Pages

Monday, November 18, 2019

Civilization and Barbarism

Man is not a creature of reason, he is not born for freedom, and he does not yearn for peace. The men who use reason and are fixated on living in freedom and peace are to be found only in the idealistic works of the philosophers and fiction writers. The truth is that men are motivated by a range of passions, emotions, desires, ambitions, fears, prejudices, and corporeal and spiritual needs. In the history of mankind, the desire for creating a civilization has always marched hand in hand with the lust for indulging in an orgy of barbarism. The barbarians are always threatening the gates of civilization, because a barbarian resides inside the mind of every man howsoever sophisticated and erudite he may appear from the outside.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Progressives Seek an Earthly Paradise

In his November 15, 2019 lecture, William Barr says that the difference between the progressives and conservatives is that the former treat politics as their religion and their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake men and society and create an earthy paradise, while the latter restrict themselves to preserving the proper balance of freedom and order to enable the development of a healthy civil society in which individuals can thrive.

Here’s an excerpt from Barr’s lecture:

“In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion.  Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection.  Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end.  They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications.  They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.

“Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.  We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing.  This means that we naturally test the propriety and wisdom of action under a “rule of law” standard.  The essence of this standard is to ask what the overall impact on society over the long run if the action we are taking, or principle we are applying, in a given circumstance was universalized – that is, would it be good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances?

"For these reasons, conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means.  And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy war, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.”

Is Liberty a Cult?

The philosophy of liberty is fully compatible with irrationality, cultism, and utopianism. We can draw this inference from history of the philosophical movements that have been devoted to liberty in the last 2500 years. There is as much irrationally, cultism, and utopianism in the pro-liberty movements as there is any theocratic movement. In Ancient Greece, Epicurus established a movement called epicureanism which asserted the value of human freedom and individualism, but the epicureans used to worship the hero cult of Epicurus and they pined for a utopia. In the last 100 years there have been two movements dedicated to liberty: the first is libertarianism and the second is a tiny movement called objectivism which was founded by Ayn Rand. Both libertarianism and objectivism are irrational (in several aspects), cultist, and utopian.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

On Master Morality and Slave Morality

In his two books Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche argues that there are two fundamental types of morality: master morality and slave morality. Both the moralities, he says, originated in ancient societies of Greece and Rome. The ancient masters belonged to aristocratic families and were strong, creative, wealthy, and powerful; they viewed themselves as just and moral and they ruled the ancient world with an iron hand, even during the period when Greece and Rome were democracy or republic.

The slave morality, on the other hand, originated among the people in the ancient world who were slaves and servants. They were weak, powerless, lacking in education and intellect, and had no hope of ever enjoying the good life that was being enjoyed by the master class. The relentless oppression that they suffered from their masters had turned them into servile, reactionary, and resentful creatures. While they regarded the virtues of their masters as evil, they had a low opinion of themselves because they believed that they, in some way, deserved their fate.

The masters became the fountainhead of the notion that wealth, glory, ambition, and excellence are compatible with a moral way of life. The thinking of the slaves gave rise to the idea that denial of desire, renunciation, and self-sacrifice are a necessary condition for being moral. Thus master morality is based on self-actualization and slave morality is based on self-denial.

According to Nietzsche, slave morality has been the popular principle for more than 2000 years and the modern age is its climax. However, master morality has not vanished—it continues to exist in peoples minds as a bad conscience which often asserts itself in form of a conflict between things like excellence and mediocrity, pride and humility, selfishness and selflessness, desire and renunciation. Nietzsche imagines that evolution may give rise of the Übermensch who is an expression of master morality and also contains the speritualized elements of slave morality.

Individualism is Not a Political Concept

Individualism is not a political concept; it is an attribute of human psychology that enables a man to be independent and use his own mind for making his choices. A man, depending on his mindset, can be an individualist in a communist country—capitalism is not a necessary condition for individualism. An individualist, like any collectivist, can be moral or immoral—individualism has nothing to do with morality.

Politics is by nature social and collectivist; it cannot be individualistic because the formation of groups with some sort of common agenda is a necessary condition for political activity. The idea of having a political movement of individualists is vacuous and incoherent. Unless people can find ways for collaborating and cooperating with each other and develop a basic understanding about the political outcomes that they want to achieve, they won’t have a political movement.

The individualists must develop the capacity for empathizing and communicating with other minds if they want to have an impact on their nation’s politics.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Incoherent Dream of The Enlightenment

In the final paragraph of his essay, “Vico and the Ideal of the Enlightenment,” Isaiah Berlin talks about the incoherence in the dream of the Enlightenment. Here’s an excerpt:

"To a disciple of Vico, the ideal of some of the thinkers of the Enlightenment, the notion of even the abstract possibility of a perfect society, is necessarily an attempt to weld together incompatible attributes—characteristics, ideals, gifts, properties, values that belong to different patterns of thought, action, life, and therefore cannot be detached and sewn together into one garment. For a Vichian this notion must be literally absurd : absurd because there is a conceptual clash between, let us say, what gives splendour to Achilles and what causes Socrates or Michelangelo or Spinoza or Mozart or the Buddha to be admired; and since this applies to the respective cultures, in the context of which alone men's achievements can be understood and judged, this fact alone makes this particular dream of the Enlightenment incoherent. The scepticism or pessimism of a good many thinkers of the Enlightenment—Voltaire, Hume, Gibbon, Grimm, Rousseau—about the possibility of realizing this condition is beside the point. The point is that even they were animated by a conception of ideal possibilities, however unattainable in practice. In this, at least, they seem to be at one with the more optimistic Turgot and Condorcet. After Vico, the conflict of monism and pluralism, timeless values and historicism, was bound sooner or later to become a central issue."

The dream of the Enlightenment was based on the notion that human progress is certain and that human history will take a particular path. But Berlin rejects determinism and the possibility of a perfect human life. He points out that indeterminacy and pluralism, which are the essential features of human nature, make it impossible for any philosopher or historian to predict the future.

On The Problem of Evil

Diamonds are not forever, but evil is. Evil cannot be abolished. There can never be a society that is free of evil because all men (even the saintly ones) have the potential for being evil, just as they have the potential for being good. But this philosophical point is ignored by the modern leftists, liberals, and the neo-conservatives who are convinced that a society free of evil (a paradise) can be created through reason. They inflict utopian policies on their nation and launch wars for creating a paradise in other nations. Most of them are atheists, but they have a “blind faith” in reason; they are convinced that their domestic and foreign policy is perfect.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Subversive Philosophy of Isaiah Berlin

John Gray, in his Introduction to his book Isaiah Berlin, says that “Berlin’s work is animated by a single idea of enormous subversive force. This is the idea, which I call value-pluralism, that ultimate values are objective but irreducibly diverse, that they are conflicting and often uncombinable, and that sometimes when they come into conflict with one another they are incommensurable.” According to Gray, the political implication of Berlin’s thought is that “the idea of a perfect society in which all genuine ideals and goods are achieved is not merely utopian; it is incoherent.”

The Problem of Modern Philosophy and Science

The purpose of philosophy is to establish certainty; the purpose of science is to establish empirical facts. But the modernist thought developed during the Age of Enlightenment has turned the traditional view of philosophy and science on its head. The “enlightened” modernists view philosophy as a political tool for imposing an atheistic worldview on the people—and they see science as a tool for creating an idea of progress which owes nothing to traditional knowledge and values. Due to their efforts, atheism has become a project that is devoted solely to creating new materialistic religions (which come with a complete paraphernalia of earthly gods, virtue-signaling rituals, and the promise of an earthly paradise). By suppressing traditional knowledge and values, they have ensured that the progress achieved through science does not lead to intellectual and spiritual advancement in the people; it leads to nihilism.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hegel’s God and Kierkegaard’s God

While he was a student in Berlin, Søren Kierkegaard had studied with Friedrich Schelling who has denounced G. W. F. Hegel as a negative thinker. Kierkegaard too disliked Hegel’s philosophy because he found in it a paradigm of collective and rationalist thinking, and an idea of god that was incompatible with his own idea of god. He developed a philosophy that is essentially non-Hegelian—its focus is on the individual and not the collective.

