Posts Tagged book notes

Intellectuals? Bah, humbug!

scrooge

In his book Intellectuals, Paul Johnson takes a close look at some key figures of modern times whose thoughts and writings have had a huge effect on people’s thinking for a long time, right down to today. Johnson examines the personal lives of these famous men (Lillian Hellman is the only female intellectual in this book), and asks, did they live up to their own dicta and ideals?

I’m up to chapter 4, Henrik Ibsen, and the answer so far is a resounding, “NO!” They all seem to have outscrooged Scrooge in meanness, bitterness and contempt for their fellow man. Read the rest of this entry »


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Book Notes – Liar’s Poker

Michael Lewis, freshly graduated with a Master’s degree in economics from LSU, got a job working for investment bank Salomon Brothers in 1984 (how he got the job is a story to itself; as encouragement to read this witty book, I’ll just tell you it involves the late Queen Mother). Salomon Brothers expanded and created branch offices in Tokyo and London, giving Lewis an opportunity for some cross-cultural comparisons. He wrote about them in Liar’s Poker:

When Gutfreund appeared in any American branch office, the employees put on a show. They affected a casual confidence. Although their stomachs churned and their pants moistened, young Americans jested with the wandering Gutfreund. They said nothing terribly adventuresome, you understand. Jokes about the latest bond issue were in. Jokes about Gutfreund’s wife were out. As long as the ground rules were properly observed, Gutfreund gave it right back.

When Gutfreund visited the Tokyo office, the Japanese employees bowed their heads at their desks and worked the phones furiously, as if playing charades and assigned to communicate: Men At Work… No young Japanese peered skyward to chat with cherubic Gutfreund-san. An American friend of mine happened to be in the Tokyo office on one of Gutfreund’s visits and was taken aside by the boss for a discussion. When my friend returned to the trading floor, he recalls, “All the Japanese were staring at me as if I had just had a personal conversation with God and He had made me a saint.”

In London, Gutfreund was treated, quite simply, like a gauche American tourist. It would only have confirmed many people’s opinion of him if he had turned up wearing psychedelic Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt with a camera round his neck. People laughed behind his back, especially as the firm spiraled into decline. (p. 181-2, paperback edition).

Zemanta (below) points to an article titled, Lewie Ranieri wants to fix the mortgage mess (money.cnn.com). If you’ve read Liar’s Poker, you’ll think (after you’ve picked yourself off the floor) that this is like Nero offering to “fix” Rome.

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Book Notes – The Shadow University (2)

Following on…

Catherine MacKinnon and Stanley Fish… are explicit in their disdain for the First Amendment‘s absolutist and noncontextual approach. In her influential book Only Words, MacKinnon, a feminist legal scholar at the University of Michigan, introduced her chapter “Equality and Speech” with the blunt statement that “the law of equality and the law of freedom of speech are on a collision course in this country.” (p. 76).  … MacKinnon noted that … Claiborne Hardware [v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] brought the dichotomy between speech and action into the service of saving the nation’s oldest and best known civil rights organization. She claimed that it was unjust  to accord the two groups the same protection under the First Amendment, as properly interpreted. For MacKinnon, it was not problematic to define a principled basis for treating the NAACP and the Klan differently under the law: “Suppressed entirely in the piously evenhanded treatment of the Klan and the boycotters – the studied inability to tell the difference between oppressor and oppressed that passes for principled neutrality in this area as well as others- was the fact that the Klan was promoting inequality and the civil rights leaders were resisting it, in a country that is supposedly not constitutionally neutral on the subject.” As with Marcuse, the crucial distinction was between the “regressive” and the “progressive”. Stanley Fish’s attitude toward the current judicial interpretation of the First Amendment is refreshingly overt in the title of his 1994 book There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech… And It’s a Good Thing Too.(p. 77.)

Justice Felix Frankfurter, himself the member of a religious minority…recognized that the issue in the case [Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 1940] reflected the “profoundest problem confronting a democracy – the problem which Lincoln cast in a memorable dilemma: “Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?” Posing the question that way virtually assured the answer that liberty was going to have to be compromised…. A mere three years after Gobitis… the Court reviewed another flag pledge case… and this time, by a vote of 6 to 3, even with America herself at war, the justices disavowed Gobitis. ….. In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)… (w)riting for the majority, Justice Robert Jackson had not quarrel with West Virginia’s requirement that certain courses be taught, nor with its attempts to inspire patriotism by exposing students to national history and traditions. However, the board’s flag salute requirement was different, because it compelled a student “to declare a belief [and]… to utter what is not in his mind.”(p. 188.)

