The philosopher of Trumpism? (Part Two) 1

(Continuing from the post immediately below, being a commentary on an article by Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad at Quartz, about the political philosophy of Stephen K. Bannon, whom President Trump has appointed Chief  Strategist.)  

The authors write:

It’s important to note that “Judeo-Christian values” does not necessarily seem to require that all citizens believe in Christianity. Bannon doesn’t appear to want to undo the separation of church and state or freedom of religion enshrined in America’s constitution. After all, both of these are traditions that have led America to success in the past. What he believes is that the founding fathers built the nation based on a set of values that come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. …

But the values the founding fathers built the nation on did not come from “Judeo-Christian values”; they came from a revolution against Christian values – the Enlightenment.

True, “Nature’s God” is mentioned in The Declaration of Independence, which also declares that Men “are endowed by their Creator” with certain rights. But when one looks at the actual values that the Declaration and the Constitution enshrine, they are the values of the Enlightenment – individual freedom, self-determination, tolerance, responsible ownership, rationality, patriotism: not the values of any religion.

It is [in Bannon’s view] through … the primacy of the nation-state’s values and traditions — that America can drive a stake through the heart of the global, secular “establishment”.

In addition to enriching themselves and encouraging dependency among the poor, global elites also encourage immigrants to flood the US and drag down wages. Immigrant labor boosts the corporate profits of globalists and their cronies, who leave it to middle-class natives to educate, feed, and care for these foreigners. The atheistic, pluralist social order that has been allowed to flourish recoils at nationalism and patriotism, viewing them as intolerant and bigoted. …

Atheism has nothing whatever to do with it. Hundreds of thousands of the immigrants have been Muslims, and however secular the Left governments have been, they have demanded that the host nation treat the – extremely intolerant – newcomers with deference. But it is true that those who welcome the Muslims “recoil” at nationalism and patriotism. 

[Bannon] pointed out that each of …  three preceding crises had involved a great war, and those conflicts had increased in scope from the American Revolution through the Civil War to the Second World War. He expected a new and even bigger war as part of the current crisis, and he did not seem at all fazed by the prospect. …

War with whom?

Bannon is left searching for a major, existence-level enemy. Does the “Party of Davos” alone qualify? Who else could this war be fought against?

In the 2014 Vatican lecture, Bannon goes further. “I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism. … I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam…. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions.” …

We agree with Bannon about that too.

Bannon’s remarks and his affiliations with anti-Muslim activists like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer leave the impression that the enemy might well be Islam in general.

Yes. And so it is. Islam has declared war on the West, and sooner or later the West must fight and win it.

[He] entertains the argument that Islam’s “war” against Christianity “originated almost from [Islam’s] inception.”

It did.

He endorses the view that, in the lead-up to World War II, Islam was a “much darker” force facing Europe than fascism.

It was as dark. And Turkey and most of the Arabs were allies of Hitler and Mussolini.

Other ideas he has supported include: a US nonprofit focused on promoting a favorable image of Muslims is a terrorist front

If they mean Hamas-affiliated CAIR, which seems most probable, then again Bannon is right …

the Islamic Society of Boston mosque was behind the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

It very likely was …

and Muslim-Americans are trying to supplant the US constitution with Shariah law.

Many are.

… Bannon’s diatribes against the media brim with spite toward journalists’ arrogance, superiority, and naivety.

“Spite”? The media are spiteful. Say “anger” instead, and there are millions of us who share it with him.

… [R]ecently, he told the New York Times that the media “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while”. He added: “I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” …

Again, we agree.

In his 2014 Vatican speech, he says:

I could see this when I worked at Goldman Sachs — there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run. I will tell you that the working men and women of Europe and Asia and the United States and Latin America don’t believe that. They believe they know what’s best for how they will comport their lives.

And we think that is true.

But this cosmic avenger role Bannon seems to claim as voice-giver to the “forgotten” middle-classes hints at a deeper relish of conflict. … In particular, the aesthetic of his documentaries can be nauseatingly violent. Torchbearer is a tour de force of gore. (There are at least six separate shots of falling guillotines, as well as lingering footage of nuclear radiation victims, mass burials from Nazi gas chambers, and various ISIL atrocities.)

Events brought about by self-appointed elites and savage jihadis. Should they be ignored? Forgotten?

The authors then ask what all this means for the Trump presidency, and give us their answer:

Even before he took charge of Trump’s campaign, in Aug. 2016, Bannon’s philosophies pervaded its rhetoric. If there was any question about the role his views would play in the Trump administration, the last two weeks have made it clear: The president’s leadership hangs from the scaffolding of Bannon’s worldview.

Trump’s inaugural address was basically a telepromptered Bannon rant. Where inaugural speeches typically crackle with forward-looking optimism, Trump’s was freighted with anti-elite resentment. He described a Bannonistic vision in which the “wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.” The “forgotten men and women of our country” — a meme that Trump claimed, but that appears in Generation Zero — had a cameo too.

Trump heaped blame on the “establishment,” which “protected itself” but not American citizens from financial ruin. “And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land,” Trump continued. “We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.”

“America first” is Bannon’s economic nationalism in slogan form. Trump’s vow to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth” was a mellowed-out version of the West’s battle against “Islamic fascists.”

There’s more. Trump’s remarks that the “Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity,” that “most importantly, we will be protected by God,” and that children from both Detroit and Nebraska are “infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator” seemed kind of bizarre coming from a not-very-religious man. …

We are glad of that.

Within days of the inauguration came the dizzying spurt of executive actions — written by Bannon and Stephen Miller, [another] White House policy advisor …

Now the authors, whose hostility to Bannon has been growing in clarity and force, openly show their antagonism to the Trump administration:

Bannon’s philosophy toward Islam seems likely to have influenced the order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. Recalling that line about how immigrants are not “Jeffersonian democrats”, the document prescribes ensuring the allegiance to America’s “founding principles” and the US constitution of anyone admitted to the country, including tourists.

How is that an unreasonable requirement?

Trump also implied in a TV interview with the Christian Broadcast Network that he wanted to prioritize Christians refugees over Muslims, accusing the US government of favoring Muslim refugees over Christians in the past (a claim for which there’s no evidence).

That is an outrageous statement. The Christians of the Middle East have been, and are being, atrociously persecuted by Muslims, yet far more Muslims – who do not have any values in common with most Americans – have been let in enthusiastically by President Obama, while Christians, who do, and who need asylum far more urgently, have been admitted in far smaller numbers. They were deliberately excluded by Obama. See here and here.

Some argue (fairly convincingly) that Trump’s ban risks lending credence to ISIL recruitment propaganda claiming that the US is leading the West in a war on all of Islam.

And that is an absurd argument, not convincing in the least. ISIL/ISIS has been doing its atrocious deeds for years. Everyone knows it. It is long past time for it to be opposed, eliminated from the face of the earth – and all possible ways its operatives can enter America shut off.  A banning order is common sense.

Another of the new administration’s focuses — the danger posed by Mexicans flooding over the border — is also a central theme of Bannon’s vision of America under siege. …

“America under siege”. Has Bannon made such a claim? Or Trump? A belief to that effect is attributed to President Trump by his opponents, but has he or Bannon ever actually said it? Anyway, the authors present  some spurious arguments against Trump’s executive action which declares that “many”  unauthorized immigrants “present a significant threat to national security and public safety” – something we all know to be true – and they back them up with reference to pronouncements made by “criminology and immigration experts”. The plain fact that “unauthorized immigrants” are in the United States illegally bypasses the authors’ consciousness.

 Finally, Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal supported by what would count as the “elite”, includes a special shout-out to “the American worker”, the classic Bannon theme.

The TPP was a rotten project. It was supported by the “elite”. American workers have been overlooked and made poorer. Bannon is not the only observer to have noticed that and Trump did not need Bannon to point it out to him.

The possibility that many of these positions are right and good, and the fact that many people support Trump in espousing them, are not considered by Guilford and Sonnad.

Bannon savors the power of symbolism. That symbolic power infused Trump’s campaign, and now, apparently, his administration’s rhetoric. …  So it’s possible that the narrative flowing through Trump’s inaugural address and executive actions is simply what Bannon has calibrated over time to rouse maximum populist fervor — and that it doesn’t reflect plans to upend America.

There’s also, however, the possibility that Bannon is steering Trump toward the “enlightened capitalist”, Judeo-Christian, nationalistic vision that he has come to believe America needs.

