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Fragment on Revolution

I have said (in what is probably an appropriation but I’ve forgotten the source) that a plutocracy is an aristocracy of wealth. It is a society where, martial valor having once been the source of rulership, wealth is now substituted as the source of rulership.

It is vital, in understanding this comparison, to recall that aristocracy was fundamentally a military form of government. The latter-day salons of Paris before the Revolution teemed with aristocratic hipsters playing at radical politics; they would soon lose their heads. The true fathers of the aristocratic and feudal form of government, however, were altogether sterner and more intimidating men. Their claim to rule was that they were the only men capable of raising an army and leading it in battle. And when barbarians or the Jihad or your blood-feud neighbors came with fire and steel, most folks quickly remembered that the martial form of government isn't wholly worthless.

It was the French Revolution that dealt a death-blow to this form of government, not so much by its ringing Rights of Man theories, but because it activated the middle and even the lower classes like nothing before in history. The energy unleashed in the Revolution convulsed the world for 25 years and (briefly) made France master of Europe.

The common man was in arms, and his armies rolled over any feudal power that remained. (Incidentally, this is why, in my judgment, it is pretty silly as a matter of history to sneer at the French fighting man, given that the French fighting man’s innovations in military and political organization are such important facets of the modern world.)

So rulership by martial valor was superseded, as it were, by democracy. But not just democracy. Other factors were at work.

Capitalism also played a major role in undermining the feudal and aristocratic order by attenuating the connection between capital and property. Formerly the lords’ wealth rested primarily in their land and possessions, along with the rents and resources they could derive from the same. Industrialism and specialization and technology — in a word, capitalism — detached capital from this structure of political economy.

In the social realm the illumination of the middle and working classes to their power to shape and move events is another trend that tended to efface the old aristocracy of excellence.

But the impress of martial valor on the minds of men is not so easily extirpated. It has long been my sense that the image of the bold, ruthless, hard-charging businessman has inherited many of the trappings of the old aristocratic ethos. Ayn Rand most emphatically pushed this connection; her ideal capitalist was clearly a variation on the theme. John Galt is a symbol of the modern man of excellence who by rights should rule and above all self-rule.

America is the commercial republic par excellence. The vision of the Framers compassed a federal system where self-government would rest not on human quality or excellence but on interest and community. The spring of rulership would be consent, which perforce undercuts the claims of merit. Even the man of demonstrable excellence must stand for election, must submit to a public examination of his merits. And quite frequently the public estimate of merit diverges sharply from established traditions of nobility. No small number of successful American politicians has discovered very early on that, under conditions of democracy, dullness and insipidity appear as virtues not vices. There is no end to the frustration this dynamic produces in the thwarted man of excellence; every Republican President since the Second World War has been accused by his elite opponents of idiocy, to no avail.

It is clear that interest and affinity can adjust the emphasis and trajectory of the aristocratic ideal as it develops in any society. Some muddleheaded misfits would give us an aristocracy of poets and Bob Dylan fans; we call them hippies, but even these least industrious of men show some real industry in the art of thinking their ways are true ways and everyone else’s false.

In any case the point here is that the very act of creating society gives rise to a picture of excellence. The community crowns it. Part of what it means to be man is to reach toward excellence. That a martial ideal should degrade into a mercenary one should not surprise us. That a commercial one should succumb to plutocracy is no great prophesy. And the tide will sound and the waves will pound and the morning will be breaking.

But what constitutes this middle class which will form the core of any true regime of lawful equality, or put otherwise any democracy? Why, our Framers have given the answer (or at least an answer) to that: democracy works when it rests on a robust and rambunctious middle class of private enterprisers, whose very quarrels will deflect and hamper tyranny.

So this middle class, so long unseen in history, makes two bold and staggering appearances upon the stage, in America and in France. And the rocks on the sand will proudly stand, the hour that the ship comes in.

Consider Tocqueville’s judgment on what he calls “the particular spirit of the middle class” as it ascended to rulership in France:

The particular spirit of the middle class became the general spirit of the government; it ruled the latter’s foreign policy as well as affairs at home: an active, industrious spirit, often dishonourable, generally sober, occasionally reckless through vanity or egoism, but timid by temperament, moderate in all things, except in its love of ease and comfort, and wholly undistinguished. It was a spirit which, mingled with that of the people or of the aristocracy, can do wonders; but which, by itself, will never produce more than a government shorn of both virtue and greatness. Master of everything in a manner that no aristocracy had ever been or may ever hope to be, the middle class, when called upon to assume the government, took it up as a trade; it entrenched itself behind its power, and before long, in their egoism, each of its members thought much more of his private business than of public affairs, and of his personal enjoyment than of the greatness of the nation.

So there you go. I wrap up this tomfool sketch up by gesturing back to one of the true teachers of man in politike episteme. The world was alternately wracked by radical lunacy and reactionary folly; France flew back and forth between empire, republic, monarchy, even near-socialist state. Tocqueville’s testimony to history through all this was majestic prudence. Just look at that brilliant clause that centers the paragraph quoted above. Note its careful and concise appeal to the virtues of Mixed Regimes, Third Ways, general functional compromises.

We also know, of course, that Tocqueville produced an extraordinary record of the American accomplishment in channeling and encouraging natural independence of mind and enterprising affinity toward the restraint of lawless majority rule. Checks and balances. America was a Third Way between ancient regime and the Convention.

In an ironic contrast, Burke in his country was a wild radical half the time. He fulminates against the Empire and her agents actions in India, Ireland, and America; he suddenly turns against France when she appears to do just what the damnable Yankees had succeeded at. There is Burke, the old defender of Irish and American liberty, thought by some driven mad by his enmity toward the regicides in France.

Meanwhile, a generation later we have Tocqueville, born into the Napoleonic turmoil, whose statesmanship was always a course of wise moderation, whether empire or republic. Nor can you call him a trimmer, for his stances too were ridiculed and denied. Tocqueville was one lonely figure in his day. But it was always because his country was going wildly in one way or the other.

We can no more dismiss France when talking about democracy than we can dismiss plutocracy when we talk about America.

Comments (119)

Tocqueville’s testimony to history through all this was majestic prudence. Just look at that brilliant clause that centers the paragraph quoted above. Note its careful and concise appeal to the virtues of Mixed Regimes, Third Ways, general functional compromises.

On his last visit to England in the summer of 1857, Tocqueville was impressed by the political maturity that he found there and observed, "England is still the only country anywhere which can give the idea of the European ancien régime, reformed and perfected".

Here was what Tocqueville had been seeking all his life: a properly functioning aristocracy in a constitutional monarchy where the legislature of the kingdom is intrusted to three distinct powers entirely independent of each other. But he thought this happy state of affairs would not last much longer because of the great gulf between the rich and the poor.

Paul, while I like a lot of what you say here, I am not quite so sure about this:

The vision of the Framers compassed a federal system where self-government would rest not on human quality or excellence but on interest and community. The spring of rulership would be consent, which perforce undercuts the claims of merit.

Seems to me that this view was just one among several different theories for democratic rule. Others allowed for checks and balances between competing factions and "interests" not because of any great principle, but for purely pragmatic reasons: if men were angels, no government would be necessary, but since men are not angels, then those who have the reins better be held in check by others. Although Locke and Voltaire would perhaps rest rulership on pure consent, (and thus in the long run on will) others reacted against this in trying to forge a theory of government that gave consent a place but not the absolute first place of all.

If I recall correctly, some of the Founders spoke a great deal about electing excellence to office. Certainly the general view of Washington was not merely that he was a good general, but that he was a good man of noble character - an excellence not of birth but of personal character. Given the self-restraint he exercised while embroiled in high matters of state, there may be a lot of truth in that. That we should prefer (in this day) to elect "ordinary men" would be, under this view, a defect of a people even granting democracy, self-rule, and consent. (That we should fall to electing scoundrels that can only make a pretense of being "ordinary" and not extra-ordinary is the natural result of aiming too low to begin with.)

I'm a bit puzzled by this, Paul:

There is no end to the frustration this dynamic produces in the thwarted man of excellence; every Republican President since the Second World War has been accused by his elite opponents of idiocy, to no avail.

This sounds like it is implying that the (please, can we admit?) mean-spirited and often flatly wrong leftists who have called every Republican President since WWII "an idiot" are in actuality "thwarted men of excellence." Surely you don't mean that, do you?

I almost wish Wisconsin had a plutocracy. It would be better than a thugocracy of goldbricking public sector union thugs. Apparently, elections don't matter if it isn't the goons who win.

Lydia -- Too much subtlety on my part. "Thwarted man of excellence" was intend to carry a note of disdain. Let me therefore make it clear that I don't hold all claimants to the title "men of excellence" in high esteem. Far from it. Many have been and are frauds and mountebanks whose "nobility" begins and ends in the acquisition of their pleasure or ambition. And yes, anyone who questions the intelligence of the man who successfully commanded the D-Day invasion needs to rethink his estimate of intelligence. Nixon was a politician of many and crippling flaws, but dullness of mind was not one of them. Nor was Reagan anything approaching a dunce, amiable or otherwise; his mind had compassed at least two vital subjects -- Communism and America -- with more depth and perspicacity than 95% of his opponents.

Tony -- Agreed that many competing democratic theories were in the air, influencing America and her people. I had in mind the commercial republic design of The Federalist in particular, which relied on the clashing interests of various factions, above all commercial factions, to check the majoritarian tendency toward despotism. I also agree that there is a current of what Paul Elmer More called Natural Aristocracy running through the American tradition, exemplified by the austere greatness of Washington. But in America, unlike Europe, excellence could never make a binding claim of a right rule. Even the most excellent man has to be elected by the people; and often real excellence is as much a bar to popular office as it is a popular asset.

I will not feign to limn all of the matters hinted at in this post, but will only mention one thing, which seems both integrally related to the character of the American regime, and implicated in the present crisis of the regime (and yes, it is a crisis, not because Obama holds the executive office, as some on the right superficially imagine, but because the regnant ideology delegitimated itself in 2008, and shuffles onward in insentient obduracy). That one thing is simply the mixed character of the regime: excellence, or the pretense thereof, must submit itself to the bar of the electorate, which may or may not be interested in any form of excellence whatsoever. Now, there are two things in this one thing, namely, excellences and those who possess or pretend to them, and the evaluation of the same by the masses. Herein lieth the trouble for us, for our nation and culture have, in an outworking of the profound flaws of a commercial republic, a realization of its innermost perverted potentiality (ie., its departure from the mean), thrown up both degenerate understandings of excellence, and degenerate standards of evaluation. Our understandings of excellence are almost uniformly meritocratic and technocratic, best understood as mastery of discrete fields of knowledge, but mainly of the process of such mastery, and its application to social reality. Hence, we tend to valorize smart people, who aced their standardized tests, attended the finest universities, attained the requisite degrees and honours, and/or applied such techniques to commerce and reaped enormous fortunes. Masters of the Universe, in other words: Davos Man and his legions of hangers-on. On the other hand, as our society has lurched from crisis to crisis - overdetermined by antecedent ideological struggles - the masses have come to resent the pretensions and aspirations of such meritocrats/technocrats, positing instead the man, or woman, who 'just knows in his/her gut what's right' and is willing to Act. Against a meritocratic elite often veiling substantive judgments beneath a cloak of neutral expertise, we have ranged a surly mass denigrating expertise, positing an unmediated access to substantive truths. Note, please, that this is not purely a left vs right dynamic. Both sides of the aisle cloak substantive ends in the neutral garb of factual analysis and expertise, and both sides often appeal to simple instinct in order to marshal social support for such ends. I rather think the political left more open about some of its ends than the right, while the right is more open in its appeal to mass man, but that's neither here nor there.

Perhaps that all sounds too abstract, even pretentious, so allow me to put the matter thusly: the answer to the excesses of, say, Larry Summers, or Ben Bernanke, is not Sarah Palin. If the American people are now in full-throated rebellion against technocratic elites who have misgoverned the nation, it is no solution for that misgovernance to appeal to apparently simple, self-evident truths, be they moral or otherwise. There is no short-cut to knowledge, least of all in a complex society, and there are problems which necessitate deep technical understanding. Neither may technical understandings be divorced from hierarchies of social goods. It would seem, however, that we are determined to debate the question of what sort of society we are to be by oscillating between claims of expertise and claims of moral certitude, never achieving their synthesis in wisdom.

profound flaws of a commercial republic, a realization of its innermost perverted potentiality

Those are strong words of judgment, touching not merely on the recent rise of plutocracy but rather reaching back to the early years of the American Republic. Am I over-reading you here, or do I detect a more severe critique than we've ever seen before?

That business aside, Maximos, I am interested in your thoughts on the French-American contrast in democratic forms.

profound flaws of a commercial republic, a realization of its innermost perverted potentiality

Paul, I got the same sense you did. But I must say that Maximos is using your own expression "commercial republic". I never thought of the bulk of the Framers as thinking of the republic as such to be a commercial enterprise in its very essence. Certainly commercial interests were important in the range of factions and interests, but not all-subsuming, there were (and are, somewhat) religious, regional, and cultural factions that do not submit to commercial reduction. And to the extent America was commercial, she was so before the Constitution was written: Hamilton's Federalist #6 calls us a commercial republic, so that state of affairs had to precede 1787, so it was not the Constitution that formed it.

If Maximos means that the flaws of the American enterprise existed right from the beginning, I would agree with that: Americans, like all men, are born with original sin, and so any character or special feature we had (as is true of any public group) was capable of being perverted and turned toward evil. Yet that does not mean that the special character or feature we had was, ITSELF, evil. The fact that I can make an evil of disciplining my child does not mean disciplining my child is evil. I don't think that republicanism is intrinsically disordered as a form of government, and I have not seen the evidence that the American form of it was a model that could not but become degenerate and evil over time. The evil was the result of men choosing evilly, and imprudently, when other choices were available.

But in America, unlike Europe, excellence could never make a binding claim of a right rule.

But in Europe, it had been centuries and centuries since any kind of excellence (namely, in protecting the weak) had been the criterion by which the rulers were found - it had been by birth for tens of generations. And I don't know of anyone who (today) thinks that being born into a family makes one excellent in any of the ways that matter to ruling.

I wonder what would have happened if, in the beginning of the feudal system, the conferral of the honors of knighthoods and lordships and such were just not hereditary. Then _in each generation_ the rise of new excellence, exhibited by personal action, would have been the criterion for awarding titles of rulership.

Those are strong words of judgment, touching not merely on the recent rise of plutocracy but rather reaching back to the early years of the American Republic.

In response to both Tony and Paul, I would have to say the following: no, there is no necessity about the matter, no inexorable outworking of a perverted core; were that the case, then one would speak of destiny, and not potentiality. We have chosen to permit the perversion to realize itself, all the while mystifying this degeneration with various ideological fantasies; to the extent that the fantasies misrepresent reality, we may speak of false consciousness.

The critical distinction with which republicanism is concerned is that between private life/personal interests, on the one hand, and the public things - those concerning the entire society, and its right ordering - on the other. This is not the late modern distinction between private beliefs and public reason, though perhaps there is a zone of overlap between the two dualities. That is to say, those who exercise authority under republican forms exercise authority not on behalf of some factional interest, still less on behalf the private interests of powerful men, again mystified as collective, common goods. This is the ground of the tension in the American political tradition, a tension which has nearly resolved itself in our own time, in favour of essentially factional and private interests - plutocracy. A republic, to restate, concerns itself with public things, with the common good; in the realm of commerce, men concern themselves with their own private or factional goods, as best as they may calculate them. In a commercial republic, therefore, the form of government might be the balancing of these private goods, where the resultant balance is the public thing, the common good. This, however, is far from obvious; there is no necessary logic whereby a welter of competing factional/private goods somehow balance into a common good; one cannot say that any factitious balance just is the common good, let alone the Good - that would be positivist nonsense; neither can one say that the balancing process will necessarily, even probably, lead to the Good. There is always a possibility of a perverse balance, or a succession of them, where the public good is never realized, even touched. This is because the private and public goods at issue are not quantitatively distinguished, but qualitatively distinguished; the latter are not the aggregate of the former, in the same way that a higher aggregate GDP does not equate to the flourishing of the individual members of society. We could very easily have a nation of people flourishing according to their private, pecuniary conceptions of good, while public goods go utterly neglected. We could all prosper economically, while befouling the environment, or becoming unjust in the process, to take two examples.

There is an alchemical myth underlying much modern political thought, according to which the right social/economic system transmutes the individual strivings of its members, however base and selfish they may be, into collective good. Fable of the Bees, etc. The commercial republic is a bit like this, and always ran the risk - this was a potentiality, as I said above - of bringing the private/factional interests directly into the heart of the public things, confounding the two, and ultimately displacing the latter. Republicanism is not intrinsically disordered, provided that it is understood correctly; the Symbol of a strict republicanism would be the exclusion of private/factional interests from the halls of government: there would be no revolving doors, no lobbyists for such interests crafting legislation, and so forth. Stated differently, republicanism is resolutely anti-feudal - this would have been more obvious, and pressing, in early America, hence the opposition then to monarchy, titles of nobility, and so forth, and this despite the commercialism - in that political power is never held or exercised by private men acting in private or partially private capacities. Republicanism thus has a disciplined, austere, ascetic element at odds with the passions of commerce and pecuniary gain.

