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Comments by Wade McKenzie
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On “On Perceiving the People and the Army as One Hand in America, Too

“Oligarchy” means government by the few, and as a technical matter all government is government by a relative few. What we intend to express with the term is government by the few on behalf of their own interests against or irrespective of the interests of the many, but whether a particular oligarchy is in this sense “oligarchical” will be debatable,

I'll have to think about this post and the preceding one a bit more before I formulate any response, but for now I'd just like to say that the extract above is very well-stated indeed.

On “In the future everybody will be right about Iraq for fifteen minutes

The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas--the category of universality.

The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality, all that we call feeling, if we would rightly comprehend him; there is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this type of character.

~Hegel, The Philosophy of History (Sibree trans.)

From the section: “Geographical Basis of History”

"

Well, my comment was a little snarky and I regret that.

Having said that...

So, though Aristotle made some observations about typical characteristics of the peoples of Northern Europe and of Asia, I don’t believe he had a concept equivalent to “scientific racism.”

No, Aristotle was a philosopher who, in the realm of the human things, always began at the level of common sense and never entirely departed therefrom. In Leo Strauss' telling, for Aristotle philosophy was prior to common sense whereas for the moderns common sense is prior to philosophy. So I think we can safely say that Aristotle had a concept of "commonsensical" racism.

though Aristotle and Aquinas may have justified slavery, but not race slavery

You seem to suggest that the latter is not as odious as the former, whereas I might suppose the opposite to be true.

Otherwise, analyzing his view of racial or proto-racial categories is a more complex undertaking then I can attempt now.

No need to undertake a research project into Hegel's views on race. You've read The Philosophy of History. What is your response to the things that Hegel says about blacks in that work? If you disagree with his thoughts on blacks as expressed in that text, but otherwise find yourself experiencing a general affinity for Hegel's philosophy, then how do you explain away his views on blacks--how do you isolate that aspect of his work from the rest of it? I ask in all sincerity.

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Now, I've yet to make the argument for natural slavery as did Aristotle and I've yet to make the argument for the justice of enslaving prisoners of war as did Aquinas and I've yet to say all the bloody awful things that Hegel says about die Schwarzen in the Philosophy of History--but am I to understand that you would scold those men if you had the chance to meet them face to face?

Well, as I say, you're very intelligent and I think you know you are--so much so that maybe you really could enter the lists with these worthies.

"

CK, in my response to your post I tried to attend to the point you seemed to be making, as well as extend the point to another controversial domain of American political discourse. In other words, not only are we flyin' blind in relation to foreign policy we're flyin' blind in relation to all things--race, homosexuality, etc. In your response, you seem to be saying that, though we're flyin' blind in relation to foreign policy, we're aren't flyin' blind in relation to the race issue. I disagree and I don't really see how you can compartmentalize these things, aside from personal reasons, which are prejudicial. I don't have your personal reasons to be so touchy about race--in fact I have the opposite interest--and I can't be made to bear the burden of them, any more than I can make you bear the burdens of my personal heritage. We can only exchange points of view, with something like philosophy (i.e. something radically impersonal) as our common touchstone.

As I said: "at the risk of garnering my usual opprobrium." I'm well accustomed to being scolded for daring to question the received wisdom concerning race. I just happen to think that the race issue (that is to say, the ever-increasing racial balkanization of the US) is infinitely more important to the US going forward than foreign policy (though that's important too)--which is why I won't cease from broaching the subject where I'm permitted to do so.

If my comments on this line are entirely unwelcome to you, just say the word and I'll return to the shadows as a lurker. It won't diminish my respect for your intelligence and theoretical perspective at all.

But, no, as another questionable fellow said in a different context: "What I have written, I have written."

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A typically perspicacious and incisive post, CK. Once again, you rise above the terms of contemporary political discourse and debate to speak from a higher and more compelling perspective. I don't know how you do it, except that you're just bloody intelligent.

A brief first impression: In this post, you cleverly catalog a great number of political judgments, from the nineties and the '00s, from all sides of the spectrum. When these judgments are arrayed in lists like you've done here, with the transitions from one vantage to another made apparent as one scrolls through them, it has the effect (as you no doubt intend) of making these judgments seem less convincing than they seemed to their purveyors at given points in time--an effect that applies not so much to any specific judgment in particular, but to the totality of them all.

