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 8

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) 12

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.

Watchmen on the walls 8

The Right has regained considerable power. The cheers die down. The champagne has been drunk. The recovery of America is only just beginning.

Continuing to explore ideas about what will follow now, we quote an excellent article – or a rallying cry – by J. E. Dyer, posted yesterday at Liberty Unyielding:

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Commander J.E.Dyer

There’s a division of sentiment among conservatives, the day after a big electoral victory for Republicans.

There are plenty of conservatives who were glad to be able to vote for candidates they admire and believe in. That distinguishes them from other conservatives who had to either withhold their votes in certain races, or vote for GOP candidates they didn’t particularly like.

But even many conservatives who had attractive candidates to vote for share something important with less fortunate conservative voters. They share a sense that America has already experienced a break with the political consensus of the past that can’t be repaired with this election.

This isn’t only because Congress will remain divided from the president across policy lines for the next two years. That is important – and not mainly because it will theoretically result in gridlock.  (Some gridlock would actually be pretty darn healthy at this point.) It’s important because the president has executive power, and Congress doesn’t.

Realistically, we can expect Congress to be slow and timid in any attempts to block executive unilateralism by the Obama administration. The American people, the targets of weaponized government, won’t get any meaningful relief.

But it’s even more than that. Something bigger than American partisan politics is going on in the world, and what the voters accomplished on Tuesday will do little to position America better to face it. That’s the sense of settled foreboding I see in many conservatives.

It won’t all be up to the United States government, in any case. The world is going to hand us problems created by others – diseases, foreign despots who churn out refugees; Islamists, Russia, China, Iran, some damn fool thing in the hot-spot of your choice – that could very well impinge as much on the daily lives of Americans as anything Obama does before 2017. They could impinge more, whether they involve geopolitical disruption or economic shocks.

Too much is unsettled now. Getting from where we are to where we need to be will require stopping at a waypoint we haven’t reached yet. The election on Tuesday is not that waypoint.

Indeed, to revive the American spirit of liberty, the waypoint will almost certainly have to have the same weight and import as our constitutional convention of 1787-89.  It’s not clear yet what combination of circumstances might make it possible to identify such a waypoint, and take advantage of it.

For the time being, those with a coherent idea of liberty and limited government expect little gratification from today’s partisan politics. They see what those who voted for Republicans as a status-quo alternative to Democrats don’t: that the status quo itself can’t continue. Creeping bureaucratic despotism – what we live under now – is unsustainable. It’s not the future. …  People have nothing to live for under its lash; ultimately, as limitations and pessimism drive out opportunity and hope, it must destroy itself.

That’s a statement of enormous optimism. What can bring bureaucratic despotism to an end?

Even this clear-eyed writer cannot answer that vital question.

But what the outlines of the future will look like, and what factors might give events a push, no one can foresee from here. …

But Commander Dyer is sure there are better times ahead – because America is the embodiment of an idea: the idea of liberty, and it is an idea that cannot die.

The truth is that deadlines keep passing, for everyone who predicts one certain doom or another. America has not been loaded into a garbage truck from which the only exit is in the landfill. This country still has a lot of living to do.

Liberty has always been an idea, and as an idea, it can’t be killed. It stills burns in the hearts of millions of Americans.

Only some of them know what liberty really is, but there are still millions of those people. And here’s what I perceive about them. Although they remain committed to the political process – they think it’s important not to give up on it – their investment in it is on the wane right now.

The reason?  The political process is not making the difference between liberty and overweening government anymore.  Electing Republicans doesn’t bring relief from overregulation, collectivist statism, and the growth of public bureaucracies that are easily taken over by fanatical ideologues.

This is why the 2014 midterm election isn’t an end-state, nor … a model for the future. It isn’t good enough to elect Republicans to take over the same business the U.S. federal government has been doing for 100 years now.  It’s the business that has to change.

Seeing this clearly is going to keep liberty-minded conservatives in tension with old-consensus Republicans between now and 2016.  But having a vision for something better always does that. …

So, though it is good that the Democrats – the ideologists of serfdom – have been defeated, she does not believe that the Republican Party will bring us the liberty we crave.  

It’s actually exciting, and a source of optimism, to realize that our future doesn’t have to be charted within the confines of the patterns of the past.  Yes, the GOP leadership in Congress is still an old-consensus leadership.  But it’s not discouraging to recognize that the Republicans we’ve just handed a congressional majority aren’t going to change much for us.  It’s liberating to stop expecting them to.