I might say that the commercial republic endeavours to straddle the difference between Aristotle's noble forms, aristocracy and the constitutional republic; a degree of common participation in political affairs is combined with an emphasis, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, on Great Men who have made names for themselves outside of the political realm. If these Great Men are men of commerce and stock-jobbing, it can easily happen that they suborn the representative processes of the republic to secure their private/factional ends, creating an oligarchy (plutocracy). There can be no question in 2011 that this has transpired in America; what remains is to analyze the history of the nation, and the concept of the commercial republic, to uncover the process of dissolution, grasp the inherent tensions in the society, and probe for possible remedies. We must be prepared, I believe, for the possibility that the 'commercial republic' is no longer viable, though it may once have been, or may at least have been a noble experiment; it may be that certain of our institutions and traditions, when combined with concentrated wealth, tend to yield plutocracy.

In a commercial republic, therefore, the form of government might be the balancing of these private goods, where the resultant balance is the public thing, the common good.

Ah, so that's what you mean by a "commercial republic." Yes, I see, then, that any given balance that happens to be achieved has at best only a passing or negligible reflection on the true common good.

I don't think, though, that in 1787 what we had was a commercial republic, not in this sense. There were far too many people, with far, far too many matters of interest that did not enter in to commerce. There were still thousands of pioneers living near subsistence level farming, where their commerce amounted to less than 10% of their livelihood. There were still too many people arriving from Europe for the factions to be fundamentally about commerce. Land itself was the primary entry into the world of politics, and land was not traded right readily in commerce, as are commodities. Seems to me that we became a commercial republic in the above sense, during the 1800s, where eventually well over half the population had work but no definite attachment to land, and who perforce became part of a commercial faction in order to have any political standing at all.

Which would mean that our descent into a commercial republic, and then such a commercial republic as to invite the very degeneracy you mention, was one of the possible workings out of the republican form that we started with.

It is striking how wrong the idea is that since modern life and populations are too large and too complicated for individuals to understand, that government must become more sophisticated and massive to control it. Tocqueville suspected exactly the opposite, and Hayek confirmed it. "The socialist mind can conceive of order only as the result of deliberate arrangement.The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. The astonishing fact revealed by economics and biology is that order generated without design can far outstrip plans men consciously contrive. To extend human cooperation beyond the limits of human awareness requires being governed not by shared purposes, but abstract rules of conduct."

The great Frenchman, taken out of order-
"When I stepped ashore in the United States, I discovered with amazement to what extent merit was common among the government but rare among the rulers. Men of moderate desire commit themselves to the twists and turns of politics...it often comes about that only those who feel inadequate in the conduct of their own business undertake to direct the fortunes of the state. It is not always the ability to choose men of merit which democracy lacks but the desire and inclination to do so.

What strikes the European traveler in the United States is the absence of what we call government or administration. In America, written laws exist, and one sees that they are executed daily; although everything is in motion the engine behind it is not visible. The hand which controls the social machine is nowhere on view. For Americans, the force behind the state is much less regulated, enlightened, or prudent but a hundred times greater than in Europe. It is no good looking at the United States for uniformity and permanence of attitude, minute attention to detail, or perfection of administrative procedures. What one does find is the picture of power, somewhat wild perhaps, but full of strength; life liable to accidents but also full of striving and activity. What is meant by a republic in the United States is the slow and quiet action of a society upon itself.

The overwhelming characteristic of public administration in the United States is its extraordinary decentralization. I have made the distinction between two types of centralization; the one called governmental, the other administrative. The first exists solely in America; the second is almost unknown (there). There is a high level of government centralization in the United states, but we have seen that no administrative centralization existed in the United States. Administrative centralization only serves to weaken those nations who submit to it, because it has the constant effect of diminishing their sense of civic pride. In the United States, the majority, which often has despotic tastes and instincts, still lacks the most developed tools of tyranny. If the direction American societies (took)...combined the right of total command with the capacity of total execution...freedom would soon be obliterated in the New World.

(Yikes)

Those who support centralization in Europe maintain that the government is better able to administer localities than they can themselves. That may be true when central government is.....accustomed to command and they to obey. One can, moreover, appreciate that with the increase of centralization, this dual tendency increases so that the capacity of the one and the incapacity of the other become more striking. It must not be forgotten that is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. Subjection in minor affairs...does not drive men to resistance, but it crossed them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own free will. In the United States it was never intended for a man in a free country to have the right to do anything he liked; rather, social duties were imposed upon him more numerous than anywhere else.How can liberty be upheld in great matters amongst a multitude which has not learned to make use of it in small ones? Where you see in France the government and in England a noble lord at the head of a great new initiative, in the United States you can count on finding an association. The only way opinions and ideas can be renewed, hearts enlarged, and human minds developed is through the reciprocal influence of men upon each other.

The principle objective of good government is to ensure the welfare of the people and not to establish a certain order at the heart of their misery. Centralization easily succeeds in imposing upon the external behavior of a man a certain uniformity which comes to be loved for itself without reference to its objectives. Centralization has no difficulty in...maintaining in society a sort of administrative lethargy which administrators usually call good order and public tranquility. The man who asks anything of freedom other than itself is born to be a slave.

What saddens me is, not that our society is democratic , but that the vices which we have inherited and acquired make it so difficult for us to obtain or to keep well-regulated liberty. And I know nothing so miserable as a democracy without liberty."


That business aside, Maximos, I am interested in your thoughts on the French-American contrast in democratic forms.

I am uncertain as to your meaning. I would say that the French system, whatever the specific forms assumed in successive republics, has conceived of a Democratic Idea impressing itself upon the matter of politics, an ideal which the political should incarnate, while the American system ostensibly 'took men as they are', as bearers of various interests, and therefore constructed a series of 'checks and balances' to trammel them. But what if the interest-bearing-and-pursuing conception of man, rooted in a passional understanding of human nature, was itself an Idea? It would then be in tension with the classical republican legacy, and the process I discuss above would unfold.

I'm not sure that this is what you're getting at.

It is striking how wrong the idea is that since modern life and populations are too large and too complicated for individuals to understand, that government must become more sophisticated and massive to control it.
Tocqueville suspected exactly the opposite, and Hayek confirmed it.

I learned from my father at a tender age that each increase in the complexity of an organized social system entails an increase in the tacit authority and power of (certain) parts of that system, and a potential increase in the frictions, tensions, and conflicts within that system, as interests and understandings diverge, and asymmetries of information arise. There is always, at a minimum, a potential requirement of greater regulation/regimentation/centralization necessitated, if the system as a whole is to remain functional towards its own ends. The modern corporation itself, even a fairly small one, is illustrative of this principle. Even prior to a level of complexity sufficient to raise the epistemic problem that occupied Hayek, it is necessary to have a degree of - gasp! - bureaucratic regimentation, to ensure the harmonious meshing of various interests in a small business. Any member of management at Jamar Technologies (family business founded by my father) can certainly grasp the entirety of the firm's operations, from sales and marketing to product development; yet the very distinction of divisions or functions grants them each a degree of autonomy in regular operation, thus, paradoxically, generating the necessity of routinization of functions, and regulation of their procedures and incidents, to ensure orientation towards the ends of both department and firm. Sales calls must be handled in a certain manner, both to garner information and to maintain the standards of the firm. Employees thus largely autonomous, day to day, must be prevented from whiling hours away on Facebook. Etc.

At the social level, this dynamic generates the need of regulation, to ensure, for example, that a sausage-maker does not dilute his meats with sawdust and rat droppings. The social level is also different, in that it has ends not given in and through the aggregation of discrete interests. Interestingly, the more culturally homogenous social democracies of Western Europe illustrate the point: they accept ends given to them by their cultures and traditions, ends that could not be realized by spontaneous processes of economic self-organization, and govern accordingly.

Given the foregoing, Hayek proved rather more than he and his followers have suspected. Yes, there are epistemic problems and limitations upon central planning; these limitations may also come into effect once a certain level of complexity is attained in any system, even absent central planning. However, these limits may be reached and surpassed even in non-governmental structures, such as investment banks, as when they generate complicated and occult financial instruments presupposing present and future facts about the underlying assets/trends they cannot possibly possess and understand. Examples of this would be the individual circumstances of mortgage holders, whose mortgages were bundled into a MBS, or the default correlation underlying a CDO, which posited a calculable relationship between two asset classes, implicitly presupposing the constancy of the underlying macroeconomy. If, therefore, high finance itself both encounters such epistemic limitations, and exploits them in order to profit (here, we have an illustration of divergent interests and information within a complex system - which is to say, the potential for authority and power to be misused), regulation becomes necessary in order to secure the ends of our society.


Given the foregoing, Hayek proved rather more than he and his followers have suspected. Yes, there are epistemic problems and limitations upon central planning; these limitations may also come into effect once a certain level of complexity is attained in any system, even absent central planning.

How interesting! If I understand what you are pointing to, these problems would remain in place even if we were to hypothesize reducing all corporations to small sizes, and all political states to city-state sizes, for example. For, if the complexity is taken OUT of the level of interactions within the (now smaller) enterprise or state, it will simply be added back in at the level of external interactions with exterior entities (over which you no longer have any direct control at all). The welter of interacting entities in the system will still regard just as many individuals. The common good that is the object of the state is not wholly and absolutely independent of the common good of other states, because the human family is one race, has one nature, one original ancestry, and one final end: you cannot carve out one state and think it can pursue its end in absolute isolation from humanity. And this ensures that the total complexity the state must deal with exceeds the limits Hayek found.

Maybe this just shows that we ought to be relying on God's wisdom instead of our own.

Hayek was never saying that central planning _brings up_ or _causes_ the relevant epistemic limitations. His whole point (and Friedman's) was that we shouldn't attempt central economic planning _because_ it is impossible for one human being (or committee or bureau) to know all the items of information necessary to run daily economic interactions (like making and selling pencils) well.

It scarcely follows that it's legitimate for private individuals to issue bizarre monetary instruments that take advantage of lack of knowledge in ways guaranteed to crash the entire system sans bailout. That seems like an entirely different question, and it's hardly fair to surmise Hayek's answer to it since, as far as I know, he was never asked it.

The Sarah Palin vs. Ben Bernanke thing seems to me like an irrelevant comparison. As far as I know, there has never been any assumption that the President or Vice President must be an economic expert, nor a military expert, nor any of a number of other types of expert that could be relevant to the President's or Vice President's decisions. If a candidate is such an expert from past training or experience, so much the better in that one limited area--unless, of course, one happens to think the school of thought in which he gained his training to be severely wrong-headed. (There are, after all, differences of opinion even among experts.) But it is no more fair to imply that people are racing foolishly to a non-expert Sarah Palin away from knowledgeable experts like Bernanke than to think of anyone else who votes for any candidate as being foolish. Were Palin to be elected President, she, like Obama, like Bush, and like every other President before, would have to pick experts on whose judgment to rely. One of the things we look for and hope for when voting for a President is that the person would be good at selecting advisers. We aren't electing a philosopher-king nor an omniscient demigod. That is, in fact, one of the reasons why it is entirely legitimate to point out, as critics of the present President have done, the sorts of people with whom a candidate surrounds himself and the sort of administration we can therefore expect.

I find it interesting that many followers of Hayek, while ever-vigilant against any manifestation of state centralization, do not seem to be anywhere near as concerned about corporate centralization. It would seem that the ostensible conservative should be suspicious of all centralization, reflecting as it does an unhealthy concentration of wealth and power.

For instance, the fact that four or five giant corporations control from farm to table 80% of what we eat, or that a few huge multinationals determine pretty much all that we see and hear in the media and in popular entertainment, should be somewhat disturbing to any true conservative.

Granted, corporate centralization does not have the coercive power of government on its side, but it does have what some have called "compelling" power -- power to limit our choices and steer them in directions which add to their coffers via social and cultural pressure. And with the ever-increasing threat of "state capitalism" (or "corporate socialism"?) the distinction between the two centralizations is ever harder to maintain.


A couple of quick comments:

1) Maximos,

Welcome back! Believe it or not, I'm in total agreement with this:

Given the foregoing, Hayek proved rather more than he and his followers have suspected. Yes, there are epistemic problems and limitations upon central planning; these limitations may also come into effect once a certain level of complexity is attained in any system, even absent central planning. However, these limits may be reached and surpassed even in non-governmental structures, such as investment banks, as when they generate complicated and occult financial instruments presupposing present and future facts about the underlying assets/trends they cannot possibly possess and understand.

Well said.

2) Paul,

I wonder if one of the keys to understanding the "French-American contrast in democratic forms" is religion. The French Revolution turned nasty quickly against the Church and against religion in general -- unmoored from faith the democratic mob was dangerous in France. In America a deeply pious people seemed to make better choices when in came time to choose our leaders and vote on legislation. I was just reading a book review of Kristol's posthumous collection of essays and I thought this section of the review, dealing with Kristol's discovery of Strauss' thought, relevant to this discussion:

The flimsy foundations of the liberal state horrified Strauss. When Western civilization embraced the unwavering rationalism of the Enlightenment, it also sowed the seeds of its own destruction. The West had eviscerated the basis for its moral code. It certainly was no longer grounded in religion--the rationalists had convinced a large swath of the public that divine revelation was a sham. These modern thinkers confidently justified social norms with logic and historical analysis. But Strauss worried that this type of thinking would devolve into relativism, leaving the liberal state defenseless in the face of challenges to its authority--just as it had in Germany.

You could also add "just as it had in France at the time of the Revolution" -- remember the Vendee or the revolution's "Cult of Reason".

Hayek was never saying that central planning _brings up_ or _causes_ the relevant epistemic limitations.

No, he didn't, and neither did I. The epistemic problem with central planning is pre-existing; it obtains prior to any actual attempt at central planning.

It scarcely follows that it's legitimate for private individuals to issue bizarre monetary instruments that take advantage of lack of knowledge in ways guaranteed to crash the entire system sans bailout. That seems like an entirely different question...

The point is that these 'private individuals' not only issued occult instruments to exploit informational asymmetries, but could not possibly possess the information required to make those instruments valid and trustworthy. They had to assume, presuppose, simplify, ignore, repress, just like any central planner. It's not that simply that they possessed knowledge that the buyers of their shite securities did not, and could not; it's that they had to assume away their own ignorance.

The Sarah Palin vs. Ben Bernanke thing seems to me like an irrelevant comparison.

The Sarah Palin comparison is relevant precisely because a swathe of the right has now taken up the banner of rebellion against technocratic elites; essays have been published, books have been written, and disseminated through the usual channels of distribution. An attempt is underway to identify the problems of technocracy with the Democratic Party and the political left, and the forces of aw-shucks-you-betcha-gut-instinct withe the political right. In your heart, you know she's right, and all of that sort of thing. (Not such an old trend, then, is it?) Someone who adopts the aw-shucks-you-betcha-gut-instinct pose, or perhaps literally incarnates it, is unlikely to appoint to key advisory positions competent and ethical technocrats, where such are called for. This is the lesson of GW Bush presidency, in which many positions of authority were filled by hacks and incompetents, notable only for their ideological fidelity and prowess in fundraising, while those possessed of actual competence were tasked with such things as faking intelligence reports on Iraq. In fine, we have seen this movie before. I don't expect candidates to be omniscient, or even semi-omniscient demigods; I merely expect them to respect knowledge, the life of the intellect, and the process by which knowledge is acquired - and thus, to know their own limitations, compensating for them in their staff hires. That is, I expect self-knowledge and humility in candidates. There is neither in Sarah Palin, only ideological certitude, utterly unearned, employed combatively. No thanks.

Fine, Maximos, when you find a humble candidate who respects knowledge and whose taste in expert advisers you think to be highly admirable, be sure to recommend him. He certainly isn't occupying the White House now, despite the fact that the current occupant and his surrounding acolytes despise the common man, Sarah Palin, and those who like her as much as, if not more than, you do.

a swathe of the right has now taken up the banner of rebellion against technocratic elites; essays have been published, books have been written, and disseminated through the usual channels of distribution. An attempt is underway to identify the problems of technocracy with the Democratic Party and the political left, and the forces of aw-shucks-you-betcha-gut-instinct withe the political right.

Maximos, I think you are right that there is such a trend. I also think that it is mostly a historical accident: the liberals happen to have controlled the universities, and therefore a great preponderance of the techno elites are liberals, and have been for at least 40 years. As a result, some conservatives associate being technically capable with being a part of the liberal establishment. (This might be exacerbated by a certain modest portion of the conservative movement choosing NOT to send kids to college because they are owned outright by the liberals, thus determining that conservatives will be not technically capable.)

While I don't think that it is fair to suppose that ALL of the voters who voted for Sarah Palin did so in order to thumb their noses at ability, (for one thing, there are a lot of people who vote for the name on the presidential side of the ticket and really don't pay much attention to the VP side), it surely is suggestive that (a) the media portrayed her as an elitophobe, and (b) that some of the people who voted specifically for her are also have elitophobic tendencies.