Two thoughts: 1) The gist of your post would seem to be that the universe of our political discourse is bounded by an encompassing unknown and that we are, to a large extent if not entirely, flying blind. Once, we thought had some wisdom we could rely on but that was discredited--now we have a new and opposite wisdom that we think we can rely on from here on out. But circumstances will almost inevitably arise in future that will discredit the new incarnation of political wisdom and so on, ad infinitum. If this is what you're getting at, at least in part, I couldn't agree more.

Now, at the risk of garnering my usual opprobrium--you speak of the Iraq war primarily in this post but the point you're making can of course be applied to other domains. And I'd like to apply it in passing, if I may, to one of my pet concerns--race. Once upon a time (and a very long time it was) we were dogmatically convinced that blacks were, by and large, incompetent barbarians and the best, most wise course of action was to steer well clear of them. Now, of course, we're dogmatically convinced of just the opposite--at least we say we are. We're flyin' blind.

Because the political things are not susceptible of certainties--not ever--and every regime is defective.

Secondly, I couldn't help but think as I read through your post: doesn't all this cast a helluva lot of doubt on the end of history thesis?

"

In the future everybody will be right about Iraq for fifteen minutes

Ha ha! Bloody brilliant, CK--I love it. (Haven't gotten past the title, but I had to register my delight.)

On “The Hebraic Heidegger (Another Discussion Not To Be Held)

Thank you, CK, for this cogent and interesting response. I think everything you say in it is thoughtworthy.

I too believe that it is entirely possible that thinkers like Cohen and Rosenzweig have a future, perhaps a highly successful one, despite the current state of their reception. And while I would find it difficult to accept the notion that Heidegger isn't after all a thinker for the ages, you're surely right to point out that we can never be certain.

I think your question concerning the possibility of Heidegger's being read in the thirty-first century and what that would imply for his own critique of the history of philosophy is a fascinating one. One option would be that his thought is assimilated to the history of philosophy, and one could wonder whether that wouldn't be an implicit refutation of his thought--though one would also have to consider the possibility of a "bad court", as you say. Another option would be the possibility that the Contributions portend: that Heidegger is influential in bringing about "another beginning" of thought.

One point of my comment that I would attempt to sustain is--while the thinkers Cohen, Rosenzweig, Heidegger and Schmitt might all conceivably have a following in the thirty-first century, I think it far less conceivable that Holocaust memorialization will. Nonetheless, the lack of absolute certitude must necessarily apply here as well, I suppose.

Re: the question of the meaning of history. My comments thus far have reflected a skeptical attitude that is reflexive with me. Like Nietzsche, Heidegger and Strauss I tend to admire premodern civilizations in contradistinction to our own. The reason has a lot do with the following quote from Leo Strauss: “A city is not a city, it is only a defective city, if it is not concerned with the moral character of its associates.” Modern America is a city/country that by design "is not concerned with the moral character of its associates."

As time passes, the cautionary tale that is Nazi Germany recedes ever more into the past. As you said in your prior comment, that example once served to promote any political alternative whatever. But from the vantage point of my personal subjectivity, it isn't fascism or authoritarianism that seems to be the critical issue now but rather anarchic liberalism and democracy. Liberalism purchases a general peace at the price of making one's country a place not worth living in.

Given that propensity, it's difficult for me to subscribe to the philosophy of history, which necessarily presupposes that the transition from antiquity to modernity is a progress. The ancient poleis were parochial and they existed in a perilous and warlike relation one to another. But they were not defective cities, unconcerned with the moral character of their associates.

One has to pick one's poison--I think this may be the paradox of history, if you like. Peace or virtue. But peace is optional, whilst virtue is mandatory.

"

I began my comment above with an extract from your original post that I more or less praised for its wit. What I found deliciously witty about it was the juxtaposition between the tainted figures Heidegger and Schmitt, whom you term "relevant thinkers" (in Heidegger's case, perhaps a considerable understatement) and the untainted, though somewhat hapless, pair of Cohen and Rosenzweig, whom you term "good men" (perhaps a bit of an overstatement) but, by implication, irrelevant thinkers.

