations all seem to be about the second picture; he approves the Swiss model, specifically. But his view of sovereignty is magical. Swiss democracy existed without a theory of democratic rights or the natural sovereignty of the people; it arose in response to real concerns and in context with the world around it. It preserved traditions of local governance, etc. How is Benoist’s insistence on popular sovereignty any less artificial or ‘subjective’ than the human rights laws he opposes?

[BHR], Beyond Human Rights


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pessimistic utopianism and the new right


This debate is interesting (though sort of circular), with each participant getting in some good points. Scruton falls into a form of argument in a couple of places which is one of the big issues with the anti–liberal (in the political & economic sense) right— a

* I have not seem him quoted or referenced, as I have noted, their favored Anglophone writers are Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre

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the kings of sports

Online ‘reactionaries’ (scare quotes to avoid the notion that they are in any sense some sort of coherent group) are fond of—correctly—mentioning the lack of actual effective leadership in in government. Mencius Moldbug’s favored solution is something like a CEO model of governance, which is a term often applied to Singapore. However, the Lee government has not ran Singapore like a CEO would, but rather as a family company would interested in the long–term. Typically, CEOs do not act as effective leaders any more than our politicians, but as something like Mongol chiefs, swooping in with their hordes and carrying off as much booty as they can before moving on to the next target. There’s no reason to think that Moldbug’s model would work much better on a national scale, and there is implicit recognition of this in his hyperbolic obituary of Steve Jobs. Jobs’s willingness to get into the guts of his company and guide it along a clear and effective path stands out because it’s exceptional, rather than his being a particularly effective example of a CEO. He has so little competition, he could be rather mediocre in terms of CEOs doing what Moldbug portrays CEOs as doing.

For Americans, we can point out clearer examples: Professional sports teams. Here is a structure built entirely around competition, and of a far more narrow & defined sort than competition between businesses*, even those within the same general market. Yet, basic competence is so rare that it stands out: It’s what both the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs have based their franchises on.

There’s nothing particularly complex to what Bill Belichick does (and the Patriots organization behind him); it’s merely drafting and player selection without the traditional biases**, a higher than normal level of discipline, and a willingness to build around the talent that the team has rather than some abstractedly optimal set of schemes. (Not that the Pats don’t have their patterns at all, but they are willing to experiment with the tools they are presented with to a far greater degree.) Even a notorious goof–off like Chad ‘Ochocinco’ Johnson got it:

The Patriots are good. They don’t have the most talent, we all know that. They don’t have the most speed, no question. The Patriots are good, but there’s a reason why they are winning even though everybody is over age 50. It’s the fucking coaching. It ain’t no secret. … [Belichick] might be the greatest coach who ever coached.

Ocho Cinco: What Football and Life Have Thrown My Way

Of course, the ‘over age 50’ joke doesn’t really hold so much anymore, but you could say pretty much all the same things about the San Antonio Spurs right now. (Whose starters are significantly older than the starters for the Patriots teams Johnson was joking about.) Now, a lot of the Spurs’ success has been on the back of Tim Duncan (who deserves to be remembered as the best player drafted in the second–half of the 90s— sorry Kobe), who was not an underrated asset like Tom Brady has been for the Patriots, but it hardly matters; Gregg Popovich knows how to use Duncan.

Pop’s lack of tolerance for the vapid questions asked by sports media is even more notable than Belichick’s, because he’s willing to call them out more often— just watch this. ‘“Why will my team win tonight?” I hesitate to tell you why I think we’ll win or won’t win or what’s going to happen— I have no clue what’s going to happen. All I do is hope.’ It’s not that there aren’t interesting questions to be asked of coaches, it’s that nearly all coaches are so uninteresting that media aren’t particularly rewarded for being more interested themselves. (Part of this too is the ‘book of clichés’ culture that is made fun of in «Bull Durham», but that should be applied to players more than coaches.)

Why do the Spurs and Patriots have such unusually competent coaches, though? The organizations behind them. (Mind you, the competition is somewhat better in the NBA than in the NFL— Belichick towers more than Popovich does, but that’s because there are more good organizations in the NBA. I’m not sure there are more good coaches.) And it is not like being family owned is any guarantee of success in sports, either; in football, two of the most notorious historically mismanaged franchises—the Detroit Lions & the Cincinnati Bengals—are family affairs. There are obviously other factors (e.g., the NFL is an environment where incompetence is not commensurately punished), but the take–home is just that there is a deficit of what competence even looks like, in general.