Speaking as a person in a 2-PhD family with expertise in technical subjects who also hangs around with a lot of Palin-supporting types, I have never sensed any idea that being technically able is itself suspect. My friends are looking for people whom they believe they can trust. They trust me and my husband because we combine knowledge of specific areas (such as philosophy and apologetics, and much more in my husband's case) with a religious worldview they believe is sufficiently similar to their own that we are not going to be a destructive influence on, say, their children.

Moreover, at the risk of sounding like an elitophobe, I'll say that there is something to be said for common sense not corrupted by the sheer nastiness and hatred of normalcy that characterizes much of the would-be elite of our own day. This is especially true in areas like ethics and nowhere more true than in the area of sex. And a little home-town wisdom from, say, Abe Lincoln to the effect that you can't stay out of trouble by spending more than you earn would not even hurt our economic experts--whether appointed by a Republican or by a Democratic President.

And a little home-town wisdom from, say, Abe Lincoln to the effect that you can't stay out of trouble by spending more than you earn would not even hurt our economic experts--whether appointed by a Republican or by a Democratic President.

The problem is that the plutocracy prevents any attempts to balance earnings and spending. Their only answer is always and forever slash taxes, no matter what the economic picture is like. According to a NYT article about GE paying zero federal taxes, despite a $5 billion domestic profit and $14 billion global profit, the percentage of federal tax revenue from corporate taxes has fallen from 30 percent in the mid 1950's to 6.6 percent today.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/business/economy/25tax.html?_r=2&hp

Fine, Maximos, when you find a humble candidate who respects knowledge and whose taste in expert advisers you think to be highly admirable, be sure to recommend him.

Seriously? I don't need to make a positive recommendation in order to justify my judgment that all existing candidates are unworthy of our historical moment. I put not my trust in princes, and practice an apophatic politics.

He certainly isn't occupying the White House now, despite the fact that the current occupant and his surrounding acolytes despise the common man, Sarah Palin, and those who like her as much as, if not more than, you do.

Of course he isn't. When have I suggested otherwise, that I might require this admonition? President Obama governs like a technically-competent GW Bush, albeit with a couple of culturally-left fillips. And what's with the 'despite'? Did I suggest that contempt for the ordinary is a marker for technical competence, or wisdom?

I also think that it is mostly a historical accident: the liberals happen to have controlled the universities, and therefore a great preponderance of the techno elites are liberals, and have been for at least 40 years.

All of these shifts are historical accidents. In the late nineteenth century, elite American universities were stuffed to the rafters with apologists for Gilded Age rapacity; in other words, they were stuffed with folks now lionized by some segments of the political right, either by name, or transitively, through the valorization of the ideology. The later shift of academia to the political left was overdetermined, of course, by everything from philosophy and scholarly technique to the very real failure of Gilded Age political economy in the Great Depression. Like it or not, it is the case both that historical traumas have ideological consequences, and that modern scholarly methodology resonates with the logics of a complex society. Complexity requires bureaucracy; bureaucracy requires technocracy; and technocracy, if it accepts that complexity, skews centre-left (at least).

This might be exacerbated by a certain modest portion of the conservative movement choosing NOT to send kids to college because they are owned outright by the liberals, thus determining that conservatives will be not technically capable.

I have never heard a leftist state the college is a waste of time, because so much time will be 'wasted' on the study of literature (if only!), as opposed to practical subjects. I have heard many a conservative voice such philistine complaints.

Moreover, at the risk of sounding like an elitophobe, I'll say that there is something to be said for common sense not corrupted by the sheer nastiness and hatred of normalcy that characterizes much of the would-be elite of our own day.

I'd take the common-sense I've heard of late a little more seriously, were it not often coupled with contempt for actual intellectual endeavour. I have spent 20 years of my life reading political philosophy, and while I won't profess to be the next Plato, I'll be damned if I'm going to yield to the untutored splutterings of some guy who just knows in his gut that policy X, which he fears and loathes, is SOSHULIZM! and must be opposed, when he cannot define a single term or concept in political thought correctly. An analogy might illustrate what I have in mind: if today's common-sense were more like the folk music of old, which often served as the foundation for classical music, that would be wonderful; too often, today's common-sense is like a bad audition for American Idol, a series of unmelodious gestures, infelicitously performed.

I understand the yearning of many ordinary folks for common-sense, at least on the subject of sexuality. Elsewhere, I shudder. Certainly, we cannot 'spend more than we take in' indefinitely; that much of common-sense is valid. Economists, most of them members of the dread caste of the credentialed technocracy, debate the details of this situation, particularly the timing of the transition to fiscal probity, and the means by which it might be effected. If common-sense means to short-circuit that discussion, or to beg the question of its outcome, then the devil may take it. I don't much care for technocrats veiling their substantive judgments beneath their expertise, and I'll not stand for common-sense being employed similarly.

...it surely is suggestive that (a) the media portrayed her as an elitophobe, and (b) that some of the people who voted specifically for her are also have elitophobic tendencies.

Ressentiment is now an unacknowledged vogue on the political right, with many folks quietly seething that their common-sense is not valorized as they imagine some technocratic, academic discourse to be valorized.

"while those possessed of actual competence were tasked with such things as faking intelligence reports on Iraq"

I knew it wouldn't be long before I would have to pull my hair out...I won't hijack Paul's combox thread to talk about Iraq, but that is an outrageous statement and slanderous to many good men.

I think Tony and Lydia are on to an important truth about today's elite -- they have been formed in Universities that are indeed hostile to much of what we all would consider good and normal and wise. That is another reason why Obama is so awful -- he not only is a part of the elite that is a problem but he surrounds himself with the same elite (very few of his advisors have had a career outside of academia or government).

The problem is that the plutocracy prevents any attempts to balance earnings and spending.

One of the many substantive judgments always veiled beneath both technocratic jargon and common-sense.

Their answer to all economic problems, that is.

Step2, I sympathize with your point. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a 'Publican say nutty things like "the purpose of government is to cut taxes" or some such. Just goofy.

But it would help to get your facts straight. The very first website I looked at (from Brookings) contradicts your numbers:

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/background/numbers/revenue.cfm

12% direct corporate income tax, and 36% payroll taxes. Of the payroll taxes, roughly 1/2 comes from companies, so figure 12%+18% = 30%. Gee, that's pretty close to the number you identified for 1950's. Note: a big share of the shift was (according to Brookings) a jump in payroll taxes due to Medicare, starting in 1965. The IRS website shows corporate income tax is just shy of 10% of total tax revenue.

The problem with attacking the corporate income tax rate is that the corporate income tax is, itself, a form of double taxation. The corporation pays tax on its profits, and then sends the rest of its profits off as dividends to shareholders, and then the shareholders pay income tax on those dividends as well. What about cutting out corporate income tax altogether, and simply taxing dividends at a flat 25% regardless of other personal income? (Of course, then the corporations would attempt to share out the profits through some other mechanism).

If corporations are persons according to the "Constitution", then they ought to be treated as real persons are under the tax code, namely, as taxed.

The double taxation claim has never impressed me, in that it focuses on what happens to some hypothetical same block of money, rather than the persons in connection with whom it happens. The corporation makes a profit and pays a tax; it passes some profits on as dividends, which are then taxed because they are income to the recipients.

Thanks Tony, that was a very helpful and informative link. Corporations aren't persons and it has been a train wreck (Galt pun) ever since they were granted the rights of persons, so I'll disagree about the double taxation thing.

...slanderous to many good men.
For the most part they were lies of omission but they were still very deceptive.
"Despite CIA technicians and weapon experts finding major flaws and inconsistencies with the designs and systems he asserted the military was developing, this information made it to the American government and although there were wide doubts and questions about the claimed informant's reliability and background, assertions attributed to Curveball claiming that Iraq was creating biological agents in mobile weapons laboratories to elude inspectors appeared in more than 112 United States government reports between January 2000 and September 2001."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curveball_%28informant%29

President Obama governs like a technically-competent GW Bush,

Oh, yah. That's why he's got everything going so smoothly around here. Color me unimpressed with his, or his advisers', alleged technical competence.

I understand the yearning of many ordinary folks for common-sense, at least on the subject of sexuality. Elsewhere, I shudder.

Really? Common sense is needed only in the area of sexuality, but elsewhere isn't something to be guided by and is something to be "shuddered" at? Perhaps this attitude might explain why your lowbrow friends and acquaintances (who, according to you, are to be mocked by a misspelling of "socialism") don't trust your judgment in political philosophy, Maximos, despite your twenty years spent reading it.

I have never heard a leftist state the college is a waste of time, because so much time will be 'wasted' on the study of literature (if only!), as opposed to practical subjects.

No, the leftists knew a trick worth two of that. They complained incessantly and loudly about the study of literature for its own sake as an apolitical, impractical discipline, because that would be to "privilege" this or that bit of the status quo (be it anti-feminism or capitalism or heteronormativity or Christianity or whatever) that they were opposed to. Hence, the study of literature as an apolitical and impractical discipline had to be destroyed. They've done a good job.

Please, Maximos, don't tell me about the wonderful elitism and love of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful on the left. I've watched them ruin all of that in the humanities. It's been a painful sight. It's those darned, supposedly knowledge-o-phobic, lit-hating conservatives who are paying good money to send their children to alternative colleges where something still remains of what these disciplines used to be.

Color me unimpressed with his, or his advisers', alleged technical competence.

They have been astonishingly competent, if their objective was to re-establish and strengthen the hegemony of high finance, while appearing to stabilize the economy and re-regulate Wall Street's Wild West. That they have managed to encourage an anemic recovery, while perpetuating the very structures causative of the Great Recession, is an amazing technocratic achievement. It's simply that my normative evaluation of this achievement is wholly negative.

Or consider the response to the BP oil disaster: there was no risible "Heckuva job, Brownie" moment; the well eventually got capped; and the enduring toxic legacy is ignored by everyone not suffering it. Brilliant! It was a trifecta: managing to appear firm with a negligent, criminal oil enterprise, while actually minimizing its liability and coddling the industry, and disappearing those enduring toxic legacies. Again, it's simply that my normative judgment of this is that it is evil.

Common sense is needed only in the area of sexuality, but elsewhere isn't something to be guided by and is something to be "shuddered" at?

Surprise, surprise! Common-sense is just as fallible as elitophilic immersion in recondite discourses! As I argued, I find a great many proclamations of "simple common-sense" to be normative claims disguised as factual claims, some of which are dubious, others of which are partial, at best. This is, more or less, what many technocrats and academics do, minus the learning, and the ressentiment.

I have no patience for private usages of terms and concepts possessed of public meanings. If one is going to indulge in such bespoke constructions, one ought to do as Eric Voegelin did, and originate a terminology for hitherto undescribed, untheorized phenomena, backing it all up with serious scholarship. Otherwise, it's just Alice in Wonderland.

No, the leftists knew a trick worth two of that.

All of them? I mean, I had philosophy and lit classes with leftist profs and, eccentricities aside, it was mostly about philosophy and literature. The lit prof did say that much of The Fairie Queene was impenetrable, but I don't think that counts as leftist subversion of the humanities. Look, I'm not entitled to state that all conservatives would raze the humanities to the earth and salt the fields, enthroning the eternal hegemony of b-school sophistry and calculation, along with some Chicago-school freshwater economics,

because it's factually untrue: some conservatives do care for the study of literature for its own sake. I only wish that they'd denounce the philistinism of their conservative compatriots, and assail the tendency of some conservatives to make economics the measure of all things.

All of them? I mean, I had philosophy and lit classes with leftist profs and, eccentricities aside, it was mostly about philosophy and literature. The lit prof did say that much of The Fairie Queene was impenetrable, but I don't think that counts as leftist subversion of the humanities.

Those professors, even if they haven't actually joined (and many have) are the stuff of which the membership of the National Association of Scholars is made. This is especially true in secular universities. And let me tell you: They are often excoriated by their fellow leftists as "conservatives." I have seen it again and again. "Academic conservative" is spoken of as if it's the same thing as "political conservative," or as if it renders aid and comfort to political conservatism, and the accusation is used as a bludgeon. Often, it works. The allegedly "conservative" professor will start including sections on postmodern nonsense, feminist readings, and the like in his courses to prove his liberal credentials. If he doesn't go that far, he will be cowed into voting with the kook-ball more-leftist-than-thou faction in his department for some new kook-ball colleague. Always? No, not always. But often enough that I think I'm entitled to say that leftism, not right-wing anti-intellectualism, has been *the bane* of excellence in the humanities and that those who continue to be, say, economic leftists while being academic "conservatives" have paid a price and have had to have extremely stiff spines to stand up to the other leftists and not participate in the destruction. For young scholars who don't yet have a job or don't yet have tenure, it's even harder.

Anti-intellectuals, whether left or right, we will have always with us. If a young person catches--from a teacher somewhere--a real spark of a love of some great intellectual endeavor, he will pursue it, even if only in his free time. He won't be dissuaded by mere, garden-variety anti-intellectualism. (There are non-garden varieties, like gang members telling you that you are "too white" if you're too much into academics.)

It is the leftists who have destroyed and befouled the springs of learning themselves, thus giving the bright young person who falls in love with literature virtually no place to go.

As for me, I'd rather, far rather, deal with plain or garden anti-intellectualism of the "literature isn't practical" variety.

If corporations are persons according to the "Constitution", then they ought to be treated as real persons are under the tax code, namely, as taxed.

But corporations ARE NOT persons according to the Constitution. It is only under state law that they are treated as such, and each state is different about which privileges of "person" are granted to corporations, certainly not ALL privileges of personhood. Federal law levies taxes on "individuals" when it wants to tax human being persons, and taxes corporations specifically named as such, not "persons". So federal tax law doesn't really care whether corporations are considered "persons" under state law or not, it just doesn't matter. That concept doesn't really fly all that well.

I would have no problem with taxing corporate profits 2 or 3 or 5 times if, overall, that made sense to the community. In a certain sense, we tax income at least 3 times: once as income tax, once as sales tax, and once as real estate tax: for 98% of people, for 98% of what they pay in tax, they pay it out of regular income. So the mere fact of it being "double" is not the critical issue. What matters is the effect of levying a tax twice given where that wealth is coming from and where it is going to. It is partly a technical issue, and according to the technicalities, there appear to be certain drawbacks to the community in treating corporate profits as distinct from personal dividends for taxing purposes. I would admit that I don't pretend to be a technical expert to understand the FULL argument. But it is impossible to refute those technical arguments without getting into the technicalities. No general principle refutes them. As is also true of the rate of tax, whether on individuals or corporations: you cannot say whether an increase or decrease is good by any general principle that applies always and everywhere.

This is the lesson of GW Bush presidency, in which many positions of authority were filled by hacks and incompetents, notable only for their ideological fidelity and prowess in fundraising, while those possessed of actual competence were tasked with such things as faking intelligence reports on Iraq.

claiming that Iraq was creating biological agents in mobile weapons laboratories to elude inspectors appeared in more than 112 United States government reports between January 2000 and September 2001

Good golly, can we PLEASE not have this argument again? Step2, let's suppose you are right. I have no evidence to refute it at my fingertips. But this means that for almost 13 months out of those 21, the people in the Clinton Administration were "tasked with such things as faking intelligence reports

, while for 8 months those in the Bush administration were doing it. Since at least 1/2 of those putting forth those reports were not political appointees, probably around 3/4 of the reports were done by people whose jobs either started under Clinton or ran for 8 years under Clinton and had not been run out of the government as incompetent hacks. SO: it MAKES NO SENSE to distinguish George Bush's administration for these reports, as if he was somehow especially responsible for the incompetence and "ideological fidelity". Clinton must be accused of it if either president is, Bush cannot be singled out. Which means that, if it exists, it is not strictly a left-right thing, or a liberal-conservative thing. As I say, there is no need to settle whether Bush started an unnecessary war in THIS debate, it is irrelevant.

An analogy might illustrate what I have in mind: if today's common-sense were more like the folk music of old, which often served as the foundation for classical music, that would be wonderful; too often, today's common-sense is like a bad audition for American Idol, a series of unmelodious gestures, infelicitously performed.

Excellent analogy, Maximos. But you cast the net too short in limiting it to "today's common sense." This has been true for many, many decades, probably for as long as we have had legislatures and parliaments and congresses, and perhaps, even the Roman senate. The problem with common sense is that it is so uncommon. Or rather, the problem is that it is impossible, without true wisdom or true prudence, to know which of several different themes from common sense ought to trump the others in a given situation. That's a problem as old as government itself. I am sure that Pharaoh had to deal with the issue when trying to balance building more boats, more chariots, more bricks, pay attention to schools for trades, draft more military, set aside more grain for next year's planting, etc.

Those on the right-ish side of things (and I decline to call them conservatives) did of course help the degeneration of the universities by allowing, or even demanding, degrees that focussed almost solely on skills for science and trades - happened a lot in the 50's to 70's. I am afraid that these mistaken emphases were, however, a reaction from the already deplorable state of the liberal institutions, which had proclaimed modernist victory over the ancien regime of the classical university on one fundamental principle (at least): that truth matters. Since, by the 1950's, you could no longer count on a university teaching as if truth mattered, then you might as well get a good profession out of it, that at least has a kind of "truth" that will carry over outside of the classroom for the average student.