The Court now found that what underlay its decision in Gobitis – the supposed conflict between liberty of conscience and the state’s ability to survive – was both an exaggeration and a distraction from the core constitutional question. The issue was not weak or strong government, but see the strength of America in “individual freedom  of mind” rather than in “officially disciplined uniformity for which history indicates a disappointing and disastrous end.” … Jackson explained why even men of good intentions should not possess the awesome power to compel belief. Both the good and the evil had attempted “to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential.”… In short, Jackson wrote for the majority of the Court, “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard…. the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”(p. 189.)

I would amend that last sentence to read “The strength of America lay in her “individual freedom of mind”, and not in strong government; and that confusing the one with the other paved the way open (as it inevitably would) to overbearing and interfering government and eventually tyranny”. In a word, the road to serfdom.

“The purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution”, he concluded, was precisely to protect “from all official control” the domain that was “the sphere of intellect and spirit.” Barnette, not Gobitis, became the landmark, defining the constitutional and moral norms: the primacy of individual conscience over the social benefits of conformity, the need for each individual to enjoy liberty in order for a common liberty to exist, and the intolerability of restricting even one person’  liberty in “the sphere of intellect and spirit” in an attempt to create some better world. (p. 190.)

Colleges and universities have accepted a new “compensatory” version of separate but unequal. Whites obviously could not veto the presence of nonwhites in a college dormitory. Such inequality arises from the universities’ belief that its students are not individuals, but instances of blood and history. (p. 201.)

If one truly believes in the liberty of gay and lesbian students, of course, the real struggle is not for special privilege, but for equal rights. (p. 203.)

The academic mania for group identity presupposes what free individuals must decide for themselves – the nature and compound of their own individual lives. Blacks are free to be , by their own individual choices, radical, moderate, conservative, or apolitical; separatist or assimilationist; Afrocentric of South Carolinian. They do not need universities to assign them identities. (p. 204.)

On December 6, Robert Chatelle replied on the sexual-minority listserve of the National Writers Union, observing that “gay men are no more or less ‘vulnerable’ (or ‘sensitive’ of ‘artistic’) than any other class of citizens.” Indeed, Chatelle noted, Pearson “was engaging in negative stereotyping,” which, “ironically enough … is forbidden under the speech code she was defending.” “Scratch a defender of ‘political correctness’,” he observed, “and you’ll find some variety of bigot. For Chatelle, “defenders of ‘political correctness’ subscribe to two myths that are damaging to the rights of minorities: … vulnerability and .. interchangeability.” The “myth of vulnerability,” Chatelle observed, is based on the patronizing belief that “members of minority groups are so damaged by discrimination that we become incapable of speaking for ourselves… We are not. We want equal rights. But it is difficult to make that argument convincing when people like Sue Pearson are going around and stating that gay men are ‘vulnerable’ people who need ‘special’ protection.” The “myth of interchangeability,” for Chatelle, was equally dangerous. It “holds that there is such a thing as ‘the women’s viewpoint,’ the ‘gay/lesbian viewpoint,’ [or] the African-American viewpoint.'” (p. 205.)

This mentality, or the “myth of interchangeability”, sounds like polylogism, from which, perhaps, it originated: Marx and the Marxians, foremost among them the “proletarian philosopher” Dietzgen, taught that thought is determined by the thinker’s class position. What thinking produces is not truth but “ideologies.” This word means, in the context of Marxian philosophy, a disguise of the selfish interest of the social class to which the thinking individual is attached. It is therefore useless to discuss anything with people of another social class. Ideologies do not need to be refuted by discursive reasoning; they must be unmasked by denouncing the class position, the social background, of their authors. Thus Marxians do not discuss the merits of physical theories; they merely uncover the “bourgeois” origin of the physicists.

A perverted, but very common, form of this is hilariously illustrated by C.S. Lewis in his allegorical story, “The Pilgrim’s Regress“:  to refute the “argument” that two plus two equals four, the “correct refutation” is “You only say that because you are a mathematician!”