In Hegel’s philosophy, we find a grand historical dialectic which leaves little room for the individual, as it seeks to prove that history and humanity have an ultimate purpose. His dialectic defends the idea of a collective world-spirit (or Geist), which is identical with human consciousness and the world. The Hegelian god or Geist is inseparable from his creation and human beings. According to Hegel, human beings can rationally comprehend the Geist, but they cannot confront it as they are themselves a part of the Geist.

Kierkegaard, a profoundly devout man, was appalled by Hegel’s view of god, and he viewed Hegel as an atheist. He rejected not only the collectivity of the Hegelian Geist but also the idea that god can be rationally comprehended. He says that the existence of god cannot be proved or disproved. In his works, he introduces a god that has the power to induce “fear and trembling” and who exists separate from his creation and human beings, thus making a personal confrontation between god and man possible.

In Hegelian dialectic, history proceeds through confrontation, but in Kierkegaard’s dialectic there is no scope for confrontation as it is focussed on the individual. Kierkegaard is primarily interested in two issues: the choices that man faces and the modes of his existence (or lifestyle). He identifies three modes: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. But he notes that there is no rational standard for preferring one mode over the other two.

On The Political Significance of a Nation’s Traditions

A nation’s tradition does not concern only its past; rather, tradition is a cultural and political principle that distributes authority between the past, present, and future. It is a principle that takes into account the three possible cultures: the culture that existed in the old times, the new culture of the contemporary period, and the culture that is possible in the time that is yet to come. By distributing authority between the past, present, and future, the principle of tradition prevents a nation’s politics from taking a totalitarian turn. A consensus between the past, present, and future cannot be achieved by a totalitarian regime—only a democratic or republican government, elected by popular mandate, may achieve it. That is why the nations where politics is dominated by conservative and nationalistic groups which respect tradition are always democratic or republican and tend to enjoy a high level of liberty and free market.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Theists Versus Atheists

Being an atheist is not a sign of a person’s individualism, rationality, and pure moral sentiments but a philosophical position, which is a subject of contentious debate because it can never be proved to be right or wrong. The idea that atheism goes hand in hand with individualism, rationality, and morality is an Enlightenment claim, but there is no philosophical or scientific evidence to back this claim. There is also no evidence to back the claim that the atheists are happier than the theists—in most countries surveys have shown that the theists are generally happier and have a longer average lifespan than the atheists. Then there is the claim that the atheists are likely to be in favor of liberty—this claim is false. In fact, most countries ruled by atheistic doctrines are totalitarian. Even in free countries, the atheistic institutions and groups are mostly hierarchical and cultist—they take a doctrinal approach to political and cultural issues because of which they tend to deny freedom of free expression to their members.

People Need Religion Because Philosophy is Subjective

Human life is a paradox which cannot be resolved by reason alone; it also demands some sort of contact with a religion that is rich in theological philosophy. The paradox in life is one of truth—there are the fundamental truths that you accept because your senses tell you that these truths are part of the objective reality. But several of these fundamental truths cannot be proved by science and mathematics; you have to go to philosophy for finding arguments to substantiate your belief in these truths. Philosophy, however, is grounded in both objectivity and subjectivity.

A good philosophy is never wholly objective—science is wholly objective, philosophy isn’t. In philosophy the subjective element, as well as the objective element, have a role to play. A philosopher’s work is an outcome of his own subjective thoughts, his reflections on the concerns of the world in which he exists. When there is a subjective element, the aspect of rationalization will be there. But rationalization entails faith—it can be faith in your own mind, that of someone else, or in a mystical entity. The idea of faith brings us to theological philosophy, which is religion.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

On Existentialism

Philosophers with existentialist sensibilities can be found as far back as ancient times. Existentialist way of thinking has been identified in Heraclitus, Socrates, and even Augustine. Modern existentialism is generally identified with the thought of five thinkers: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The wide difference in the religious and political thought of these five philosophers is something that makes it impossible to see existentialism as a school of philosophy. Modern existentialism is not a set of doctrines; it is a movement based on certain sensibilities regarding individualism and human freedom. Kierkegaard was profoundly religious, whereas Nietzsche and Sartre were atheists. Kierkegaard would have nothing to do with politics, he was disgusted by it, but Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger were not only political theorists but also political activists. Sartre was a Marxist; Camus was a staunch anti-Marxist and identified as a humanitarian; Heidegger, it is alleged, was close to Nazism. The philosophy also includes popular authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kafka.

Socrates: The Ugly Philosopher

Socrates was ugly and that made him unhappy. His ugliness was a cause of unhappiness for him because in Ancient Greece ugliness was regarded as a refutation. He hated the people of Ancient Greece because he could see that they were rejecting him because of his ugliness and he devoted his life to philosophy with the aim of overturning Greek culture. This is one of the points that Friedrich Nietzsche makes in his critique of Socratic philosophy.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

On The Importance of Man’s Absurdity

Thomas Hobbes describes in Leviathan, an ideal commonwealth that can be established through a social contract and mimics a human body which has at its head, a sovereign with absolute power over the masses. Every person living in the commonwealth has a fixed role to play, like the organs in a human body.

Is it possible for human beings to live in a society where they play fixed roles and have no freedom? Hobbes does not rely on morality to keep the masses in place—he thinks that people will enter into a social contract with one another to establish a commonwealth ruled by a sovereign because they want stability and peace more than anything else.

But Hobbes undermines much of the thesis that he has presented in Leviathan in a passage in Chapter 5 where he acknowledges that human beings have the tendency of exhibiting absurd behavior. He writes, “the privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, but man only.” His utopia is not feasible because men have the tendency to speak words without meaning and act in absurd ways.

I think that man’s freedom is rooted not only in his reason and intelligence but also in his aptitude for thinking and acting in nonsensical and unpredictable ways.

The God of the Libertarians

The libertarian thinkers deny god of religion because they think that they possess a better god. The free market is the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god that they believe in. They give short shrift to the historical issues, cultural issues, and geopolitical issues. They think that the free market god is the best solution to most of the problems that mankind faces. But the problem with the libertarian vision is that their god of free market is badly articulated—free market will never be achieved by the intellectual and political methods that they are using.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Political Ideology Versus Political Activity

In his essay, “Political Education,” Michael Oakeshott rejects the supposition that political ideology inspires political activity. He points out that the exact opposite is true, it is political activity that is the father of political ideology. Here’s an excerpt:

“So far from a political ideology being the quasi-divine parent of political activity, it turns out to be its earthly stepchild. Instead of an independently premeditated scheme of ends to be pursued, it is a system of ideas abstracted from the manner in which people have been accustomed to go about the business of attending to the arrangements of their societies. The pedigree of every political ideology shows it to be the creature, not of premeditation in advance of political activity, but of meditation upon a manner of politics. In short, political activity comes first and a political ideology follows after; and the understanding of politics we are investigating has the disadvantage of being, in the strict sense, preposterous.”

He illustrates his point by reflecting on the relationship between scientific hypothesis and scientific activity:

“Let us consider the matter first in relation to scientific hypothesis, which I have taken to play a role in scientific activity in some respects similar to that of an ideology in politics. If a scientific hypothesis were a self-generated bright idea which owed nothing to scientific activity, then empiricism governed by hypothesis could be considered to compose a self-contained manner of activity; but this certainly is not its character. The truth is that only a man who is already a scientist can formulate a scientific hypothesis; that is, an hypothesis is not an independent invention capable of guiding scientific inquiry, but a dependent supposition which arises as an abstraction from within already existing scientific activity. Moreover, even when the specific hypothesis has in this manner been formulated, it is inoperative as a guide to research without constant reference to the traditions of scientific inquiry from which it was abstracted. The concrete situation does not appear until the specific hypothesis, which is the occasion of empiricism being set to work, is recognized as itself the creature of owing how to conduct a scientific inquiry.”

Here's his outlook on the relationship between cooking and a cookery book:

“…consider the example of cookery. It might be supposed that an ignorant man, some edible materials, and a cookery book compose together the necessities of a self-moved (or concrete) activity called cooking. But nothing is further from the truth. The cookery book is not an independently generated beginning from which cooking can spring; it is nothing more than an abstract of somebody's knowledge of how to cook: it is the stepchild, not the parent of the activity. The book, in its tum, may help to set a man on to dressing a dinner, but if it were his sole guide he could never, in fact, begin: the book speaks only to those who know already the kind of thing to expect from it and consequently bow to interpret it.”