I hardly think that any ideological liberties that may have been employed in setting the educational standards in the 1800's was even remotely as damaging to truth as modernism was.

Did I suggest that contempt for the ordinary is a marker for technical competence, or wisdom?

You did not suggest it, Maximos, but let me suggest to you that there is a strong strain of this attitude among the cultural elites of this country. Just look at Hollywood or Boardway's depiction of things like the normal family, community traditions, religion, military honor, the innocence of children, etc. We've had several generations of unremitting contempt for the ordinary. Soldiers as bigots or madmen; ministers as scoundrels; fathers as nincompoops; girls as sluts; liberty conflated with sexual license, honor and duty with the instruments of tyranny; derangement with creativity.

As Chesterton put it (a century ago, so all this in hardly new), given the moral degeneracy of the arts and high culture, any defense of virtue today has all the exhilaration of vice.

Jeff Singer -- I agree that the difference between the French and American Revolutions on the matter of religion is a major factor.

All right, I'm typing this comment from my iPhone, with the aid of a bluetooth keyboard, and so will not be copying the remarks to which I'm responding - it's entirely possible to copy them, but inconvenient in the circumstances. I hops that anyone reading will have no difficulty discerning what, and to whom, I'm responding.

As regards the tenuous positions of academics dedicated to their disciplines qua disciplines, without regard to their own personal political convictions, I have no doubt that some of them are subject to such ideological pressures. I suspect that the problem may be overstated, whereas it was not during the nineties, inasmuch as postmodernism is falling out of vogue, and many academics, even avowed leftists, are critiquing the 'small, anti-scholarly narratives' of the postmodernists. I have a spate of books by Terry Eagleton which do precisely that. League of Ordinary Gentlemen contributor Rufus recently wrote an excellent series of posts on the relationship of conservatives with academia, making essentially the same point - that the problem is overstated in some respects.

My objective is not to diminish what problems actually remain in the academy, assuming we are describing them accurately; rather, my objective is twofold: to point out the dangers to those disciplines of a contrary, right wing politicization (this is my problem with David Horowitz, et al), and to excoriate the rampant anti-intellectualism on the popular right. Conservatives, especially conservatives who respect the disciplines qua the disciplines, must enunciate precise and nuanced critiques, so as to support the labours of those who are preserving true scholarship in those small alternative universities, and to avoid giving aid and comfort to the philistines who don't care about the disciplines at all. The conservative vulgarians may oppose the 'left-wing' academy, but that doesn't make them allies in the struggle for standards in literary theory, etc. The enemy of your enemy is not your friend on that subject. The philistines will play into a contrary politicization that no one needs, and will aid and abet the folks who just don't believe in the humanities, who really do believe that economics is all that matters. These latter are the dominant effect power on the political right, like it or not. Please, please do not aid them, indirectly or not.

Tony, I'm congnizant of the differences in state-level regulations of 'corporate personhood', or rather, the fact of it. The import of my comment was different. The SCOTUS just validated a line of Supreme Court decisions going all the way back to the Scandal of Santa Clara, in removing corporations from the restraints of campaign finance law. Hence, my point is this: if corporations are going to be accorded any COnstitutional shelters of personhood, they must not simultaneously be exempt, at the Federal level, from any of the financial burdens of that 'protection'. They must not become, effectively, vast shelters of untaxed wealth which is then plowed into the purchase of all manner of subsidies, tax expenditures, subventions, favouratisms, and so forth. Given the changes in our political economy over the past 40 years, which have included changes in corporate governance, compensation, labour policy, trade policy, tax policy, and so forth, corporate immunity from taxation will enable a further un-balancing of the economy, with increasing returns to capital, and decreasing returns to labour, by increasing the pools of profits available to corporate principals. That money will not go to workers, as there is no mechanism to incentivize this; it will go to management, boards, shareholders, and to their lobbying and influence-buying operations. IN an age where globalization and finance capitalism are failing the nation, we simply cannot afford this. I know you all think I'm indulging in hyperbole or leftist cant, but a republic, such as we were, cannot survive this sort of imbalance. We've known this at least since Aristotle.

I'm not arguing that the technical, quantitative analysis of inefficiencies resulting from corporate taxation is wrong. Economists debate that stuff ceaselessly, in much the same way that they debate the payroll tax, the pass-through effect of corporate taxation generally, and much else. All Im arguing, per my above comments, is that the outcome of those technical analyses, assuming we're confident in it, is merely one data point. If corporate taxation is inefficient in some way, which we can quantify, that's fine, and I won't deny the discrete point. But that inefficiency is just one factor among many which must be considered in the formulation of policy and law. Political judgment must balance competing goods, rankings of goods, and efficiencies, in order to make effective policy. IN other words, the technical analysis does not yield a substantive good, but tells us something impinging on substantive goods, and how we go about achieving them. It is entirely possible - probable - that corporate taxation is inefficient in some way, and that this inefficiency creates some negative incentives, or impinges upon substantive goods we value; it might also anchor substantive goods we value, and make possible other technical economic ends we desire. Succinctly stated, efficiency, and the avoidance of its contrary, are not the sole ends of policy, and cannot be, least of all for the conservative.

As for Iraq, I'm not going to say much more on the subject, save that selective reporting of intelligence - cherry-picking the negativve stuff, even when dubious - is a form of deceit. Furthermore, that it was done is successive administrations is no problem for my position, since I'm the one around these parts who sees substantial continuity in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Clinton did it; Bush did it; I;m sure Obama is fudging something.

I would say that the conservative denigration of the humanities, and the valorization of technical trades and business, was integrally related to something I've written about previously, namely, the increasing ideologization of the American right during the long struggle of the Cold War, it's tendency to forget critiques and qualifications of capitalism, elevating capitalism and The Private Sector, to totems in opposition to the left. It is important to remember that an earlier generation of conservatives deplore=d bourgeois philistinism, as opposed to the great traditions of the West - well, that bourgeois philistinism is one reason the humanities ever went left in the first place. When the bourgeois masses dumbed down high culture, conservatives and lefties both recoiled, but had different responses. The left thought, for a long time, that socialism would lead to an efflorescence of culture.

Common-sense, as you're using the term, seems to mean wisdom. I'm using the term differently, to refer to those folk nostrums that everyone "just knows". Wisdom is always in short supply, while ideological illusions, veiled under technocratic pronouncements, "common-sense", or whatever, are always in abundance.

We'll have to agree to disagree in regards to the laissez-faire ideologues of the late ninetieth century. I happen to believe LF incalculably destructive of traditional, rooted society, not to mention the cultural ideals and standards once part of traditional society; LF abetted crass materialism, and begot those conservative vulgarians who denigrated the humanities, in favour of technique and business.

As for modernism, we need to be precise. Eliot was a modernist in poetic technique, not so much in culture and religion.

Yes, there is a strong strain of the denigration of the normal, at least in some elite circles. I'm dubious that that can be pinned exclusively on the left, as I've hinted above.

If the problem in the humanities is overstated, perhaps the League of Ordinary Gentlemen will explain to me why my friends cannot send their children to take an introductory literature course at the local community college without encountering one or more of the following: The requirement to watch in class and/or write reviews of highly objectionable, R-rated movies; a requirement to write about "your first sexual experience"; an insistence that two boys hold hands in class while the teacher smirks over them and asks if it makes them "uncomfortable" (this is English literature?). And of course let's never forget the requirement to use gender-neutral language. I suppose in comparison with having to watch or read vile material, that seems like small beer, but it sure isn't going away any time soon. Oh, and then there was the AP English high school course in Illinois just a very few years ago that required students to read homosexual p*rn*graphy. Not long back I pulled up an anthology of "student-chosen" literary selections used all over the country in English composition courses. It was trash in every sense of the word.

No, the problem is not overstated. Leftists control the engines of culture. They have taken them over deliberately. And what they have done with them is not pretty. Don't even get me started on the "youth" section at your local public library.

In this context, the job of those of us who want to convince parents that education in arts and literature is worthwhile is made immeasurably more difficult, simply because it's almost impossible to tell them how and where their children can even get the education we want to advertise.

I'm unclear as to how these anecdotes are supposed to invalidate the experience of an academic historian.

Conservative critics of academia would have more credibility with me, were they to expand their list of explanations beyond 'leftists thinking bad thoughts and conveying them to students.' Culture is not some autonomous phenomenon, floating above the hurly-burly of everyday social, political, and economic life, even though it is no mere epiphenomenon of these things. In other words, conservatism must rediscover the critique of (certain forms or aspects of) modernity, mass man, and commodification, of socio-economic processes which incentivize certain cultural trends. Absent this, conservative culture-critique, and its kulturkampf, will be naught but irritable mental gestures, bidding men to be virtuous, even as they scour away the preconditions of virtue.

Good golly, can we PLEASE not have this argument again?

I was actually hoping to get Singer to write a post about it over at his own blog. If Clinton had taken us to war based on the premise of WMD, the chances that conservatives would defend his honesty and integrity if those claims turned out to be false is about halfway between zero and negative infinity.

I wonder why Maximos would quote Lionel Trilling about irritable mental gestures, which I think was his sneer at Russell Kirk, given that Trilling was among that early wave of New Deal social democrats who signed on, as neoconservatives, to the right-ward shift from the 60s to the 90s.

Neoconservatism was not Kirkean traditionalism, for one thing, as I've argued on this very website. Moreover, bidding men and women to manifest virtue, even as one advocates striking them with every policy stick in the arsenal, is an irritable mental gesture: one detests what people do, even though their doing it is conditioned by policies one advocates; rather than alter the policies, one blames them all the more for being wicked and depraved. It is the bitterness of those who marvel that others do not conform to their dreams. I'm am just old enough to remember leftists casting off the working classes, on account of their reactionary cultural tendencies, their failure to become the Proletariat. Pity that the right now mirrors this impulse, blaming people rendered increasingly insecure by global capitalism for not being good bourgeois.

Conservative critics of academia would have more credibility with me, were they to expand their list of explanations beyond 'leftists thinking bad thoughts and conveying them to students.' Culture is not some autonomous phenomenon, floating above the hurly-burly of everyday social, political, and economic life, even though it is no mere epiphenomenon of these things. In other words, conservatism must rediscover the critique of (certain forms or aspects of) modernity, mass man, and commodification, of socio-economic processes which incentivize certain cultural trends.

I follow, Maximos. Agree with your View Of Everything Including Economics or don't bother to point out that sexual deviants and their fellow leftist haters of all that is normal, fired up by hopes of political godhood to be attained by means of the Long March through the Institutions have, in fact, accomplished the Long March through the Institutions and left them in rubble. Don't bother to point it out, because you won't listen and aren't interested, because you won't consider it "nuanced" enough.

I'll bear that in mind.

Seriously?

There are impeccably rightist sources for all of my complaints about political economy, and its effect on culture; one needn't delve into the leftist stuff at all in order to grasp that man, as a composite being, is influenced in his cultural and spiritual endeavours by material circumstances and influences.

The entire ethos of biggerbetterfastermore, the sickening cultural Calvinist valorization of wealth, the belief that the wealthy are uniquely entitled, the excessive individualism of American economy, have nothing to do with the liberation of passion from all rational restraints? Seriously? Y'all need to read some old-school ascetic literature on the psychology and spirituality of the passions, the wellsprings of the vices, and how they all fit together, and grow organically out of one another. It is Lent, after all. As things stand, I really wonder about the religious orthodoxy of the right. I know where most of the left stands: heterodox, at best. All of that socio-economic stuff is in the Scriptures and in the Tradition, just like the stuff about sex and chastity. Now I've got to separate them, just because some leftists are really perverted?

*Irony alert*

"I'm typing this comment from my iPhone, with the aid of a bluetooth keyboard..."

How come our harshest critic of modernity and capitalism seems to love its products? My wife and I reluctantly got cell phones because we could no longer deny their utility -- but we still resist their insidious pull (we just buy minutes on cheap, basic "Trac Phones").

Anyway, it does seem strange that everything comes down to economics for Maximos -- as if Marx and gang were right -- people are mindless pawns who cannot resist the orders they get from 'economic forces' which force them to be degenerate slobs or spend too much money than they earn or father kids out of wedlock or study this kind of nonsense at Northwestern:

http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/lower-education_554092.html

God bless Joseph Epstein and Lydia McGrew for standing up for what's right and not waiting for some sort of 'economic signal' to tell them to do the right thing.

Actually, in one of my most recent comments, I denied that everything was about economics, arguing that the economic and the cultural are related. Go on and look, it's right there. The depth is in the surface, folks.

Do you all believe in the Christian anthropology, or are you Gnostics? No wonder I spent six months listening to music and drinking beer, instead of blogging.

No, Maximos, it has to do with the fact that I know that the left did this deliberately and openly. The feminists (for one) brag about it. It's not like they were exactly subtle. Yet you come along and try to say that somehow, the people who *said they were ruining the academy for their own ideological ends* and have *succeeded in ruining the academy for their own ideological ends* aren't really to be taken at their word and blamed for what they did openly, with much fanfare, in the light of day, because of something or other to do with economics and modernity which you think allows you to smear around the blame to include anti-intellectual right-wing Sara Palin-supporting types. I'm just not impressed. At all.

This is the trouble with most conservatism: in its imaginary, History, the story of Everything Going Wrong, began in the sixties, with the Long March of leftist radicals through the academy. The liberationist mindset was a surd element, unconnected with anything at all in external reality, save for bad leftist books and ideas, which apparently emerged from the Nothing at some point in time. No true conservative ever critiqued mass commodity culture, a product of impeccably economic and capitalist motives; it was all leftist cant, even when those uttering it thought themselves conservative, even reactionary.

The attempt to exculpate economic, structural, long-range secular trends is unserious. Meh.

"The entire ethos of biggerbetterfastermore, the sickening cultural Calvinist valorization of wealth, the belief that the wealthy are uniquely entitled, the excessive individualism of American economy, have nothing to do with the liberation of passion from all rational restraints? Seriously? Y'all need to read some old-school ascetic literature on the psychology and spirituality of the passions, the wellsprings of the vices, and how they all fit together, and grow organically out of one another. It is Lent, after all. As things stand, I really wonder about the religious orthodoxy of the right. I know where most of the left stands: heterodox, at best. All of that socio-economic stuff is in the Scriptures and in the Tradition, just like the stuff about sex and chastity. Now I've got to separate them, just because some leftists are really perverted?"

That paragraph is the bomb, Max. I've been thinking about this a lot myself and will attempt to draw it even more starkly: Americanism is largely rooted in Protestantism, and Protestants, for the most part, simply do not get asceticism. Thus in a very real sense American-style individualism and anything smacking of asceticism are fundamentally at odds. (Frankly, I don't get why some traditional Catholics are market-worshippers, but that's for their fellow RC's to hash out.) The notion of self-imposed limits is seen as vaguely un-American. The Christian Left is seen (rightly, imo) as appalling, but we seem to have absolutely no problem with Robb Report Christianity, which, if we wish to take Scripture and the Tradition seriously, we must find equally appalling.

"Actually, in one of my most recent comments, I denied that everything was about economics, arguing that the economic and the cultural are related."

Exactly, as many of us who are on the same page have argued ad nauseum. The reason the marketeers state that with you "everything comes down to economics" is the same reason the liberals look at conservative Christians and say "it's all about sex with you people." To the Left, sex is the noli me tangere issue; to the Right, economics unfortunately serves as its counterpart. As someone has said, it's the Zipper party and the Wallet party.


Maximos, the people who have done this to the institutions and to the disciplines have done it deliberately, willfully, openly, and triumphantly for their own evil ideological motives. I am their enemy, and they are my enemies. I refuse to blather about economic contexts in a sophistical attempt to obscure this stark fact. Have fun doing so yourself. Meh, indeed, though "faugh" would better express my opinion of such nonsense.

And Rob G., the writer of "the bomb" would, if he didn't think you his friend and happened to feel so inclined, be fully able to whip up a pretty story about how the feminists you so admirably and manfully defy and taunt on the other thread are products of their socioeconomic context and hence products of the Right, etc., etc., etc., rather than being the enemies, possessing free will and open intentions, you see them to be. You might want to watch what you admire.

Lydia, I do not think that's where Max is at all. He is not, to my mind, ignoring the depredations of the cultural Left or reducing them to socioeconomic manifestations. I think his point is, in a nutshell, to try to get the Right to see that the consumerism and commodification inherent in American capitalism has played a large part in the degradation of our culture, and that such degradation cannot be blamed wholly on the Left. I may be wrong, and/or that might be a huge oversimplification, but that's the way I'm reading it. And if I am off-base with that micro-summary, I hope he corrects me!

Is moral and cultural rot caused by economic rot, or is it the other way around? Probably, it's all of a piece: on that point I think Maximos is correct. But it can't be true that non-economic morality is impossible to reform until economics is reformed; that we can't address, let's say, the evils of feminism or Islam without first addressing finance capitalism. This may be more of a chicken and egg problem than a horse and cart problem, but if we must go with the latter metaphor: culture is the horse, and economics is the cart.

