Category : Philosophy

(Economist) Francis Fukuyama and Kwame Anthony Appiah take on identity politics

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. By Francis Fukuyama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 240 pages; $26. To be published in Britain by Profile Books in October; £16.99.

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. By Kwame Anthony Appiah. Liveright; 256 pages; $27.95. Profile Books; £14.99.

One of the most remarkable recent developments in Anglo-American politics is the reification of the white working class. Google Trends, a website that tracks how often particular words or phrases are typed into the search engine, shows a huge spike in interest in that group when Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016. Interest has never quite subsided since. What is more, the white working class has gone from being mostly ignored to being assumed to have a consistent set of views, even a political agenda.

Many of the books published after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Mr Trump’s election tried to explain why this group in particular had turned on the political establishment. For example, “Us vs Them” by Ian Bremmer and “WTF” by Robert Peston found the answer in the travails of former industrial towns and the arrogance and selfishness of elites. Now come two more reflective takes. “Identity” and “The Lies That Bind” suggest that Western countries not only have deep economic and social problems, but philosophical ones too. People are looking at themselves and others in the wrong ways.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

Vital Food for Thought from Alisdair MacIntyre on Saint Benedict’s Feast Day

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead–often not recognising fully what they were doing–was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.”

–Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Terre Haute, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 3rd. ed., 2007), p. 263 (my emphasis)

Update: Peter Leithardt’s comments on this are also worth pondering:

“The turning point, he says, occurred with a renunciation of the “task of shoring up the Roman imperium,” which required “men and women of good will” to begin to distinguish between sustaining moral community and maintaining the empire. Roman civilization was no longer seen as synonymous with civilization itself. Mutatis muntandis, this is the intellectual and practical transformation that has to take place before we can begin to construct “local forms of community” for the flourishing of civility and intellectual life. We need to acknowledge that our task isn’t to shore up America, or the West, or whatever. If we promote local communities of virtue as a tactic for shoring up the imperium, we haven’t really grasped MacIntyre’s point, or the depth of the crisis he described.

That renunciation is as emotionally difficult as the project of forming local communities is practically difficult.”

Posted in America/U.S.A., Canada, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Philosophy, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–Anthony Kennedy and the Privatization of Meaning

Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t invent the shift from community to autonomy, but in 1992 he articulated it more crisply than anyone else: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

In this sentence, which became famous as the “mystery of life” passage, there is no sense that individuals are embedded in a social order. There is no acknowledgment of the parts of ourselves that we don’t choose but inherit — family, race, social roles, historical legacies of oppression, our bodies, the habits that are handed down to us by our common culture.

There’s no we. We are all monads who walk around with our own individual opinions about existence, meaning and the universe. Each person is a self-created choosing individual, pursuing individual desires. There is no sense that we are part of a common flow connecting the past, present and future; instead, each of us creates our own worldview anew.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Supreme Court, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–The Fourth Great Awakening

The competitive virtues of Athens are usually narrated in myth while the compassionate virtues of Jerusalem often get narrated in parable.

Myth is a specific kind of story. Myths are generally set in a timeless Perilous Realm. The Perilous Realm usually has different rules than the normal world. Creatures have different superpowers, like the ability to fly or throw shafts of lightning. And those rules are taken very seriously. Within the Perilous Realm everything that happens in myth is “true,” in the sense that everything obeys the rules of that other world.

Myths respond to our hunger to do something heroic. Whether it is Zeus, Thor, Luke Skywalker or Wonder Woman, myths trace the archetypal chapters of the heroic quest or combat: refusing the call, the meeting of the mentor, the ordeal, seizing the sword and so on.

The core drama is external: fighting the forces of evil, enduring the harsh journey, developing the skills that make you the best.

Parable is a different kind of story. Parables are usually set in normal time and reality. Parables have ordinary human characters, never superheroes. The word parable comes from the Greek word meaning comparison. Parables are meant to be relatable and didactic.

Parables respond to our deep hunger to be in close relationship. Parables — think of the good Samaritan, the emperor’s new clothes, the prodigal son or the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz — are mostly about inner states, not external combat. Characters are presented with a moral dilemma or a moral occasion, and the key question is whether they express charity, faithfulness, forgiveness, commitment and love.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture

More Food for Thought from GK Chesterton–Everything will be denied until even the obvious will need to be defended

From there:

Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

–Gilbert K. Chesterton, Heretics (London and New York:John Lane[The Bodley Head], 1905), pp. 304-305, my emphasis

Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Theology

(New Atlantis) Doug Sikkema–Taking a Careful look at the Modern disenchantment myth

That magic, religion, and superstition have all persisted up to the modern day does not quite demonstrate his claim that “we have never been disenchanted” — or, put another way, that “modernity signals a societal fissure” between religion and reason “that never occurred.” In his keenness to show that the idea of disenchantment is undermined by the persistence of both sides of the binary, he fails to examine a more interesting and arguably much more important line of inquiry: how this myth has altered the conditions in which both religion and science are now practiced. When we consider this, we see that despite the continued prevalence of enchanting beliefs and practices, we are indeed disenchanted in a more fundamental and pervasive way than Josephson-Storm recognizes.