To go back to Moldbug & Jobs: ‘[Fallen in our hands was] the real work of a real King… [who] could bend small armies to obey. And make— a toy.’ Making consumer electronics or managing sports franchises are far less sophisticated endeavors than governance; the fact that competence there is so rare does not exactly give one hope for any sort of personal rulership.

Hatred of professional sports is not uncommon amongst internet reactionaries (more because they are nerds than anything else, though); and while it is true that they hold too great of a place in our culture at–large in terms of concern (Steve Sailer is fond of pointing out that rich left–wingers found & fund political organizations, while rich right wingers fund their alma maters, build football stadiums, or buy professional sports franchises), the very fact that they do and still are not properly run (and that most fans don’t even notice) should give one pause.

It pays to pay attention.

* That aren’t sports franchises, of course.

** A few years ago, I started digging up Wonderlic scores, and a suspicion I had was confirmed: Intelligence is the biggest economic inefficiency in player selection, and the Patriots have been exploiting it for years. While they do draft physical freaks like Rob Gronkowski (who could not be as stupid as he acts— I never found his Wonderlic), they draft, trade, and sign plenty of physically under–par specimens who just happen to be far smarter than the average player at their position. The Wonderlic is far from perfect, however, so my data aren’t particularly great; I am certain that the Patriots exercise their own subjective strategies in evaluating player intelligence as part of their scouting technique, which they are obviously not going to be willing to chat openly about. NBA scouting doesn’t offer an easy stand–in like the Wonderlic for guessing at draft strategy, but I would not be shocked if the Spurs are exploiting similar inefficiencies; my hunches suggest they are. (I mean, there’s a reason The Onion’s running gag about Tim Duncan’s intelligence is funny.)

† I feel a strange need to defend myself: I didn’t read the whole book, but I read the pages surrounding that excerpt when an ESPN review quoted part of it. That said, if I were going to read a book written by an athlete, that’d probably be it. It’s generally thought that he didn’t use a ghostwriter; the dude is honest; and he’s an entertaining egomaniac.

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a death of god

The Harrowing of Hell

‘… should we not learn to see that [the descent into hell], which liturgically is associated with Holy Saturday in the Church’s year, is particularly close to our day and is to a particular degree the experience of our century? On Good Friday our gaze remains fixed on the crucified Christ, but Holy Saturday is the day of the “death of God”, the day that expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him, but can simply overlook him. “God is dead and we have killed him.” This saying of Nietzsche’s belongs linguistically to the tradition of Christian Passiontide piety; it expresses the content of Holy Saturday, “descended into hell”1.

— Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Introduction to Christianity (1968)


Pope Benedict is my favorite living theologian (he is probably my favorite of the past century). Yet, something has always bothered me about this idea; it seems too glib to associate this ‘death of God’ with the modern ‘death of God’.

One thing that I found particularly odd about Mind & Cosmos was Nagel’s comfort in dismissing the idea of even exploring whether his teleological reasoning would, perhaps, lead to a sort of theism: He calls this an ‘ungrounded assumption’ and lets it go on his admission of ‘lack[ing] the sensus divinitatis that enables—indeed compels—so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose as naturally as they see in a smiling face the expression of human feeling.’ (pg. 12) Multiple times through the book, he claims that the theistic hypothesis is either a complication or impedes unification (a not necessarily, but justifiable, criteria for a reasonable worldview); however, I fail to see how his forms of neutral monism and pansychism (both his words) are no less so, except on the claim that they are more unifying— the idea that they are less complex is easily dismissible.

Heidegger’s famous remark, ‘Only a God can still save us.’, is intimately related to this one. It is not to be understood that Heidegger is calling for a return to theism, because if anything, his work is as sure in the death of traditional belief as Nietzsche’s. (This is why I believe he purposefully bracketed philosophy away from theology**.) So, to say that this sort of environment is the age of Holy Saturday is strange; at worst, a man who had claimed he was God was dead— it’s hard to believe that God was dead.