Which it is, we can’t know, of course: Only Bannon knows what Bannon really wants. What we do know for sure, though, is that a man who has … a deep desire for a violent resurgence of “Western civilization” now has the power to fulfill it.

A “violent resurgence” of something dubiously called “Western civilization”. Is that deplorable? Is there no such thing as Western civilization? Is it not under attack?

Is there some means other than violence to destroy ISIS?

Or to stop Iran from nuking the West as it plainly intends to do?

The mind-set, assumptions, prejudices, and obliviousness to stark dangers that Guilford and Sonnad manifest, illustrate the need for the vision shared by President Trump, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller to be acted upon by all necessary means.

The philosopher of Trumpism? (Part One) 4

The defeated Democrats and their furious supporters of the fourth estate have not tried to find out what Donald Trump and his like-thinkers actually think. They accuse him and his supporters of being everything they consider vile. So it’s a welcome development if some journalists try to find out what he believes, what he stands for, what he aims at.

Two researchers, apparently already convinced that President Trump’s own ideas are not discoverable at present (a conviction stated with a hint that he doesn’t have any), studied instead his closest adviser, a man with a philosophical turn of mind, and investigated him through what he had said and done in the past. If there is to be such a thing as Trumpism, it would be formed by this thinker, they deduce.

The adviser is Stephen Bannon. His official position in the White House is Chief Strategist. Democrats use their whole vocabulary of five or six political insults to denigrate him: “bigot”, “racist”, “xenophobe”, “Islamophobe”, “Nazi” (a favorite screech by mobs who are increasingly Nazi-like), and even one label not always used as an insult by the Left – “anti-Semite”.

But the two researchers, Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad, tried to find out what Bannon’s ideas really were. And they wrote an article about him, to be found at Quartz:

What does Donald Trump want for America? His supporters don’t know. His party doesn’t know. Even he doesn’t know.

If there is a political vision underlying Trumpism, however, the person to ask is not Trump. It’s his éminence grise, Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist of the Trump administration.

…  Through a combination of luck (a fallen-through deal left him with a stake in a hit show called Seinfeld) and a knack for voicing outrage, Bannon remade himself as a minor luminary within the far edge of right-wing politics, writing and directing a slew of increasingly conservative documentaries.

“The far edge of right-wing politics” they say. So Bannon is on the “far right”? We conservatives only say that someone is on the “far right” if we mean someone like Mussolini, or the Black Hundreds, or Vlad the Impaler, or Genghis Khan. To us conservatives, Mr. Bannon does not sound or behave like any of them.

So now we expect that this article might not be a friendly portrait of its subject.

Bannon’s influence reached a new high in 2012 when he took over Breitbart News, an online news site, following the death of creator Andrew Breitbart. While at Breitbart, Bannon ran a popular talk radio call-in show and launched a flame-throwing assault on mainstream Republicans, embracing instead a fringe cast of ultra-conservative figures. Among them was Trump, a frequent guest of the show.

Trump “an ultra-conservative figure”? A lot of conservatives complained that he wasn’t conservative enough. Many insisted he wasn’t conservative at all.

And the question arises – why not examine what Trump said as a guest on that show? Is it not possible that something Trump said now and then influenced what Bannon thought?

They established a relationship that eventually led Bannon to mastermind Trump’s populist romp to the White House, culminating in his taking the administration’s most senior position (alongside the chief of staff, Reince Priebus).

“Populist”, we suspect, is a pejorative to the authors. And what of “romp”? What is a romp? A caper, a frolic, a bout of jolly play – nothing serious like standing for election as the president of the United States with a smart strategy for winning.

It’s impossible to know for sure what Bannon will do with his newfound power; he honors few interview requests lately, ours included. (The White House did not respond to our request to speak with Bannon.) But his time as a conservative filmmaker and head of Breitbart News reveals a grand theory of what America should be. Using the vast amount of Bannon’s own publicly available words — from his lectures, interviews, films and more — we can construct elements of the vision for America he hopes to realize in the era of Trump.

Bannon’s political philosophy boils down to three things that a Western country, and America in particular, needs to be successful: Capitalism, nationalism, and “Judeo-Christian values”. These are all deeply related, and essential.

We will be commenting on that below.

America, says Bannon, is suffering a “crisis of capitalism”.  … Capitalism used to be all about moderation, an entrepreneurial American spirit, and respect for one’s fellow Christian man. In fact, in remarks delivered to the Vatican in 2014, Bannon says that this “enlightened capitalism” was the “underlying principle” that allowed the US to escape the “barbarism” of the 20th century.

Since this enlightened era, things have gradually gotten worse. (Hence the “crisis”.) The downward trend began with the 1960s and ’70s counterculture. “The baby boomers are the most spoiled, most self-centered, most narcissistic generation the country’s ever produced,” says Bannon in a 2011 interview.

Is there a good argument that he is wrong about this? If so, we would like to hear it.

He takes on this issue in more detail in Generation Zero, a 2010 documentary he wrote and directed. The film shows one interviewee after another laying out how the “capitalist system” was slowly undermined and destroyed by a generation of wealthy young kids who had their material needs taken care of by hardworking parents — whose values were shaped by the hardship of the Great Depression and World War II — only to cast off the American values that had created that wealth in the first place. This shift gave rise to socialist policies that encouraged dependency on the government, weakening capitalism.

Again, we would like to hear a refutation of that judgment.

Eventually, this socialist vision succeeded in infiltrating the very highest levels of institutional power in America.

It did indeed. It was in pursuit of a long-term plan of the New Left which its adherents called “the long march through the institutions“. Nothing fictitious about it. Not an invention of paranoid “far-right” conservatives but of the Italian Communist leader, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), eagerly taken up by the New Left in the late 1960s everywhere in the Western world.

“By the late 1990s, the left had taken over many of the institutions of power, meaning government, media, and academe,” says Peter Schweizer, a writer affiliated with Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, a conservative think tank, in Generation Zero. “And it was from these places and positions of power that they were able to disrupt the system and implement a strategy that was designed to ultimately undermine the capitalist system.” …

Anything untrue there? Anything misleading? Not that we can see.

Underlying all of this is the philosophy of Edmund Burke, an influential 18th-century Irish political thinker whom Bannon occasionally references.

It figures that he would. Edmund Burke is generally considered one of the foremost philosophers of conservatism.

In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke presents his view that the basis of a successful society should not be abstract notions like human rights, social justice, or equality.

Indeed not. Those are the political obsessions of the contemporary Left: “human rights” for some by imposing obligations on others; “social justice” at the cost of justice itself which can only be applied to individuals; “equality” at the price of liberty, through tyrannical state enforcement. 

Rather, societies work best when traditions that have been shown to work are passed from generation to generation. The baby boomers, Bannon says in a lecture given to the Liberty Restoration Foundation (LRF), failed to live up to that Burkean responsibility by abandoning the tried-and-true values of their parents (nationalism, modesty, patriarchy, religion) in favor of new abstractions (pluralism, sexuality, egalitarianism, secularism).

Now obviously we have a difference of opinion with both Burke and Bannon on one of their preferred values: religion. But it certainly was valued by Burke, and is valued by most American conservatives. (Burke had a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. He believed strongly in the importance of Christianity as the foundation of conservative politics. And Bannon is a Catholic.)

By  “modesty” the authors mean chasteness. We gather that, because the authors name its opposite as “sexuality”. As sexuality is not a value, we have to understand it to imply “immodesty” or promiscuousness as one of the “new abstractions” opposed to Burkean conservatism.

By “pluralism”they can only mean multiculturalism and globalism.

By “egalitarianism” they mean socialism.

For both Burke and Bannon, failure to pass the torch results in social chaos.

Once in power, the liberal, secular, global-minded elite overhauled the institutions of democracy and capitalism to tighten its grip on power and the ability to enrich itself. The “party of Davos“, as Bannon long ago dubbed this clique, has warped capitalism’s institutions, depriving middle classes everywhere of the wealth they deserve.

Leaving aside that secularism does not interfere with democracy or distort capitalism, did that not happen? It did.

This pattern of exploitation came to a head in the 2008 global financial and economic crisis. Wall Street — enabled by fellow global elites in government — spun profits out of speculation instead of investing their wealth in domestic jobs and businesses. When the resulting bubble finally burst, the immoral government stuck hardworking American taxpayers with the bailout bill.

An incomplete description of what happened. The house-owning bubble was not caused by Wall Street; it was caused by Democratic governments insisting that financial institutions give mortgage loans to people who could not afford them. So yes, Wall Street was “enabled by global elites in government”.