Just recall his origin story for a moment and his blind spot becomes apparent. He deems pre-Revolutionary Europe to be merely a “historical moment” the Romantics were reacting against in their writings. In doing so “they were making grand themes out of the specifics of their local history.” But this reading fails to take seriously the broader cultural conditions in which such a political and philosophical climate even became possible. Might it have something to do with a broader notion of disenchantment, or “dis-God-ing” (to translate from Schiller’s “entgötterte Natur”), that transcended this particular place and time? If so, the German Romantics may have had real reason for concern, as may have the thinkers who built on their insights. Perhaps their understanding of history’s pattern as a linear alienation from God and nature was questionable, but the idea of a dis-godded condition becoming solidified in a theory of progress and in revolutionary politics, and of it manifesting in physical form in the new industrial world, was so terrifying to them precisely because they knew these things were greater than their particular historical moment.

The only way for the book’s argument to work, then, is to accept at face value the idea of disenchantment as the simple absence of religion and magic. But we are actually disenchanted in a much more profound way. Yes, religion and magic remain ubiquitous; but they are now performed against a backdrop in which disenchantment is regarded, in ways conscious and unconscious, as true. Disenchantment is the default position in the social imaginary, encoded in our language and in all manner of habits and practices that carry as if we inhabit a mechanistic world. It has become one of the myths we live by, even as we resist it.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Faiths, Philosophy, Religion & Culture

(TGC) Joe Carter–The Incel Movement and the Repugnant Logic of the Sexual Revolution

[The US Supreme Court 1965] Griswold [decision] was based on a negative right to privacy. But since then it has broadened to include new positive rights—such as the requirement of businesses to pay for abortifacients in their health-insurance plans and to use artistic talents to serve the “weddings” of same-sex couples.

Some sexual-rights advocates, such as bioethicist Jacob Appel, are now claiming a right even more expansive than the right to privacy: that “sexual pleasure is a fundamental right.” Based on this view, they argue for the inclusion of numerous new negative sexual rights, such as that women and girls have a right to sell their bodies for money.

Yet if sexual pleasure is fundamental, what happens to those who are unable to acquire it because of a lack of money or mate? We don’t deny people food or water because they can’t afford it, so why would deny them the “fundamental right” of sex?

The logic of sexual rights will compel, as Hanson noted, that sex may need to be redistributed using the power of the state. Hanson may be the “creepiest economist in America,” but he’s also able to follow the presuppositions of the sexual-rights advocates to their logical conclusion.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Canada, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Philosophy, Sexuality, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–The Loving Place in Italy for Children That Assumes Beauty

“Beauty educates,” said Serena, quoting Giussani. The children who come here often feel tossed aside. One used to be awakened by her mother with the words, “Get up, you piece of [expletive]. Breakfast is ready, you piece of [expletive].” But beautiful surroundings make the children who come here feel important, welcomed and cherished. If a toy breaks at Cometa, it is fixed right away. Likewise, every child is recoverable.

The people in Cometa don’t only treasure beauty, they assume it. In a world of distrust and betrayal, they assume there is beauty in each person and in every situation, so they lead with an almost unnerving level of hospitality.

The vocational high school curriculum is built around the idea that machines will soon be doing most physical tasks, but no machine will be able to create the feeling of a loving home. Whether they are being trained as waiters, carpenters, fabric designers or pastry chefs, students are taught to understand and create hospitable experiences. “Everything is a home,” said Mele. “Everything says, ‘Welcome to my home.’”

The idea is to give students the power to welcome others, born out of a sense that they have been welcomed. One of Giussani’s mottos resonates through Cometa: “Reality will not let you down.” You can take the radical leap, because life ultimately is beautiful.

This takes stubborn determination.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Italy, Philosophy

(1st Things) Wilfred McClay: Postmodern Times

[Gene] Veith, who is a Missouri Synod Lutheran (and Professor of English at Concordia University in Wisconsin), has produced in Postmodern Times a more refined and cautious, but no less suggestive, contribution to the Schaeffer tradition of theologically informed cultural analysis. Hence, although the book will certainly be of interest to scholars, its subtitle suggests a different audience: reflective Protestants who want to understand what the apparent collapse of modernism may mean for the culture, for the Church, and for themselves as Christians.