The Myth of Scientific Worldview

The notion of a scientific worldview is a myth that was first propagated in the 18th century by the Enlightenment philosophers who wanted to elucidate a totally materialistic doctrine of the universe.

The truth is that science is a method of inquiry into the nature of particular things or phenomena—and no amount of scientific knowledge will give us a view of the “whole” or the entire world. The belief that the universe originated from Big Bang is a philosophical speculation. The belief that the universe was created by a god or an unmoved mover is a religious speculation. These are not scientific facts. Science has no way of proving or disproving the theories that are universal in scope. Through science we cannot even prove that everything in the universe is composed of matter—this is a metaphysical speculation.

Only philosophy and religion can provide a worldview. When people embrace a worldview, they don’t do it on the basis of scientific facts—they do it for ideological or religious reasons.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

On The Purpose of Freedom

The purpose of freedom is not to make human beings rational, moral, knowledgeable, or civilized. Freedom has only one purpose—it is to enable human beings to live in society without meddling in each other’s lives. The inner freedom of the mind (that Socrates and Plato have talked about) could be more important than political freedom.

Secularism Leads To Multiple Personality Disorder

Secularism is a political doctrine that seeks to banish religion from public life while allowing it to stay alive in private life. But by dividing a man’s life into public life and private life, secularism leads to the creation of a sort of multiple personality disorder in the people. Men become split into two identities: the public man, or a man who engages in political and social activities during his work hours; and the private man, or a man who in his free time attends to his personal needs.

The public man and the private man have to coexist, since they have one body and one mind, but their opinions and way of life are often dissimilar. Secularism commands the public man to be atheistic in his outlook, while the private man is allowed to be religious, if that is what he wishes to be. But a man cannot lead a fulfilling life when his mind is a battleground of two contrasting versions of his own personality—the public man inside him wants him to become a total atheist, while the private man inside him won’t allow him to give up his religion.

Since people are incapable of living with a split personality, the secularist agenda of restricting religion to private life can never succeed. In many secular countries, religion continues to play an important role in politics.

Related: On The Myth of Secularism

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Totalitarianism Versus Anarchy

The worst enemy of liberty is not totalitarianism—it is anarchy. No totalitarian regime can constrain a nation’s freedom in every possible way, because to do so it would have to put all its people in chains and herd them into a concentration camp, but if every man in the country suffers the same fate, then there will be no one left to run the economy and the regime will collapse. Most totalitarian regimes leave majority of the citizens untouched—they go after the individuals and groups that they regard as a political threat.

When there is anarchy, there is a power vacuum which turns the society into a battleground of competing faiths and ideologies. The masses get tossed around in this battle for political supremacy; instead of one totalitarian, they have to deal with a whole host of them. They may have to run around to save themselves from the sectarian death squads (some of which may claim a divine right to rule) which prefer to use terror as a tool for grabbing political power. In the chaos and violence that ensues, the masses forgo of their psychological incentives for exercising any kind of liberty. They are not in chains, they are not herded in a concentration camp—but they have no liberty.

Therefore, an individual living in a society that is in state of anarchy is worse off politically than an individual living under a totalitarian regime. In anarchy, there is less liberty because the masses are enchained by fear and confusion.

On The Myth of Minimum Government

The libertarians talk about returning to the era of minimum government. But what “era” are they talking about? Minimum government is an imaginary concept. Even in the 18th century, when the USA was founded, the government there was quite big, relative to the nation’s population, the area that it controlled, and the revenues that it received as taxes, and since then the government in this nation has been growing at a brisk pace.

Human beings do not know how to create a minimum government paradise. In the last 2500 years there has not been a single good nation with minimum government—the greatest innovations in philosophy, science, and technology have been made in nations with big governments. Can a nation with libertarian style minimum government survive, if by some kind of miracle it comes into existence? I doubt it. Minimum government is a utopian goal—it will never be achieved. It sounds good in theory, but it is not realizable.

A campaign for minimum government can never succeeded—that is why the libertarian political parties never get more than a handful of votes. If the libertarians want people to take them seriously, they should start talking about things that are achievable by the “imperfect” human beings who live in imperfect nations. Instead of minimum government, they must talk about the ways by which the government institutions can be made more honest, efficient, and accountable.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

On The Philosophy of War

There are three philosophical positions on ethics of warfare: pacifism, realism, and just war theory. The liberal political groups are generally inclined towards pacifism or just war theory depending on their political agenda. The conservative groups reject pacifism as a utopian ideal—they are inclined towards realism but they may also espouse a just war theory in certain circumstances.

Pacifism rejects all violent actions—some extreme pacifist groups advocate peace initiatives even when the nation is under direct attack. The pacifist groups are inspired by the teachings of Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the time of the Soviet Union, the communist groups made use of pacifist rhetoric to create antiwar sentiments in the countries that they planned to attack. I think pacifism is an immoral doctrine because it constrains the nation from retaliating when its own interests are under attack.

The realist view entails that a nation has the right (and the moral obligation) to defend its interests. According to the realists, if need arises, the nation should go to war against an enemy power, but only after making an objective analysis of its own military power. The realists (who as I said earlier are mostly conservatives) generally believe in maintaining peace through a balance of power among the nations.

The just war theory is divided into two branches: jus ad bellum, which examines the moral and political principles for deciding whether it is just to participate in a war; and jus in bello, which seeks to ensure that the war is conducted ethically. In some cases, jus in bello seeks to constrain a nation from undertaking military action that will lead to civilian casualties in enemy territory, even if the avoidance of such military action will endanger the life of the nation’s own soldiers—this viewpoint is rejected by the conservatives.

In his 1977 book On Just and Unjust Wars, Michael Walzer, an important leftist intellectual, rejects both pacifism and realism. He says that a war can only be justified on the basis of the just war theory. He approves the Israeli military action during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War of 1967. However, the purpose of his book is to justify his opposition to the Vietnam War. He makes a number of assertions which smack of liberal pacifist thinking. For instance, he writes, “It is a crime to commit aggression”.

He also says, “Any use of force or imminent threat of force by one state against the political sovereignty or territorial integrity of another constitutes aggression and is a criminal act… Aggression justifies two kinds of violent response: a war of self-defense by the victim and a war of law enforcement by the victim and any other member of international society.” But such arguments will lead to the utopian conclusion that war is essentially a bad thing.

Survival Strategy for Empires and Republics

A good nation must be both: an empire and a republic. This means that the nation should be founded on republican values while retaining the ability to act like an empire. The history of last 2500 years shows that if a republic lacks the ability to act like an empire, then, within a few decades, it either gets ripped apart in a civil war or is conquered by an outside force. The same goes for empires which are not republics—they too have a short life.

The successful republics cum empires in history are—the Roman Republic/Empire, the British Monarchy/Republic/Empire, and the American Republic/Empire.

The Roman Republic, within a few decades of its inception in 509 BC, developed a lust for being an empire. Starting from the city of Rome, it gradually gained influence over much of the Mediterranean world. After 27 BC it got transformed into an empire with republican roots—the Western Roman Empire lasted till 480 AD and the Eastern till 1500 AD. The British Empire was officially a monarchy, but it was founded on republican values —it lasted for almost 400 years (16th century to 19th century), and at its peak it controlled 25% of the planet.

America was founded on republican principles, but like the Roman Republic, it quickly developed the ability to act like an empire. Jefferson and Hamilton were enthusiastic about the prospect of their nation becoming an empire. After the First World War, America discarded all pretentions of republican isolationism—it became an empire with the messianic agenda of using its military, political, and economic power to assert its hegemony over the entire planet.