As someone has said, it's the Zipper party and the Wallet party.

That made me laugh. Anyway, you are spot on about the asceticism thing. That plus Tony's comment above about the Pharaoh reminded me of a music video that shows the Modern World as temptation away from (Simeon Stylites) asceticism:
http://video.yahoo.com/watch/2300548/v2157565

On a more serious note, Walker Percy always has an interesting contribution for anthropological discussions about the modern predicament.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Message_in_the_Bottle

I got hot off the press today my Spring 2011 copy of Intercollegiate Review. I recommend the opening article, "Liberal Learning Confronts the Composition Despots," by R.V. Young. He reviews an insane book called Composition, Sexuality, Pedagogy by Jonathan Alexander, copyright 2008. Not old stuff. Not going away. Not dying out. Not getting better. And utterly destroying thought, education, and basic literacy in the young. It exemplifies the utter insanity of the modern university as driven by ideologues who care nothing whatsoever for their students' education but only for turning them into ideologue droids. Indeed, for that purpose, making sure that they think and write shallowly and indeed are very nearly illiterate is quite useful.

Here's just one telling sentence:

It is difficult to imagine a more effective means of manufacturing followers of demagoguery than by setting ignorant young men and women to the task of babbling about the sexual significance of "boy bands" and then calling it liberal education.

Or this,

Apart from these students' obliviousness to the traditional stylistic standards of written English, what is most striking about the comments of these student "posters" is the mind-numbing banality and sheer vulgarity of what they say.

If the article has a limitation, it lies in the fact that Young is so concerned (and rightly so) to make sure that his readers do not feel outrage _only_ at Alexander's content, that they also see the evil of Alexander's method (which is indeed wicked), that he sometimes overstates the case to the effect that the content is less of a problem than the method. In reality, it is all of a piece. It is not a coincidence that Alexander's method involves the attempt to get young people to babble incessantly about sex and that one of Alexander's clear goals is to shape their thoughts about homosexuality (and sex generally). Alexander is not suggesting that freshman comp. courses encourage illiteracy in the young in the course of feeding them wild-eyed propaganda for the free market! Somehow, we never see "transgressive" freshman composition courses and methods along those lines.

Maximos, you say

I'm not going to say much more on the subject, save that selective reporting of intelligence - cherry-picking the negativve stuff, even when dubious - is a form of deceit. Furthermore, that it was done is successive administrations is no problem for my position, since I'm the one around these parts who sees substantial continuity in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Clinton did it; Bush did it; I;m sure Obama is fudging something.

But that was exactly my point: Clinton did it, Bush did it, Obama does it. So it cannot be specifically a Bush thing, which is directly contradicts your earlier claim:

This is the lesson of GW Bush presidency, in which many positions of authority were filled by hacks and incompetents,

You cannot levy this "hacks" charge specifically at Bush or at republicans or at conservatives. That's all I was saying.

This is the trouble with most conservatism: in its imaginary, History, the story of Everything Going Wrong, began in the sixties, with the Long March of leftist radicals through the academy.

OK but that's not the conservatism of the likes of Lydia, Jeff S, Jeff C, and Paul Cella here at this website. That refers the reader to the part of the story where the universities caved in wholesale to the liberal modernist mind-set earlier than the 60's (it just reached the run-of-the mill student then), and where the avant-garde academics were pushing modernism in the 19oughts, and the way this sprang out of certain liberal trends that were incipient in frankly individualist theories of the Enlightenment, etc... In other words, there is plenty of willingness to reject the simplistic notions of knee-jerk economic rightiness solving our problems.

I'm certainly willing to see (for example) Marxists in bow ties with high academic standards in the 50's teaching free love on the side and Marxism in the classroom as being part of the origin of the problem. I also, however, think that in the academy there is a very large discontinuity between the academy of the present-day and that of the 50's. Academic standards themselves have been the worst casualty, destroyed in many cases _very deliberately_ as relics of patriarchialism and what-not.

The very formation of the National Association of Scholars, which I mentioned above, in the late 80's/early 90's showed the gulf that opened pretty rapidly between old radicals (moral radicals, anti-Christians, modernists, etc., but academic traditionalists) and new radicals (feminist theorists, queer theorists, postmodernists, and the like). When the new radicals started making what were, academically speaking, disgusting and insane demands, the old radicals had a choice to make. Sometimes they moved with the times. Sometimes they taught their own classes in the old, high-standarded way, sticking to the old canon of works and teaching them with integrity, while feeling a bit strange about it, and assuaged their liberal guilt by helping the downfall of their departments via their votes in faculty meetings. Sometimes they joined the reactionaries and were accused of a "turn to the right." My husband had a colleague who passed away recently, and at his funeral, which was on Sunday, his daughter deplored this very "turn to the right." One of the manifestations thereof was his having joined the NAS in the later years of his life.

At the risk of seeming not to appreciate your defense of my subtlety, Tony, I have to say that taking the "long view" of the history of the academy, if that means seeing the roots of everything that has happened a hundred years ago, seems to me as though it is in danger of distorting the historical reality. That reality involved the very deliberate attempt to bring cultural leftism *into* the disciplines in what was at the time a virtually unprecedented way, a way that attacked and altered the very foundations and standards of those disciplines. It began with clouds the size of a man's hand in the 70's (books, some courses, feminist articles about changing the language), got up and roaring in the 80's and 90's, and is still with us today. Whether this had to happen or not as a result of general cultural rot--which, of course, has roots going back not simply to modernism but all the way to the Garden of Eden, making it hard to find a beginning for it (!)--is an entirely open question and does not seem to me to admit of a clear "yes" answer. The very existence of the politically left but academically sound people Maximos himself mentioned (as though somehow this contradicts my position) argues that the answer is no. Rather, what has happened is that a particularly virulent strain of leftism has utterly and deliberately devastated the academy by the deliberate and triumphant acts of its advocates. To the extent that the destruction of the academy has its roots in the distant past, its roots are the roots of leftism itself, in the name of which all this was done. Academic radicalism and destruction probably bears the most similarity to, and often was explicitly connected with, Marxism. But it was the choice of those who applied it to apply it in this way--namely, to tear down the beauty and grandeur of knowledge for its own sake, to politicize it all, and ultimately to destroy standards and replace them with smug and satisfied comments about shallow and illiterate student babblings, as Alexander does in his "sexuality writing" composition courses discussed in the article I mentioned above. Here, by the way, is a link to the entire article:

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1482

Again, I note that contrary to any "historians" who claim that all that postmodern stuff is going away on its own and that those like me who still talk about it are living in the 90's, Alexander's book is copyright '08, and the article about freshman comp. and what it has become literally arrived in the mail yesterday.

~~I note that contrary to any "historians" who claim that all that postmodern stuff is going away on its own and that those like me who still talk about it are living in the 90's~~

Seems to me that such folks may be conflating PoMo'ism with deconstructionism. The former includes the latter but is not limited to it, and I do believe that PoMo has moved away from deconstructionism.

I recently got a copy of Eric Miller's recent biography of Christopher Lasch, and Lasch's story may be instructive re: this issue. Lasch was Left-leaning politically, but eventually came to be very disenchanted with the cultural Left. I'm looking forward to reading the book to find out more. Here's Bacevich's review of the biog., which is what got me interested:

http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/articles/2010-MayJune/full-Bacevich-MJ-2010.html


Not much time to respond, as I'm swamped at the office, and have a sick wife and younger son at home, altering the entire daily schedule.

But that was exactly my point: Clinton did it, Bush did it, Obama does it. So it cannot be specifically a Bush thing, which is directly contradicts your earlier claim:

No, my later statement qualifies the earlier statement, which I should think obvious upon a charitable reading of my collected comments: successive administrations have sexed up intelligence dossiers for a variety of discreditable purposes; what was unique about the GW Bush administration was the staffing of the government with ideologically pure hacks, with nary of pretense of looking for excellence.

As regards the origins of the present discontents in academia, these must be understood - as I see things - in the context of modernity - not modernity as a discrete period of time within modern history, neatly demarcated, as for example, with the advent of so-called cultural Marxism in the late 60s - but modernity as the fundamental condition of the Western world since the end of feudalism. I haven't either the time or the inclination at present to sketch the influence of bad mediaeval philosophy and theology upon the genesis of modernity, and so will just doff my cap to Weaver, Voegelin, and others, who have discussed the errors of nominalism and voluntarism, and their influence on modern thought. The ancients are much sounder here. Modernity, in thought and culture and politics, has a dual aspect, a tension - frankly, an aporia irresolvable within the intellectual frameworks that it provides. Succinctly stated, that aporia is the tension between the System, and its unalterable laws, and freedom; the former is principally a function of the attempt to find, after the pattern of the physical sciences, the Laws of Motion in the human 'sciences', inclusive of economics, which is no longer conceived as a series of rough and suggestive principles, to be balanced among other things by prudence, but as a body of immutable law binding all humanity; the latter is a function of the withering away of substantive notions of human nature, an abiding human essence, and an emphasis on inward subjectivity, self realization, and so forth.

So, yes, I understand everything in Lydia's comment, concerning the operations of the Long Marchers. Here's the thing: the aporia of modernity works in complicated ways to liberate human desire, and to impose restraints upon its subjects; the capitalist, free-marketeer, or what-have-you, is able to appeal to Immutable Law in order to justify pulling down many old social restraints on his activity - its nature, scale, whatever. System liberates certain desires. The anthropology of affects, drives, and desires is a strict correlate of the System; and the acquisitive instinct thus liberated under its auspices mutually contextualizes other modalities of 'liberation'. If you tell a man that he may make as much money as he desires, regardless of communal and traditional norms, you do not liberate a discrete sphere of human endeavour; you legitimate an entire manner of thinking and feeling, which may find expression in innumerable forms.

As I've indicated, there are plenty of reactionary thinkers willing to accept this analysis, or something like it. That some here appear not to accept it is precisely this issue between us.

"If you tell a man that he may make as much money as he desires, regardless of communal and traditional norms, you do not liberate a discrete sphere of human endeavour; you legitimate an entire manner of thinking and feeling, which may find expression in innumerable forms."

Keep your eyes open for an upcoming First Things article by Edward Skidelsky on "the emanicipation of avarice." He argues that Enlightenment economics did exactly that -- it liberated the desire for wealth from its classical/Christian strictures, basically turning what was traditionally considered a sin into a virtue, and changed the definition of avarice in the process.

If you tell a man that he may make as much money as he desires, regardless of communal and traditional norms, you do not liberate a discrete sphere of human endeavour; you legitimate an entire manner of thinking and feeling, which may find expression in innumerable forms.

As I've indicated, there are plenty of reactionary thinkers willing to accept this analysis, or something like it. That some here appear not to accept it is precisely this issue between us.

In other words, Maximos thinks this discussion of the supposed evils of capitalism has _something_ to do with the specifics of what the leftists--triumphant, self-avowed, and active leftists, Marxists, feminists, etc., of all stripes--have done in the name of leftism to the university. I think it has very little to do with that subject and is an unconvincing attempt to change the subject and fit the overt destruction of intellectual endeavor by virulent, anti-intellectual and faux-intellectual leftists over the past approx. thirty years into the Procrustean bed of a critique of capitalism. That is the difference between us.

Lydia, I'm curious. Why do you think that economics, "getting and spending," is immune from the negative effects of Enlightenment "liberation"? If the point of Enlightenment humanism was to throw off the chains of classical and churchly tradition, by what mechanism does economics manage to protect itself from being adversely affected by this?


Why do you think that economics, "getting and spending," is immune from the negative effects of Enlightenment "liberation"?

I don't think I ever said that I do think that, Rob G. Even if I agreed with it in some meaning, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't mean what you think I should mean by it. In any event, I'm much more concerned here to say that that argument ("Lydia, don't you acknowledge that capitalism is intrinsically dangerous and destructive?") is a change of subject from a question that at least had some indirect connection to the original post--namely, a good kind of elitism, love of intellectual endeavor, and whether "Sarah Palin supporters" and other pragmatically inclined right-wingers are or have been a worse threat or done worse harm to intellectual excellence than leftist occupants of higher education. Let's remember how we got here: I said that I'd rather deal with garden variety, literature-won't-get-you-a-job anti-intellectualism (which I don't agree is a distinctively "right-wing" trait anyway) than with the destruction of the very wellsprings of knowledge perpetrated by the proud and self-defined left. "I can see your point, Lydia," would have been a perfectly normal response to a fairly sensible and (one would have thought) uncontroversial point. Or even silence, if one simply can't bear to seem to concur in any criticism of the left that isn't matched by a criticism of the right--itself a fault of perspective, I might add. But no. Instead this was characterized as narrow-minded conservative history, we were told that some "historian" has found out that that's all so 90's, and _somehow_ a critique of capitalism was supposed to provide us with deep background for the destruction of the academy by leftists. Absent that, I was told, my sort of culture war talk is a series of "irritable mental gestures."

This all makes me pretty darned annoyed, and frankly, I'm not even remotely minded to leave it behind and start participating in vast historical canvas painting about the Enlightenment and capitalism.

Yes, but the contention is precisely that -- that these things are not discrete, separate entities that can be looked at in isolation. It is not that capitalism is the root cause of modern Leftism, but that modernity is at the root of both capitalist excesses and cultural Leftism, and that because of that common source the things cannot be analyzed separately as if they were unrelated.


Honestly, Rob G., I'm very put off by attempts to go flat-out analyzing vast, historical "root causes" going back over a hundred years in the context of talking about what we need to be doing, with whom we should or shouldn't be making common cause, whom we shouldn't be encouraging, and whom we should be fearing and mocking, much less whether Sarah Palin is or isn't a good candidate for President. See Maximos's comments about "soshulizm" and Sarah Palin, above. That's where we came from. That's how we came here. It just isn't profitable. Suppose that I were to intone solemnly (and I'm sorry, but these huge statements just do often sound pretentious to me), "Modernism is the root cause of both capitalism and socialism; therefore, questions of economics and the origins of cultural leftism are not discrete," would this commit me to saying that those damned business school graduates who listen to Rush Limbaugh and might vote for Sarah Palin are at least as great a threat if not a greater threat to intellectual life nowadays than leftists? No, it wouldn't. In fact, Maximos started out with some pretty concrete statements--snobbish and highly objectionable overstatements, in my opinion--about where the problem lies right here and now--about who are the great enemies of the intellect and of higher learning in America in 2011. I went back a bare thirty years (at most) and then brought my point right up to the present in disagreeing with him. It's just smoke-blowing, in my opinion, to now say that we should start talking about a gigantic, several-hundred-years'-old phenomenon known as "modernism" and its being or not being the source of capitalism and socialism, what the "root causes" are of socialism in the mid-twentieth century and what all of this might have to do with capitalism. Which is why I won't do it.

Fair enough, although I'm of the mind that says that etiology has a lot to do with diagnosis and treatment plan.

Let's put it this way, Rob. One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens. If the large-scale historical thesis,

Modernism is the root cause of both capitalism and socialism; therefore, questions of economics and the origins of cultural leftism are not discrete

really does entail that,

those damned business school graduates who listen to Rush Limbaugh and might vote for Sarah Palin are at least as great a threat if not a greater threat to intellectual life nowadays than leftists

then, since I think the latter obviously false, I would have to conclude that the former is false as well.

Did Maximos actually say that, or is it a paraphrase/redaction?

It's a paraphrase, but it's all upthread. For example, here, in no particular order:

We'll have to agree to disagree in regards to the laissez-faire ideologues of the late ninetieth century. I happen to believe LF incalculably destructive of traditional, rooted society, not to mention the cultural ideals and standards once part of traditional society; LF abetted crass materialism, and begot those conservative vulgarians who denigrated the humanities, in favour of technique and business.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160508

I have never heard a leftist state the college is a waste of time, because so much time will be 'wasted' on the study of literature (if only!), as opposed to practical subjects. I have heard many a conservative voice such philistine complaints.
http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160469
the answer to the excesses of, say, Larry Summers, or Ben Bernanke, is not Sarah Palin. If the American people are now in full-throated rebellion against technocratic elites who have misgoverned the nation, it is no solution for that misgovernance to appeal to apparently simple, self-evident truths, be they moral or otherwise. There is no short-cut to knowledge, least of all in a complex society, and there are problems which necessitate deep technical understanding. Neither may technical understandings be divorced from hierarchies of social goods. It would seem, however, that we are determined to debate the question of what sort of society we are to be by oscillating between claims of expertise and claims of moral certitude, never achieving their synthesis in wisdom.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160430

I don't expect candidates to be omniscient, or even semi-omniscient demigods; I merely expect them to respect knowledge, the life of the intellect, and the process by which knowledge is acquired - and thus, to know their own limitations, compensating for them in their staff hires. That is, I expect self-knowledge and humility in candidates. There is neither in Sarah Palin, only ideological certitude, utterly unearned, employed combatively. No thanks.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160461

My objective is not to diminish what problems actually remain in the academy, assuming we are describing them accurately [well, with that little "assuming" phrase, you actually do intend to diminish them, especially in light of your dismissive immediately previous comments to the effect that the problem is now "overstated"--see later quotation--LM]; rather, my objective is twofold: to point out the dangers to those disciplines of a contrary, right wing politicization (this is my problem with David Horowitz, et al), and to excoriate the rampant anti-intellectualism on the popular right. Conservatives, especially conservatives who respect the disciplines qua the disciplines, must enunciate precise and nuanced critiques, so as to support the labours of those who are preserving true scholarship in those small alternative universities, and to avoid giving aid and comfort to the philistines who don't care about the disciplines at all. The conservative vulgarians may oppose the 'left-wing' academy, but that doesn't make them allies in the struggle for standards in literary theory, etc. The enemy of your enemy is not your friend on that subject. The philistines will play into a contrary politicization that no one needs, and will aid and abet the folks who just don't believe in the humanities, who really do believe that economics is all that matters. These latter are the dominant effect power on the political right, like it or not.
(emphasis added)

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160508

I'd take the common-sense I've heard of late a little more seriously, were it not often coupled with contempt for actual intellectual endeavour. I have spent 20 years of my life reading political philosophy, and while I won't profess to be the next Plato, I'll be damned if I'm going to yield to the untutored splutterings of some guy who just knows in his gut that policy X, which he fears and loathes, is SOSHULIZM! and must be opposed, when he cannot define a single term or concept in political thought correctly.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160469

Oh, that business about diminishing the problems in the academy? We have...

