Category Archives: politics & economics

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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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 fountainhead of anarcho–tyranny

Moldbug is fascinating to me as someone who a lot of—as Rumsfeld put it—unknown unknowns. The results in him being quite right where he is right, but really wrong where he is wrong. His knowledge of history—and ‘deep history’—is solid, but the philosophical/theological dimension is missing. In any case, imagining the reactions of the audience at what was a left/libertarian gathering of Silicon Valley types (beyond what can be heard) is entertaining.

The basic subject of this talk—that the US government is really run by the permanent bureaucracy—and from its bottom—is one of those things which should be manifestly obvious, even on the mundane levels that most of us really interact with government. While it is less true about law enforcement (though still true), he mentions the military as the other of the two government agencies still governed from the top, down. This is because the military is the last vestige of aristocracy in democratic states; defenders and detractors of the military throughout the last 400 years of revolution have recognized this. Of course, the successes of revolutions have only come after the end of the democratic military experiment, and top–down order being restored*… or from movements which were top–down from the start: the Bolsheviks (though some of their then–allied parties were not subjected initially to Red Army discipline) and Cuba† being two good examples.

I found it interesting that he mentioned Hutchinson’s Strictures on the Declaration of Independence, as I was just talking about it last week or so.

The situation we have—that of bottom–up government by bureaucracies granted broad power—is exactly the source of what Samuel Francis called anarcho–tyranny.

* The War of Independence is another good example, where the situation was dire until a decent amount of the various state militia were actually able to form a coherent fighting force. While the remaining independent militia played an important role as guerrillas, guerrillas do not create states; if and when the colonial power/former government leaves/falls, a guerrilla insurgency ends in chaos or another, more organized, power filling the vacuum (a military dictatorship, an organized counter–insurgency, becoming the puppet of a neighbor, etc. …). Cromwell, in this, as in much else, set the pattern.

† Che and the brothers Castro created a revolutionary army from what was more or less scratch, and in record time; the military and political genius of the Cuban revolution is underestimated in the American consciousness— the reality of Cuba’s present obscures its past. Learning about the history of the revolution from Las Mercedes to the final mass surrender of the Cuban army five months later was revelatory for me.

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• I actually haven’t forgotten (!) my project on the New Right, having recently finished a book written by an adherent of the Faye–wing, Andrew Fraser’s The WASP Question. It’s a strange mish–mash of ideas and wild–eyed prophecy, alternately very interesting when it adheres to matters of law and legal history (Fraser taught in law schools for a time), cringingly malinformed (much of his discussion of theology and religious history falls under this category*), and highly inconsistent and strange. It was an interesting read, though not very illuminating, as Fraser seems to be a party of one to a degree unusual even for the political fringe.

• I feel far more investment in my game nights or watching baseball than I do the presidential election, but the collapse of Obama over the past week has been amazing. Since the morning after the debate (before new data could really be adjusted), Obama’s chance of winning has decreased some thirty percent on Nate Silver’s model, from 87.1% to 61.%; if he loses, it could be a historic collapse for a presidential candidate this late in the race.

• On the other hand, there is a realistic scenario where Obama wins the electoral college and Romney takes the popular vote. While the role–reversal from 2000 should provide some humor, the more significant outcome of that would be a decrease in the medium–term probability of a constitutional amendment passing that would put the US on a strict popular vote system for the chief executive. I am in favor of such an outcome. Cue the blustering about ‘a mandate’.

• Speaking of baseball, the Reds’s bad luck and offensive collapse in the NLDS has left my fellow Reds fans more understanding of my position that there should not be any playoffs in baseball at all, other than a World Series between the AL and NL regular season leaders. Regular season head–to–head records should suffice to break most ties; otherwise, an additional three game series would be acceptable. That said, go Tigers.

Coursera and its ilk are going to hasten the bursting of the education bubble. Of course, the banks and universities will get the bailouts, rather than the students bamboozled into taking out loans to get worthless BAs.

• I’ve been overtaken the past few weeks with a desire to radically reduce the amount of stuff in my apartment. On the other hand, I am married. Perhaps this is the military brat coming out in me, but all I’ve been able to think of is how much we would have to move when we (eventually) do. (There is no reason we would be moving right now, though I would be happy for one to come along at any moment.) I did manage to convert this impulse into a few boxes of books and one large box of clothes being donated, however.

• I saw Looper this week. It was surprisingly well–done, the first sci–fi flick in a while to work. It’s not great or anything (so you can wait for the DVD), but it avoids the tackiness and bombast the genre has suffered from recently. Also, it isn’t a comic book movie. (I’m glad that Christopher Nolan is finally done with Batman.) Moon remains my favorite sci–fi effort of the past five years.

• Why isn’t it Thanksgiving, already?

* Some readers may be interested to know that he substantially follows the narrative of Orthodox England, with the good & bad that implies.

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order & the will to power

‘Music’s exclusive function is to structure the flow of time and keep order in it.’

— Igor Stravinsky

It is to my purpose to highlight one word here: Order.