This is the kind of thing that led Bannon to say in that 2011 LRF lecture that there is “socialism for the very wealthy”. The rest of the country, he says, is [sic] “common sense, practical, middle-class people”.

There is also “socialism for the very poor,” he adds. “We’ve built a welfare state that is completely and totally unsupportable, and now this is a crisis.”

Bannon wants all of this liberal-sponsored “socialism” to end. He celebrates CNBC host Rick Santelli’s famous 2009 tirade about “those who carry the water and those who drink the water”, which sparked what became the Tea Party, a populist movement focused on tax cuts, fiscal scrimping, and a narrow interpretation of constitutional rights. Channeling the spirit of the Tea Party, Bannon blames Republicans as much as Democrats for taking part in cronyism and corruption at the expense of middle class families.

What Guilford and Sonnad call “fiscal scrimping” we, like the Tea Party, call “fiscal responsibility”.

What they call “a narrow interpretation of constitutional rights”, we call “rights according to the Constitution”.

But, yes, there were Republicans as well as Democrats who took part in cronyism and corruption at the expense of the middle class.

So far, the authors’ attempt subtly to convey a portrait of a stuff-shirt bigot would convince only those who already think of conservatives as stuff-shirt bigots. But nothing that has been said (except to us the mention of religion as a good thing), actually puts a single black mark against Mr Bannon in conservative eyes.

“We don’t really believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and we certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that,” says Bannon in a 2013 panel in which he discusses Breitbart’s vision. “We tend to look at this imperial city of Washington, this boomtown, as they have two groups, or two parties, that represent the insiders’ commercial party, and that is a collection of insider deals, insider transactions and a budding aristocracy that has made this the wealthiest city in the country.”

In short, in Bannonism, the crisis of capitalism has led to socialism and the suffering of the middle class. And it has made it impossible for the current generation to bequeath a better future to its successors, to fulfill its Burkean duty.

So what exactly are these traditions that Americans are meant to pass along to future generations? In addition to “crisis of capitalism,” one of Bannon’s favorite terms is “Judeo-Christian values*.” This is the second element of his theory of America.

Generation Zero, Bannon’s 2010 documentary, has a lot to say about “American values”, and a lot of this matches closely the ideals of the Tea Party. But since 2013 or 2014, Bannon’s casual emphasis on American values has swelled to include a strong religious component. The successful functioning of America — and Western civilization in general — depends on capitalism, and capitalism depends on the presence of “Judeo-Christian values.” …

The article continues to discuss Bannon’s views on the connection between capitalism and “Judeo-Christian values” at some length. We’ll cut most of it out, but will also stress that our disagreement with Stepehen Bannon on this point in no way weakens our agreement with his historical analysis, his advocacy for capitalism, or his strong preference for nationalism over globalism.

 

Footnote:

In obstinate opposition to a universal assumption, we deny that there is any such thing as “Judeo-Christian values”. The values of Judaism and the values of Christianity are not only different, they are contradictory. (See our post, Against “Judeo-Christian values”, August 26, 2014.)  The very fact that we agree with the rest of the Burke/Bannon political philosophy without being religious, disproves their contention thatCapitalism, nationalism, and Judeo-Christian values … are all deeply related, and essential”.

 

 

(To be continued)

The new Republicanism 0

It is more than likely now that Donald Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee in the presidential election this November.

It is therefore very likely that the Republican platform will be what he wants it to be. And many Republicans, especially the go-along-to-get-along pillars of the Grand Old Party, most prominently its leaders in Congress, do not like what he wants. They repudiate him and his ideas. They say he is unfaithful to conservative principles and will alter long-standing Republican policies. But if their choice is between changing principles and policies to those of Trump or breaking the Party asunder by thwarting the will of the millions of voters he attracts, they will accept – are slowly coming round to  accepting – Trump and his vision for America. (While probably still planning to knock it into a more familiar and acceptable shape.)

What do his conservative Republican critics object to in particular?

In an article hostile to Donald Trump, but accepting that he is almost certain to be the Republican nominee, Linda Chavez writes at Townhall:

Trump represents a repudiation of the Republican Party’s commitment to smaller government, free trade and an internationalist foreign policy.

Let’s consider these commitments one by one, and assess how far Trump is likely to change them, and how bad the change would be.

Smaller government is certainly a cherished principle of conservative Republicanism. We list it among our core conservative ideals, along with individual freedom, a market economy, and strong defense. Regretfully we admit that government is not likely ever again to be actually small, but does Trump not say anything that suggests he would reduce the hugely overblown bureaucracy oppressing Americans now? He does. He says he will lower taxes. Lower taxes must mean some shrinking of government. And that’s probably the most any conservative Republican could do.

It’s on free trade that we have a difference of opinion with Trump. He has indicated that he would match tariff barriers with tariff barriers. We think that’s counter-productive. But it’s not enough to induce us to call Trump a wrecker of American prosperity. In fact, most of his economic thinking is likely to increase American prosperity very considerably. He would stop foreign aid unless America got something back for it. He would make those countries that want American military protection contribute to the cost of it. And he has plans for job creation which we’re inclined to trust because, as an extremely successful businessman, he has done it.

As for the Republican “internationalist foreign policy” – we’re coming to that.

Here are some points from Charles Krauthammer’s syndicated column on Trump’s recent foreign policy speech. Much as we respect Charles Krauthammer, on this rare occasion we disagree with him.

On the Republican side … foreign policy has been the subject of furious debate. To which Donald Trump has contributed significantly, much of it off-the-cuff, contradictory and confused. Hence his foreign policy speech on Wednesday. It was meant to make him appear consistent, serious and presidential. …

Its major theme, announced right at the top [was]: America First. Classically populist and invariably popular, it is nonetheless quite fraught. On the one hand, it can be meaningless — isn’t every president trying to advance American interests? …

On the other hand, America First does have a history. In 1940, when Britain was fighting for its life and Churchill was begging for U.S. help, it was the name of the group most virulently opposed to U.S. intervention. It disbanded — totally discredited — four days after Pearl Harbor. …

The irony is … it is the underlying theme of [Obama’s] foreign policy — which Trump constantly denounces as a series of disasters. Obama, like Trump, is animated by the view that we are overextended and overinvested abroad. …

Both the left and right have a long history of advocating American retreat and retrenchment. The difference is that liberals want to come home because they think we are not good enough for the world. Conservatives want to wash their hands of the world because they think the world is not good enough for us.

That’s nicely put! Our disagreements will come below.

For Obama, we are morally unworthy to act as world hegemon. Our hands are not clean. He’s gone abroad confessing our various sins — everything from the Iranian coup of 1953 to our unkind treatment of Castro’s Cuba to the ultimate blot, Hiroshima, a penitential visit to which Obama is currently considering.

Trump would be rightly appalled by such a self-indicting trip. His foreign policy stems from a proud nationalism that believes that these recalcitrant tribes and nations are unworthy of American expenditures of blood and treasure.

At least Krauthammer calls it “a proud nationalism”. Linda Chavez, in her article, likens Trump’s nationalism to disreputable [?] European nationalist groups which are better described as tribal. She seems to forget that the United States has for centuries been a melting-pot, and the American nation has been – until very recently under Obama – the least tribal in the world. And Trump’s “nationalism” is better described as patriotism. That’s what an American’s “proud nationalism” really is.

This has been the underlying view of conservative isolationism … It is not without its attractions. Trump’s version, however, is inconsistent and often contradictory. After all, he pledged to bring stability to the Middle East. How do you do that without presence, risk and expenditures (financial and military)? He attacked Obama for letting Iran become a “great power.” But doesn’t resisting that automatically imply engagement?

More incoherent still is Trump’s insistence on being unpredictable. An asset perhaps in real estate deals, but in a Hobbesian world American allies rely on American consistency, often as a matter of life or death. Yet Trump excoriated the Obama-Clinton foreign policy for losing the trust of our allies precisely because of its capriciousness. The tilt toward Iran. The red line in Syria. Canceling the Eastern European missile defense. Abandoning Hosni Mubarak.

Trump’s scripted, telepromptered speech was intended to finally clarify his foreign policy. It produced instead a jumble. The basic principle seems to be this: Continue the inexorable Obama-Clinton retreat, though for reasons of national self-interest, rather than of national self-doubt. And except when, with studied inconsistency, he decides otherwise.

Is Trump’s patriotism a “version of isolationism”?  Is it “inconsistent and often contradictory”? By “unpredictable” did he mean what Krauthammer is taking his words to mean?