Veith’s answer to these concerns is optimistic, but very cautiously so. The modernist worldview, with its “totalized” enlightened faith in secular, rationalistic, naturalistic, materialistic, and demystified modes of explanation for all things, has by and large been the sworn enemy of Christian orthodoxy. So modernism’s slow but inexorable loss of authority at the hands of physicists, philosophers of science, literary theorists, and others would seem to be a welcome development. But Veith warns that the secular ideology of postmodernism will eventually be every bit as hostile to Christianity as modernism was, and perhaps more so. Why? Because Christians have one thing in common with modernists: both believe in the possibility of intelligible absolute truths. Therefore both are guilty, in the eyes of postmodernists, of the sin of “universal or totalizing discourse,” the distrust of which is the hallmark of postmodernism.

Read it all from 1994.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Multiculturalism, pluralism, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(1st Things) Thomas White–The Metaphysics of Democracy

What is needed today is a Catholic metaphysics of democracy. Cosmopolitan liberalism is inherently unstable, but so is the current Catholic response to it. The Church’s engagement of democracy as a positive good comes in two historical stages, each recent and limited in success. The first came after World War II: the demise of the totalitarian regimes and the advent of Christian democracy in Western Europe. It provided the cultural space and fueled the optimism that made the Second Vatican Council possible. We may be accustomed to thinking about the secularization that followed the council as a sign of its ineffectiveness, despite all good intentions. But things could have been much worse. The positive vision of Christian humanism that the council articulated was inspirational in Western Europe at a critical moment. The Church was able to develop a complex social doctrine in a democratic context just at the time that it mattered, in response to the rival system of totalitarian communism, which risked engulfing the larger political order of world history.

The second stage took place during the pontificate of John Paul II, first in direct confrontation with communism and, subsequently, in the wake of its defeat. Democratic market economies succeeded and communism crumbled, but the end of the Cold War was treated by many as a triumph of capitalism alone, not of the spirit. The Church found herself in a paradoxical situation. She advanced a system that now has no need to reference its own religious roots and is indifferent to them.

There was a time when the leaders of the Church could continue to promote democratic values as part of a strategy of forming the future of the modern West. That strategy has lost its force, and the Church now risks becoming a sociological ghetto, or worse, an archeological museum of ideas. Today it seems that three options remain….

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Theology

The Economist reviews Patrick Deneen’s new Book ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

Over the past four centuries liberalism has been so successful that it has driven all its opponents off the battlefield. Now it is disintegrating, destroyed by a mix of hubris and internal contradictions, according to Patrick Deneen, a professor of politics at the University of Notre Dame.

The gathering wreckage of liberalism’s twilight years can be seen all around, especially in America, Mr Deneen’s main focus. The founding tenets of the faith have been shattered. Equality of opportunity has produced a new meritocratic aristocracy that has all the aloofness of the old aristocracy with none of its sense of noblesse oblige. Democracy has degenerated into a theatre of the absurd. And technological advances are reducing ever more areas of work into meaningless drudgery. “The gap between liberalism’s claims about itself and the lived reality of the citizenry” is now so wide that “the lie can no longer be accepted,” Mr Deneen writes. What better proof of this than the vision of 1,000 private planes whisking their occupants to Davos to discuss the question of “creating a shared future in a fragmented world”?

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

Food for Thought from Patrick Deneen in 2014–The Coming Persecution

From there:

[Michael] Shermer lauds the liberal society being brought ever more fully into view under the liberal dominion as one of equality, liberty, prosperity, and peace. This is at the very least a willful misreading of the signs of the time. The society that comes ever more clearly into view is one that efficiently and ruthlessly sifts the “winners” from the “losers,” the strong from the weak. It has transformed nearly every human institution – from the family to the schools to the universities to the government – to assist in this enterprise. Modern liberalism congratulates itself on its liberation of disadvantaged minorities – so long as some of their number can join the side of the winners – but is content to ignore or apply guilt-assuaging band-aids to the devastation of life prospects experienced by the “losers.” Tyler Cowen has described this aborning world as one in which “average is over,” in which you will either be one of the 10-15% of the winners, or 85-90% of the losers destined to live in the equivalent of favelas in Texas where you will be provided an endless supply of free Internet porn. This is the end of history, if we follow the logic of liberalism.

