Light posting… some soundings…

…got some new material simmering… but I’ve been hiding in the library shelves the last week, otherwise trying to get some real world work done.  Here’s a useful fragment for later use the next time we feel like discussing constitutionalism, from the historian Forrest McDonald:

It should be obvious… that it is meaningless to say that the Framers intended this or that; …their positions were diverse and, in many particulars, incompatible.  Some had firm, well-rounded plans, some had strong convictions on only a few points; some had self-contradictory ideas; some were guided only by vague ideals.

Isaac Kramnick concurs.  Referring to the various “distinguishable idioms” in the discourse of 1787 – “republicanism,” “Lockean liberalism,” “work-ethic Protestantism,” and “state-centered theories of power and sovereignty” – he offers the following caution to those seeking some overarching version of “original intent” (emphasis in the original) :

None dominated the field, and the use of one [idiom] was compatible with the use of another by the very same writer or speaker.  There was a profusion and confusion of political tongues among the founders.  They lived easily with that clatter; it is we two hundred years later who chafe at their inconsistency.

[amazon-product]0700611088[/amazon-product]The above quotes come from the introduction to Jerome Huyler’s Locke in America (1995), which attempts to synthesize apparent contradictions through a proper understanding of Locke’s work and influence.  I’ll close for now with another historian’s promise to find order among these contradictions – from Gordon Wood, describing what the Framers of 1787 expected in exchange for their rejection of the ancient republican virtues embodied in the “Spirit of 1776”:

The illimitable progress of mankind promised by the Enlightenment could at last be made coincident with the history of a single nation.  For the Americans at least, and for others if they followed, the endless cycle of history could finally be broken.

20 comments on “Light posting… some soundings…

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  1. For the Americans at least, and for others if they followed, the endless cycle of history could finally be broken.

    This sounds very much like Hinduism where the endless cycles of Karma are occasionally broken by an Enlighted Being after countless generations of reincarnation.
    Let’s not kid ourselves here,the endless cycle of history is no more broken by US then the everpresent karmic process ever could be.
    Humanity’s illusions,delusions,pride,and hybris are the engine of history. American Exceptionalism as described above by Wood is another variant of nationalistic hybris. James Joyce’s opinion was that history is a nightmare from which we haven’t woken. We’re not “Special” by any Standard in the sense of Destiny or Divine intention. If we are going to salvage our empire,or our nation,(we have to choose which)we have to do that with our Reason and Intelligence, not some fantasy of Predestination,Divine Right or Manifest Destiny.

  2. Rex Caruthers wrote:

    If we are going to salvage our empire,or our nation,(we have to choose which)we have to do that with our Reason and Intelligence, not some fantasy of Predestination,Divine Right or Manifest Destiny.

    I’d say we need to do it, and re-do it, with our acts, not our abstractions – immanentize the ol’ eschaton. As for being “special” or “exceptional,” the proof is also ever only immanent. We know ourselves by our works, the reach that exceeds whatever intellectual grasp. The “fantasies” you deride were also dreams of Reason and Intelligence. You can declare them monstrous, but any such declaration, reified, is just another monster being born.

  3. The “fantasies” you deride

    I fantasies I deride,I deride because they are in the way. For example.isn’t Russia far better off today then when they were emeshed in their Dreams of Empire. I realize that they didn’t choose their Path;it was done to them. We can still choose,however,rather then having IT done to us.

  4. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Not sure the Russian dream is done. As for us, I think it’s questionable whether the U.S. would survive the death of the idea of the U.S., in any recognizable form.

  5. Let’s go ‘old school Hegel’ and stipulate that the Obama administration is the antithesis of Locke’s goals “life, liberty and property” The first,
    FCCER, IMAC, and the complete live’s system, which contradicts the hippocratic oath, but that’s no bother. liberty, clearly a negative, as
    Susstein, Holdren, Lloyd, would entertain, it gets in the way of community organizing and ‘the redistribution of wealth. as Michelle
    Obama, put’s it, “Barack will not allow not be involved” and of course, property, which is theft as the anarchist say

  6. “–questionable whether the U.S. would survive the death of the idea of the U.S”

    Then,we better figure out what “the idea of the US” costs,and find the funds to cover those costs,or else.

  7. ‘the redistribution of wealth”

    At the moment,the problem is Upwards Redistribution,not Outwards.

  8. The existence of free will is a hot topic now in neuroscience. I think more properly, it is a matter of comming to a coherent definition.

    In any event, neuroscience, while still in its infancy, is sufficiently advanced to have pretty much eliminated the need for the ghost in the machine.

    So the focus has shifted to describing the existence, or nature (depending on one’s inclinations) of consciousness.