What did Trump actually say?

We quote his speech in part (find all of it here):

America first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration. But to chart our path forward, we must first briefly take a look back. We have a lot to be proud of.

In the 1940s we saved the world. The greatest generation beat back the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. Then we saved the world again. This time, from totalitarianism and communism. The Cold War lasted for decades but, guess what, we won and we won big. …

Does he regret those American involvements? Not at all. He is proud of them.

Unfortunately, after the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. … We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.

With that we could not agree more strongly. It is not possible to turn states like Iraq and Afghanistan – Arab states, Islamic states – into Western style democracies.

And as for his comment on Obama’s actions – they have been “unpredictable” in that they make no logical sense. Krauthammer chooses them as examples of unpredictability to condemn Trump’s recommendation of it, when in fact Trump means something entirely different – as we shall see.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill that void much to their really unjust enrichment.

They have benefited so much, so sadly, for us. Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy.

Trump goes on to “identify weaknesses in our foreign policy” and to say how he would fix them. Among them (they are worth reading in full) is this:

We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies, something that we’ve never seen before in the history of our country. He negotiated a disastrous deal with Iran, and then we watched them ignore its terms even before the ink was dry. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, cannot be allowed. Remember that, cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And under a Trump administration, will never, ever be allowed to have that nuclear weapon …

At the end of his analysis and outline of his intentions he promises:

 This will all change when I become president.

To our friends and allies, I say America is going to be strong again. America is going to be reliable again. It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again. It’s going to be a friend again. We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests and the shared interests of our allies.

Does that sound isolationist?

We need a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam.Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States and indeed the world. Events may require the use of military force, but it’s also a philosophical struggle, like our long struggle in the Cold War.

Absolutely right! And no other politician, as far as we can recall, has said it before.

He goes on to speak of “working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world”, which is one of the few points on which we disagree. There can be no such thing as an American ally in the Muslim world, precisely because “the philosophical struggle” prohibits it. Islam is ideologically opposed to the West.

… And then there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now. But they’re going to be gone. ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly. They will be gone very, very quickly.

So that is what Trump means by “unpredicatble”. A commander-in-chief does not announce to his country’s enemy just when its army will stop fighting and when he will withdraw his troops – as Obama has done. It is a military absurdity!

He goes on to say “we have to rebuild our military and our economy”.

The Russians and Chinese have rapidly expanded their military capability, but look at what’s happened to us. Our nuclear weapons arsenal, our ultimate deterrent, has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal. And it has to happen immediately. Our active duty armed forces have shrunk from 2 million in 1991 to about 1.3 million today. The Navy has shrunk from over 500 ships to 272 ships during this same period of time. The Air Force is about one-third smaller than 1991. Pilots flying B-52s in combat missions today. These planes are older than virtually everybody in this room.

And what are we doing about this? President Obama has proposed a 2017 defense budget that in real dollars, cuts nearly 25 percent from what we were spending in 2011. Our military is depleted and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming.

We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest, single investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned, and I mean unquestioned, by anybody and everybody.

Does that sound “isolationist”?

But we will look for savings and spend our money wisely. In this time of mounting debt, right now we have so much debt that nobody even knows how to address the problem. But I do. No one dollar can be wasted. Not one single dollar can we waste. We’re also going to have to change our trade, immigration and economic policies to make our economy strong again. And to put Americans first again.

But, he says …

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Fixing our relations with China is another important step — and really toward creating an even more prosperous period of time. China respects strength and by letting them take advantage of us economically, which they are doing like never before, we have lost all of their respect.

We have a massive trade deficit with China, a deficit that we have to find a way quickly, and I mean quickly, to balance. A strong and smart America is an America that will find a better friend in China, better than we have right now. Look at what China is doing in the South China Sea. They’re not supposed to be doing it. …

To be militarily strong again, and at the same time try to negotiate better relations with an aggressive Russia and China – is that “contradictory” or is it speaking softly while carrying a big stick? 

I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must only fight to win. …

Our power will be used if others do not play by the rules. In other words, if they do not treat us fairly. Our friends and enemies must know that if I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce that line in the sand. Believe me.

My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas … We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing

No country has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must start doing the same. We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony.  I am skeptical of international unions  … And under my administration, we will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs. …

I will view as president the world through the clear lens of American interests. I will be America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion. …

The world is most peaceful and most prosperous when America is strongest. America will continue and continue forever to play the role of peacemaker. We will always help save lives and indeed humanity itself, but to play the role, we must make America strong again. … We have to and we will make America great again.

Where are the alleged “inconsistencies”? Where is the “jumble”. (We urge doubters to read the whole speech and tell us if they find any inconsistencies or contradictions that we have overlooked.)

The speech as a whole could be taken as a manifesto of the new Republicanism – what the Republican Party will stand for under the leadership of Donald Trump. He will take the Party forward, but not in the direction it has long wanted to go. It wanted to go, but did not move. He will make both good and bad decisions, as leaders generally do. But he will make them in the interests of a strong and prosperous America, and that is an America that is good for the world.

To be or not to be 14

A professor of philosophy named David Benatar published, some eight or nine years ago, a book titled: Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. 

He makes the case that to live is to suffer and so it is best not to live. Just coming into existence is “a serious harm”. People should not have children. All babies should be killed in the womb. Humanity should become extinct.

He argues that the pain living beings endure is always much greater than the pleasure they enjoy. So they should not live. To avoid pain is a good thing; to miss pleasure is merely not a bad thing. The harm must always outweigh the joy.

It would not matter – he contends – if the human race ceased to exist: human existence has no value. 

His argument is derived from the experience of each sentient being; that he [she, it] feels pain. Feels pain more acutely and more often than pleasure.

It is on subjective experience that Benatar builds his case.

But subjective experience and the judgment of it is confined to each subject, each individual. Pleasure and pain are entirely subjective. I can feel only my own pain and pleasure. Only I can know if it is worth it to me to endure the pain. Only I can determine what is pleasurable to me, and how intense the pleasure is, and how much it is worth to me.

Benatar even goes so far as to claim that all people overestimate the pleasure they have, or can possibly have.

How can he know? He can’t. He cannot know the subjective experience of any other single person, let alone of all people.

On the face of it, the claim that all people suffer more than they enjoy or hope to enjoy, is nonsensical. If it were true, suicide would be the rule. The population of the world would have been very small, probably entirely youthful, and would long ago have dwindled away. But it didn’t.  And that’s probably why he had to deduce that people don’t realize how much they suffer – the chumps!

All that is hardly worth debating. Though the Oxford University Press takes his contention seriously enough to put it in print. (And there must be at least some people who are willing to fork out a whopping $21 for the kindle edition!)

Why take notice of it now?

Because, when he comes to his declaration that human life has no value, one hears the voice of the Zeitgeist. A cold hand clutches one’s heart, and one must protest.

Value to whom? As measured by what? Relative to what?

How can the value of human life be objectively assessed? Value is a human idea. Take away all human beings, take away the human mind, and there are no ideas, no values. No goodness. No truth. No beauty. No joy. No jokes.

No world. No universe. As the only begetter of ideas, the human consciousness is the creator of “the universe”.

Mathematics, physics, computers, the Ninth Symphony, Hamlet and The Tempest, the palace of Versailles, the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome, Americans walking on the moon … all are valued as long and only as long as human beings exist. Then, eventually (and it could be billions of years from now), our revels will be ended. “The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,/ The solemn temples, the great globe itself,/ Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve/And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,/Leave not a rack behind.” And after that, nothing will matter. There will be no one for anything to matter to.

The statement “human life has no value” is meaningless.

Yet it is stated. Not just by one (deeply unhappy?) philosopher. Who lives, incidentally, in the loveliest part of the world, the magnificent Cape of South Africa, with its clement climate and breathtaking natural beauty of mountains, valleys, oceans, beaches, vineyards, forests, and more wild flowers than anywhere else on earth. But what is beauty and plenty and a professor’s generous salary when metaphysical angst, toothache, and the prospect of death ineluctably confront a man?

As I said, it is the Zeitgeist speaking. It is common now among the intellectual elite of the Western world, habituated to a sociological way of thinking – which is to say, seeing human beings as a swarm, like insects – to affirm that this species is a bad thing. They say we are bad for the planet. They say we should be fewer in number. Humanity should give up its cities, its industries, its farming, its civilization, its arts, its investigation of nature. We should live as our most primitive ancestors did. (Only with cell phones.)