Yet, there’s something to it in another way. In the brief time I was in seminary, I wrote a paper about the accusations of atheism by pagan critics towards Christianity; maybe with some glibness myself, I called this intellectual battle ‘the first death of God’. Those accusations generally focused on Christian rejections of traditional forms, but they also focused on specifically theological content, such as Porphyry’s criticism of the idea of omnipotence; an omnipotent God would be an impossible God, therefore, the Christian God was not God at all, but the death of God. Maybe then there is some theological fault which has resulted in a broader, more lasting, ‘death of God’.

Nagel’s appeal to his lack of sensus divinitatis seems to be a good example of such a theological fault; while the idea has currency due to Alvin Plantinga, the sense of the idea has been affected by the intensely emotional content of sensation we have— especially in regard to religious feeling. (Plantinga himself notes that the sense may be impeded by sin, but his description of it leaves something to be desired.) I see no reason why such a ‘sense’ need be of the sort Nagel writes about; that is a sort of mystical sense which I believe is fairly rare in its strong form. (Indeed, I think that the drive to claim it in its strong form is a real problem in modern Christianity.) Is there not a specifically intellectual (in the common sense) sort of sensus divinitatis? That is, is there not a form which is expressed in the rational mind’s acceptance of a reasonable argument of one sort or another? (I think the most common form of reasoned assent is likely that of the recognition of coherence and the general sort of animating that can provide.) If what Nagel is talking about is sensus divinitatis, I have it no more than he does; the difference here is that I did not know that that should have been a compelling reason not to investigate the metaphysical claims of Christianity and their reasonableness.

Deny Turner’s fantastic new book, Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait, reveals Thomas as a man who believed just that— a human person can know God through the light of philosophy. This isn’t to degrade the revelation, but we can think here of Gaius Marius Victorinus, who felt that, as he was in metaphysical & ethical agreement with the Christians (or, at least, as he understood them), he had no need of joining them, religiously speaking. Yet, he must have realized that was not enough, as he converted late in life. What is it that can lead from, let’s say, a metaphysical agreement to one that takes on the ‘addition’ of submitting to revelation? It isn’t as if, for example, you can claim that Christianity is compelling because it taught correct metaphysics by revelation (rather, its metaphysics was formed in concert with it); neither can you claim that there is any necessity that leads one from the philosophy to the revelation. One legitimate move may be the inference to the best explanation, whereby the holistic nature of the Christian teaching, which integrates metaphysics, ethics, history, etc. into a compelling harmony (or nearly so) can be a reason for accepting revelation as an ‘addition’. But this is cursory.

The problem, then, is that a view of the ‘death of God’ which simply links it in a mystical fashion to the Event of Holy Saturday is that it then detaches the search from God from the search from reason. I hardly think this was Benedict’s intention, as his whole corpus can be seen as an attempt to return Christianity to the realm of reasoned discourse, rather than its remaining in the strategic position of irrationality (often, of course, following Heidegger’s ‘advice’…). As he wrote in the same work, ‘…what can go on existing only through interpretation has in reality ceased to exist.’ (Now that’s a damning remark!) It is also relevant that, in that work, he actually rejects the idea that a sort of ‘religious talent’ must necessarily exist in order to uphold the universal claims of religion.

Maybe the connection is indeed not with the ‘death of God’ to Western culture, but rather the believer’s life within such a culture; the believer is Joseph of Arimathea or the Mother of God at the tomb. To place the catastrophic atheists such as Nietzsche in that role (which seems implied in identifying our age with Holy Saturday) surrenders far too much.

More on the Turner book, later.


* Here he references Henri de Lubac’s The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

** ‘A “Christian philosophy” is a round square and a misunderstanding. To be sure, one can thoughtfully question and work through the world of Christian experience–that is, the world of faith. That is then theology. Only ages that really no longer believe in the true greatness of the task of theology arrive at the pernicious opinion that, through a supposed refurbishment with the help of philosophy, a theology can be gained or even replaced, and can be made more palatable to the need of the age. Philosophy, for the originally Christian faith, is foolishness. Philosophizing means asking: “Why are their beings at all, instead of nothing?” Actually asking this means venturing to exhaust, to question thoroughly, the inexhaustible wealth of this question, by unveiling what it demands that we question. Whenever such a venture occurs, there is philosophy.’ —Introduction to Metaphysics

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Coverage the recent case on the Defense of Marriage Act, United States v. Windsor, has almost universally omitted the fact that the case was not a contested issue; rather, the Supreme Court elected, by fiat, to decide to give its opinion on the case, anyhow.