    The thing is, mere reductionism doesn’t make any more sense than the idea of a changeless, eternal soul. So some have taken to talking about the embodied or encultured brain to convey the dynamic web in which our consciousnesses are embedded.

    History is an artifact of consciousness.

    If, against the emerging evidence, we see consciousness itself as a thing in some neo-platonic sense, then we will naturally reify the components of history. That is the norm.

    To see consciousness, and therefore history as a “becomingness”, presents more interesting possibilities.

    I just needed to get that off my chest.

  9. Russia’s been enmeshed in empire for a long time, from Poland to the west, to the Caucasus in the South, and the other Tatar states to the
    east. It may have stemmed from the Orthodox idea of a third Rome specially after Constantinople fell, it’s arguable that the Czarist system
    fell through overextension with Japan and Prussia respectfully, plus the
    horrid social relations within it’s territory

  10. @ narciso:
    A little bit of static there, but I get the point, and I agree that Obamist neo-progressivism is a lot more Spirit of ’76 than Spirit of ’87 in the sense of the above discussion – or would be if it was coherent. More later.

  11. Russia’s been enmeshed in empire for a long time

    And I’m sure they want it back,but as a practical matter,the Russian Government/Nation is in far better shape downsized than it was from 1968-1988.

  12. No, it is neither, it is Jacobin, in the spirit of Danton, Marat and Robespierre, with a touch of Bonaparte

  13. No, it is neither, it is Jacobin, in the spirit of Danton, Marat and Robespierre

    If the top 1% end up with too much pie the pie,it’s New Jac City time.

  14. @ bob:
    Count me as a skeptic of the notion that neuroscience can solve the fundamental questions of consciousness from within neuroscience. It can only ever describe organic mechanisms for the production or reception of ideas and things. The idea as idea and thing as thing are beyond its purview, because neuroscience itself is an idea about things. It would need to exceed itself, and at that moment cease being neuroscience, to grasp its own concept, and the paradox would apply just as much to the perhaps broader idea of “cognitive science,” which can teach us lots of things, but runs up against the limits of language and philosophy and philosophy of language and the languages of philosophy, and so can’t ever quite tell us us what cognitive science is.

    This problem is well-known, of course, including by you, clearly. I do wonder why and how free will exactly matters to neuroscientists, and whether any of their investigations take us very far beyond the “cognitive science” of the great and disagreeable philosophers who’ve been practicing the science without a license since forever.

    Odd how these exchanges are tracing over material, including the original “immanentize the eschaton” essay, which I just happened to grab this last week.

  15. A point of clarification, any interest in for example free will is probly from neuroscientists, who may or not be medical doctors.

    Clinical neuologists do tend toward being more mechanic like.

    But the reseachers get pretty wild. For example some have posited that consciousness is a quantum mechanics process.

    I don’t pretend to understand this, but just for fun:

    This is not some nut job. People take him seriously.

    The main issue with these ideas coming from science is that they are potetially verifiable and repeatable. magine, scietifically verafiable philosophy!

    Thanks for the compliment about the depth of my knowledge about this. I assure you, it’s completely misplaced.

    As this stuff begins to enterthe popular awareness, global warming will look like a field with overwhelming consensus.

    I have seen some on the left try to incorporate some of the research into their thinking, but not really on the right.

  16. @ bob:
    You dont’ have to apologize for Penrose to me – I dig him. He was the first person I read who ever made me feel as though I understood quantum mechanics. It was SHADOWS OF THE MIND, a really enjoyable book, by the way, especially for science fiction fans.

    We were discussing Penrose briefly a few months ago, with our occasional visitor strangelet. My view is that he might have an insight into the most irreducible and fundamental mechanics of thinking (mentation?), but that the mechanics wouldn’t be quite the same thing as the formation and enunciation of thoughts and concepts. For that I’m still partial to a society of mind/hyper-accelerated evolution model, though I’m still thinking through for myself (by some mysterious process) how the possible deficiencies in Darwinian natural selection might affect my picture of it.

    As for conservative views, one approach would be to drop a level down, and think of the mind as a free market economy, exploiting “market” signals and spontaneous order. There would be an appeal to more traditional conservative views about society that would work here, too. As I think about it – and the society of mind – I’m wondering if there is any general statement about politics that one couldn’t equally apply to the functioning of the mind. Will reflect on it as I got about my affairs.

  17. Just started the article… have RecBrowed it – thanks! Btw, you can submit articles to Recommended Browsing via a form on the page (see top menu).

  18. (Usually, the RecBrow links are new items – but I don’t see any reason why that needs to be a strict rule, esp. when they relate to discussion.)

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