The assumption is that the identity of individuals at our universities is inseparable from those official categories that the university recognizes, quite independently of how such individuals view themselves. Diversity means the acceptance of those distinctions by blood and history. Multiculturalism means the acceptance of the view that individual students exist not as individuals, but as instances of group identity useful to some partisan  understanding of the history of oppression. (p. 206.)

To understand the moral consequence of academic official group identity, consider the appalling predicament of students from multiracial families. At Penn, in 1995, students formed an organization with the sardonic name “Check One”… [which] “takes its name from the fact that one is asked literally to check one race or ethnic group when filling out standardized forms… We are largely an ignored people, and segregation, which preserves and reinforces culture, can also serve to exclude us.” Members were not “half-and-half”… because they were not made up “of segmented parts… distant and separate pieces.” (p. 208.)

This resonated with me: in Japan, children of mixed marriages are dubbed “half”. I could never understand the American predilection for checking off one’s racial identity; what if you did not belong neatly into any of the categories offered? And why is it so important for the authorities to know?

At Standford, Carl Hicks, a Korean and black senior, formed, with other students uncomfortable with Standford’s official group identities, an organization called Prism. He understood the immoral and intended consequence of current academic multiculturalism and anti-individualism: “When I got to Standford I didn’t think of myself as black or Korean or white. I thought of myself as Carl Hicks. But everyone kept labeling me.” (p. 209.)

Out of the mouths of babes…

Attendance at group-identity organizations is often minuscule as a percentage of the intended population, and militant leaders complain endlessly about “apathy.” Whites don’t feel particularly guilty about being white, and almost no designated “victims” adopt truly radical politics. Most undergraduates unabashedly seek their portion of American freedom, legal equality, and bounty. What to do with such benighted students? Increasingly, the answer to that question is to use the in loco parentis apparatus of the university to reform their private consciences and minds. (p. 211.)

Penn [State University] simply set about to control the ways its students thought about and valued the world. It viewed incoming students as incapable, on their own, of sorting out their differences and their common humanity, of understanding how to live decently, and of thinking critically about America. Above all, the university viewed its students as ignorant of the real nature of their group identities. One student on the subcommittee on “Diversity Follow-Up Program” complained in a memo about the planners’ contempt for individualism and individual identity, their “desire… continually to consider the collective before the individual.”… A fellow committee member, an administrator, underlined the word “individual” on the student’s memo, and replied that “This is a ‘RED FLAG’ phrase today, which is considered by many to be RACIST.” “Arguments that champion the INDIVIDUAL over the group,” he informed her, “ultimately priveleges [sic] the ‘INDIVIDUAL’ belonging to the dominant group.” Indeed, he concluded, “in a pluralistic society, individuals are only as significant their groups.” (p. 213.)

There are core beliefs of current thought reform. An individual is not an autonomous moral being, but a member of a racial and historical group that possesses moral debt or credit. There is only on e appropriate set of views about race, gender, sexual preference, and culture, and holding an inappropriate belief, once truth has been offered, is not an intellectual disagreement, but a act of oppression or denial. (p. 215.)

Katherine Balmer, assistant dean for freshmen [at Columbia University], said, “You can’t bring all these people together and say, ‘Now be one big happy community,’ without some sort of training [ emphasis added]” (p. 218.)

Northwestern University, for the planning of its New Student Week in 1989, formed a Cultural Diversity Project Committee…  One pleased committee member told the reporter, “It’s basically a white guilt organization.” The next day, New Student Week began, and the keynote speaker informed fifteen hundred freshmen that there were not to blame for the “customs and habits of thought” inherited from their parents and communities, but that they now must remake their lives, ridding themselves of “the ugliness, the meanness, …[ the] narrowness and[the] tribalism.” Students then had to discuss the lecture, led by the “facilitators” who had been trained the day before. (p. 221.)

The shame is that it does not require deep courage to resist the sacrifice of liberty and legal equality for peace. There are nations in the world where a college president indeed would risk his life by standing up for academic freedom. That is not the situation in the United States today. What is required is not so much courage as dedication to liberty and legal equality supported by just a bit of backbone. The fact that our academic leaders are not up tot his task is alarming. The fear of disruption, of causing offense, of being associated with controversy, linked to careerism, has produced a hollow, unprincipled cowardice. (p. 329.)