The highlight of (post–)modernity has been the active attack and collapse on Order; no longer is it seen as a good (though, of course, liable to be twisted), rather the primary goal of art is to destroy it. There are no longer any aesthetics; there is only war. Anyone on the side of Order is—at least in some degree—on the side of Good.

Arbitrary Power, which is the highlight of totalitarianism, is not Order, but rather a mere reaction to Disorder by filling the vacuum with raw & unformed Will.

by Giovanni di Paolo

Giovanni di Paolo, ‘The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise’

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the treason of the intellectuals

‘Originally, philosophy had been the humanizing quest for the eternal order, and hence it had been a pure source of humane inspiration and aspiration. Since the seventeenth century, philosophy has become a weapon, and hence an instrument. It was this politicization of philosophy that was discerned as the root of our troubles by an intellectual who denounced the treason of the intellectuals. He committed the fatal mistake, however, of ignoring the essential difference between intellectuals and philosophers. In this he remained the dupe of the delusion which he denounced. For the politicization of philosophy persists precisely in this, that the difference between intellectuals and philosophers—a difference formerly known as the difference between gentlemen and philosophers, on the one hand, and the difference between sophists or rhetoricians and philosophers, on the other—becomes blurred and finally disappears.

—Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, 34 (emphases mine)

I do not know who the “intellectual who denounced the the treason of the intellectuals” is; my guess is that it is Heidegger—whom Strauss would probably have been loath to name—but if someone else has a sure answer, I would like to know. [See Comments]

NB: I’m working from the edition linked; the page numbers could be different in more recent printings— I don’t know.


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the depths of dysfunction

As I’ve been assembling quotes and sources for my review of Benoist’s Beyond Human Rights, I’ve found that what is fascinating about him (and much of the alt–right/politically reactionary set) is that combination of powerful critique of the modern political order and thorough embedding within it: He is an anti–democratic sworn democrat, an anti–subjective relativist, a cosmopolitan anti–universalist, a pan–European who rigorously defends local particularity. Perhaps most notably, Benoist displays a uniquely European version of the foolish faith in federal structures; he actually believes that a pan–European government will simultaneously allow the flourishing of local particularity— a sort of extreme cultural federalism. While he insists that his ‘New Right’ is simply a think tank and he is not proposing a practical program, this particular oddity crops up again & again in his essays and interviews; if he did not despise America so much, he might see what federalism ultimately does to local particularity and government. He occasionally seems to provide a solution for this in his idea of a restricted idea of citizenship, but explicitly rejects this for a broad, post–Jacobin definition of democracy (indeed, he says that the only undemocratic act a democracy is capable of is abolishing itself). For a man who says that constitutions and the rule of law are helpless before the weight of politics, this is a curious faith.

This litany antinomies is inherent in the project of a right–wing itself; Corey Robin’s thesis of an essentially parasitic right is wholly correct, but right–wing embracers of such an idea often begin only with the French (or American) revolution and not much earlier. Moldbug and his disciples are near–unique in pushing the event back to the English Civil Wars, which recognizes the broader history, but it doesn’t go far enough. To this extent, while not recognizing his own binding within the tradition, there is some truth to Benoist’s idea that this comes ‘out of Christendom’, insofar that it was initially a theological event that politics wed itself to. Pathology is fine as metaphor, and Benoist perhaps touches on a better metaphor when he mentions (in passing) nominalism, but even that is really insufficient. Modern discourse has been—and for some time—inherently democratic, and Benoist is just particularly honest in trying to base his particularist and quasi–elitist right on open, democratic principle. The Taylor/MacIntyre communitarians he admires (while not ‘right’) are in the same position. To this end, Benoist—correctly—recognizes the ephemerality of the right/left distinction, but doesn’t explain why very well, relying on the collapse into neo–liberalism and the consumption–as–expression society he believes is uniquely American (but is not entirely detached from church–as–expression, etc). While it may seem myopic to focus on him, here, it’s his pathological honesty that makes him such an excellent target for diagnosis; ‘I have never tried to please.’, he says— and it obvious that he means it. In any case, such bipolarities would seem to have more to do with a love for metaphors of clear opposition, of war, rather than clear realities. In reality (something Benoist touches upon), politics truly is particular— it is about loyalties, duties, aspirations, fears, hopes, and private convictions. Traditional governance is largely more practical than ideological, and politics has often been separated from governance–as–such— which is hard to imagine for us.

Another interesting confession is his condemnation of LePen’s Front National for its entirely negatively–defined idea of France and the French people; he says a real nationalist party would be asking, ‘What is French?’ Yet, is not ‘What is French?’ the sort of question that negates itself in the asking? Being French is simply being French; it’s a fiat confession, something hardly thought about by the ‘traditional’ peoples he lauds. It is hard to imagine a medieval resident in Normandy (Benoist’s home) asking himself, ‘What is Norman?’ or ‘What is French?’— to the degree that the identity would matter at all, it would be assumed in the same way you see people claim that such–and–such is American, though there is not anything obviously American about it. As an ‘old American’, I’ve never felt much need to define what being one is: I can claim its due to my centuries–long ancestry, my love for America’s land, and so on, but the real truth is that my being American is just something I am, and any attempt to pin it down in any non–bullshitting–over–beer sort of fashion would just be a joke. Romans claimed that certain attributes were Roman just because they saw them as such; historical grounding was not defined. Herodotus used cultures as counter–points without much thought to the historical and anthropological validity of such claims. Culture, nationality, even political alliance is metaphor; they are how we navigate social commitment and desire, not their reality.

