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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.”