Thus we have the dichotomy: good men (i.e. not Nazis)/irrelevant thinkers vs. bad men (i.e. Nazis)/relevant thinkers. In a certain respect, you have set up the question of the relative worth or rank of practical wisdom vis a vis speculative or theoretical wisdom.

Now as you say, context or perspective is crucial. And if the context were the general or abstract question of which is more to be valued: moral goodness/simple decency or metaphysical/ontological wisdom, then I'd probably be reluctant to choose theory over decency.

However, the context of the question isn't general or abstract; the context is the use you're making of the juxtaposition in the original post, and there--in that context, the context of the extract I highlighted--it seems clear that being a "relevant thinker" (at least for men who aspired to be so) is a higher attainment than to be a good (or perhaps, merely harmless) man but irrelevant thinker (again, for men who aspired to be so but largely failed).

And in that context you're eliciting the innate understanding on the part of your reader that theoretical excellence is superior to practical decency. That theoretic wisdom can--in any context whatever--be shown to be superior to practical, moral wisdom should give us pause and perhaps unhinge a little our wishful thinking.

My whole point about contemporary American hyperliberalism (expressing itself so hysterically in the constellated set of understandings that I term the doctrine of anti-racism, of which Holocaust memorialization is a key component) is that it's largely grounded in wishful thinking that is so transparently false that, like the Emperor's new clothes (forgive the cliché) it must soon come undone. Perhaps that will be a regrettable occurrence. Perhaps the cosmos disdains our regret.

It's entirely plausible, even likely in my view, that Heidegger will be read and studied seriously a thousand years from now, just as we study Aquinas or Plotinus, etc. today. If he is, part of what the devotees of philosophy of that time will read is Heidegger's contempt for hyperliberal techno-America. And they'll be able to compare what is known of subsequent American history to that lofty contempt.

And, in the meanwhile, a hundred horrors will have intervened themselves between the Holocaust(s) of the twentieth century and that time. The irony will almost certainly be that Heidegger is remembered long after the Holocaust is forgotten.

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Indeed, to the extent we remember Cohen and Rosenzweig it will tend to be, for now, more often as good men than as relevant thinkers, while for Heidegger and Schmitt it will be just the reverse. The starting point for understanding this strange revenge of the disgraced thinkers, a revenge on the level of thought only, etc.

Exquisitely formulated.

And that for now was, I think, a wise stipulation.

I watched "Hannah and Her Sisters" for the first time the other night. Max von Sydow, that redoubtable Aryan, is telling his girlfriend about a rare course of TV watching he had undertaken earlier that evening, wherein he'd come across a scholarly discussion of the Holocaust. Naturally, these scholars were wringing their hands and saying, "How could this have happened?" Max von Sydow's character says, "They ought to ask: how come this doesn't happen more often?"

The Holocaust was, of course, a dreadful occurrence; if anyone could have pushed a button to stop or prevent it, they ought to have. But much the same could be said for the Thirty Years' War or, for that matter, the Peloponnesian War. The difference between these three phenomena is merely quantitative; they aren't qualitatively different. History's slaughter bench carries on now as it ever has.

Heidegger's or Schmitt's Nazism, however regrettable in light of subsequent events, doesn't seem at all incomprehensible to me. They wanted to live in a country of their own people, their own kind. Yes I know--horror of horrors! But if you live in a white neighborhood, then you have at least a germ of understanding how they felt.

I hate to say it, but I think I really do find Nazi Germany less incomprehensible than contemporary America, where we're supposed to treat transvestites with the utmost seriousness, while perfectly normal people--for example, rednecks--are to be made a mockery of.

Is it entirely coincidental that the moral perspective of America's sophisticated elite perfectly correlates with the worldview of New York Jews of the atheist variety?

Well, I realize I may be walking a bit of a plank here, CK. But you did say, over on the Cliven Bundy post and thread, that you supported the Spinozistic principle of something like absolutely free inquiry and you furthermore maintained that a liberal democratic political order requires criticism of itself. All regimes are based on untrue assumptions. In my view, there is no more pressing need in the political domain than for free inquiry into the truth of the doctrine of anti-racism.

As is the case with philosophy generally, the absolute doctrine of anti-racism may be fine for a contemplative wise man, but as a foundational doctrine of political society it is abnormal, unnatural, tendentious.