The republics that lack the ability for acting like an empire fail within a few decades—example, Ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence, etc. The empires that are not founded on republican values also fail in a few decades—example, the empires founded by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan splintered after their death; the Soviet Communist Empire was finished in just 70 years (1922 to 1991); the Japanese Empire lasted from 1868 to 1947.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Hegel: Philosophy Comes in the End

Hegel, in his Preface to Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1820) writes that the “owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.” This is his way of saying that philosophy comes in the end when the world has reached a mature state of development, or after the shape of life has grown old. Here’s the complete paragraph from Hegel’s Preface:

“Only one word more concerning the desire to teach the world what it ought to be. For such a purpose philosophy at least always comes too late. Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.” (Translation by S W Dyde, 1896)

Modern Atheism: The Lure of Manmade Heaven

The concept of “heaven” plays a vital role in modern atheism. All modern atheistic movements have enticed followers by promising them a shortcut to a manmade heaven. The jacobins (during the French Revolution) promised to turn their country into a heaven of reason and science where there would be total equality and all would prosper. Auguste Comte’s positivists promised a heaven of altruism and humanism. Lenin and his communist revolutionaries promised the Russians that they would bring salvation to all (except the bourgeoise and the kulaks) by creating a heavenly dictatorship of the proletariat. The nazis promised to create a heaven by deploying the principles of scientific racism. The logical positivists declared that linguistic concepts of god and belief in god are meaningless, but they promised a heaven through reliance on empirical knowledge. Ayn Rand enchanted her tiny flock of objectivists by creating a godlike character called John Galt (in her novel Atlas Shrugged) who would lead the chosen ones to a “rational” heaven called Galt’s Gulch. The libertarians believe that liberty and free-markets are attractive to all people and the world is destined to become a libertarian heaven. The liberals promise to create a heaven on earth by crushing capitalism and imposing a socialistic welfare model on society.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Importance of Culture

Michael Oakeshott’s central insight in his essay, “Rationalism in Politics,” is that liberty is not an ideal that can be exported from one culture to another, rather it is a practice that germinates in a certain type of culture under historical circumstances that are extremely rare. Therefore, an attempt by the free nations to use their military or economic power to export the ideal of liberty to the unfree nations will mostly end in a disaster. The interesting thing is that Oakeshott, a conservative scholar, presented this insight in 1947, more than four decades before the neo-conservatives took control of western conservatism and began their project for transforming the Middle East into a paradise of liberty and free-markets. Oakeshott’s insight is also fatal to the doctrine of multiculturalism—because it proves that when it comes to ideals like liberty, all cultures are not equal.

Related: Oakeshott’s Critique of Libertarian Politics

Tyranny is More Popular Than Liberty

The vision of a world in which every man’s rights are respected, and there is universal democracy and free-markets, is a utopian dream. In foreseeable future, the world will remain divided into nations with different kinds of political systems with varying degrees of freedom and tyranny. A nation’s political system is dependent on its culture—very few cultures in the world like liberty, most cultures are nihilistic and inclined towards tyranny.

The libertarians say that there is great attractiveness in the ideas of liberty and free-markets, but there is great attractiveness in tyranny and socialism too. When tyranny comes gift-wrapped in moral ideals, then it becomes immensely attractive to the people. They will fight to death to defend their tyrant and if the tyrant’s regime is overthrown, they will promptly install another tyrant to lord over their nation.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Oakeshott’s Critique of Libertarian Politics

Michael Oakeshott is seen as the most thoughtful conservative of the 20th century; the rationalists that he is targeting in his 1947 essay, “Rationalism in Politics,” are primarily the liberals and the leftists. The word “libertarianism” is not there in the essay—he has, however, made a comment on F. A. Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom, noting that “a plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics.” In my opinion, Oakeshott's essay, “Rationalism in Politics,” can also be read as a critique of libertarian politics.

According to Oakeshott, modern rationalism emerged as a method of acquiring knowledge in the seventeenth century and within a short period of time it acquired a chokehold on politics. The political rationalists attempt to deduce abstract, universal principles through unaided reason. They are convinced that since an individual’s reason is independent, the knowledge derived through it must lead to social progress. Modern rationalism enables armchair political theorists to originate principles, which they think are most suitable for society, and impose them on the nation.

This idea that politics is the domain of technical knowledge and not practical experience is rejected by Oakeshott. He notes that politics is not something that can reduced to a set of abstract principles or a doctrine—it is something far more complicated, being dependent on the traditions and habits of the people. Therefore, politics has to be guided by practical knowledge.

The claims that the rationalists are making are mere abridgements of practical knowledge and that will not serve as a guide for a nation’s politics. To explain his point, Oakeshott offers the analogy of a recipe—he points out that the recipes that are contained in a cookery book can be useful to an expert cook as reminders. But the people who have no knowledge of cooking cannot cook like a chef if all they know is the recipe—a practical knowledge is required for being a chef. The same, Oakeshott insists, is true of politics. You can use abstract political principles as reminders, but if you have no practical knowledge, then your political ideas are of little value.

Oakeshott sees politics as the “practice” of attending to the arrangements of a given society. He rightly notes that Hayek’s plan is merely a plan or a theory—to make it work you need practical knowledge that Hayek (or any other armchair thinker) is incapable of providing. I think this is a right identification of the problem in libertarianism which relies too heavily on abstract theories and pays very little attention to the practical side of politics.

Related: The Importance of Culture

On The Myth of Secularism

Secularism is an impossible ideal. It commands man to go against his own nature, the human nature, by denying his own faith. Religion is a basic human need because man is as much a creature of faith, as he is a creature of reason. It is impossible for human beings to develop a nation that is not influenced by the knowledge encompassed in the dominant religion of the political community. The best governed republican nations in the last 2500 years were developed after rationally and fully integrating religion into the political life. If a religion has a long intellectual and cultural tradition, then it will never lead to the problem of totalitarianism.

Related: Secularism Leads To Multiple Personality Disorder

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Universe As A Library of Babel

Imagine the universe as a library spread across an endless series of hexagonal rooms—in each room there is an entrance built on one wall; on another wall, there are the bare necessities for human existence; and rest of the four walls are lined with bookshelves filled with books. The library contains infinite number of books. It has every book that has ever been written and that will ever be written—and it has every possible variation of every book that it contains. A vast majority of the books make no sense, but some of which make sense contain vital information that the human beings quest for. I am talking about the short story, “The Library of Babel,” by Jorge Luis Borges.

Here’s the final paragraph from the story:

“I have just written the word "infinite." I have not included that adjective out of mere rhetorical habit; I hereby state that it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Those who believe it to have limits hypothesize that in some remote place or places the corridors and staircases and hexa­gons may, inconceivably, end-which is absurd. And yet those who picture the world as unlimited forget that the number of possible books is not. I will be bold enough to suggest this solution to the ancient problem: The Li­brary is unlimited but periodic. If an eternal traveler should journey in any direction, he would find after untold centuries that the same volumes are repeated in the same disorder-which, repeated, becomes order: the Order. My solitude is cheered by that elegant hope.”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Philosophy Begins With Wonder

"Aristotle’s view that philosophy begins with wonder, not as in our day with doubt, is a positive point of departure for philosophy. Indeed, the world will no doubt learn that it does not do to begin with the negative, and the reason for success up to the present is that philosophers have never quite surrendered to the negative and thus have never earnestly done what they have said. They merely flirt with doubt." ~ Søren Kierkegaard (The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard)

In Metaphysics, Aristotle says: "For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe." (Metaphysics, Book I, Part II)

On Pre-Moderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns

We call ourselves modern and postmodern, but we are grappling with the same philosophical problems which exercised the thinkers in the ancient and the medieval periods. When our philosophy is mostly pre-modern, it is difficult to justify the use of labels like "modern" and "postmodern". Here’s a thought from Gertrude Himmelfarb (The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Page 235):

"The sociology of virtue, the ideology of reason, the politics of liberty—the ideas still resonate today. But they carry with them the accretions of more than two centuries of historical experiences and memories. And other ideas now compete for our attention: equality, most notably, but also nationality and ethnicity, class and gender, cultural diversity and global homogeneity. If the three Enlightenments ushered in the modernity—or at least a new stage of in modernity, or new variations on modernity—the postmodernists may be justified in calling this a postmodern age. Yet the ideas of virtue, liberty, and reason did not originate in modernity; nor have they been superseded or superannuated by postmodernity. We are, in fact, still floundering in the verities and fallacies, the assumptions and convictions, about human nature, society, and the polity that exercised the British moral philosophers, the French philosophes, and the American Founders."