The task now is for the sons and daughters of liberty to educate themselves on liberty itself, and man the ramparts as watchmen on the walls.  … The watchmen on the walls have to be on the lookout for opportunity: knowledgeable about how liberty has been established in the past, and ready to interpret circumstances and openings when they arise.

I think those circumstances and openings are going to arise, although I can’t tell you today what they will be.  I do know that the day has come when it is more important to fan the flames of liberty than to damp them down, through the political process, in search of consensus.  Putting too much into consensus only teaches us to believe lies about freedom, and we’ve been doing that for too long. …

I look to the future.  Join me if you can.  History gives us every reason to be optimistic about a future with liberty, because liberty is healing.  Liberty is the empire of hope.  So get up on those walls, troops.  We’ve got some watching to do.

Posted under Commentary, government, Leftism, liberalism, liberty, Philosophy, Progressivism, Socialism, tyranny, United States, US Constitution by Jillian Becker on Thursday, November 6, 2014

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The vanishing god 18

His only existence was in the superstitions of human beings.

Now even that dim identity is fading away.

We have watched the religious retreating until their backs are to the wall.

Once firm beliefs – in the name of which believers would put disbelievers to torture and death – have quietly been abandoned within the stretch of living memory.

It’s not long since Christians believed in a physical Heaven and Hell. After all, a bodily resurrected Jesus Christ has to have a physical dwelling place. The Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ was physically hauled up into  Heaven – the hauling job by angels is called her Assumption – so there had to be some solid ground to put her on once they got her up there. And if sinners were to suffer in hell, they needed nerves and a brain to suffer pain from being burnt with actual fire.

What theologians speak of that now – or of the Trinity? Only simpletons do. Many among the laity do go on believing in an old bearded man named God, somewhere in the sky, dressed in a kind of nightshirt, with his son, a pretty young man – golden curly hair, blue eyes, also in nightwear – seated beside him on something-or-other, among billowing clouds in a rosy dawn. But that’s all for the commonalty in this twenty-first century since the chosen birthdate of the putative Savior Christ; not the great thinkers.

Science has done what it was bound to do: show up religious accounts of how the universe came into being, and how mankind arose, to be nonsense. Highly imaginative  nonsense. In some aspects, highly ingenious nonsense. But nonsense all the same.

Theological defense of the existence of “God” has steadily dwindled. It came all the way down to the dogma of “intelligent design”. And that’s also manifest nonsense. Whom does it deceive (not counting the gulls and simpletons)? Our universe is so obviously not designed. A design is for a purpose, and the propounders of the idea can point to no purpose. And where is the evidence of intelligence, when life forms fail, hideous deformities occur, animal survives by devouring animal …. the list of natural events that are easily explained by evolution but not by the idea of intelligent design could be very long.

Proponents of “intelligent design” at least had the sense to drop the notion that the supernatural Designer was benevolent. It must finally come home to even a dull mind that the Designer, or god, who made (for example) Ebola, is not a source of unqualified benefit to humankind.

The defense is worn down to the wire. The result is utter confusion.

The Catholic Church cannot allow the “intelligent designer” to take God’s place; cannot have God reduced to an architect who could shout “Hey presto!” at his drawing board and have his design spring into existence. Or don a robe decorated with moons and stars and meteors, and a tall pointed hat, and take a wand in his hand, and wave it about in some medium of ultra-space and so fill an infinite void with galaxies – and prepare Jesus Christ to be born from the womb of a virgin on the little planet Earth.

But how then can it cope with the challenge of science?

To see its best effort, witness this crap, this stew of anachronistic notions thrown into the pot with gobs of scientific truth. It shows how Roman Catholicism does not know what to say, and can only dither vague denials and assertions that add up to nothing – like these, gabbled just the other day by Pope Francis, head of that once powerful and terrible, tyrannical and cruel institution, the Catholic Church (a relic of the darkest centuries of human history):

Delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.

He said:

When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.

The pope avoids gesturing at the thorny issue (at least for some Christians) of whether humans descended from apes. Atheists argue, moreover, that understanding the Big Bang and what emerged from that cosmic moment obviates a need to believe in a deity. On that count, Francis obviously disagrees. He repeated the idea of God not being a “magician,” an entity that conjured all into being.