I suspect that the problem may be overstated, whereas it was not during the nineties, inasmuch as postmodernism is falling out of vogue, and many academics, even avowed leftists, are critiquing the 'small, anti-scholarly narratives' of the postmodernists. I have a spate of books by Terry Eagleton which do precisely that. League of Ordinary Gentlemen contributor Rufus recently wrote an excellent series of posts on the relationship of conservatives with academia, making essentially the same point - that the problem is overstated in some respects. (emphasis added)

and, in response to specific evidence of what is really going on, today, not in the nineties, sniffs,

I'm unclear as to how these anecdotes are supposed to invalidate the experience of an academic historian.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160514

So: to summarize, we have furious, repeated ranting about "conservative vulgarians," pleas to make no common cause with them, insistence that they are the dominant voice on the right, statements that no leftist has ever been heard to dismiss the humanities as a waste of time while conservatives often do, derogation of Palin as, in essence, the voice of conservative dumbness-masquerading-as-common-sense, combined with hand-waving dismissals and downplaying of actual leftist destruction in the academy.

I stand by my paraphrase. In fact, it's darned charitable.

And I even left out the "irritable mental gestures" comment. You can find it for yourself.

I imagine then that we must continue to differ on these issues, as I agree with Maximos in general on every subject you mention except the downplaying of the effects of Leftism in academia.

"no leftist has ever been heard to dismiss the humanities as a waste of time while conservatives often do"

I would say that the tendency on the popular Right to dismiss the humanities is much greater than that on the Left, although it's not totally unheard of there. I believe, however, that many on the Left effectively dismiss the humanities as worthy of study per se, by insisting on their politicization. Both attitudes reek, in my opinion, but I'd be hesitant to make a determination as to which reeks worse.

Both attitudes reek, in my opinion, but I'd be hesitant to make a determination as to which reeks worse.

I would far rather people not study something at all than to study it under someone who essentially despises it. There is always the chance they might run across it later on and understand it themselves, not having been tainted by political and other agendas.

Spot-on, Beth. And that's related to something I said above: Suppose that some young person gets really hooked by literature despite the fact that he has a huntin' shootin' father who thinks its a waste of time, the actual destruction of the literature departments in the nation makes it _extremely difficult_ for this young man to find a good way and a good place to study. Even the introductions in cheap editions of great books have been messed up, with Penguins containing all manner of silly references to race, gender, etc. As I said above, garden-variety anti-intellectualism we will always have with us, but poisoning the wellsprings of knowledge makes it nigh impossible for those who want to learn _to_ learn. And if I, for example, do succeed in convincing some parent of the greatness of knowledge and literature, there are far fewer options available to them as to how to get all of this knowledge for their children.

Rob, here's another comment from Maximos, that carries on from one of the dismissals you apparently think (thankfully) is going too far. Notice that it implies that Maximos doesn't take very seriously conservative critiques of leftism in the academy _or_ any conservative culture war talk _or_ conservative critique of cultural leftism generally because we conservatives (from whom he apparently distances himself) don't say all the other things he wants us to say. Specifically, in the context, _my_ critiques of the leftist destruction of the academy are being implicitly spoken of as "irritable mental gestures" because I don't go into and echo the kind of history talk that Maximos thinks is the only thing that can give seriousness to such critiques. Balderdash, say, I. And I should be sorry for you to agree with it, either, Rob G.

I'm unclear as to how these anecdotes are supposed to invalidate the experience of an academic historian.

Conservative critics of academia would have more credibility with me, were they to expand their list of explanations beyond 'leftists thinking bad thoughts and conveying them to students.' Culture is not some autonomous phenomenon, floating above the hurly-burly of everyday social, political, and economic life, even though it is no mere epiphenomenon of these things. In other words, conservatism must rediscover the critique of (certain forms or aspects of) modernity, mass man, and commodification, of socio-economic processes which incentivize certain cultural trends. Absent this, conservative culture-critique, and its kulturkampf, will be naught but irritable mental gestures, bidding men to be virtuous, even as they scour away the preconditions of virtue.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/03/fragment_on_revolution.html#comment-160514


Let me add, too, Rob G., that you cannot get away from the _comparative_ implications of Maximos's comments. If you don't agree with the downplaying of the effects of leftism in the academy, then you need to think about what it means to go _on and on_ about "conservative vulgarians" and "philistines" and the like _while_ doing that downplaying. Hence my summary as to the comparison between these two on his part.

It's also pretty doggoned ironic to repeatedly lash out about "philistines" and "conservative vulgarians" and "soshulizm" while at the same time accusing _other_ people of making "irritable mental gestures." Yep, implying that conservatives are ignoramuses who can't spell and who ought to be grateful for the intellectual crumbs that fall from one's table after "twenty years of reading political science" is deep culture critique, not an "irritable mental gesture."

Really. I'm sorry if you admire that sort of talk, Rob, but I think it significant that you never _engage in_ that sort of talk. I would hope that you would never follow someone like that into becoming similarly snobbish and distanced from those who are now your fellow conservatives.

Agreed, Beth, but that's not exactly what I'm talking about. What I'm referring to is the attitude among many on the popular Right that studying the humanities is a waste of time because it's "unproductive" or because "you can't make any money doing that."

It's not just a neglect of the humanities, but a certain disdain or dismissal of them. For instance, I have several conservative friends and relatives who find my interest in fiction and film to be misguided and somewhat of a waste of time. These people tend to read very little, and they hardly read books at all -- most of their "reading" involves the perusal of various conservative websites. The attitude implies that I'd be better off reading Hannity's latest bestseller than Dickens or Dostoevsky.

It is exactly this crowd that has no knowledge of the history or varieties of conservative thought (as someone once put it, they can't tell Russell Kirk from Captain Kirk) hence when any ideas are presented to them that fall outside the Limbaugh/Hannity/Palin/Fox brand of conservatism they react with cries of "liberalism!" Yet they have no problem urging everyone to go see Atlas Shrugged because it's a "conservative" movie.

The mind staggers.

Lydia, although I probably would not put it in terms as strong as Max's, I agree with him in principal. This statement, for instance...

"conservatism must rediscover the critique of (certain forms or aspects of) modernity, mass man, and commodification, of socio-economic processes which incentivize certain cultural trends"

...is one I'd agree with wholeheartedly. Yet modern conservatism has almost completely discarded this aspect of thought which many earlier conservatives (understood loosely) would have found unexceptionable, as can be seen in the New Humanists, the Distributists, the Southern Agrarians, Weaver, Kirk, Nisbet and most conservatives in that stream, Roepke, Nash, many of the folks at ISI, and the entire strain of Southern conservatism.


What I'm referring to is the attitude among many on the popular Right that studying the humanities is a waste of time because it's "unproductive" or because "you can't make any money doing that."

Ironically, this doesn't stop them from sending their kids to college, studying said "worthless subjects" and then complaining about them getting indoctrinated...

I went to a well-ranked state university and studied Computer Science. The professors didn't have time to waste on politics, even if they wanted. Why one might conclude that there is some merit to the old saw "idle hands are the devil's workshop..."

Rob, I think you have to admit that there are some large elisions in the Maximos critique that want some real explication and analysis. Perhaps the largest is that he has taken to a conservative website long known for its eccentricities and heterodoxies to fulminate against conservative orthodoxy. Does he believe that the contributors here will not suffer to "rediscover the critique of modernity, mass man, and commodification," that we'd prefer to pass on stale Randian dogmas and denounce dissenters?

Or consider again Chesterton, whose influence on all of us is quite explicitly established (I should think). Some of GKC's most profound polemics were directed at complacent modernists in the academy. His early existential crisis as a young man grew directly out of his immersion in modern art and its inhuman pressures. The very work from which we have taken the name of this blog is precisely a critique of modernity. I don't see why Lydia must embrace GKC's distributism in order to embrace his critique of the academy.

Put otherwise, I do find it a bit disagreeable to be lectured on these matters, given that I've put countless hours of reading and writing into framing and fleshing out the kind of critiques Maximos is demanding. And given that a restoration of traditional liberal education is already underway among the new tradition-minded schools, where Great Books and standards of excellence remain, one does wonder whether Maximos will embrace this (to my mind) very hopeful trend, or subsume these institutions under his more general critical remarks.

My father, for instance, instilled in me deep antipathy for the Ivy League (Yale in particular). My grades were good enough to take a shot, but in the end I never even applied to those top schools. I wanted no part of them. On the other hand my father encouraged me to look at the University of Dallas, the Claremont colleges, and several others in that alternative mode. Now, despite sneering at Yale every chance he got, my father more than any single person has kindled my love of reading, learning, studying. The idea that he should be categorized a philistine because he despises the Left's subjugated institutions leaves me a touch annoyed.

At this point I regard defiance and principled antipathy for the elite academy to be, far from irritable mental gestures, on the contrary strong evidence of independence of mind. The elite colleges of this country, in addition to the Leftist march through the institutions, have been penetrated by plutocracy far more deeply than schools like Thomas Aquinas or Christendom. The Left smashed liberal learning to pieces; and the plutocracy moved into the void. The Ivy League has been a prime recruitment ground for financiers the world over for decades now. There is nothing for us at these institutions. Let them rot. If the Leftists there hate plutocracy, let them look in the mirror and discover that, with apologies to GKC, when men cease to believe in moral and intellectual order, the next step is not belief in nothing, but belief in anything -- like the worship of success, or the coddling of mercenary ambition.

Paul, I can't speak for Max, but I certainly wouldn't include you and other conservatives of your type in my critique. Your suspicion of finance capitalism, warnings about plutocracy, and arguments against usury put you in a different mold than the market-defender types that I disagree with, who seemingly don't have much of a problem with any of the above, if they even admit that they exist. In fact, I'm often surprised by the lack of flak you get for some of your posts on these matters.

Perhaps Maximos is not as concerned about the cultural Left and its presence in academia as is warranted, and I would disagree with him there if that's the case. But to my mind that doesn't negate the remainder of his critique of the modern Right. Speaking as someone who utterly rejects the cultural turn that society took in the 60s, I must say that I have much less in common with conservatives who are willing to dismiss Wendell Berry as a crank or a crazy old man, than with someone who isn't as down on the cultural Left as he should be, but with whom I agree on other substantive matters.

Given the choice between Limbaugh and Lasch, Palin and Dreher, Bachmann and Berry, I'd take the latter of each pair any day of the week.


Well, again, I think it's just really wrong-headed to say that someone like me, for example, who _does_ know a fair bit about the humanities (!) and who cares about them passionately (as many of my posts here at W4 show) is engaging in "irritable mental gestures" when I talk about leftist destruction of the academy. And why am I doing so? Well, because I don't simultaneously do two things. 1) I don't engage in what are undoubtedly "irritable mental gestures" consisting in expressing contempt for my fellow conservatives who aren't as intellectual as I am, and 2) I don't show a lot of enthusiasm for Maximos's version of Western history.

Rob G., you're willing to exempt Paul because he criticizes plutocracy. I don't happen to get into those critiques, partly because I'm not convinced that I know enough about it. I also, as a trained philosopher, probably have more sympathy for certain versions and strands of what is known as "modernism" than you do. I'm also something of a Christian rationalist. I'm also highly sympathetic to the free market and am put off--obviously, far more than you are--by Wendell Berry & Rod Dreher.

Now, think: Do any of these _intellectual disagreements with_ or failures of sympathy for your and Maximos's particular brand of Crunchy/anti-capitalist/distributist (or whatever you wish to call it) conservatism and anti-modernism mean that I am not qualified to criticize, deplore, and fight with all my might against the leftist destruction of the academy? Do these disagreements turn me into some sort of shallow ignoramus whose anguished horror and principled fury at leftist destruction cannot really be "taken very seriously"?

I do not have to utter some sort of ritual anathema on modernism and capitalism and write historical treatises in line with your and Maximos's thinking to prove my non-mainstream conservative credentials in order to be able to talk about what I know, to fight it, and to gear others to fight it.

And truth to tell, I'm not at all convinced that the common man without my other qualifications has to do so either.

The contempt expressed toward ordinary conservatives by Maximos is and should be _angering_. It's, frankly, outrageous.

Okay...now I'll try to get the steam to stop coming out of the ears.

~~Do any of these _intellectual disagreements with_ or failures of sympathy for your and Maximos's particular brand of Crunchy/anti-capitalist/distributist (or whatever you wish to call it) conservatism and anti-modernism mean that I am not qualified to criticize, deplore, and fight with all my might against the leftist destruction of the academy? Do these disagreements turn me into some sort of shallow ignoramus whose anguished horror and principled fury at leftist destruction cannot really be "taken very seriously"?~~

In a word (two words, actually), no and no. That may be Max's point but it's not mine. What I am saying is this: either modernity is tainted at the root or it isn't. If it is, then modernist economics must be held in a certain amount of suspicion, whether it be that of the Left or the Right. Capitalism is no less immune to modernist taint than socialism is, yet many market apologists seem to work under the assumption that it is. My wish would be that the modern Right would subject capitalism to the same scrutiny as it does to other manifestations of modernism. My fear is, as I said elsewhere, that economics has become a noli me tangere issue to the Right, just as sex has become on the Left. And that's not a good thing.

Yeah, I suspect it's the old hobby-horse phenomenon. Maximos is profoundly disgusted with the American Right; he is also increasingly intrigued by the European Left. When I set down a clunky little essay that brings in both Right and Left themes (aristocracy and revolution; excellence and democracy), along with American and European contrasts, our friend just can't help himself.

But the problem remains that false consciousness and class conflicts cut both ways. It remains true that no one detests the common American more than the academic Marxist. Nothing is more absurd than Glenns Greenwald or Eagleton joining in comradeship with blue collar workers from PA, or with the hardscrabble working-class blacks south of Atlanta. These are generally religious and traditional folks. To the academic Leftists these folks are bigots and reactionaries through and through.

It remains, as in Chesterton's time, only the Christian who believes in equality as a human reality. The Leftist still only cares for the abstraction.

The only Social Democracy that can work is one were religion binds a traditional organic community. Since Leftism is a dedicated enemy of both traditional organic community and religion, I must declare myself profoundly unpersuaded by Maximos' Leftist appeals.

Capitalism is no less immune to modernist taint than socialism is, yet many market apologists seem to work under the assumption that it is. My wish would be that the modern Right would subject capitalism to the same scrutiny as it does to other manifestations of modernism. My fear is, as I said elsewhere, that economics has become a noli me tangere issue to the Right, just as sex has become on the Left. And that's not a good thing.

That's well-put, Rob. To Lydia I would again point to things like the ubiquity of the pornographic culture in American corporate life, to the cynical encouragement of state intervention to crowd our smaller competitors (as Walmart did with Obamacare), the endless funding of that same Leftist anti-culture, through foundations and the like by American Capitalists. The connection between the emancipation of greed and the emancipation of lust, ambition, resentment, etc., seems very clear to me.

Lydia, just for the record, I understand your point and share your frustration to some extent. Economics is the harder nut to crack, maybe an impossible one, and to hold everything else hostage to this problem - or hostage to the even bigger problem of modernity itself - is a recipe for doing nothing about anything. As for Maximos' contempt for other conservatives, it's certainly distasteful, but not moreso than the contempt of many talk-show tea-partiers towards those who don't share the better part of their half-baked opinions. That said, there are plenty of decent tea-party folk who are willing to listen and who don't necessarily follow Hannity-Beck-Limbaugh-et-al in lockstep. It seems foolish to alienate them unnecessarily and to refuse productive tactical alliances.

"The connection between the emancipation of greed and the emancipation of lust, ambition, resentment, etc., seems very clear to me."