Paul Guyer's Thoughts On Kant as a Stoic

Immanuel Kant on Space and Time

In his Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, Immanuel Kant denies the realty of time and space and of temporal and spatial form. He writes:
Time is not something objective and real, neither a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation. It is the subjective condition necessary by the nature of the human mind for coordinating any sensible objects among themselves by a certain law; time is a pure intuition.  
Space is not something objective and real, neither substance, nor accident, nor relation; but subjective and ideal, arising by fixed law from the nature of the mind like an outline for the mutual co-ordination of all external sensations whatsoever.
It is noteworthy that Kant is not implying that the existence of objects perceived in space and time is dependent on the nature of the human mind. Rather he is saying that the existence of mind-dependent forms like time and space make it possible for the human mind to precisely observe the mind-independent objects.

Who Should Be The Judge?

In Metaphysics 4.6, Aristotle summarizes the arguments from his skeptic opponents in this paragraph:
There are, both among those who have these convictions and among those who merely profess these views, some who raise a difficulty by asking, who is to be the judge of the healthy man, and in general who is likely to judge rightly on each class of questions. But such inquiries are like puzzling over the question whether we are now asleep or awake. And all such questions have the same meaning. These people demand that a reason shall be given for everything; for they seek a starting-point, and they seek to get this by demonstration, while it is obvious from their actions that they have no conviction. But their mistake is what we have stated it to be; they seek a reason for things for which no reason can be given; for the starting-point of demonstration is not demonstration.
According to Aristotle, when anyone inquires about who is likely to judge rightly on each class of questions, he is seeking to cast doubt on opinions of one’s preferred experts and authorities. If you say that you prefer the beliefs of X to that of Y, the skeptic will undermine the grounds for which you are preferring X. The question is do we accept that we are justified in believing a particular issue only by appealing to some further principle—if such a condition to accepted then nothing can be judged because every principle will need a further justification. Aristotle points out that it is futile to appeal to the authority of any figure—the analysis should begin with what requires proof and what does not, and in case something requires proof, then what kind proof is required.

Marcel Proust’s 960 Word Marathon

In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way (Volume 1, In Search of Lost Time), the longest sentence of 601 words occurs in the opening section of the first chapter, “Overture”:
But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame: in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained cold — or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder; where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam — or sometimes the Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent loftiness of the ceiling.
But the longest sentence in the 7-volume set is of 960 words. It appears in the Introduction of Volume 4, In Search Of LostSodom and Gomorrah (sometimes translated as Cities of the Plain):
Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet who one day was feasted at every table, applauded in every theatre in London, and on the next was driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow upon which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson and saying like him: “The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart!”; excluded even, save on the days of general disaster when the majority rally round the victim as the Jews rallied round Dreyfus, from the sympathy — at times from the society — of their fellows, in whom they inspire only disgust at seeing themselves as they are, portrayed in a mirror which, ceasing to flatter them, accentuates every blemish that they have refused to observe in themselves, and makes them understand that what they have been calling their love (a thing to which, playing upon the word, they have by association annexed all that poetry, painting, music, chivalry, asceticism have contrived to add to love) springs not from an ideal of beauty which they have chosen but from an incurable malady; like the Jews again (save some who will associate only with others of their race and have always on their lips ritual words and consecrated pleasantries), shunning one another, seeking out those who are most directly their opposite, who do not desire their company, pardoning their rebuffs, moved to ecstasy by their condescension; but also brought into the company of their own kind by the ostracism that strikes them, the opprobrium under which they have fallen, having finally been invested, by a persecution similar to that of Israel, with the physical and moral characteristics of a race, sometimes beautiful, often hideous, finding (in spite of all the mockery with which he who, more closely blended with, better assimilated to the opposing race, is relatively, in appearance, the least inverted, heaps upon him who has remained more so) a relief in frequenting the society of their kind, and even some corroboration of their own life, so much so that, while steadfastly denying that they are a race (the name of which is the vilest of insults), those who succeed in concealing the fact that they belong to it they readily unmask, with a view less to injuring them, though they have no scruple about that, than to excusing themselves; and, going in search (as a doctor seeks cases of appendicitis) of cases of inversion in history, taking pleasure in recalling that Socrates was one of themselves, as the Israelites claim that Jesus was one of them, without reflecting that there were no abnormals when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before Christ, that the disgrace alone makes the crime because it has allowed to survive only those who remained obdurate to every warning, to every example, to every punishment, by virtue of an innate disposition so peculiar that it is more repugnant to other men (even though it may be accompanied by exalted moral qualities) than certain other vices which exclude those qualities, such as theft, cruelty, breach of faith, vices better understood and so more readily excused by the generality of men; forming a freemasonry far more extensive, more powerful and less suspected than that of the Lodges, for it rests upon an identity of tastes, needs, habits, dangers, apprenticeship, knowledge, traffic, glossary, and one in which the members themselves, who intend not to know one another, recognise one another immediately by natural or conventional, involuntary or deliberate signs which indicate one of his congeners to the beggar in the street, in the great nobleman whose carriage door he is shutting, to the father in the suitor for his daughter’s hand, to him who has sought healing, absolution, defence, in the doctor, the priest, the barrister to whom he has had recourse; all of them obliged to protect their own secret but having their part in a secret shared with the others, which the rest of humanity does not suspect and which means that to them the most wildly improbable tales of adventure seem true, for in this romantic, anachronistic life the ambassador is a bosom friend of the felon, the prince, with a certain independence of action with which his aristocratic breeding has furnished him, and which the trembling little cit would lack, on leaving the duchess’s party goes off to confer in private with the hooligan; a reprobate part of the human whole, but an important part, suspected where it does not exist, flaunting itself, insolent and unpunished, where its existence is never guessed; numbering its adherents everywhere, among the people, in the army, in the church, in the prison, on the throne; living, in short, at least to a great extent, in a playful and perilous intimacy with the men of the other race, provoking them, playing with them by speaking of its vice as of something alien to it; a game that is rendered easy by the blindness or duplicity of the others, a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal, on which these lion-tamers are devoured; until then, obliged to make a secret of their lives, to turn away their eyes from the things on which they would naturally fasten them, to fasten them upon those from which they would naturally turn away, to change the gender of many of the words in their vocabulary, a social constraint, slight in comparison with the inward constraint which their vice, or what is improperly so called, imposes upon them with regard not so much now to others as to themselves, and in such a way that to themselves it does not appear a vice.

Kant On Empirical Concepts

Immanuel Kant, in his First Introduction to the Critique of Judgment, talks about the conditions of forming a set of empirical concepts which cohere with each other. Some kind of coherence is necessary to ensure that the concepts that are obtained through comparison are connectable to each other in judgement. In the First Introduction, Kant notes: "One may wonder whether Linnaeus could have hoped to design a system of nature if he had had to worry that a stone which he found, and which he called granite, might differ in its inner character from any other stone even if it looked the same, so that all he could ever hope to find would be single things — isolated, as it were, for the understanding — but never a class of them that could be brought under concepts of genus and species."

Henry E. Allison, in his essay, “Reflective Judgment and the Purposiveness of Nature,” (Chapter 1;  Kant’s Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment), offers the following analysis of the above quoted lines from Kant:

"This note makes “explicit the requirement that a classificatory system reflect an underlying order of nature. Thus, whereas any number of such systems might be possible, the assumption is that there is one (and only one) that, as it were, “carves nature at its joints.” And the goal or regulative idea of a systematizer such as Linnaeus is to provide the system that reflects this order (or at least comes as close as possible to doing so). Moreover, since the classification of phenomena has to be based on observed uniformities and differences, the operative assumption must once again be that outer similarities and differences correspond to inner or intrinsic ones. To use Kant’s own example, objects with the observable features of granite must also be similar in their inner character; for otherwise there would be no basis for inferring from the fact that an object has granite-like features that it will behave similarly to other objects with these features.”

According to Kant, a hierarchical system of concepts (in which every concept is itself both a species of the concepts contained in it and a genus for the concepts falling under it) is a necessary condition for the application of logic to nature, that is, for empirical judgment. (By “logic” Kant does not mean formal logic but rather our discursive, conceptual abilities.)

The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason

In two of his letters to Marcus Hertz, Immanuel Kant has given a brief account of the philosophical project that he was working on in the 1770s. His fundamental concern is with metaphysics (or the possibility of metaphysics) and he says that his project will be an introduction to metaphysics and to it he has given the title, “The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason.”

Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s June 7, 1771 letter:
Long experience has taught me that one cannot compel or precipitate insight by force in matters of the sort we are considering; rather, it takes quite a long time to gain insight, since one looks at one and the same concept intermittently and regards its possibility in all its relations and contexts, and furthermore, because one must above all awaken the skeptical spirit within, to examine one's conclusions against the strongest possible doubt and see whether they can stand the test. From this point of view I have, I think, made good use of the time that I have allowed myself, risking the danger of offending these scholars with my seeming impoliteness while actually motivated by respect for their judgment. You understand how important it is, for all of philosophy — yes even for the most important ends of humanity in general — to distinguish with certainty and clarity that which depends on the subjective principles of human mental powers (not only sensibility but also the understanding) and that which pertains directly to the facts. If one is not driven by a mania for systematizing, the investigations which one makes concerning one and the same fundamental principle in its widest possible applications even confirm each other. I am therefore now busy on a work which I call "The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason." It will work out in some detail the foundational principles and laws that determine the sensible world together with an outline of what is essential to the Doctrine of Taste, of Metaphysics, and of Moral Philosophy. I have this winter surveyed all the relevant materials for it and have considered, weighed, and harmonized everything, but I have only recently come up with the way to organize the whole work. 
Kant provides further details of his project in his second, much longer letter to Herz (dated February 21, 1772):
I had also long ago outlined, to my tolerable satisfaction, the principles of feeling, taste, and power of judgment, with their effects — the pleasant, the beautiful, and the good — and was then making plans for a work that might perhaps have the title, The Limits of Sensibility and Reason. I planned to have it consist of two parts, a theoretical and a practical. The first part would have two sections, (1) general phenomenology and (2) metaphysics, but this only with regard to its nature and method. The second part likewise would have two sections, (1) the universal principles of feeling, taste, and sensuous desire and (2) the first principles of morality.
From these two letters, it is obvious that, in the 1770s, Kant had started grappling with the philosophical problem of taste. In 1781, the work that he had initially thought of calling “The Bounds of Sensibility and of Reason,” was published as The Critique of Pure Reason.

Political Norms Are Not Universal

The libertarian view is that political norms are universal and can be justified independent of cultural differences. But this is not correct. The terms “liberty,” “democracy,” “justice,” and “rights,” are political concepts, and their actualization and justification is contingent on the culture of a political community (nation). In order to figure just what liberty, democracy, justice, and rights look like in a given society, we must become acquainted with the local culture. This means that political norms cannot be universal; they have to be contextual—or developed in relation to a political community. In order to give a logical description of liberty, democracy, justice, and rights, the philosopher must begin by describing the political community in context of which he is philosophizing. The political community forms the foundation of all political norms—and the purpose of political norms is to explain the political and moral values of a particular political community.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

On The Limitations of Originalism

The traditional conservatives have faith in originalism because they are convinced that the constitution is adequate for defending people’s rights and freedoms, and preserving their way of life, but here they show a characteristic disregard for history which shows that the constitution always changes with the regime. They don’t seem to realize that for the liberals, the constitution is merely a tool for transforming society into a progressive utopia—when the liberals are in power they do their best to change the constitution by passing new laws and getting rid of the old constitutional guarantees. They politicize the judicial system to rig the kind of verdicts that they want. Originalism might be a good way of interpreting the constitution, but it often deludes its conservative followers into putting too much faith in the constitution and adopting a weak political strategy, which is ineffective against the maneuvers of the liberal activists.

The Pitfalls of a Borderless Utopia

A borderless world is utopianism of the most primitive kind—it presumes that people can live in harmony with everyone. The truth is that human beings have a natural desire to live in the company of people with whom they share some qualities and interests. That is why we prefer to live in political communities. But for building a political community, it is necessary to place restrictions on the entry of people who are, for some reason, incapable of being part of that community. Therefore, it is imperative for a political community to regulate immigration.

A nation is a political community—in order to perform the function of a political community it has to have borders and a system for controlling immigration. If a nation is forced to have open borders, then its political community will get disrupted. Its citizens will start feeling insecure and they will react by organizing themselves into non-national political communities which are based on regionalism, race, religion, and economic and political status—walls will come up around many towns and cities to regulate the entry of outsiders. There could be a massive rise in the number of gated communities within the cities and towns.

If the political campaign for open border and a universal right to immigrate is successful, it will lead to an ironic outcome—instead of freeing the nation of borders, it will give rise to a plethora of borders within the nation.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Unlimited Freedom Leads to Unlimited Despotism

The intellectuals and politicians who propose that the western countries should use their military power to force countries in the Middle East to accept a liberal form of governance are like the deluded revolutionaries that Fyodor Dostoevsky has described in his book The Possessed. These revolutionaries think that they can establish a paradise after overthrowing the existing regime through a violent revolution. Shigalyov, the intellectual character in The Possessed, who is a historian and social theorist, and a key thinker for the revolutionaries, has developed a plan for post-revolution reorganization of mankind. But the realization dawns on him that the reorganization of mankind will entail a huge cost—more than 100 million people will be killed and many more will be enslaved in the attempt to create a paradise. He confesses, "My conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the idea from which I started. Proceeding from unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism.” This has an important lesson for the Middle East: Political liberty and free market cannot be established in most countries in this region. Here the choice is between secular despotism and theocratic regime.

A Perfect Society Cannot Be Conceived

All philosophies which describe a perfect society are utopian and bogus. A perfect society cannot be conceived by the human mind. This is because the structure of any society is based on two theories: legal theory and ethical theory. The arguments in both ethical theory and legal theory are interminable. People will never have a consensus on the best constitution and good moral behavior. Since it is not possible to conceive of the final form of legal theory and moral theory, a perfect society is beyond the reach of the human mind. Imagining a perfect society is like imagining the Kingdom of Atlantis. We will never know what a perfect society is, and what we don’t know we can’t create.

Monday, October 28, 2019

On Fukuyama’s Idea of End of History

In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama presents his end of history thesis. He says that in future there will not be any conflict about the most legitimate type of government because it is now established that the liberal type of government is the final form. Later he denied that he believed in the end of history. But in his book he has written these lines:

“What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs's yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.”

Fukuyama is making two important claims: first, history has reached its end point (at least, in the area of political theory); second, liberal democracy is now the final (or the most legitimate) form of government. But it is not true that history has reached an end point— Fukuyama does not offer any argument to back this claim. The idea that liberal democracy is the final form of government is crackpot neo-conservative utopianism. There is no evidence to suggest that political liberty and free-markets are suitable for every nation in the world. A liberal form of government cannot be achieved everywhere.

On the Utopianism of the Libertarians

The libertarian defense of liberty and free-markets smacks of scientism. They describe the irrationality of big government, but they fail to notice that liberty and free markets are an artifact of nationalism and state power. Without nationhood and state power, liberty and free markets cannot exist. The libertarians detest nationalism; history for them is a one-way street which, they believe, will end (in a Hegelian fashion) with the establishment of a global utopia of free-market and liberty.

But it is unlikely that the globe will ever become a libertarian utopia. This is primarily because in different countries, the forces of nationalism interact with modern technology to produce different kinds of free-market systems. Today the world is home to not one but several variants of free-markets. There is no conformity among people in different nations on the issue of free-society and free-market. Moreover, there is no evidence to show that liberty and free-markets are equally good for people in all cultures. The libertarians have nothing to say about those cultures in the world that are incompatible with liberty and free-markets.

The problem with the libertarians is that they lack skepticism—the libertarian cliches are for them the eternal verities.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

On Reason and Emotions

Emotions are as innate to man as reason is. A man of reason, who has suppressed or overcome his emotions, is usually a totalitarian and a dogmatist. A good human being is a man of both, reason and emotions. Reason cannot be trusted when it operates without regard for emotions. Likewise, emotions cannot be trusted when they operate without regard for reason. Both reason and emotions are fallible, but when they work together in a man’s mind, then he has a better chance for making the right choices. I often come across philosophers who invoke reason to attack emotions. But an examination of their philosophies will show that their ideas are bogus. Reason is ineffective if it does not have access to the common sense that is reflected in a man’s emotions.