Similarly, coverage of Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent has focused on his caustic remarks regarding the majority opinion that any opposition to gay marriage could only be grounded in a mean spirit, hoping to portray the objection to the case as something like a bigot complaining that he is being called a bigot. How witty! However, the bulk of Scalia’s dissent is devoted to the novelty of SCOTUS’s decision to bring the case before it without any legal grounding for doing so. Forgive the long excerpt, but this is the core of this element of his dissent, abbreviated a little (all emphases in the original):

The Court is eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case. Standing in the way is an obstacle, a technicality of little interest to anyone but the people of We the People, who created it as a barrier against judges’ intrusion into their lives. They gave judges, in Article III, only the “judicial Power,” a power to decide not abstract questions but real, concrete “Cases” and “Controversies.” Yet the plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are we doing here?

…Windsor won below, and so cured her injury, and the President was glad to see it. True, says the majority, but judicial review must march on regardless, lest we “undermine the clear dictate of the separation-of-powers principle that when an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution, it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

That is jaw-dropping. It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere “primary” in its role.

This image of the Court would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter. They knew well the dangers of “primary” power, and so created branches of government that would be “perfectly coordinate by the terms of their common commission,” none of which branches could “pretend to an exclusive or superior right of settling the boundaries between their respective powers.” The Federalist, No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (J. Madison). The people did this to protect themselves. They did it to guard their right to self-rule against the black-robed supremacy that today’s majority finds so attractive. …

For this reason we are quite forbidden to say what the law is whenever (as today’s opinion asserts) “‘an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution.’” Ante, at 12. We can do so only when that allegation will determine the outcome of a lawsuit, and is contradicted by the other party. The “judicial Power” is not, as the majority believes, the power “‘to say what the law is,’” ibid., giving the Supreme Court the “primary role in determining the constitutionality of laws.” The majority must have in mind one of the foreign constitutions that pronounces such primacy for its constitutional court and allows that primacy to be exercised in contexts other than a lawsuit. See, e.g., Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Art. 93. …

In other words, declaring the compatibility of state or federal laws with the Constitution is not only not the “primary role” of this Court, it is not a separate, freestanding role at all. We perform that role incidentally—by accident, as it were—when that is necessary to resolve the dispute before us.

We have never before agreed to speak—to “say what the law is”—where there is no controversy before us. In the more than two centuries that this Court has existed as an institution, we have never suggested that we have the power to decide a question when every party agrees with both its nominal opponent and the court below on that question’s answer. …

I find it wryly amusing that the majority seeks to dismiss the requirement of party-adverseness as nothing more than a “prudential” aspect of the sole Article III requirement of standing. (Relegating a jurisdictional requirement to “prudential” status is a wondrous device, enabling courts to ignore the requirement whenever they believe it “prudent”—which is to say, a good idea.) Half a century ago, a Court similarly bent upon announcing its view regarding the constitutionality of a federal statute achieved that goal by effecting a remarkably similar but completely opposite distortion of the principles limiting our jurisdiction. The Court’s notorious opinion in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U. S. 83, 98–101 (1968), held that standing was merely an element (which it pronounced to be a “prudential” element) of the sole Article III requirement of adverseness. We have been living with the chaos created by that power-grabbing decision ever since, see Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., 551 U. S. 587 (2007), as we will have to live with the chaos created by this one.

Now, I’m not disinclined to affirm with persons like Eric Posner that SCOTUS is a body in which justices use legal reasoning for their preferred political ends. Justices rarely, if ever, agree to uphold or overturn decisions that they do not agree with, rather than ruling simply on the basis of their being judicially licit. Just because right–wing and left–wing justices do not always agree with each other (notice Scalia’s dissent in the Indian adoption case that was largely joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor) does not mean that they have, in that moment, suspended their normal political preferences. While it might appear that Scalia has done so in upholding a special racial preference, there are plenty on the right who are comfortable (or even more enthusiastically in favor) in allowing special rights for Indians, but only Indians*.