And speaking of the Supreme Court’s upholding the First Amendment against the rising tide of political correctness, just one month ago,

Today, the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Citizens United v. FCC, voting 5-4 to stand by the Constitution and protect our First Amendment right to free speech. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, said, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

Penny Young Nance, Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) Chief Executive Officer, said, “The Court correctly concluded that judges should stop playing semantics with our Constitution and read the text as it is written. The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view.”

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Book Notes – After Liberalism

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After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (New Forum Books)
by Paul Edward Gottfried, Professor of Humanities at Elizabethstown College. An analysis of what happened to the meaning of “liberalism” in the United States in the 20th century, focusing on the post-WWII period. It examines the roots of “political correctness”, and how those ideas arose and gained acceptance. Specifically, Gottfried examines the evolution of the meaning of liberalism and democracy and pluralism, the gradual spread of the idea of the welfare state and “state as therapist”, of scientific management of society and bureaucratic interventionism. In particular, Gottfried analyzes the meaning and impact of such works  as The Authoritarian Personality and Studies in Prejudice. The quotes below are mainly for my own benefit, and are not  representative of the book or of my own opinions. This is not a book review.

Despite the fact that it shares a similar topic with, and is shorter than, The Shadow University, it has taken me longer to read, mainly because it is more dense and requires even more concentration than the Kors  & Silverglate book. I usually read before going to bed, but that’s not the best time to read this kind of book.

Juergen Habermas (from Wikipedia)

Democratic citizenship has come to mean eligibility of social services and welfare benefits. It also imposes varying degrees of loyalty to what Jurgen Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism”: the acceptance of legal procedures and of democratic socialization, presumably to be carried out by social experts. (p. ix.) Liberalism has lost any meaningful connection to what it once signified. By now it is hard to find in contemporary liberal thinking much of what it stood for at the beginning of [20th] century, save for talk about expressive and “life-style” freedoms (freedoms that nineteenth century liberals might have had trouble in any case recognizing as rights).

Today’s liberal democracies express and accommodate other political concerns, from the need for entitlements to the combating of prejudice and the privileging by courts of lifestyle rights and designated minorities. In Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, governments have performed these tasks even more energetically than in the United States. There, public administrations control incomes more directly, tax more heavily, and… impose criminal punishments on those whose speech or writing offends ethnic minorities. Though this form of “democratic” governing leaves little to popular consent, it has enjoyed continuing popular support: whence the vexing problem for traditionalist and populist opponents of the current welfare state. They simply cannot convince a majority of people that those who provide, however ineptly, for their material needs are the enemies of democratic self-rule or are interfering unduly in family life. If people care little about such matters and are devoted to the present centralized system of social services, traditionalists and old-fashioned liberal or democratic arguments will not win the day. In this respect the political debate may already be over, despite the echo of populist rumblings in Europe. (p. ix.)

This reminds me of another book I’ve just finished reading, Notes on Democracy by H.L. Mencken, in which (among other, stinging criticism) the author points out that many if not most of the benefits now enjoyed by the majority of people in democratic countries were foisted on them against their will by well meaning, far-sighted and altruistic leaders, members of a traditional elite almost universally hated by the people themselves.

Particularly during the Second World War and its cultural aftermath… Special measures were seen as necessary to curb antiliberal politics and statements, lest they lead to the illiberalism of imperial Germany or, worse yet, Nazism. And as early as 1937, the American Political Sicence Review devoted fifty pages to a monitory essay by Karl Loewenstein, “Militant Democracy and Fundamental Rights.” Loewenstein… called for the creation of a “militant democratic” America that would counter antiliberal forces by being affirmative about its “values”.

John Dewey (from Wikipedia)

John Dewey (from Wikipedia)

By the 1930s liberals were themselves engaged in disputes about the direction in which liberalism should be moved. There was heated disagreement between the Progressive educator John Dewey and the sociologist Lewis Mumford about the role of absolutes in a liberal society. (p. 3.)