On Conservatism’s Decline into Progressive Utopianism

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, instead of leading to the end of socialism, led to the weakening of the conservative movement. The 1990s saw the rise of a new breed of conservative politicians and intellectuals who viewed traditional conservatism as an obstacle to electoral success. Under their leadership, conservatism’s links with ancient and medieval knowledge, which is essential for making it a coherent project, was severed. Conservatism ceased to be conservative in the traditional sense; it is now a modernist movement—a vehicle for progressive utopianism.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

On the Doctrine of Historical Teleology

Hegel believed that history ended in 1806 when Napoleon marched into Jena, a point of time, when he, Hegel, finished writing his The Phenomenology of Spirit. 1806 was, according to Hegel, the year when mankind had experienced all the stages of mental and political evolution. The future, he believed, would not bring any further transformation in human mentality and political systems. On the back of Napoleon’s army there had arrived in Jena, the idea of a society of freedom, law, and equality based, not on religion, but on science, and from Hegel’s Phenomenology there came the ultimate philosophy. Nothing else was required.

In the 20th century, Hegel’s doctrine was used by the communists to make a case for “historical teleology.” They saw history as a process with communism as its built-in goal. The collapse of communism did not lead to the end of the doctrine of historical teleology, which was picked up by the neo-liberals and the neo-conservatives who were motivated by the utopian vision of turning the entire world into a free-market and democratic paradise. In his 1992 book on political philosophy The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama asserted that the Western liberal democracy was the final form of government for all nations and it represented the end-point of mankind's ideological evolution.

Margret Thatcher, who was a traditional conservative, untouched by utopian revolutionary ambitions, rejected Fukuyama’s thesis with these words: “The end of history! The beginning of nonsense!”

On The Four Types of Conservatism

The term “conservative” generally refers to anyone who stands for small government, free-markets, respect for religion and culture, and strong law and order. There are four types of conservatism: first, free-market conservatism, which is focused on free market liberalism; second, traditional conservatism, sometimes called paleoconservatism, which stand for economic and cultural nationalism and noninterventionism; third, religious conservatism, which is concerned with moral and cultural issues; fourth, neo-conservatism, which has revolutionary and utopian aspirations and stands for using the power of the government to remake the country and the world. The four types of conservatism are not separated by an unbridgeable chasm. The first three groups of conservatives agree on most issues, while disagreeing on others. But the fourth type of conservatism, neo-conservatism, is a new phenomena and it is seen as an outlier in the overall conservative movement because of its revolutionary and utopian character.

Friday, October 25, 2019

You Don’t Have The Right to be Wrong

Freedom of belief is seen as an important value in our society—it is interpreted as the right not to be coerced into believing something. But it is generally believed that freedom of belief grants people the right to hold a false belief, and that they have the right to be wrong. They think that the freedom of thought necessitates the freedom to make mistakes.

In his article, “Is There a Right to be Wrong?” David Oderberg shows that there is nothing called the right to be wrong and no one has the freedom to make mistakes. He writes: “Morality itself demands that we seek and believe only the truth, since only the truth satisfies our rational nature. It is the truth that sets us free, not error. Of course knowing the truth is not always easy, especially in times such as these when diversity of opinion is prized as a great social value.”

Freedom does not mean the freedom to hold false belief because if you hold a false belief you are in essence a slave to your ignorance. Oderberg says, “as the lost man wandering the desert without a map is free to explore any direction he likes but is in reality a slave to his ignorance. It is the man with a map who is truly free.”

Oderberg ends his article with these lines:
The ‘right to be wrong’ is, I conclude, a myth. There is an obligation to weigh evidence and to assess argument, and you may be blameless in your embracing of a falsehood as long as that embrace occurs despite the proper use of your intellect rather than as a consequence of its misuse. To say or imply, however, that a person has the right to embrace falsehood is to assist in the spreading of the sort of indifferentism and syncretism that is one of the hallmarks of contemporary society.
People have the right to believe in the truth, which means that they do not have the right to believe in falsehoods. The right to be wrong is a modern myth.

Aristotle’s Truly Happy Man

Frederic Copleston on Aristotle’s eudaemonistic ethic:
Aristotle’s ethic was thus eudaemonistic in character, teleological, and markedly intellectualist, since it is clear that for him contemplation meant philosophical contemplation: he was not referring to a religious phenomenon, such as the ecstasy of Plotinus. Moreover, the end (telos) of moral activity is an end to be acquired in this life: as far as the ethics of Aristotle are concerned there is no hint of any vision of God in the next life, and it is indeed questionable whether he believed in personal immortality at all. Aristotle’s truly happy man is the philosopher, not the saint. 
(Source: History of Philosophy (Volume II): Augustine to Scotus by Frederic Copleston; Chapter 29, “St. Thomas Aquinas: Moral Theory”)

Is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism a Philosophy?

Ayn Rand’s novels, like the works of a few other great writers, have a stunning impact on the mind when you read them for the first time. You get mesmerized by the larger than life characters that you discover in her novels, and the notion that philosophy has practical consequences gets inscribed in your memory.

Most people become acquainted with Rand by reading her novels and when they make inquiries about her, they come to know that she is the founder of a school called objectivism. After the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1958, she decided to become a philosopher—with a band of inexperienced youngsters, she launched objectivism. She didn’t have any expertise or interest in philosophy; she had no clue what it takes to philosophize like a philosopher. Much of the work that she has done in the name of objectivism consists of short articles on the political and cultural excrescences of her own time. Her articles are interesting, but they are not philosophy.

Rand’s objectivist followers claim that her novels are an elucidation of the objectivist philosophy. But I believe that her novels are works of fiction; they are not philosophy. You can find in her novels an inspiration for a healthy sense of life, and a sense of the critical role that philosophy plays in the rise and fall of civilizations and in an individual’s life—but all this is not philosophy.

Philosophy, like physics, biology, and mathematics, has a methodology of its own. You can discover the philosophical truth only by following the philosophical method. You can’t do it by following a literary way—but that is what Rand tried to do. She developed objectivism by following a literary methodology and she could not produce a single treatise on any area of philosophy. The contrast between the massive scope of her novels, and the pettiness, ignorance, and dogmatism that we find in objectivism is so blatantly obvious that only the most dogmatic acolytes can claim that all is well in objectivism.

Etienne Gilson’s thought provoking words in The Unity of Philosophical Experience (page 7) come to my mind:
I wish I could make clear from the very beginning that in criticizing great men, as I shall do, I am very far from forgetting what made them truly great. No man can fall a victim to his own genius unless he has genius; but those who have none are fully justified in refusing to be victimized by the genius of others. Not having made the mathematical discoveries of Descartes and Leibniz, we cannot be tempted to submit all questions to the rules of mathematics; but our very mediocrity should at least help us to avoid such a mistake. There is more than one excuse for being a Descartes, but there is no excuse whatsoever for being a Cartesian. 
Taking an inspiration from Gilson’s words, I will say that there is more than one excuse for being an Ayn Rand, but there is no excuse whatsoever for being an objectivist. I am not trying to debase Rand as a fiction writer; she has written fine novels—she took philosophy seriously and was devoted to finding the philosophical truth. But she failed to create any value in objectivism because she was a fiction writer and not a philosopher. She made no effort to learn philosophy.

(I first posted this on January 5, 2019.)

On The Age of Enlightenment

Did the Age of Enlightenment lead to any enlightening idea? The Enlightenment is not identified with one or two great philosophers; it was a mishmash of philosophers belonging to an array of schools of thought—monarchists and republicans, atheists and deists, liberals and non-liberals, communists and egalitarians, free-marketers and socialists, anarchists and statists, humanists and racists. They had bitter disputes with each other on a range of political and ethical issues, but the doctrine with which the Enlightenment is generally associated is a totalitarian one: that the human race can be perfected and a good society can be created by using political power.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Neo-Conservatism: Modernity’s First Religious Utopian Movement

The Age of Enlightenment bequeathed to the world the notion that men of reason and science (who are free of religious beliefs) can use political power to improve human race and create a perfect society. The first political movement inspired by the radical enlightenment doctrine was the French Revolution of the 18th century—the atheistic jacobins began the era of mass murder in the name of spreading enlightenment.

The Enlightenment doctrine didn’t disappear with the failure of the French Revolution. In the 20th century, the communists led by Lenin were motivated by the vision of unbounded human possibility that could be unleashed by the implementation of utopian ideas. In the 1930s, the nazis and the fascists used the idea of scientific racism (which was developed during the Age of Enlightenment) to create a perfect society.