Yes, that's pretty much what I'm saying too, in a nutshell. Many earlier conservatives saw this connection. Many of today's do not, and what's worse, don't seem willing even to entertain the idea, which is probably what irks Max.

It remains true that no one detests the common American more than the academic Marxist. Nothing is more absurd than Glenns Greenwald or Eagleton joining in comradeship with blue collar workers from PA, or with the hardscrabble working-class blacks south of Atlanta.

Wait a second. Are you claiming that Glenn Greenwald is a Marxist? I've never seen anything he's written that would place him in that category, or that he "detest the common American", although he certainly detests the cozy relationship between the media, corporate influence, and federal power. He's a typical anti-war liberal with a strong sense of distrust of both government and corporate power *a supposedly conservative trait*.

I found an online version of the book Lydia refers to, and while it is certainly not something I would allow for a freshman "core" requirement, if it were taught as an upper level course with a clear description as a discussion of gender and sexual literacy in composition in the catalog and the sign-up forms I wouldn't object to it. Alexander's methodology isn't unusual, nor is it focused on online comments about boy bands. Obviously Alexander's point of view is biased, but many upper level humanities courses are biased towards a particular point of view. Further, if liberation from narrow self-interest is one of the supposed goals of liberal education, as Young claims, the methodology of revealing and challenging cultural and personal beliefs seems well suited to the task.

Alexander's methodology isn't unusual

So much the worse.

Such a wealth of criticism! Wherever shall I begin?

I don't see why Lydia must embrace GKC's distributism in order to embrace his critique of the academy.

There is no necessity of embracing anything so specific as Chesterton's distributism is one is to embrace his critique of academic corruptions. No, all I think necessary, requisite to the seriousness of the subject matter, is a refusal of blithe compartmentalizations, airy nominalist fragmentations of human experience as lived, where one winks at the liberation of appetite in one dimension, and recoils from it, in horror, in another. My critics, or some of them at least, would have me believe - and command it as an orthodoxy - that some grasping servant of avarice could obliterate many fixities of settled life, fixities which root stable and traditional manners of living, in the name of his Profit and Efficiency, while some horny servant of lust could obliterate analogous fixities, in the name of his Pleasure - but only the latter is damnable. A man who knocks up a woman is a cad, a destroyer of every moral code in the Western world, and if he talks about it, thinking it literature, he may as well be Belial; but if he destroys the economic foundation of an entire town, in order to augment his profits, c'est la vie.

In other words, all I expect is a coherent conception of human nature, and not a de facto mirror image of the postmodern decentered, fractured 'selves'. Conservatives who defend some or other form of 'fusionism' in this age are defending postmodernism, selves that have no coherent identity, but rather multiple personas, each put on as circumstances warrant: the traditional moral self where sex is concerned; the liberated self of unlimited economic accumulation, and so forth.

Put otherwise, I do find it a bit disagreeable to be lectured on these matters, given that I've put countless hours of reading and writing into framing and fleshing out the kind of critiques Maximos is demanding. And given that a restoration of traditional liberal education is already underway among the new tradition-minded schools, where Great Books and standards of excellence remain, one does wonder whether Maximos will embrace this (to my mind) very hopeful trend, or subsume these institutions under his more general critical remarks.

When did I ever state that I reject this laudable efforts? If anything, I have only stated that it is an error to reject, tout court humanities programmes that fall outside these narrow, Great Books-type programmes. Such rejections declaim the descent of a new Dark Age, where even I, in all my cynicism, forswear to go. The idea that we should just 'get on with it' in some sense, and damn all of these humanities programmes to hell, is curious, in that the same judgment is seldom extended to political economy. Should I pronounce the "meritocracy" beyond redemption, or the commercial republic a demonstrable failure, a combination of feudalism and lemon socialism, that's beyond the pale, a judgment altogether too severe. I don't want undergraduates, or anyone, really, to be taught to ruminate upon perversion, as though there were some profundity in it; but some people around here look askance at me when I suggest that bright undergrads ought not be taught esoteric methods of defrauding their countrymen.

As for irritable mental gestures, yes, I do consider it such when people utterly untutored in political thought utilize terms of political thought in private, Alice in Wonderland senses, deeming SOSHULIZM! things that have nothing to do with the abolition of private property and the collectivization of all ownership. Such mental ejaculations have about as much content as moral utterances as per Moore's ethical philosophy, where such utterances are statements of a subjective aversion or attraction to the thing in question. Ignorance is not to be coddled or humoured, let alone assigned some sort of social worth, but either corrected or derided. Words mean things, as a talk-radio blowhard used to say.

Nothing is more absurd than Glenns Greenwald or Eagleton joining in comradeship with blue collar workers from PA, or with the hardscrabble working-class blacks south of Atlanta. These are generally religious and traditional folks. To the academic Leftists these folks are bigots and reactionaries through and through.

By the same standard, nothing is more absurd than the alignment of lower-middle-class cultural conservatives with amoral plutocrats, who hold the former in scarcely-concealed disdain - especially since the alliance is based in part on Alice In Wonderland understandings of political thought.

Economics is the harder nut to crack, maybe an impossible one, and to hold everything else hostage to this problem - or hostage to the even bigger problem of modernity itself - is a recipe for doing nothing about anything.

One could say something precisely analogous about certain cultural questions, themselves just as integrally related to modernity as economics; indulging every compromise imaginable in order to move those issues is just as much a recipe for doing nothing as anything I've recommended.

It remains, as in Chesterton's time, only the Christian who believes in equality as a human reality. The Leftist still only cares for the abstraction.

I could say something genuinely uncharitable about American Christianity here, but I'll refrain. Instead, I'll simply state that too many American Christians believe in equality, precisely as some numinous, otherworldly abstraction, having nothing to do with anything in life, and in life countenance every from of 'lording it over, as do the Gentiles'.


I have no idea if Greenwald is actually a Marxist. Eagleton definitely is. The former's antipathy for the prejudices and intuitions of the ordinary American appears in his every screed, though I do concede that his libertarianism is admirably consistent. On Citizens United this is evident; according to Leftist rhetoric he must be a corporate stooge. In any case neither man has much use for moral sensibilities of common Americans, whether historical or living today.

But look, Step2, the broader subject here is that older Leftism, pre-1960s stuff, to which Maximos hearkens us. Early in this thread he referred to the Marxian false consciousness construct.

If a rhetorician aims to persuade us to re-examine that older Leftism, which would naturally point our attention to the travails of common Americans, I think (as Lydia has shown with some force) he is obliged to face facts about the hatred reserved on today's Left for the common American's viewpoint. Certainly it will do him no good at all to sneer at the normal guy's suspicion of Ivy Leaguers, whether on Wall Street or in the halls of academia.

My point to Rob is simply that he open his eyes to the antique Euro-Leftism that is being advanced here. I do not think Maximos would object to the contention that he has some Left-Reactionary in him.

When did I ever state that I reject [a restoration of traditional liberal education among the new tradition-minded schools, where Great Books and standards of excellence remain]?

You didn't. Hence my statement that I wonder how you regard these efforts. I still get a strong sense of ambivalence and consider my question mostly unanswered, especially given the veiled fury at American Christianity, which after all is the ground from which the restoration springs.

I am wholly supportive of such efforts to re-establish traditional higher learning. This is my problem with American Christianity, which problem has nothing obvious to do with such Great Books programmes: the political and cultural opposition to academic leftists is all too Carl Schmitt, a matter of a binary friend-enemy distinction. There is scant appreciation, as evidenced by political allegiances and that risible capitalist boosterism one encounters on the right, of the organic totality of the culture, and the emergence of baleful tendencies from the very foundations of cultural and economic order. Discrete sources may be identified, but the interconnections of things, in practice and in human psychology, are often ignored, and sometimes flatly denied. Most cultural declension has little or nothing to do with the ministrations of academic radicals, however ruinous and imbecilic some of their "work" may be; yet I am rather consistently told that I must ignore these things: they are irrelevant, too complicated, or even so wonderful in themselves that I am unjust in their critique. In fine, some of my critics would have it that an entire socio-economic order predicated upon the liberation of appetite might not lead to the liberation of sexual appetites. I find this absurd, on quite venerable philosophical and theological grounds, and find risible the rightist attempt to combine traditional sexual morality and let-it-rip capitalism. I think it self-subverting, by impeccably traditionalist standards, arriving at this conclusion by reading Weaver, Voegelin, and the 12 Southerners, at a time when I had not read that dread leftist critical theory for years.

So yes, I will say it: unless the right comes to a different understanding of political economy, it will continue making irritable mental gestures - irritable precisely because they are trying to have their whole moralist cake, while eating their capitalist indulgence too. Some old-school leftists face the converse of this problem, for the record. I'm hardly incognizant of that.

So yes, I will say it: unless the right comes to a different understanding of political economy, it will continue making irritable mental gestures

Right. Agree with you on a Theory of Everything, _especially_ (of course) economics, or prepare not to be taken seriously by you, even when speaking most seriously and with plenty of knowledge and information on very serious topics concerning leftist destruction. God forbid we should call them "enemies." That would be a simplistic dichotomy, etc., etc., etc.

Gee, Maximos, not being taken seriously by you just somehow holds no terrors for me. But I wish you'd stop continually "dissing" ordinary conservatives with your left-wing irritable mental gestures on a conservative web site. It's my considered opinion that snobbish self-styled intellectuals aren't worthy to unlatch the shoes of some of the "philistines" you despise. And believe me, I'm not referring to myself.

Stop putting words into my mouth.

I said nothing about a theory of everything.

Remember a post a put up last autumn, pleading for a little movement away from the let-er-rip views of capitalism on the right? Yeah, it's in my archives, in case you attempted to forget that anyone has the temerity to disagree with both your political views and your priorities.

Also, your reading comprehension could use a little work, as I never stated that leftist destroyers of the humanities are not enemies in that specific sense. Go on, look. Find the passage in which I state that all of the things you detail about academic corruption are really just swell. Go on, look. I'll wait.

No, what I've done is endeavour to come to terms with divergent information about the academy, different views of, and
experiences in, an academic world clearly in crisis.

In other words, what I'm saying is that y'all need something more than mere enemies lists, a sense, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, that the line separating good and evil runs principally through the human heart - and therefore, that the manifestations of evil in society are more complicated than enemies lists.

I don't care if you take me seriously or not. I've lived most of my life without the approbation of peers, interlocutors, and ideological opponents for my views, because I've never sought them. Everything I write, I write with the expectation that most will find it objectionable; in other words, I don't care who disagrees with me. It's just not about you.

But I wish you'd stop continually "dissing" ordinary conservatives with your left-wing irritable mental gestures on a conservative web site.

I've been very, very specific about my reasons for "dissing' ordinary conservatives: it's just wrong to dismiss the humanities, either because some leftists have perverted them, or because they're too remote from the business of making money; and it's just wrong to employ private understandings of terms in political thought, Alice in Wonderland style. Would you, as an analytic philosopher, care to defend such willful butcheries of the language and the discipline? Be my guest.

It's my considered opinion that snobbish self-styled intellectuals aren't worthy to unlatch the shoes of some of the "philistines" you despise. And believe me, I'm not referring to myself.

As I've already stated, I don't really care what you think about me or my viewpoints. It's just not about you. It's about whether it is right to hold in contempt the life of the mind, and whether it is right to assign private meanings to language, for political purposes. I contend that it is not right to cultivate such states of mind, and to perform such declaratives.

It's my considered opinion that snobbish self-styled intellectuals aren't worthy to unlatch the shoes of some of the "philistines" you despise. And believe me, I'm not referring to myself.

You stay classy, there.

"My point to Rob is simply that he open his eyes to the antique Euro-Leftism that is being advanced here. I do not think Maximos would object to the contention that he has some Left-Reactionary in him."

On another site once, I was accused of reading too much Howard Zinn. I was pleased to respond that I'd never read any Zinn, but had read a lot of Kirk, Weaver, and the Southern Conservatives.

Thing is, Paul, I've come to my conclusions largely by reading precisely those folks. I've read comparatively little by Leftists. If there is some overlap between the Right and Left critiques of laissez faire capitalism, it arises honestly I'd say, and not necessarily due to any bleedthrough from L to R, at least in my case.

"some of my critics would have it that an entire socio-economic order predicated upon the liberation of appetite might not lead to the liberation of sexual appetites. I find this absurd, on quite venerable philosophical and theological grounds, and find risible the rightist attempt to combine traditional sexual morality and let-it-rip capitalism. I think it self-subverting, by impeccably traditionalist standards, arriving at this conclusion by reading Weaver, Voegelin, and the 12 Southerners..."

Yes, that is my conclusion too, although I've not read Voegelin, and as I've said above, I've read relatively little Leftist stuff.


Maximos,

We are already way off topic, so I figure Paul will indulge me this question, if you would be kind enough to answer it. You say,

"In fine, some of my critics would have it that an entire socio-economic order predicated upon the liberation of appetite might not lead to the liberation of sexual appetites."

Now there are two problems I have with this statement: the first, more substantial problem, and I know you and I will just agree to disagree about this is that capitalism and the free market are just not the same thing as "an entire socio-economic order predicated upon the liberation of appetite". But let's assume I'm wrong for a minute -- how do you explain the actual existence (historical or current) of capitalist economies and sexually restrained societies? For example, Victorian Britain (and America) are historical examples or today we have Singapore or maybe another South-East Asian country like Malaysia. I also wonder what society is like in Poland today -- I doubt their people would tolerate the kind of public degeneracy we tolerate here in the U.S. precisely because they are so Catholic and yet they have embrace capitalism full-steam ahead.

Oh yeah, one more thing.

Speaking of "SOSHULIZM!", apparently 20 years of study can still blind us to some of the more subtle varieties of the species:

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/what-kind-of-socialist-is-barack-obama/

See also Stanley Kurtz's excellent study Radical-in-Chief for more. Maybe the common man is not so ignorant after all...

You stay classy, there.

Maximos, either you know some of the salt-of-the-earth type of people I'm thinking of who would very likely fall into your "philistine" and "vulgarian" categories, or you don't. If you don't, you need to get out more and broaden your categories and learn a little humility before such people. If you do, you're even more to blame for not having learned some humility before such people. Learning not to despise the common man from your self-defined intellectual heights--now that would be classy.

An interesting point to throw into the mix: Some years ago no less a bona fide Crunchy Con than blogger Caleb Stegall had a wide-ranging e-mail discussion with me. It was a good and cordial discussion. Stegall was _passionate_ about urging that too many young people are going to graduate school and that instead pretty much everybody who goes to graduate school should be looking to get jobs, get married, and support families. This was hardly philistinism or vulgarianism. In fact (and I don't believe I'm misrepresenting him at all), Stegall regarded this intensely pragmatic viewpoint as _part_ of his "alternative conservatism." If somebody tells me that literature won't get you a job, I'm strongly inclined to agree with him. After that, I would view my job as going on to convince him of the value of literature as a thing to be cultivated and read in one's leisure time. But the initial practical concern and instinct is understandable and not far wrong.

You're wasting time here Maximos.

Paul, I do find this puzzling:

the endless funding of that same Leftist anti-culture, through foundations and the like by American Capitalists

That seems to me a bit like criticizing primogeniture on the grounds that some Edwardian peer used his fortune to fund vile art. It's a rather odd criticism of the _source_ of someone's money to point out the evil things he _does_ with his money. I just don't see how this particular thing you mention is a criticism of "capitalism" at all. At any rate, quite a few premises have to be filled in to make it even look like one to me.

That seems to me a bit like criticizing primogeniture on the grounds that some Edwardian peer used his fortune to fund vile art.

I see no reason why a virtuous and pious second son, along with the commoners who share his faith and piety, might not justly curse primogeniture for descending his father the lord's fortune to a dissolute heretic bent on sedition. The individual and the system are both at fault in that outrage. "Vile art" alone, as you well know, does not quite capture what we're talking about, with the deliberate revolt and ruin of liberal learning.

It's a rather odd criticism of the _source_ of someone's money to point out the evil things he _does_ with his money.

Why, given that we're talking about huge corporate entities (nonprofits) funded by huge corporate entities (businesses and funds), who are all trading in Wall Street's exotic gambling; in a word, given that we're talking about a whole system or structure as much as we're talking about specific individuals?

Finance capitalism has a distinctly anti-traditional edge to it, in my estimation. It is a natural ally of those who aim to uproot and disrupt what came before them. Primogeniture, in its decay, was probably much the same.

I see no reason why a virtuous and pious second son, along with the commoners who share his faith and piety, might not justly curse primogeniture for descending his father the lord's fortune to a dissolute heretic bent on sedition.

The "vile art" was really intended to mean "vile"--but you can make the example of what he funds as bad as you like. To my mind, this would be like cursing fate or cursing luck. It's an accident that the money went to the bad son instead of the good son. It could just as easily have happened the other way--that the bad son who wanted money for bad purposes was the second son and the virtuous and pious one the firstborn. There's nothing particular _about_ primogeniture that makes money in it more likely to go to people who will give money to bad artists or foundations or what-have-you than to people who will give the money to good ones. Is there?