So, since Shermer ends with a prediction, let me make one also. Those Christians and other religious believers who resist the spirit of the age will be persecuted – not by being thrown to lions in the Coliseum, but by judicial, administrative, and legal marginalization. They will lose many of the institutions that they built to help the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the disinherited. But finding themselves in the new imperium will call out new forms of living the Christian witness. They will live in the favelas, providing care for body and soul that cannot not be provided by either the state or the market. Like the early Church, they will live in a distinct way from the way of the empire, and their way of life will draw those who perhaps didn’t realize that this was what Christianity was, all along. When the liberal ideology collapses – as it will – the Church will remain, the gates of Hell not prevailing against it.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(TAC) Rod Dreher’s interview w/ Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen about his new book, ‘Why Liberalism Failed’

We can say, then, that liberalism is the political operating system of America. Our different parties are like “apps” that operate on that liberal operating system, reflecting its deepest commitments in what are most often its main political agendas: on the Right, the picture of the emancipated individual chooser that animates libertarian economics; and on the Left, the vision of the emancipated individual chooser that animates their libertarian “lifestyle” aspirations, particularly relating to sexuality and abortion.

You write that liberalism “has failed because it has succeeded.” Explain the paradox.

The aspiration of the liberated individual was always moderated by many other historical and cultural influences, especially – in the West – by orthodox forms of Christianity. For a long time, many people of good will understandably could be strong supporters and proponents of the official liberal political philosophy of the American order because of those moderating influences. However, I argue that those moderating influences have been eviscerated by the “success” of liberalism, by its coming fully into being. In this sense, it is an ideology that remakes society in its image – not in the violent manner of those competing and defeated ideologies of fascism and communism, but, rather, in most cases, through the invitation to regard individual liberty as the highest aspiration of the successful life. However, understanding its basic commitments, we can see ways that the liberal regime has certainly been extended through the powers of the state, including through such avenues as the HHS mandate as well as less obvious ways, such as transportation and housing policy, that moved most Americans out of communities and into suburbs.

I argue, then, that we see liberalism failing because it has succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” it becomes more immoderate and reveals the falseness of its anthropological assumptions. The breakdown of our political order as well as the loss of any kind of common culture and even civil comportment is, in a sense, the reflection of the successful artificial creation of a state of nature. We are now seeing the results of a 500-year experiment that aims at liberating the individual from social, religious and familial ties, now held together only by the belief that what we have in common is the fact that we are all rights-bearing individuals.

Read it all (2nd emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Books, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, History, Philosophy

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Truth emerges from disagreement and debate

Coming in to Broadcasting House this morning I saw for the first time the statue unveiled this week, of George Orwell, with its inscription on the wall behind, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” How badly we need that truth today.

I’ve been deeply troubled by what seems to me to be the assault on free speech taking place in British universities in the name of “safe space,” “trigger warnings,” and “micro-aggressions,” meaning any remark that someone might find offensive even if no offence is meant. So far has this gone that a month ago, students at an Oxford College banned the presence of a representative of the Christian Union on the grounds that some might find their presence alienating and offensive. Luckily the protest that followed led to the ban being swiftly overturned. But still …

I’m sure this entire movement has been undertaken for the highest of motives, to protect the feelings of the vulnerable, which I applaud, but you don’t achieve that by silencing dissenting views. A safe space is the exact opposite: a place where you give a respectful hearing to views opposed to your own, knowing that your views too will be listened to respectfully. That’s academic freedom and it’s essential to a free society.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Language, Philosophy

(CT) Stephen Backhouse reviews Alan Jacobs new book ‘How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds’

“As any wizard knows, to practice magic is to marshal the powers of the universe into a concentrated point. Spirits, forces of nature, and other humans are subjected to the magician’s wishes. If I practice magic, I am trying to bend reality to my will. Aleister Crowley, the magician dubbed the “wickedest man in the world,” famously summed up the occultist philosophy: “Do what thou will is the whole of the law.”

This might sound like the stuff of medieval fantasy, but a quick glance at our culture confirms that habits of magical thinking are stubbornly persistent. Wherever one finds groups and individuals intent on ramming an agenda through the system—perhaps by manipulating boardroom membership, stacking organizations with the “right” people, or enacting ideologically driven purges—one finds shades of black magic. We don’t call political lobbying the “dark arts” for nothing.
Petitions, protests, and popular rallies reveal our deeply ingrained belief that voices shouting loudly in unison can shape reality. In today’s climate, many of us crave clear battle lines between good and evil and abhor anyone who dares admit that complex problems don’t have simple answers. And heaven help any poor public figures foolish enough to sincerely change their minds.

All these trends have hampered our ability to think carefully, judiciously, and generously. As a professor and public intellectual, Jacobs is well aware of the difficulties posed not so much by a lack of thinking, but instead by the way we think. “For me,” he writes, “the fundamental problem we have may best be described as an orientation of the will.””

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Philosophy, Psychology