Adorno & Horkheimer (with Habermas in background)

Adorno & Horkheimer (with Habermas in background) (from Wikipedia)

Social psychological texts, such as Theodor Adorno‘s and Max Horkheimer‘s The Authoritarian Personality (1950), became important for liberal educators and policymakers bent on protecting their fellow citizens and rallying fellow liberals against reactionary attitudes. The intractability of such attitudes was seen to reflect both the force of traditional religion and faulty child-rearing… In this therapeutic literature the discussions centred on attitudes and values and on the need for proper socialization. Without such planning, traditional “authoritarian” attitudes, it was feared, would persist and lead to the kind of repressive society which had existed under European fascists.  (p. 4.)

The elites’ understanding of democracy is based on globalist and managerial premises that most people do not accept wholeheartedly. Its adherents in government embrace that ideology out of genuine conviction. They insist on agreement even with aspects of their worldview that are least likely to resonate among the American people. When conservative Republican Congressman Dick Armey lectures his Texas constituents on the need for even higher levels of immigration from Mexico, it is not opportunism but ideological fervor that explains his behavior. (p. 64.)

Mencken would disagree with that: in his opinion, all politicians are frauds, whores  and liars intent merely on keeping their jobs at any and all cost to their integrity (of which 99% of them have none).

the American administrative state rests on its own political, or political-scientific, logic and not on constitutional legitimacy. (p. 68.)

The liberal democratic welfare state gained vast power because it gave to most people what they wanted. The “substantial expansion” of its authority into “economic decision-making” fortified its base; and one reason this secular process has continued until now is that the welfare state has built a consensus around economic management. (p. 68.)

the modern administrative state stands or falls not on constitutional legality but on the demand for its services. (p. 69.)

Presumably no one would be free, because inequality and discrimination would be rampant, unless our lives were supervised by experts. This freedom, which the administrative state guarantees, is that today’s democratic faith is about; and for more than half a century it has worn the tag “pluralist”. (p. 69.)

In recent years pluralists inside and outside of government have pushed social designs such as cultural inclusiveness, “secular-scientific” thinking, and global education upon increasingly resistant citizens. (p. 70.)

Contemporary pluralists… have not strayed far from the purposes or methods of their social engineering predecessors. Rather, they have widened the scope and definition of socialization to include behavior modification and the creation of a “sensitive” civic culture. (p. 71.)

What are called New Class attitudes refer to the configuration of ideas linked to the modern administrative state. Two presuppositions for that regime are the mass democratic identification of government with both social planning and material benefits and the prevalence of a pluralist worldview. It may be said that pluralism is the ideology of the administrative state… (p. 73.)

It is the rules of bureaucratic organization that seek, or are alleged, to provide the moral substance of a society thus governed, and those rules… are seen to be coextensive with a universal science of management. (p. 74.)

Finally, pluralism has attained international currency through its identification with America as a superpower. (p. 74.)

It is clear what [S.M.] Lipset [author of Political Man] means by democracy: a welfare state subject to periodic elections and protecting freedom of expression.  (p. 75.)

American nationalists can claim as their heritage this vision of a planned society, inasmuch as their own country has become it most prominent laboratory… As National Review editor John O’Sullivan notes, “For much of the world’s left, the U.S. is today a utopia.” (p. 75.)

Thatcher & Reagan (from Wikipedia)

Thatcher & Reagan (from Wikipedia)

What Reagan-Thatcher conservatives and their counterparts on the European continent call “liberal democracy” presupposes the operation of public administration as essential for democratic governance. The praise of the “democratic welfare state” that crops up regularly in the Wall Street Journal brings to mind both John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson… The… admiration for Wilson, FDR, and John F. Kennedy among today’s American conservatives is not merely dissembling. It testifies to their acceptance of a managerial welfare state as a point of departure for public policy. (p. 75.)

Habermas favors increased immigration into the federal republic to overcome its association with a discredited German past. Since he believes that German identity should rest entirely on a postwar civic patriotism, there is no reason that it must be specifically German, except linguistic convenience…. Habermas wishes to expiate German sins by obliterating a distinctive German identity, but self-proclaimed American nationalists advocate for their own country what Habermas intends to be a German atonement. They too with to live in a “universal nation” with open borders and changing cultural character. Wall Street Journal columnist Ben Wattenberg and Congressman Richard Armey hold these patriotic positions, which most Europeans would reject for their own lands as an invitation to national suicide. (p. 76-7.)

The discussions among concerned Germans about democratic reeducation for their people corresponded to other deliberations that took place among equally engaged American intellectuals about socializing “democratic” citizens in their country. These socializing plans became increasingly ambitious after the Second World War, in response to what was perceived as the danger of nondemocratic thinking.