All political movements in the last 250 years that were inspired by the Enlightenment vision of human perfectibility and the possibility of perfect society were atheistic and anti-tradition—all except one, the neo-conservatives. They are very religious and traditional, but they hanker for goals that are as utopian as the goals that motivated the jacobins, communists, nazis, and fascists. With the rise of the neo-conservatives, utopianism has taken root in the conservative mind.

Related: The Utopian Mission of Liberals and Neo-Conservatives

The Utopian Mission of Liberals and Neo-Conservatives

The failure of the Nazism, Fascism, and Communism did not destroy the doctrine of human perfectibility which found a way of migrating to other movements. The liberals were the first to be infected by this doctrine—in the late 1940s, a few years after the Second World War, the liberals became obsessed with the idea of creating a perfect global society. They started drawing the blueprint for a new utopia which would span the planet—a global democracy and free market under the benign command of enlightened progressive rulers. But the liberals could not take their agenda forward because of strong opposition from the conservatives.

After the 1990s, a section of the conservatives too became infected with the doctrine of human perfectibility. They called themselves neo-conservatives and were inspired by the idea that, with the use of military power, people in other countries can be perfected. The neo-conservatives joined hands with the liberals and they launched their first major utopian experiment in the Middle East. Their plan was to use military power to turn the Middle East into a democratic and free market paradise. The Middle Eastern experiment has had catastrophic consequences—it has cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars, and none of the utopian goals have been achieved.

For a war to be moral, its goals must be achievable; if the goals are utopian and not achievable, then the war is immoral. The wars orchestrated by the liberals and the neo-conservatives in the last four decades are utopian and immoral.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Isaiah Berlin On Utopianism

In his essay, “The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will,” (The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas; By Isaiah Berlin; Page 219 - 252), Isaiah Berlin sounds a warning against the moral and political cost of utopianism. Here’s a paragraph from the essay in which Berlin equates utopianism with totalitarianism:

“All the utopias known to us are based upon the discoverability and harmony of objectively true ends, true for all men, at all times and places. This holds of every ideal city, from Plato’s Republic and his Laws, and Zeno’s anarchist world community, and the City of the Sun of Iambulus, to the Utopias of Thomas More and Campanella, Bacon and Harrington and Fenelon. The communist societies of Mably and Morelly, the state capitalism of Saint-Simon, the Phalansteres of Fourier, the various combinations of anarchism and collectivism of Owen and Godwin, Cabet, William Morris and Chemyshevsky, Bellamy, Hertzka and others (there is no lack of them in the nineteenth century) rest on the three pillars of social optimism in the west of which I have spoken: that the central problems — the massimi problemi — of men are, in the end, the same throughout history; that they are in principle soluble; and that the solutions form a harmonious whole.”

Conservatives Versus Liberals

Populism and nationalism are fundamental to the conservatives. Intellectualism and globalism are fundamental to the liberals. The conservatives base their policies on the feedback that they have from the masses. The liberals enact their policies on the basis of the advice that they have from the “liberal experts,” who have contempt for the masses. The conservatives believe in equality before the law. The liberals believe in equality of wealth and resources.

Conservatism leads to good outcomes only in nations that have a sense of connection with the great civilizations of the past and have a rich tradition of liberty, morality (religious and secular), individualism, and interdependence. Liberalism operates by demolishing a nation’s traditions—to attain and retain political power, the liberals must force the masses to reject their traditions and rely on the doctrine developed by the “liberal experts.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

John Gray on Ayn Rand’s Cult

In his book Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray offers a devastating four page (Page 48 to 51) critique of Ayn Rand’s philosophical movement objectivism. He notes that objectivism is a farrago that Rand created by mixing her version of Nietzsche and American folk-mythology with her borrowings from Aristotle and John Locke. She tried to sell objectivism as an atheistic and individualistic philosophical system, but the school is organized like a cult—most objectivists worship Rand as their goddess. Here’s an excerpt (Pages 50 - 51):

"Rand’s cult aimed to govern every aspect of life. She was a dedicated smoker, and her followers were instructed that they had to smoke as well. Not only did Rand smoke, she used a cigarette-holder—so that when she addressed large audiences of the faithful, a thousand cigarette-holders would move in unison. It was not for nothing that the ultra-individualists who became Rand’s disciples were described within the movement as ‘the Collective’. The selection of marriage partners was also controlled. In her view of things, rational human beings should not associate with those that are irrational. There could be no worse example of this than two people joined together in marriage by mere emotion, so officers of the cult were empowered to pair Rand’s disciples only with others who also subscribed to the faith. The marriage ceremony included pledging devotion to Rand, then opening Atlas Shrugged at random to read aloud a passage from the sacred text.

"Rand pronounced on a wide range of issues, including what was the best kind of dance. Only one type of dancing was truly rational. Some – like the tango – were low-level, semi-instinctual physical performances lacking any intellectual content. Others – the foxtrot, possibly – she rejected as being too cerebral. What then was the only dance that, combining mind and body, could be approved as being truly rational? Tap-dancing. Fred Astaire may not have known it, but he embodied the opposing forces of reason and instinct in an ideal synthesis. Tap-dancing was the cultural form that Nietzsche had been searching for in his first important work, The Birth of Tragedy: a fusion of Dionysian vitality with Apollonian harmony.

"It might seem unlikely that a cult of this kind could exercise any public influence. But the maddest ideas are quite often the most influential, and Rand’s cod-philosophy has had a discernible impact on American politics."

Religion is the Master of Politics

A people will never change their political and cultural views until they are inspired or forced to reform or reject their religious convictions. This inference can be drawn from the political history of last 2500 years which, as it turns out, is analogous to the history of religion. The periods of great political upheavals are the periods of tectonic changes in matters to faith. A transformation in religious belief always breeds political and cultural upheaval.

The atheistic revolutions of the last two centuries morphed into earthly religious movements, because the atheists realized that without an earthly religion they cannot make an impression on the masses. The communists preached faith in their doctrine of historical materialism, the nazis preached faith in scientific racism (eugenics)—the liberals (who are the descendants of the communists and the nazis) preach salvation through enlightened progressivism.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

In his short story, “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” Fyodor Dostoevsky looks at the issues related to human perfectibility and the possibility of a utopia. The story’s unnamed narrator thinks of himself as a ridiculous man and he is convinced that others see him in the same way. He decides to commit suicide and buys a gun with the intention of shooting himself in the head. But the chance encounter with a troubled girl makes him postpone his suicide.

That day when he falls asleep, he dreams that he has shot himself in the heart and has died. However, he continues to be aware of his surroundings. There is a funeral and he is buried, after an unknown period of time, his body is exhumed from the grave by a mysterious figure who soars with him into the space. They go to a new planet which is like earth in most respects—the only difference is that here the human beings are perfect creatures and they lead a happy, blissful, sinless life in a utopia. One day the narrator accidentally teaches them the way of lying and then starts the process of corruption of the utopia which soon becomes exactly like earth.

Here’s an excerpt from Dostoevsky's “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”:

“Then there arose men who began to think how to bring all people together again, so that everybody, while still loving himself best of all, might not interfere with others, and all might live together in something like a harmonious society. Regular wars sprang up over this idea. All the combatants at the same time firmly believed that science, wisdom and the instinct of self-preservation would force men at last to unite into a harmonious and rational society; and so, meanwhile, to hasten matters, ‘the wise’ endeavored to exterminate as rapidly as possible all who were ‘not wise’ and did not understand their idea, that the latter might not hinder its triumph.”

Libertarianism is a Child of Conservatism

Karl Marx has proclaimed that a socialist utopia can arise only in a society where the capitalists (by implication, the conservatives) have done their work. The libertarians have not made a similar proclamation, but their tiny movement has evolved only in countries where the politics and culture is dominated by free-market oriented conservatism. There is no trace of libertarianism in the countries which are being ruled by a communist or religious fundamentalist regimes.

It’s notable that in the last 100 years, the libertarians have been pontificating about liberty and free markets only in countries where liberty and free market already exist, primarily due to the efforts of the conservatives. Libertarianism is like a creeper that survives by attaching itself to the trunk and branches of the giant tree of conservatism. They are both movements which appreciate the fruitfulness of unplanned processes and are averse to the idea of big government.

Libertarianism cannot have an impact on culture and politics until the libertarians start acknowledging the conservative roots of their ideology