If you want to say that there is something about something called "capitalism" that makes money in it more likely to go to bad people who will do bad things with the money--funding dreadful foundations and the like--than some other system (what system?), those would be the kinds of premises that would need to be filled in. Myself, I would trust a certain fellow we know who made his millions in business a lot more to fund good foundations and charities with it than I would trust, say, the current Prince of Wales. It's entirely a matter of who the person is and what he chooses to do with the money.

I have had a lot to say about finance capitalism, which is the capitalism we live under. I have also compared that form of capitalism to other ones, historical and contemporary. That it "makes money ... more likely to go to bad people who will do bad things" would be a pretty simplistic rendering of that body of thought, but not false one.

Well, getting more specific than my original wording, that it makes money more likely to go to people who will fund left-wing anti-culture foundations than would some other economic system? I fully admit to not having been able to take in and appreciate all that you've written on these subjects, Paul, but I can't think of anything that supports that thesis.

I suppose I haven't made that specific argument about the big finance-capital run foundations. I've certainly made clear arguments about how the Ivy League schools in particular got all caught up in the orgies on Wall Street. The Financiers of Harvard Hill and all that. I've certainly attempted to show the philosophical connections between the principle of mercenary gain or ambition, animal passion, unchecked by outside hindrances. We have some abundant evidence of the sexual license that reigns on Wall Street alongside hard-charging ruthlessness. Any of the 50 millions books written on the 2007-08 crisis will give you all the dirty details. The train between Wall Street and academia runs regularly and has for many decades.

The thing is, Paul, I can't even imagine how one would go about arguing for the following thesis:

Finance capitalism, as an economic system compared to other possible economic systems that might be contemplated or instantiated, is particularly likely to result in the funding of left-wing anti-culture foundations.

That's a pretty daring statement. It won't support it, for example, to show that rich people are more likely to be politically liberal than middle-class or poor people. Though that's true (as far as I know), it doesn't show that somehow the fact that the money was gotten through finance capitalism (as opposed to in some other way) is what caused their political and cultural liberalism. Very likely, such a difference is at least in part a result of the very Ivy League schools you were talking about. It won't support such a thesis to show that our present cultural situation en toto (including our schools, colleges, government, media, etc.) seems to perpetuate left-wing anti-culture foundations. To try to make that connection would be to make "finance capitalism" mean something like "the entirety of present-day American culture," which would make theses about it pretty uninteresting and not particularly about economics.

At least an argument from pornographic culture can try to make some kind of economic connection by arguing that "that sort of thing pays."

But simply pointing out that plenty of really rich people who made their money in business (hence, on your view, from the system you call "finance capitalism") endow horrible left-wing foundations says, as far as I can see, _nothing_ about the economic system from which they made the wealth they use in that way.

Sorry, Paul, we were posting at the same time. I'm afraid that this,

The train between Wall Street and academia runs regularly and has for many decades.

just doesn't seem to me to support an indictment of finance capitalism qua economic system, especially since it says nothing about what would be better or how. Plenty of aristocrats who didn't make their money by finance capitalism have been sexually licentious. Nowadays, I would bet that any randomly selected European leftover aristocrat is just another European liberal with all the avant garde ideas of that group, and happy and eager to use his personal money for the advancement of those ideas.

I would guess there are probably plenty of other indictments against what you call "finance capitalism," given the way you've defined it. For example, my impression is that you've argued that it's likely to reward dishonesty. But this is an entirely different matter. I suppose a dishonest person might give money to a decent charity or might even just keep it all for himself rather than giving it to some wretched left-wing foundation. And if he did give some of it to a left-wing foundation, I don't see any reason to think that he did so because he got it from finance capitalism, or that some system other than finance capitalism would have rewarded someone who would have used the money for a better foundation. After all, there have been honest and well-intentioned men who are taken in by left-wing claims of being "for the little guy" or what-have-you. It just seems like a tenuous connection.

doesn't seem to me to support an indictment of finance capitalism qua economic system

I have never confined my indictment to economics.

I have never confined my indictment to economics.

Well, but...then it really seems to me that we're moving to the other possibility I raised:

It won't support such a thesis to show that our present cultural situation en toto (including our schools, colleges, government, media, etc.) seems to perpetuate left-wing anti-culture foundations. To try to make that connection would be to make "finance capitalism" mean something like "the entirety of present-day American culture,"

It really makes it almost impossible to know what we're talking about anymore when everything is done in terms of vague associations and connections and when "finance capitalism" starts to sound (to my ears, anyway) like it means "everything that can be said, especially everything bad that can be said, about all large American institutions today." Use the term in so broad a way, and of course I'll condemn it along with you. But what have we gained as far as your convincing me of the evils of anything interestingly referred to as "capitalism"? That was, after all, supposed to have _something_ to do with economics.

I don't think I've relied overmuch on statements freighted with "vague associations and connections." In this particular thread I have not attempted to recapitulate all the various arguments I've made in the past concerning finance capitalism. The comments would be interminable. Instead, I have referred to other writings. Here is my post on how specific Harvard men led the revolution in capitalism, and how their alma mater later suffered grievously at its hands, when the crisis struck. The associations are not at all vague: some of the very same men who led the effort to emancipate the financial sector from its traditional (i.e., New Deal era) regulations were Harvard men who also pushed the school's investment fund itself into the business of exotic securities trading.

My essay for The Christendom Review dealt extensively with several concrete matters: (a) the commercial character of American republicanism and why that was by design; (b) the specific intricacies of the bond arbitrage business, as a way of understanding the ghostly nature of finance capitalism; and (c) a particular danger to our commercial system that arises when commerce is dominated by finance, when one commercial faction masters the others.

I have also written on the direct connection between finance capitalism and high-level academic math, probability modeling, and statistical science. This is the story of how Wall Street firms began being influenced strongly by academics bent not merely on profit (I have long argued that more, much more, than greed is behind this) but by the normal competitiveness of high-power minds. The hubris of their efforts to capture human behavior in probability abstractions has been a regular theme around here.

It may be convenient for your argument here to forget all the gritty details and specific methods and histories I've examined and analyzed, but the truth is I have supplied a considerable bulk of concrete facts to back my arguments.

[edited for minor typos --Ed]

Paul, I realize all of that, and I also realize the difficulty I have assimilating it, and I'm not trying in any way to be insulting. But you brought up, to me, as something to which you called my attention, "the endless funding of that same Leftist anti-culture, through foundations and the like by American Capitalists." Apparently I'm supposed to think of this as an argument against something I support, namely the free market, which you now demand that I associate exclusively with "finance capitalism" (since that's "the system we now live under")--namely, the fact that people who make their money in that system fund anti-cultural leftist foundations. Even if I waive the demand that I be cast in the role of supporting "finance capitalism" as distinct from free market principles more generally (and I'm not aware of ever having agreed to take on that role), I'm just not in the world seeing how all the nitty gritty information about how "finance capitalism" works and even about how finance capitalists were from Harvard and got Harvard into trouble through exotic securities trading somehow tells us that finance capitalism as an economic system is more likely to lead to the funding of leftist anti-culture foundations than any other proposed system of economics. Surely you aren't saying that people who made their money from capitalism constrained by New Deal Era regulations somehow *for that reason* had better taste in cultural foundations they wanted to fund?

It just seems to me that you should stick to other criticisms and not expect me to say, "Oh! I see! People who've made their money as capitalists fund anti-cultural leftist institutions. So finance capitalism has something to do with the destruction of culture which I deplore. So I should start being more suspicious of free market principles, or capitalism, or something, and more open to regulations of them, or something..." I mean, people who've made their money in lots of ways fund lots of things. If I had to guess why the rich use their money for so many liberal causes, I'd be inclined to blame their upbringing for turning them into liberals, which it could just as well do (or better) if they were European socialists rather than American capitalists! To indict the *way someone makes his money* by the *way he spends it on non-profit organizations* seems very, very strange to me.

Fair enough. I have not specifically connected anti-culture the big (capitalist founded and funded) foundations to finance capitalism in a way related to the outworking of finance capitalism's economics. Those connections are probably more a matter of culture and social consanguinity.

"the endless funding of that same Leftist anti-culture, through foundations and the like by American Capitalists"

Cultural progressivism is no threat to corporate America, seeing as it no longer entails adherence to a strict socialism (if it ever did). The cultural Left talks a good anti-corporate game, but in reality it knows which side its bread is buttered on. And the corporations simply do what they need to do to keep the money flowing in -- they're quite flexible in that regard. Why continue as enemies when its easier to get what they want (social/political control on the one hand, continued profits on the other) by being partners? And it goes without saying that money gets the corporations political influence, while the organs of the cultural Left get more financial support. And so it goes.

I really object to the way the term "anti-intellectualism" is thrown about here. It isn't in any way the same thing as skepticism of formal education, certainly not at the present time. There is something deep in the American character, especially in certain regions, that abhors showing obsequity to formal authorities. I'm not saying there is no such thing as anti-intellectualism or that it isn't or never was a problem by any means, but I myself abhor outward shows of formality especially over education. Like Mike, I'm in a technical field and it is just in the nature of many in this crowd that we don't give a rat's behind about credentials. I never discuss credentials with anyone except at hiring time because I don't have a choice then because I can't lie about it. I never discuss what school(s) I went to, how far, or for what unless education is the topic of conversation for some reason. If my knowledge is adequate to the task I take it no one would care, and if it isn't I don't see how any credentials would matter.

Knowledge matters, and character matters, and not much else. I apply the same standards to all the subjects of my interest, and they are many. I do take pride and refer to the fact that I read as much and as widely as I can. How much that benefits me I am not fit to judge. I am not interested in anyone's credentials. I heartily gave a referral to someone I know for something and she immediately said "Is she certified?" I smiled and said "Well I don't know, and since I suppose she must be one of the best in the county I can't see what difference it makes." I would never have even thought to ask or check. If your level of expertise isn't apparent what good is it to cite credentials? Credentialism wars against excellence in this day and age more than ever.

Is this anti-intellectualism? No. it isn't. If it was Ivan Illich was an anti-intellectual. Emulating those I respect in my communities growing up and certain of my American heroes has made me this way over time. Sometimes when I see people exaggerating and seemingly finding an anti-intellectual behind every tree I smell a whiff of the same old European vs American divide immortalized in the old famous parable on America that involves a European gentleman.

I can't help but wonder if people chasing credentials instead of learning their own history and traditions might not be one of the reasons why people mistakenly think something that is good is so bad.

Paul, I think "consanguinity" may be a legitimate word. Big corporations are part of American culture, and American culture is messed up in a lot of ways. (The same is true of the education establishment and all kinds of other parts of American culture.) People who run corporations do not have a reason, just because they are big corporations, to be in the business of fighting on the socially conservative side. Unless, that is, they have some reason of their own--i.e., some particular corporate money-maker just is in fact a devout Christian, for example. It would be a naive mistake, and one that as far as I know I've never made, to believe that someone who got rich in business will fight liberalism in society just because he's a corporate kingpin and the left claims to hate such people. That doesn't follow at all. As with most things, different parts of culture and society feed into each other and boost each other. Unless one is self-consciously countercultural, there is no reason not to go with the flow, jump on the bandwagon, and get what one can from some given cultural phenomenon--good or bad--which one's actions will then also magnify. This is true even of something as (relatively) minor (compared to other horrors) as the degradation of the language.

Just ran across this pertinent quote by Alasdair MacIntyre from After Virtue:

“The cultivation of truthfulness, justice, and courage is a potential stumbling block to becoming rich, powerful, or famous. … We should therefore expect that if in a particular society the pursuit of external goods were to become dominant, the concept of the virtues might suffer first attrition and then perhaps something near total effacement (although simulacra might abound.)"

If your level of expertise isn't apparent what good is it to cite credentials?

At a guess, Mark, here's why: there are many fields where adequacy of knowledge cannot be determined quickly and easily and accurately at, say, an interview or similar contexts. A judge seating an expert witness cannot determine the expertness by grilling the guy, the judge himself doesn't know the field. When you hire a doctor, you are not qualified to ascertain whether the doctor really knows his stuff, you have to rely on someone else's judgment. If the whole world were intimately knowledgeable about everyone else's successes and failures, we could use our own knowledge of their record instead of a credential. Since people are often strangers, we have to use something else, but is still at least partly not subjective. Credentials are a pain in the bass, and I myself have been stung by the game overmuch, but I cannot see a viable alternative.

Paul, please distinguish 2 separate issues: How many people in business make their money, or at least make their profit margin, on the basis of "finance capitalism" as such, and how many people in business simply make their money while finance capitalism happens to be here? Here is what I am thinking: a heck of a lot of businessmen are small business owners, and they either make a product or sell a service in such a way that very, very little about their practice would change if finance capitalism were exchanged for more sane frameworks. Doctors, cobblers (there still is one in my town - well, he mainly just repairs shoes), beauty salon owners, and so on. Of the 24 million businesses in the US, 17 million have no employees and many more just a few. Virtually every one of these have only the most passing contact with finance capitalism (mostly on the victim end of the contact anyway).

On the other hand, of the revenue, firms with over 20 employees generate by far the vast majority of the revenue, and ones with over 100 employees the bulk of that. I think it is likely that of these, the revenues of finance capitalism specifically plays a big part.

But when you look at the regular interactions of regular people day by day, lots of stuff is moving around that simply has nothing to do with finance capitalism. Even of the companies who are heavily into finance capitalism, many of them ALSO do lots stuff that isn't the least bit associated with finance capitalism except that the capitalist practices increase the profit margin a bit: GE's light bulbs still send out light regardless of the fact that GE is a huge financial marketer. Given how much goes on that is NOT rooted in the specific vitiated concepts of finance capitalism, on what basis is it valid to depict our system by saying it is the capitalism we live under. For example, one of the largest areas of finance capitalism craziness is of course the mortgage market, and the rents (as Maximos would say) that we pay on loans. But my mortgage is at almost the same rate that my father got for a loan in 1953. Was he suffering under a finance capitalism system even then?

Just coming back to this comment thread after a hiatus and I want to make two points:

1) thank you Lydia for your April 1, 10:29 PM comment -- I think Paul's criticisms of finance capitalism have merit, I just don't think they made sense to link them to your criticism of leftists in higher education;

2) Mark, your April 2, 2:07 AM comment reminds me of Albion's Seed and the folkways of what Hackett Fischer calls the English borderers and Scots/Irish who settled in America. These were/are a people deeply suspicious of credentials and formal institutions but respectful of knowledge and excellence. Here is a great story he tells about the Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason who traveled into the Carolina backcountry in 1766 to "convert the heathen":

After many adventures which might have flowed from the pen of Swift or Fielding, the grand climax came when this missionary fell into an "ambuscade," and was captured by a gang of old-fashioned border reivers. They carried him captive to a secret settlement where they lived with their women and children. The clergyman prepared himself for Christian martyrdom, but when he arrived at their cabins his treatment suddenly changed. To his astonishment, the reivers began to treat him with "great civility," returned his property and promised to restore his freedom on one condition: that he preach a hellfire-and-damnation sermon, which he heartily agreed to do.
At a guess, Mark, here's why: there are many fields where adequacy of knowledge cannot be determined quickly and easily and accurately at, say, an interview or similar contexts.

Tony, you're undoubtedly right. I only meant that this sort of necessary thing can lead to, and has, a situation I'd call "credentialism," which is an extreme. Where people accept the fact that credentials are a reliable guide to knowledge, and social status. So in other words, even when adequacy of knowledge can be determined quickly and easily too many prefer to use credentials anyway. This I reject and I refuse to participate. I reject that my formal education says much about who I am, and anything about who I am that I wish people to know about me.

I was amused a few years ago when a professor of mine told the interesting story about how as a beginning professor he had financial trouble and had to ride the bus and how it made him more able to see a kinship with those who normally ride the bus. A student piped up and said "At any point did it occur to you the irony of having a Phd, the highest level of education you can attain, and not having enough money to fix your car?" And to my amazement, he said "Yes, it was an irony." A better person would have said "no" or "Well yes at the time because I was a prideful person, but I now wouldn't because it is a silly idea to think a credential should entitle me to always have enough money." I just rolled my eyes and wondered if he'd really learned humility he claimed to acquire on that bus, and honestly he seemed a very prideful person anyway. The people I respect and admire I know would have given a wry smile and gave a witty answer making the point.

Mark, your April 2, 2:07 AM comment reminds me of Albion's Seed and the folkways of what Hackett Fischer calls the English borderers and Scots/Irish who settled in America. These were/are a people deeply suspicious of credentials and formal institutions but respectful of knowledge and excellence.

Jeff, that is interesting. That book is on my list to read. Your comment peaks my curiosity now and I'll get it from the library next week.

My view comes from growing up in the Midwest, and learning from family and friends and Americans from the past. Most people now understand the American CW more in terms of East/West rather than North/South. Very strong differences that are very enlightening that extend to the present day. My two best friends from Indiana are two of the quickest and brightest people I know never attended college. My sensibilities are very much in line with Victor Davis Hanson, with his deep respect for all kinds of knowledge. You might enjoy this book. It describes many of the virtues of working with your hands, and has some extremely enlightening things to say about education. I can identify quite a bit with it.

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