Despite all this, what I quote above still matters. A precedent for SCOTUS to bring issues to its attention that would not otherwise have been is hardly one that those celebrating the decision should be OK with. What if, let’s say, another justice (Sotomayor?) joined the four conservative judges in overturning Roe on a case that had been settled in a district court? Or if, later, some successor law to DOMA or some state plebiscite on the issue is used as a precedent to overturn the current decision?

There is no doubt that the cultural–left in the current White House refrained from encouraging SCOTUS to bring this case on up in spite of its decided state. That’s what the left has devolved to in America, and one pines for Actually Existing Communism in a way. In fact, insanity like this would never have found a home in the USSR. While the Soviet state would ideologically criticize the great works of Western Civilization, it rarely totally blanked them; in fact, it is odd that more persons do not reflect upon the fact that, throughout the Cold War, the Russians were far better at promoting and preserving a number of traditional arts— why do Russian ballet companies stand forth, so many years after the Czars, as the pinnacle of the art?

This whole thing feels surreal.

It is the lack of historical context—as if there were a hiatus in history—that also stands out. The other important section of Scalia’s dissent focuses on just that. Formerly, the left saw itself as part of history— maybe it was bringing about its desired end, but the history was not obliterated in a new narrative which only saw the dialectic of Oppressed and Oppressor in the most abstract of senses. (This is not the Bolshevik ‘Who, Whom?’, even if it may be in continuation with it— a great–nephew or grandson.) For a number of reasons, those for whom their homoerotic proclivities double as their identities have become the new favored class; no more proof is needed other than the fact that the left’s thrill for Windsor eclipsed the prior day’s decision about the Voting Rights Act, a disappearing of black Americans that would have been hard to imagine even ten years ago. As I remarked in an off–blog reply to Owen White on this post of his, it’s ‘Because gay people who didn’t play sports have commentator and production roles in TV, duh.’

In that same reply, I remarked how the >115 IQ set that is most enthusiastic about gay marriage has not considered how it is easy for them to accept evolutionary novel behaviors† & ideas, but not for those on the left hand of the bell curve. But, I may have been foolish in saying that; as long as Americans watch a lot of TV (and more and more, the gap in TV consumption widens between the smart and the not–so–smart) and TV continues its push for both gay marriage and the increasing portrayals of gay couples, they will perhaps be just as easily swayed. Notice the divergence in how white Americans perceive black Americans based on whether or not their primary images of them come from TV or their daily lives; permanently coupling gay persons are a much smaller proportion of the American population than blacks, and far less visible. The comparison is imperfect, however, because actual proximity increases acceptance, anyhow, except perhaps for a wedge (like two gay men I’ve known).

However, I think I’m broadly right in believing that support for gay marriage will dry up.

In the end, it will be because such hedonist issues—and juvenile ones like the incessant demands regarding ‘identity’—will become exceedingly unimportant as really–real problems become again a part of the lives of Americans. We’re merrily skipping to an an economic Ragnarök** that will not be slowed by our virtuous pursuit of justice in the cause of gay marriage.

Well, it was a fun way to blow time while we waited.

* There is a smaller group who are also in favor of some considerations for African–Americans on the argument that they are the group of historically–harmed peoples in America, but there is no ‘special relationship’ of the same kind between the white American majority and other peoples who have come here voluntarily, since. The ability of foreign African students to capitalize on racial preferences for the descendants of slaves is a particularly bitter pill.

† Make no mistake about it: The current commonality of adult–adult male homosexuality is highly novel, and long term relationships are even more so. The appeal that is often made to Greek precedent on homosexuality is always amusing considering the withering words the Greeks had for those erotic pairings who kept it up after the beloved entered adulthood.

** A much more apt comparison than the too–typical Armageddon. It’s the Twilight of the Gods, not the End.

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the dismal science

The markets, the government, the working–man’s wages, to
      think what account they are through our nights and days
To think that other working–men will make just as great
      account of them, yet we make little or no account.

The vulgar and the refined, what you call sin and what you
      call goodness, to think how wide a difference,
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we
      lie beyond the difference.

To think how much pleasure there is,
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business?
      or planning a nomination and election? or with your
      wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework?
      or the beautiful maternal cares?
These also flow onward to others, you and I flow onward,
But in due time you and I shall take less interest in them.