The most radical of such thinkers – among them some who live in the greatest luxury like Professor Benatar – say the entire human species must go. Whether slowly over a few generations by not breeding, or quickly within a few years by abortion, murder and suicide, go it must.

How are they different from those cranks who used to patrol the main streets of cities with billboards proclaiming, “The End is Nigh“?

They are different in this: while the old cranks considered it a frightening prophecy, the Benatars of our time think it is a good plan.

Do we not see that it is good?

Well no, Professor. I do not.

 

Jillian Becker    January 10, 2016

Posted under Articles, Philosophy by Jillian Becker on Sunday, January 10, 2016

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The need to knock Islam (repeat) 17

This post,  first published on September 3, 2011, needs to be repeated from time to time, and this is one of those times.

It could be retitled The need to knock religion

The greatness of the West began with doubting. The idea that every belief, every assumption, should be critically examined started the might of Europe. When those old Greek thinkers who founded our civilization learnt and taught that no one has a monopoly of truth or ever will have, they launched the intellectual adventure that has carried the human race – not without a long interval in the doldrums – literally to the skies.

Socrates taught the utility of suspicion. He is reputed to have said, “The highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.” He was not, however, the first to use doubt for discovery. Thales of Miletos, who was born 155 years before Socrates, dared to doubt that religion’s explanatory tales about how the world came to be as it is were to be trusted, and he began exploring natural phenomena in a way that we recognize as scientific. He is often called the Father of Science. With him and his contemporary, Anaximander, who argued with him by advancing alternative ideas, came the notion – for the first time as far as we know – that reason could fathom and describe how the universe worked.

Science is one of the main achievements of the West, but it is not the only product of constructive doubt that made for its greatness. Doubt as a habit of mind or tradition of thinking meant that new, foreign, even counter-intuitive ideas were not dismissed. Europe, before and after it stagnated in the doldrums of the long Catholic Christian night (and even to some extent during those dark centuries), was hospitable to ideas wherever they came from.

Totally opposed to this intellectual openness were the churches with their dogma. Those who claim that the achievements of our civilization are to be credited to Christianity (or in the currently fashionable phrase to “the Judeo-Christian tradition”) have a hard case to make. It was the rediscovery of the Greek legacy in the Renaissance in the teeth of Christian dogmatism, and the new freedom from religious persecution exploited by the philosophers of the Enlightenment that re-launched the West on its intellectual progress, to become the world’s nursery of innovation and its chief factory of ideas.

Our civilization cannot survive without this openness. Critical examination is the breath that keeps it alive. But it is in danger of suffocation. It is more threatened now than it has been for the last four hundred years by dogmatisms: Marxism, environmentalism, religion – above all Islam which absolutely forbids criticism.

The Founding Fathers of the United States perfectly understood the necessity for an open market of ideas. Every citizen of the republic, they laid down, must be free to declare his beliefs, to argue his case, to speak his mind, to examine ideas as publicly as he chose without fear of being silenced.

No longer?

This warning comes from Nina Shea, writing in the National Review:

An unprecedented collaboration between the Obama administration and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, formerly called the Organization of the Islamic Conference) to combat “Islamophobia” may soon result in the delegitimization of freedom of expression as a human right.

The administration is taking the lead in an international effort to “implement” a U.N. resolution against religious “stereotyping,” specifically as applied to Islam. To be sure, it argues that the effort should not result in free-speech curbs. However, its partners in the collaboration, the 56 member states of the OIC, have no such qualms. Many of them police private speech through Islamic blasphemy laws and the OIC has long worked to see such codes applied universally. Under Muslim pressure, Western Europe now has laws against religious hate speech that serve as proxies for Islamic blasphemy codes.

Last March, U.S. diplomats maneuvered the adoption of Resolution 16/18 within the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC). Non-binding, this resolution, inter alia, expresses concern about religious “stereotyping” and “negative profiling” but does not limit free speech. It was intended to — and did — replace the OIC’s decidedly dangerous resolution against “defamation of religions,” which protected religious institutions instead of individual freedoms.

But thanks to a puzzling U.S. diplomatic initiative that was unveiled in July, Resolution 16/18 is poised to become a springboard for a greatly reinvigorated international effort to criminalize speech against Islam, the very thing it was designed to quash.

Citing a need to “move to implementation” of Resolution 16/18, the Obama administration has inexplicably [not if Obama’s Islamophilia is remembered – ed] decided to launch a major international effort against Islamophobia in partnership with the Saudi-based OIC. This is being voluntarily assumed at American expense, outside the U.N. framework, and is not required by the resolution itself.

On July 15, a few days after the Norway massacre, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-chaired an OIC session in Istanbul on religious intolerance. It was there that she announced the initiative, inviting the OIC member-states’ foreign ministers and representatives to the inaugural meeting of the effort that the U.S. government would host this fall in Washington. She envisions it as the first in a series of meetings to decide how best to implement Resolution 16/18.

In making the announcement, Clinton was firm in asserting that the U.S. does not want to see speech restrictions: “The resolution calls upon states to ‘counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue, and public debate . . . but not to criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence.’” (This is the First Amendment standard set forth in the 1969 Supreme Court case of Brandenburg v. Ohio.)

With the United States providing this new world stage for presenting grievances of “Islamophobia” against the West, the OIC rallied around the initiative as the propaganda windfall that it is. It promptly reasserted its demands for global blasphemy laws, once again sounding the call of its failed U.N. campaign for international laws against the so-called defamation of Islam. It has made plain its aim to use the upcoming conference to further pressure Western governments to regulate speech on behalf of Islam.

The aim of the OIC is to criminalize criticism of Islam, though it might go along with banning the criticism of religion in general as an interim step. It will reserve to itself the right to condemn all other religions and beliefs, but allege that any criticism of Islam is incitement to violence – and call angry crowds on to the streets to prove it. 

Islam is now the major threat to the West. Its ideas are the very opposite of those on which the USA was founded. It is an ideology of intolerance and cruelty. It forbids the free expression of thought. By its very nature, even if it were not now on a mission of world conquest (which it is), it is the enemy of the West.

The best way to defeat it is by criticizing it, constantly and persistently, in speech and writing, on the big screen and the small screen, in the schools and academies, in all the media of information and comment, in national and international assemblies.

If the weapon of words is forbidden, the only alternative will be guns. 

The darkness of this world (14) 5

Today we have posted essay number 14, Mystic Communism: Georg Lukács, in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part 2). (Find it under Pages in our margin.)

Here is part of it. We hope you won’t neglect the footnotes (not added here). They are laden with information.

*

Mystic Communism

Georg Lukács (1885-1971)

Georg Lukács was the quintessential revolutionary romantic of the twentieth century, longing to avenge his inner desolation on the civilization that nurtured him. And as an active participant in two revolutions and two despotic regimes, that is what he did.

With this essay we come to the nub of the whole series. Like all the other self-absorbed intellectuals we have talked about, fictitious and real, Georg Lukács advocated the doing of evil as the necessary means to a higher good. But unlike the others, he found himself actually in possession of the power to harm and destroy other lives, and he used it with passion and pride.

He was born in Budapest in 1885. The son of a banker ennobled by the Emperor of Austro-Hungary, he was nurtured in luxury. In his late teens he started writing professionally, reviewing plays for a small circulation periodical. He promoted the staging of avant-garde drama. He also tried to write plays, but without success. He realized and accepted that he “would never be a producer” and regretted that he “was no writer” – by which he probably meant a writer of plays, novels or poetry.

In fact he wrote prolifically. His first book, Soul and Form, appeared in 1910; a collection of essays mostly in literary criticism. Their dominant themes are art, Romanticism, longing, God, love, death, and bourgeois life. The volume was greeted with critical acclaim. No less a judge of literary merit than Thomas Mann – who was later to be the most insightful and devastating critic of Lukács’s character – praised the work as “beautiful and profound”.

One of the essays is about some German and Swiss writers who, Lukács allows, created admirable works despite being bourgeois. “The bourgeois way of life signifies only a denial of everything that is beautiful, everything the life-instinct longs for”, he states with conviction.

This was not the disdain of the aristocrat for a class beneath him. (The von Lukács family, for all its wealth and title, would in any case have been classed as haut bourgeois rather than true nobility.) Nor was it (yet) a revolutionary’s contempt for the established order. It was the romantic artist’s repudiation of the average and ordinary. Lukács deemed himself an artist because, he wrote, “the essay is an art form”, and essays such as his could be “intellectual poems”.