On “Scrapheap 2014.05.12 – People like Bundy, Eich, Sterling, Robertson, Deen, and Spinoza

Thank you for this reading list--I think I'll really try to take a crack at it in the months to come.

The more I think about the issues that we're discussing, the more I can't help but feel that it is incumbent on every student of philosophy in our day and age to determine for himself the answer to the question: was Hegel right?

"

Btw--when I first came to this website about a year and a half ago, you were regularly discussing Hegel and it was one of the things that attracted me to the blog. So I know you've studied Hegel to a certain extent, whereas I really don't know much more than the thumbnail sketch--though every time I come across synopses of Hegel's thought I always feel the fascination of it.

Could I trouble you to recommend a book or two on the subject?

"

My comment was too flippant and you're quite right that the relation of liberty, tyranny and wisdom in Hegel is complex. It is enough to be reminded of the role that figures like Alexander and Napoleon play in the "slaughter bench" of history to demonstrate that.

Nevertheless, would it be correct to say that phenomena like tyranny, imperialism, militarism, etc. are, for Hegel, the instruments whereby liberty and wisdom are wrought into being in the course of history--that is, they are the means and never the end?

And would it be fair to say that, if Hegel wasn't right about that, then even the liberal democratic capitalist order at the end of history is really just another dead end?

"

liberty and tyranny do not coexist

Yes, Miguel--but I don't think Hegel would disagree.

Unfortunately for us all, if Hegel wasn't right, tyranny (or at least the Counter-Enlightenment) may be exactly where we're headed.

Everything depends on whether the novus ordo seclorum really is the new order of the ages.

"

Would it be fair to say that you can see the United States cum Enlightenment Project going either way?

On the one hand, you can see it working out (at least manageably so) in accordance with the intention of the founders as depicted in the quote from Gordon Wood above--or as Hegel, Kojève, or Fukuyama each in their respective ways forecast?

On the other hand, you can as well see that it might end badly, even disastrously, a la Nietzsche or Heidegger?

If this would be a fair characterization of your perspective--that you are holding or trying to hold two very distinct possibilities in view, without deciding in favor of the one or the other, but simply being aware of them as possibilities--then I think it would go a long way to accounting for the unusual nuance and perspicacity of your analyses.

However, when we speak of Hegel, Kojève, and Fukuyama we're ultimately talking about Hegel, the most brilliant of the "Enlightenment as absolute difference" theorists. If Hegel isn't largely right, then the notion of the Enlightenment as an irrevocable paradigm shift wouldn't seem likely.

I paraphrase the last sentence of your comment above, which seems to be an allusion of sorts to Hegel: The final outcome of the new order "might not be something we or anyway I can derive directly from its concept."

"

I thank you for this extended reply, which is as interesting as your pieces customarily are.

If I understand you correctly, you're suggesting that the United States--perhaps from the very beginning, from the very founding--was intended to be a polity that would be in a state of permanent long-term cultural revolution, so to speak, and that this state of affairs would give the regime the chance to be an everlasting regime, one that would not deteriorate into its inferior type a la classical political philosophy.

In other words, the regime would somehow be self-transformative and thus, paradoxically, abiding and permanent. If the regime can itself manage the transitions and transformations of state and society, then it might escape the hitherto inevitable cycle of the regimes.

You have recourse to a vivid and striking analogy--you liken our regime to a man who is continually inoculating himself against various diseases. And while he does gain extraordinary life-extension as a result, he is perhaps nevertheless deteriorating inexorably and painfully. Now if this analogy is valid (I find it compelling myself), the implication for our regime--our state and society, our body politic--is rather creepy.

If the "natural" condition of any regime (per the classics) is to be mortal and thus to transition into another sort, our regime's quest for immortality is not only anti-natural and bizarre, but stores up tremendous and ultimately irresistible tensions that portend, as you suggest, an apocalyptic finale. The demise of the man who's extending his life far beyond the natural lifespan is liable to be far worse than that due to ordinary old age, which is bad enough as it is.

Now, just to be clear, I didn't quite say that the doctrine of equality simpliciter has our country in its tight grip, but that the doctrine of racial intellectual equality does--though perhaps that's a distinction without a real difference. That doctrine is a key component in a system of premises that is intended to validate one of the greatest transformations that the regime has ever undertaken to bring about (and I do believe it is being engineered by the regime--it isn't just "happening")--that of turning the polity that was formerly overwhelmingly white (with a relatively small black cohort) into a hodgepodge. It seems to me that this is the transformation that will prove to be unsustainable and self-destructive.