The obvious objection to this would be religion: Did not the Church define itself in precise terminology? Yes, it did, but in each case it did so in reaction and never expected the bulk of its people to understand or even know its confessions; the philosophical definition was to preserve the actuality of an inexpressible belief and allegiance— a sort formal assent would be demanded (the recitation of the Nicene Creed, the inclusion of Justinian’s ‘Only–Begotten Son’ within the Greek Liturgy, and so on, but the sort of personal, internal certainty we associate with assent was not. What Newman called the ‘illative sense’ was and remains operative in the faith of the Church, as much as an attenuated version of that sense bridges so many of our metaphors from the formal knowledge that could be attached to them.

Indeed, I’m not really formally defining any of what I’m saying here— and while I do think a more rigorous conception is possible, I’m incapable of doing it myself at this time. It’s a combination of metaphor and an illative grasping at what I intuit to be true about our intellectual situation.

In completely trivial news, I’ll include updates to this blog on the Twitter account I’ve had sitting around for a while, unused. It is somewhat possible I will use it for something other than an alternate way to keep track of updates, but I don’t know.


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beyond human rights

Alain de Benoist, Beyond Human Rights

I intend to1 write a fuller review of this later, but I have a few2 comments:

• Benoist makes a semi–Montesquieu–ean argument about the non–universality of rights (because legal systems must differ across cultures and situations); he also attacks the (incoherent) philosophical bases of the idea. He admits there are core human aspirations and traits that are admitted in laws, but these are fulfilled differently in different societies. It is not relativist in the common, nihilistic sense.

• He (correctly) portrays how the idea of human rights is used as a carte blanche for Western interference. He makes the obvious (though rarely stated) point that the ideology can only really exist in the presence of an overwhelming & hegemonic military power (in our case, it is obviously the US, but Benoist is not explicit). The brief accounts of the origins of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was new to me; apparently an expert committee was gathered originally, but proved to not be able to provide an agreed–upon result (much less the desired one).

• Where Benoist attempts to create a genealogy of the idea, he frequently goes off the rails, he gets many things correct, but his Nietzchesean influences force him into a position that is not consistent with his own data, which is that the modern idea of universal rights flows inexorably from Christian theological commitment. He quotes from Marx more than Nietzsche, however.

• Benoist does not offer anything in the way of a positive commitment; the book is rather short and mostly devoted to attacking the idea itself.

• There are a number of bon mots throughout the book, many of them unspoken commonsense— Benoist’s popularity among the anglophone ‘alt–right’ is easily explained. It’s sort of an ideological sledgehammer, giving expression to what they likely only dimly suspected. Unfortunately, getting so much from a single author has the same result over many of these persons as it usually does— excessive commitment to the author and his branch of ideology, rather than going out to others who agree with him on these issues, but have differences (even extreme ones) on others. It’s a little like teenagers who read Nietzsche or… Rand. I suppose he at least isn’t as poisonous as their other obsession, Evola.

• Despite the similarity to portions of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws, the man himself is referenced only once. Unsurprisingly, his favorite anglophone writers are Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre.

As with Talyor & MacIntyre, Benoist’s politics are kind of hard to place; there is an obvious attack on the liberal order, but he also has many pro–Enlightenment traits, politically speaking, just as those two have. While he does not specifically address this, I am certain he would agree with Taylor’s argument for the achievement (even if tragic in ways) of disenchantment (rather than taking the typical Evolan re–mystifying route that exists in a lot of the radical right). As (especially) Taylor and MacIntyre are more to the ‘left’ of the Western political spectrum, Benoist’s status as the father of the Nouvelle Droite seems somewhat ambiguous to me, but that may be a result of having only read this single work of his.

• I would recommend it to persons who haven’t heard an argument like this before. I like reading works I mostly agree with from political authors I have not read before (if possible), because it challenges me to pay better attention to their arguments, because I am more familiar with weak and strong variants of them and am challenged to argue against them— and thus, to an extent, myself. This is due to my naturally contradictory nature, and may not work for others.

• I read this in the Kindle edition (which is on the lending library right now, for Prime members), which is quite well formatted; both navigation systems are thoroughly in place, which is not normal. There are a few sentences that are rendered awkwardly in English prose, and a couple of places where there are homophone errors. All in all, for a non–mainstream translation job, this is impressive as it is about equal to most first editions from bigger publishers.

1 Intention & reality have always wildly diverged in my blogging efforts, however.

2 And apparently of a somewhat scattered and occasionally incoherent nature, which should encourage me to write an actual review.


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