He concedes that a degree of genius is to be found in the works of those ordinary bourgeois men who were nevertheless writers. “This bourgeois way of life,” he wrote, “has no value whatsoever, in itself. For only the works which it brings forth confer value upon a life lived within such a framework and within such a form.”

What makes a life bourgeois, Lukács explains, is “first and foremost by the exercise of a bourgeois profession”. (One of the writers he examines earns his living as a judge, another as a clergyman, another as a government clerk. Lukács himself had no need to earn a living.) “A bourgeois profession,” he goes on, “as a form of life signifies, in the first place, the primacy of ethics in life”. These ethical men “do their duty”. The characters in the stories of one of them are “incapable of evil”; there is “no real sin” in their world. But that, to Lukács, far from being a fine thing, is a fault. The artistic achievement of these merely ethical men is, he declares, “great after its own fashion”. But he himself valued the aesthetic far above the ethical. The highest art could not be achieved by a person who binds himself to duty, but only by one who is capable of sin, intimate with beauty, and whose life-spirit longs for … the unreachable. For years his life-spirit burned with longing, seeking what it could not find; the search, and its frustration, being the tragic fate of such a soul as his.

This longing is more than just something waiting for fulfillment, it is a fact of the soul with a value and existence of its own; an original and deep-rooted attitude towards the whole of life, a final, irreducible category of possibilities of experience,” he wrote. Such a soul “will always long for something he can never reach”.

In 1911, Lukács wrote a story titled On Poverty of Spirit. It is told in the form of a letter from a woman to the father of a young man who has killed himself. She recounts a conversation they had two days before his death, about the suicide of her sister, who had been the young man’s lover. He talks at length about his ideas and feelings, for the most part philosophically, but he does state plainly that he is guilty of her death “in the eyes of God”, in that he failed to “help” or “save” her. One can discern through the thicket of beautiful profundities, that he had refused to marry her because he wanted to dedicate himself wholly to his work as a writer. Furthermore, “she had to die so that my work could be completed – so that nothing remains in the world for me except my work.” But after all the argument about it and about, Lukacs wants us to understand that the young man did the right thing when he shot himself, because of his guilt and for other sound, if rather obscure and certainly long-winded, philosophical reasons.

On Poverty of Spirit was written after – and about – the suicide of his own lover, Irma Seidler, whom he had not married, being dedicated to his work as a writer. She had married someone else, had not been happy, and had drowned herself. The story he wrote was a confession of his guilt. But he himself did not do the right thing. It was enough that his alter ego did it in the story: the brilliant young man tragically performing an extreme act of penance in fiction rendered it unnecessary for Lukács himself to perform it. Besides, what he, the author, did was something better, higher: he gave the episode a “form” as a work of art. When Lukács spoke of “form” he meant art – always expecting the word to resonate in the minds of his cultured readers with Plato’s theory of “Forms” or “Ideals”. To him, a work of art was a revelation, or representative, or reminder of the “noumenal” reality that – so Plato and Kant have convinced Middle European intellectuals – lies behind, beyond, above this “phenomenal” world in which we live.

When he wrote Soul and Form, Lukács believed that the two worlds were irreconcilable; that a soul belonged to one or the other. (He does not say, but almost certainly knew, that in the creeds of the old Gnostic cults, the souls of the “Perfects” or “Pneumatics” belonged to a transcendent world, while the souls of the common “Hylics” were bound to the earth). His own soul – he knew – belonged to the higher, better, mystical world, the world of “essences”; the unreachable world. Here in this world, “abandoned by God”, he felt he was a stranger, an alien on earth; that humankind did not belong here; and that there was “an antagonism between the soul and the world”. That is what he meant when he asked rhetorically- cried out, so to speak, in his writing – “How can one bring essence into life? How can life become essential?” For years he searched for an answer. Morbidly pre-occupied with death, tragedy, and the condition of the human soul – above all his own – he wrote: “Man is abandoned to immanent meaninglessness.” He longed for “an extinction of selfhood” through “complete absorption of the ego into a higher being”.

Often he conjectured that the only answer was in death, and he brooded on suicide.  He declares in Soul and Form: “Life is without value, without significance, and we [presumably he and all those who suffer the same spiritual anguish] would be ready to consecrate it every moment to death.”

His was an intensely religious temperament, but he was drawn neither emotionally nor intellectually to any organized religion; not to the Judaism of his ancestors, nor to Christianity – though his parents had him baptized in the Lutheran church in 1897 so that he could attend a good Lutheran school.

Karl Jaspers – later a famous philosopher – met Lukács in Heidelberg in 1913 and had no difficulty recognizing the nature of his contemporary’s mystical beliefs. He records: “Many came to Heidelberg [University] who were men of letters and potential candidates for Habilitation. Among them was Georg von Lukács from Budapest and Ernst Bloch from Mannheim. … At that time, they were Gnostics who shared their theosophical fantasies in their social circles.” It is probable that Lukács simply announced to Jaspers and all the company that he was a Gnostic. He was calling himself a “gnostic activist” in his writings years before he became in any way active in public life.

By “gnostic” he meant possessed of that intuitive knowledge which is a special gift to the specially gifted. What he intuitively knew which the ordinary (bourgeois) person could not know in the same way, was that there was a higher better world, the “intelligible” world: the “essential” world; the “noumenal” world. What he meant by “activist” is less clear. He seems to have meant that he not only thought philosophically that there is a higher better world, but that he also felt it. The activity was not muscular but emotional. It was not worked out by the intellect but immediately known by “intellectual intuition”, through which one might become “good”.

Become good? But had he not rejected ethical behavior? Certainly he had – and by “goodness” he did not mean anything so bourgeois as ethical behavior. He expounds his idea of what goodness is in Poverty of Spirit:

Prince Myshkin [hero of Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot] and Alyosha [hero of Dostoyevsky”s The Brothers Karamazov] are good; what does that mean? … [T]heir knowledge [gnosis] became realized in deed, their thinking left the purely conceptual realm of knowledge, their view of mankind became an intellectual intuition: they are Gnostics of the deed.” … “Goodness is the miracle, the grace, and the salvation. The descent of the heavenly realm to the earth. … It is an abandonment of ethic. Goodness is not an ethical category; you’ll find it in no consistent ethical system. And with good reason. Ethics is general, binding, and far removed from men; it is the first – the most primitive – exaltation of mankind over the chaos of everyday life; it is man’s moving away from himself, and from his empirical condition. Goodness, however, is the return to real life, man’s true discovery of his home.” … “Goodness is madness, it is not mild, not refined, and not quietistic; it is wild, terrible, blind, and adventurous. The soul of the good one has become empty of all psychological content, of grounds and consequences; it has become a pure white slate upon which destiny inscribes its absurd command to be followed blindly, recklessly, cruelly to the end.”

In the First World War, Lukács was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian armed forces; but he dodged the draft with the help of a certificate from Karl Jaspers (who was a qualified doctor and psychiatrist), and through the use of his father’s connections – the calling in of a favor owed to the banker by a personage close to the royal and imperial government. Duly declared unfit for active service, Lukács did his patriotic duty as a letter censor in Budapest for a few months in 1915.

It was after the war, when his country was in the abjection and disorder of defeat, that he found the answer to his spiritual search, a solution to his loneliness, despair and longing. He recognized that the “higher being” into which his “ego” might be “absorbed” was the International Communist movement. In December 1918 he joined the newly formed Hungarian Communist Party.

The commitment of his soul to the Party was no less religious for being political. He saw Communism as a cure not only for his own discontent – his despair, or loneliness, or Faust-like boredom with the contemplative life – but for everyone else’s too. He assumed that everyone suffered from the same malaise as he did. As a general social phenomenon he called it “alienation”, and declared it to be the result of capitalism and the bourgeois order. Communism, he believed, was the salvation of all mankind, provided only that each soul had faith enough and submitted utterly to its church. …

 

Jillian Becker   July 19, 2015

The French pandemonium (three) 3

Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin), essay number 13 in Part Two of the series titled The Darkness of This World, by Jillian Becker.

It continues the discussion of French writers whose works are concerned with Evil, praise it, and argue passionately that it should be done.

The title of this essay is The French Pandemonium (Three). Its subjects are the twentieth century writers Michel Foucault and –  to a lesser extent – Jean Genet 

Here is part of the essay:

When the Second World War was over in Europe in 1945, and the enormities perpetrated by the Nazis had been fully revealed à tout le monde, Evil did not lose any of its popularity among the anti-bourgeois intelligentsia of France. If those who had survived war and occupation, deprivation and terror, and in some cases confinement, had a sense of being supped full with horrors, it seems to have been short-lived. Their appetite for blood, for torture, and even for mass murder, soon revived.