In your last paragraph, however, you imply that, while you think the contradictions of the regime will result in its collapse, the true causes of its collapse will not be the visible antagonisms that confront us in the news or in our everyday experience, but higher and deeper causes hidden from view.

You speak of the type of regime under which we live as needing, even requiring, criticism. According to you, if that criticism ever comes to an end, then it's "lights out" for the regime. But mustn't we distinguish between mere criticism, which, though directed against the regime, is substantively false or uncompelling and thus doesn't pose a serious challenge; and true criticism, which brings the nature of the regime authentically to light? Your own critique of the regime, which is inscribed throughout this website, is philosophic--which means that it aspires to be both true and wise, and not merely critical. If you have come close to succeeding in your aspiration, and I believe you have, then that philosophic criticism poses a very real challenge to the regime.

That challenge, though very real, may of course be purely theoretical. That is to say, in the light of reason the regime is plainly revealed to be questionable, even absurd, so beset with internal contradictions that it must eventually topple after a long and fascinating run; but the critique can't be translated into any program of reform--perhaps because the critique itself must remain necessarily incomplete due to the limitations of human wisdom, but more pertinently because the audience of the critique is extremely narrow due to the limitations of human intelligence.

Whatever the case, the critique is intellectually stimulating and makes for fascinating reading. I look forward to your upcoming posts.

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“Since most regimes are in fact defective, and hence based on untrue assumptions of one kind or another, most laws, being dependent on the regime, lack evidence. If the basis is questionable, what is derivative of it must also be questionable.” ~Leo Strauss

Mr. McLeod: As always, a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. I especially appreciated the thought concerning whether it might not indeed be preferable to be a slave prospectively ascending to freedom rather than to be a ward of the welfare state descending to irremediable dependency--a thought that seems to me to depend on the ancient distinction between the noble and the base, a distinction that is hardly grasped these days.

From the time of the founding, the explicit rationale of our liberal democratic regime has increasingly shifted from liberty to equality. This closely tracks the thesis that in a democracy (which is the rule of the demos, the rule of the working class) the more excellent rationale, which is liberty, masks the less excellent, equality. As time goes on, the regime's esoteric basis can be made more and more explicit and the political virtue that formerly lent an air of excellence to an otherwise mediocre project can gradually be retired.

The specific manifestation of equality that has our country in its tight grip and that your post references is the doctrine of racial equality--which is more specifically the doctrine of racial intellectual equality. This doctrine is an offense to the untutored, commonsensical mind, to which it seems obviously untrue. Which offense in turn offends the sophisticated and/or sophistical mind, to which it seems, not obviously true, but, let's say, rationally true. Whether the rationalism of sophisticates can triumph over the deliverances of common sense remains to be seen.

In your piece, you critique these ostensible liberals' attack on instances of free speech from the standpoint of liberal free speech doctrine, thus criticizing them for their hypocrisy. This is rhetorically effective, but I'm curious whether you intend genuinely to uphold the doctrine of free speech in an absolutist or "libertarian" sense. One might suppose so, since you prominently quote Spinoza's abstract argument that only deeds be censured and not words.

Can any regime at all, especially liberal democracy, tolerate extensive discussion of the inadequacy or defectiveness of the regime itself? Let us keep in mind that when thoughtful people have spoken in the past of the virtue of the doctrine of free speech, they have always had primarily in mind critical speech concerning the regime itself--or at least I thought so. But that doesn't seem plausible or viable, given that the only transformation which a liberal regime can undergo is an illiberal one. That is to say, if free speech extensively criticizes the liberal or libertarian basis of the regime and that criticism gathers strength, the liberal regime is liable to be transformed necessarily into an illiberal one.

Given these issues--the paradox of free speech turning against the liberal regime and the problem that abstract doctrines of equality pose to the everyday realm of common sense, where we actually live out our lives for the most part--is it possible in your view that what we are witnessing and living through in this present time is a kind of internal contradiction (in something like a Hegelian sense) of the liberal state, which portends a crisis of the collapse of that state?

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