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

In other words … God is more a clockmaker than a conjurer of miracles.

Could anything be less like a clock designed to work in a fixed unchanging manner for a particular purpose than this universe of ever-changing matter?*

Such thinking is not new for the Catholic Church, which for six decades — since the reforms of Pope Pius XII — has espoused belief in theistic evolution. That hinges, of course, on the fundamental acceptance of a higher power.

A 2006 article in the Vatican’s main newspaper also distanced the Catholic Church from the idea of “intelligent design,” which it said should not be taught in schools as science. …

What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes, it said. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap”.

Francis’s more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, espoused this view and found the American debate between creationists and those who backed evolution “absurd’. He asked in 2007 why “those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God”. And then went on:

This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.

Skeptics and atheists, though, may agree with the importance of those questions. But they’re still looking for very different answers.

We sure are, bro!

The intellectually beleaguered theologians of the Catholic Church saw that some interpretation, some clarification of this garbage was needed. So they’ve come up with this, from the Catholic News Service, by John Thavis:

Intelligent design not science, says Vatican newspaper article

Intelligent design is not science and should not be taught as a scientific theory in schools alongside Darwinian evolution, an article in the Vatican newspaper said.

The article said that in pushing intelligent design some groups were improperly seeking miraculous explanations in a way that creates confusion between religious and scientific fields.

At the same time, scientists should recognize that evolutionary theory does not exclude an overall purpose in creation – a “superior design” that may be realized through secondary causes like natural selection, it said.

What overall purpose?

The article, published in the Jan. 17 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, was written by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna in Italy.

The article noted that the debate over intelligent design – the idea that certain features of life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than adaptive evolution – has spread from the United States to Europe.

The problem with intelligent design is that it turns to a “superior cause” – understood though not necessarily named as God – to explain supposed shortcomings of evolutionary science. But that’s not how science should work, the article said.

If the model proposed by Darwin is held to be inadequate, one should look for another model. But it is not correct methodology to stray from the field of science pretending to do science.

The article said a Pennsylvania judge had acted properly when he ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in schools. [The judge said:]

Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation.

From the church’s point of view, Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, but doesn’t say how, the article said. That leaves open the possibilities of evolutionary mechanisms like random mutation and natural selection.

God’s project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction.

What the church does insist upon is that the emergence of the human supposes a willful act of God, and that man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes .. The spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection but required an “ontological leap’ … 

The article said that, unfortunately, what has helped fuel the intelligent design debate is a tendency among some Darwinian scientists to view evolution in absolute and ideological terms, as if everything — including first causes — can be attributed to chance.

Science as such, with its methods, can neither demonstrate nor exclude that a superior design has been carried out.

From a religious viewpoint, it said, there is no doubt that the human story “has a sense and a direction that is marked by a superior design”.

What direction? Going where? Why?

So if God may not be boiled down to an “intelligent designer”, then what is he? What is this new orthodoxy of the Catholic Church? He’s still “the creator of all things from nothing”. But he didn’t create things exactly as we know them at this passing moment. He launched evolution. By a special “willful” act he had humankind “emerge”. (Whether from earlier ape-like Hominoidea or not is left an open question.) Man’s unique “spiritual element” could not have developed through evolution. So it must have been put in him by God. Man’s spiritual element, it may be inferred, proves the existence of God.

God is a launcher of evolution, into which process he uniquely intervened to create humankind, to which he gave something new in the universe, a “spiritual element”.

This new Catholic God is not very different from the old Catholic God, but he seems to have shed his son and the Holy Ghost. At least neither the Professor of evolutionary biology nor the befuddled Pope says what’s happened to them.

So even the “intelligent designer” fades out. The old Creator is glimpsed as the launcher of a process through billions of years which finally did not result in the creation of humankind. That was a special new creation. For what purpose is still not said.

He is very frail, that being. Very thin, transparent, ghost-like. Going, going … almost gone.

 

* We do, however, accept Karl Popper’s splendidly explicated thesis that “all clouds are clocks and all clocks are clouds” in his lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”. In his sense only, having nothing to do with theological “intelligent design”, organic things may be said to be clock-like. You can find the lecture here, or in the collection of Popper’s essays titled Objective Knowledge.

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