Most of the novels and plays of Jean Genet – works in which he “explored the potentialities of evil” – were published or performed after the war. He wrote fascinatingly about criminals. His play Haute Surveillance, first performed in 1949, is about a prisoner who, sentenced for committing only small crimes, murders a fellow convict in order to be recognized as someone capable of doing far worse. The bourgeois audiences found it shocking, but not the intellectual elite. In 1952 Jean-Paul Sartre published an essay about him titled Saint Genet. What made Genet a saint in Sartre’s eyes was his criminality. He was a saint because he was a thief. And – even more glamorously romantic – he was a homosexual prostitute in the days when that too could land a man in jail.

All convicted prisoners were victims of the bourgeois and his civilization, in the opinion of Michel Foucault, another of our demons. He declared: “Delinquency, solidified by a penal system centered upon the prison, thus represents a diversion of illegality for the illicit circuits of profit and power of the dominant class.” …

Foucault, the French demon par excellence, was a disciple of Georges Bataille. Their tastes were the same. Foucault endorsed the master’s praise for “erotic transgression”, rhapsodized over “the joy of torture”, and longed to assist his hero in carrying out human sacrifice as a holy act and a thrilling work of art. Together they schemed – but did not institute – a “theatre of cruelty” (as had the clinically mad Antonin Artaud before them), in which actual murder would be performed for an audience. They saw a profound moral value in murder – if the murderer gets a buzz out of it.

Some ideas emerge from Foucault’s writings distinctly enough to be examined. Among them, that the law-abiding bourgeois should be punished with violent oppression; mass reprisals are preferable to individual trials; and cruelty should be a normal way of life. Yet he is praised for being “always ready to protest the fate of the wretched and powerless”.

Even if some of his works can be interpreted as “protesting the fate” of the criminal, the lunatic and the sadist, “always” is going much too far. The mass of his oeuvres proclaims his enthusiasm for rendering anybody and everybody wretched and powerless, preferably maimed, and best of all dead.  

He did not except himself. To “redeem existence” from “unbearable banality”, he hankered to be caught up in what he called “limit experiences” of pain, terror, madness, and fatal illness: “the overwhelming, the unspeakable, the creepy, the stupefying, the ecstatic”, embracing “a pure violence, a wordless gesture”. All this he sought for himself, and – though an intensely self-obsessed man – generously desired for others too; and if others did not want it, well, they should be forced to endure it. And even if the victims could not raise their consciousness so as to be overjoyed, the inflictions would not be wasted, because Foucault could wring for himself from their suffering, the last drop of excruciating pleasure.

And this pleasure should not – he fantasized – be only an occasional treat. A demon such as he should not have to perform acts of torture and life-endangerment only for a rare thrill, but such experience should be continually on tap. He believed, like Bataille, that cruelty should be a way of life – the only way of life, a constant part of everybody’s everyday life. “We can and must,” he wrote, “make of man a negative experience, lived in the form of hate and aggression.” …

Foucault sought pleasure in the pain of both body and mind. He mutilated his body and terrified his mind. As nothing was more terrible than death, he desired it most passionately. “Complete, total pleasure,” he declared, “is related to death.” He contemplated suicide, thought of it often through the greater part of his life, and claimed to have “attempted” it many times. He expected and intended that suicide would be the way he’d die. He made “lifelong preparation for it”. It would be “a simple pleasure”, a “suffering pleasure”. It would be a way of “exploring experience in its negativity”.

To take his death into his own hands would not only hasten that crowning moment of “complete, total pleasure”, it might also bring about, at last, the release of his other Self. The “other” Michel Foucault would be emancipated in his own death-throes, to experience “moment of free existence in suicide”.

He fantasized about participating in a “suicide orgy”, and eventually, in full consistency, that was the way he chose. He went, equipped with instruments – or “toys” – of torture, to orgies of sex, drugs, pain, cruelty, and terror, knowing that they were a way to his death, and intending that that’s what they should be. He endured and wallowed in them in the bathhouses of San Francisco where homosexual men congregated, many of them infected with the HIV virus. And when he knew he had AIDS – incurable at that time – he returned to the bathhouses deliberately to infect as many other men as he could. It was slow suicide and slow murder; according to his philosophy, the transcendent “limit experience”. How much he really enjoyed the prolonged period of slow physical disintegration to which he condemned himself no one of course can know. But he did not try to cut it short by some swifter means to death in order to achieve that moment of exquisite agony in which he expected to feel himself – or his hidden Self – liberated by death. …

Absurdly hyperbolic praise has been heaped upon him. Paul Veyne, professor of History at Vincennes, said of Foucault that he was “the most important event in the thought of this [20th] century”. Yet far from contributing to the advancement of mankind, his example was atavistic: to live by the dictates of the instincts, the appetites, and the emotions – in other words to be savage. …

The immense popularity of Bataille and Foucault, the rapturous reception accorded their demonic works, could only mean that France itself was turning away – continuing to turn away – from reason and civilized values.

On the European battlefields of literature, philosophy, and politics, Romanticism has won an overwhelming victory. The “horrible workers” predicted by Rimbaud, have been elevated by public (bourgeois!) taste into the intellectual giants of contemporary thought. And they have influenced taste everywhere in the pan-European world. Now, in the early twenty-first century, in most of the faculties of the humanities, in most of the academies of the West, the French cult of Evil is virtually an orthodoxy – even in America.

You can find all of it here.

Posted under Commentary, communism, Ethics, Europe, France, Germany, Gnosticism, History, Leftism, Literature, Marxism, nazism, Philosophy, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Sunday, March 8, 2015

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Islam must be destroyed – by words and laughter 11

The weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo laughed at all religions. It mocked religion as such, mercilessly. It dared to mock the nastiest religion of them all, Islam, defying its vengefulness. It was doing a great job for civilization.

Because of the killing of the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo yesterday in Paris, we repeat part of our post, Religion and the crippling of the mind – an existential threat (January 2, 2013):

Human survival depends on progress, and progress depends on the criticism of ideas.

Religions are the most dangerous sets of ideas because they are the most dogmatic. Dogma chains and cripples the mind. It denies knowledge and prevents discovery and innovation. The only possible form of argument between opposing dogmas is violence. Religions must be questioned.

Any idea that requires a law to protect it from criticism is ipso facto a bad idea.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation [formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference], the United Nations, and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are actively engaged in trying to silence criticism of Islam. If their campaign succeeds it will greatly advance Islam’s jihad, its war to impose universal Islamic rule.

The victory of Islam would put humanity under a death sentence.  

And this is also a good time to repeat an even earlier post, The need to knock Islam (September 3, 2011):

The greatness of the West began with doubting. The idea that every belief, every assumption, should be critically examined started the might of Europe. When those old Greek thinkers who founded our civilization learnt and taught that no one has a monopoly of truth or ever will have, they launched the intellectual adventure that has carried the human race – not without a long interval in the doldrums – literally to the skies.

Socrates taught the utility of suspicion. He is reputed to have said, “The highest form of human excellence is to question oneself and others.” He was not, however, the first to use doubt for discovery. Thales of Miletos, who was born 155 years before Socrates, dared to doubt that religion’s explanatory tales about how the world came to be as it is were to be trusted, and he began exploring natural phenomena in a way that we recognize as scientific. He is often called the Father of Science. With him and his contemporary, Anaximander, who argued with him by advancing alternative ideas, came the notion – for the first time as far as we know – that reason could fathom and describe how the universe worked.

Science is one of the main achievements of the West, but it is not the only product of constructive doubt that made for its greatness. Doubt as a habit of mind or tradition of thinking meant that new, foreign, even counter-intuitive ideas were not dismissed. Europe, before and after it stagnated in the doldrums of the long Catholic Christian night (and even to some extent during those dark centuries), was hospitable to ideas wherever they came from.

Totally opposed to this intellectual openness were the churches with their dogma. Those who claim that the achievements of our civilization are to be credited to Christianity (or in the currently fashionable phrase to “the Judeo-Christian tradition”) have a hard case to make. It was the rediscovery of the Greek legacy in the Renaissance in the teeth of Christian dogmatism, and the new freedom from religious persecution exploited by the philosophers of the Enlightenment that re-launched the West on its intellectual progress, to become the world’s nursery of innovation and its chief factory of ideas.