Your farm, profits, crops—to think how engross’d you are,
To think that there will still be farms, profits, crops, yet for you
      of what avail?

                                          —Walt Whitman, from ‘To Think of Time’

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there’s always money in the banana game


But tell me, by Jupiter, what part of man’s life is that that is not sad, crabbed, unpleasant, insipid, troublesome, unless it be seasoned with pleasure, that is to say, folly? For the proof of which the never sufficiently praised Sophocles in that his happy elegy of us, ‘To know nothing is the only happiness,’ might be authority enough…

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‘aquinas amongst the analytics’

I can identify with this:

My formal education in philosophy was entirely in the analytic mold and I am grateful for that since it introduced me to the power of analysis and rigorous argumentation; but that mold is also a somewhat shallow one. This is not to do with the issue of religion per se, but rather with the narrowing of intellectual sources. When people were trained in classical culture, or literature, or history, or the arts, and especially if they had been introduced to unfamiliar and seemingly strange ways of thinking, their imaginations were more developed and they were less inclined to take the ruling ideas and values of their own time as obviously correct. My first philosophy classes were taught by David Hamlyn and concerned the pre-Socratics. Their strange and oracular remarks immediately ignited my imagination and I still return to them when jaded by the often flat and featureless forms of contemporary philosophy. Among analytic philosophers those I most admire have imagination and are open to diverse sources of insight into human nature and reality: Anscombe, Kripke, McDowell, MacIntyre, Nagel, Putnam, Taylor, Williams – each draws, not always announcedly, on sources outside the brief and narrow canon of analytic philosophy.

My very first philosophy class was an upper–division philosophy of science course I managed to weasel my way into as a sophomore transfer student. The professor was a rarity in two respects: He was a Republican, and—as he put it—the last logical positivist standing (likely not true, though probably true enough). While logical positivism proper didn’t make much of an impact on me, the analytic method did. (My first philosophy paper was a of inductive reasoning.) If it weren’t for an adolescence steeped in Plato (with forays into other thinkers, Kierkegaard especially), I probably could have been completely absorbed within the typical borders of that tradition. It is impressive, seductive, and highly effective. Philosophers and theologian–philosophers who dismiss analytic philosophy in some sort of vague fashion do so at their peril. In fact, I find it hard to take them very seriously, suspecting—perhaps unfairly in some cases—that their dismissals are an excuse to not have to learn the disciplines of analytic thought— especially formal logic. (I think formal logic is often overrated as a philosophical tool, but learning it is a tremendous asset— it expands your mental horizons.)

I have some stuff that’s been on the back–burner for way too long regarding metaphysical Aristotelianism in analytic philosophy; it probably won’t see the light of day any time soon, but the fact that it is a feature of the ‘scene’ shows that the possibilities of analytic thought are far wider than its detractors imagine.


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on tradition

Robert Craft: Do you have a special theory of, or meaning for, tradition?

Igor Stravinsky: No, I am merely very prudent of the wrod, for it now seems to imply ‘that which resembles the past’— the reason, incidentally, why no good artist is very happy when his work is described as ‘traditional’. In fact, the true tradition–making work work may not resemble the past at all, and especially not the immediate past, which is the only one most people are able to hear. Tradition is generic; it is not simply ‘handed down’, fathers to sons, but undergoes a life process: it is born, grows, matures, declines, and is reborn, perhaps. These stages of growth and regrowth are always in contradiction to the stages of another concept or interpretation: true tradition lives in the contradiction. ‘Notre héritage n’est précédé d’aucun testament’ (Our heritage was left to us by no will). [— René Char]

Memories and Commentaries [emphases added]

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In the main, however, the need for new cantatas, string quartets, symphonies, is wholly imaginary, and commissioning organizations, like the Ford and the Rockefeller Foundations, are really only buying up surplus symphonies as the government buys up surplus corn. In fact, the need for such music is so hopelessly non–actual that the commissioners are now obliged to try to buy the need for the symphony as well as the symphony.

Great, i.e., immortal, music creates its own need

— Igor Stravinsky, quoted in Memories and Commentaries (Stravinsky, with Robert Craft) [emphasis added]

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