Our civilization cannot survive without this openness. Critical examination is the breath that keeps it alive. But it is in danger of suffocation. It is more threatened now than it has been for the last four hundred years by dogmatisms: Marxism, environmentalism, religion – above all Islam which absolutely forbids criticism.

The Founding Fathers of the United States perfectly understood the necessity for an open market of ideas. Every citizen of the republic, they laid down, must be free to declare his beliefs, to argue his case, to speak his mind, to examine ideas as publicly as he chose without fear of being silenced.

Islam is now the major threat to the West. Its ideas are the very opposite of those on which the USA was founded. It is an ideology of intolerance and cruelty. It forbids the free expression of thought. By its very nature, even if it were not now on a mission of world conquest (which it is), it is the enemy of the West.

The best way to defeat it is by criticizing it, constantly and persistently, in speech and writing, on the big screen and the small screen, in the schools and academies, in all the media of information and comment, in national and international assemblies.

If the weapon of words is forbidden, the only alternative will be guns. 

The French pandemonium (two) 1

Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin), essay number 12 in Part Two of the series titled The Darkness of This World, by Jillian Becker.

It continues the discussion of French writers whose works are concerned with Evil, praise it, and argue passionately that it should be done.

The title of this essay is The French Pandemonium (Two). Its subjects are the twentieth century writers Georges Bataille, and –  to a lesser extent – André Breton

Here is part of the essay:

Of all the cultivators of Evil in twentieth century France, none was so devout, so persistent, or plunged so deep into moral and material muck as Georges Bataille. He hungered and lusted for Evil. He was a coprophiliac, and a necrophiliac – committing, by his own confession or boast, an incestuous sexual act, in a state of “arousal to the limit”, upon his mother’s corpse in the moments after her death.

Bataille wrote that human beings, as a species, should move towards “an ever more shameless awareness of the erotic bond that links them to death, to cadavers, and to horrible physical pain.”

He was fascinated by the filthy, the stinking; by secretions, excretions, exudations; by things discarded, damaged, abandoned. “Bataille,” wrote one of his appreciators, “displayed a quasi-religious veneration toward objects and acts that, according to the mores of bourgeois convention, were targets of opprobrium … During the ‘30s, Bataille’s ‘literary’ activities centered on developing a theory of ‘base matter’, items and effluvia that remained impervious to assimilation by the all-consuming maw of bourgeois cultural respectability: feces, menstrual blood, cadavers, the baboon’s brightly colored anus, and so forth.”

But Bataille’s veneration of the disgusting was not just “quasi-religious” – it was intensely religious. It was Gnostic . This the admiring writer goes on to demonstrate, though without referring to the Gnostic precedent. He writes: “Herein lie the affinities between Bataille’s world view and the discourse of ‘negative theology’ or redemption through sin. … The duality between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ obsessed him, but the habitual signs were reversed. He elevated acts of profanation or desecration to epiphanies: singular mystical moments of Oneness with the All. … For Bataille … the act of willfully violating taboos offered privileged access to the holy.”

Raised in a non-believing family, young Georges converted to Catholicism when he was seventeen, and even spent a year in a seminary studying to be a priest. When he became a priest of blasphemy, or holy sinner, he retained all the self-flagellating passion, all the pious devotion and aura of sanctity of the Catholic ecclesiastic. He remained throughout his adult life shut mentally in the box of religion with its atmosphere of incense and sulfur, its fixation on blood, pain, death and sin.

He contended that what was missing in ordinary modern life, what society lacked for full satisfaction, was the “expression of savage needs” that “subsist only at the limits of horror”. And what were the “limits of horror” in Bataille’s dream? Nothing less than ritual human sacrifice. The combination of agony, death, and religious rite was very much to his taste. He wrote: “Human sacrifice is loftier than any other – not in the sense that it is crueler than any other, but because it is close to the only sacrifice without trickery, which can only be the ecstatic loss of oneself.”

His best of all horrors was “ecstatic loss of the self” by choice: voluntary human sacrifice. He wrote: “The movement that pushes a man to give himself (in other words, to destroy himself) completely, so that a bloody death ensues, can only be compared, in its irresistible and hideous nature, to the blinding flashes of lightning that transform the most withering storm into transports of joy.” Oh, the intense joy of dying in excruciating pain! He and others in his circle formed a secret society which was to launch itself with a beheading. Every member was willing to be the sacrificial victim and have his head sawn off – but none would consent to be the executioner.

The external movement that he would have push him to transports of joy was Communism. …

You can find all of it here.

The French pandemonium 4

Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin) the next essay in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part Two).

The title of the new essay is The French Pandemonium (One).

It continues a discussion of the Romantic movement which – the series argues – arises from the same need in the human psyche that requires religion. In France, the most influential poets, novelists, essayists and philosophers have been those who have cultivated rebellion against what they call “bourgeois society”. Some of the most eminent of them bluntly declare that their rebellion is a choice of Evil.

Of course not all the French writers of the post-Enlightenment centuries have been Romantics or conscious advocates of Evil. But those who “chose Evil” stoked the fires of destructive rebellion in generations of European intellectuals and have had by far the greater effect on history. In the twentieth century they became so popular and powerful that they helped create the New Left; incited seasons of violent protest demonstrations on city streets throughout Europe and even on other continents; inspired the formation of European terrorist gangs; and implanted their anti-civilization ideology as a new dogma in schools and academies throughout the Western world, including America. As the series continues it will explain how the anti-Americanism of the Left, even in America itself, springs from the European intellectual movement against our civilization.

Here is the first part of the essay:

A pandemonium is a gathering of all the demons or devils. Devils are expected to be noisy, so the word has come to mean a deafening cacophony of shrieking voices.

What the voices of this pandemonium clamor for, is “Evil”. It is not an insult to call them demons; it is an acknowledgment of their choice. They choose Evil, they call for Evil, they acclaim Evil, they are for Evil.

And what are they against? They are against What Is. They are against our civilization. They are against the bourgeois, whom they hold responsible for everything that’s wrong with our civilization: free enterprise industrialization; liberal democracy; parliamentarianism; conservatism.

It was in France that the clamor was loudest among certain poets and novelists and philosophers to épater le bourgeois – shock the bourgeoisin the nineteenth century, reaching a crescendo between the world wars of the twentieth century, rising again after the end of the second. A racket of foaming hate; a literary hue and cry after the middle-class citizen.

As you may have noticed, the bourgeoisie is, in fact, the all-achieving class. Almost everything of value since the Enlightenment, including the Enlightenment itself, has issued from the middle-class; every invention, every discovery, every advance, with so few exceptions they can be counted on a few of your fingers. But to the demons of poetry and philosophy and revolution, the bourgeois was everything that was wrong with Life: the bourgeois with his politesse, his prudence, his order and cleanliness, his comfortable house, his good-quality clothes, his well-stocked larder, his prosperity, his faithfulness to duty, his thrifty habits … “No, no,” the scornful voices yell, interrupting me. “Its not just that, it’s … it’s … it’s his complacency, his bad taste, his narrow-mindedness, his privilege, his exploitation of underdogs, his obsession with material things – and his stupid sexual inhibition. Those, don’t you see, are the unbearable traits that make him a worthy target of our artistic fury. He does not, cannot feel as we do. Down with him! Grind him into the dust! ”

But it is the againstness itself that characterizes the demons. If every one of those despicable things about the bourgeois were overcome or destroyed (as every one of them was in Communist Russia), and civilization wholly laid to waste, the urge would rage on, its hunger unappeased, hunting its everlasting prey: What Is. To them, as to the Gnostics of old, everything that is here is bad; the good lies beyond.

Whatever words have been used to describe the Paris fashions in scorn – modernism, post-modernism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction – they are all expressions of rebellion. To be a rebel is to be heroic. Despised and rejected by the bourgeois herd, the rebel is a martyr to his deep passion for art, his higher vision of a better world.

To protest against the bourgeois idea of what is good, the demons advocated doing whatever the bourgeois considered evil. They placed themselves in a French counter-tradition, a line that runs from Rousseau with his belief in the primacy of feeling and sentiment, through Robespierre with his Terror, the Marquis de Sade with his penchant for sexual torture, the nineteenth century poets Charles Baudelaire with his Flowers of Evil and Arthur Rimbaud with his Season in Hell, and on through the intellectual trend-setters – whom we will come to – of twentieth century French literature and their continuing effects. There are still reigning French demons in the twenty-first century. It is a dynasty of the defiant. …

You can find all of it here.

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