In any investigation of liberal democracy from the Progressive era onward, it is important to distinguish between long-term beliefs and short-term variables. At least some early Progressives, including Woodrow Wilson, espoused racial segregation, American nationalism, and other ideas that later ceased to be politically acceptable. but these teachings were subject to change and did not represent the Progressives’ most enduring contributions to modern ideology. These contributions were linking liberal democracy to “scientific” administration and planning a “modern community” that is indeterminately extendible. (p. 77.)

The Progressive appeal to nationalist sentiment was always, to some extent, strategic. It was part of an effort to raise public administration as a reforming force against local institutions alleged to be corrupt…. Margaret Mead, Franz Boas, and J.B. Watson were three prominent social scientists who contributed…[they] claimed for their research a scientific precision that was dubious. (p. 78.)

They argued that people could be improved by altering their environment. And this alteration could be planned by social experts (p. 78.)… Social reformers… took what had once been considered unvarnished vice and turned it into dysfunctional behavior, a condition that required “expert” knowledge to be treated. .. the U.S. Commissioner of Education recommended the public use of social psychology, which was held to be vital in creating a “mentally healthy” democracy. (p. 78.)

[H. Addington Bruce’s] writings on psychology over several decades… typified the attempt to make psychology into a “highly visible and utilitarian science”. It also reflected the increasing politicization undergone by theorists and practitioners of psychology. Bruce and other popularizing psychologists of his generation were drawn to Progressive politics and presented research that supported their ideological predilections…. Bruce accepted Progressive tenets, which “included faith   (including the social sciences), emphasis on environmental manipulation as an instrument of change and an egalitarian view that assumed people to be basically good and more similar than different.”

The invasion of government and the courts by behavioral scientists has produced what Thomas Szasz calls “the therapeutic state.”… Szasz… observes, “If people believe that health values justify coercion, that moral and political do not, those wish to coerce others will tend to enlarge the category of health values at the expense of moral values.” (p.79.)

By defining emotional well-being as both a social good and the overcoming of what is individually and collectively dangerous, the behavioral scientists have been able to impose their absolutes upon a culturally fluid society. .. In The True and Only Heaven Lasch explores the implications for postwar politics of the Authoritarian Personality. .. In the end, Adorno and his colleagues “relegated a broad range of controversial issues to the clinic – to ‘scientific’ study as opposed to philosophical and political debate.”.. Adorno worried that the American blue-collar class expressed racial prejudice and attributed this misfortune to status anxiety…Starting in 1949, the American Jewish Committee sponsored a succession of books by behavioral scientists. The series reflected the fears aroused by the Nazi persecution of Jews… A leitmotif throughout this series is that liberal democracy is being endangered by authoritarian prejudice.” (p. 80.)

Lipset’s close friend, the historian Richard Hofstadter, was also a self-described man of the Left who feared the “paranoid style” of nonurban Americans and of workers who had not been properly socialized. In lectures about those he found culturally and politically alien… Hofstadter was lavish in his use of therapeutic terms…  It may be instructive to contrast these broadsides against “prejudice” to other attitudes expressed at the same time by Walter Lippmann. In The public Philosophy and The price of Freedom, both written in the [nineteen-]fifties, Lippmann calls for a responsible governing class able to show independent judgment and resist popular passions…. two of their inspirations [may have been] Jose Ortega y Gassett’s Revolt of the Masses and Irving Babitt’s Democracy and Leadership. (p. 81.)

Lippmann invokes a humanistic ideal of leadership that may have grown obsolete by the time that he wrote The Public Philosophy… The placing of administrators beyond popular control would not have brought them into touch with their second and higher nature. More likely, it would have allowed them to do exactly as they pleased…. By the fifties it was not philosophers but social scientists and therapists who were setting the tone of government… Lippmann’s talk about the need for moral and social traditions showed him moving away from those Progressive intellectuals he had once admired. He had come to reject their trashing of metaphysical certitudes and looked back to a time when people “did agree that there was a valid law which, whether it was the commandment of love or the reason of things, was transcendent.” The systematic attempt to reduce such belief to a “psychological experience and no more” undermined the possibility of moral consensus within political life. What the new democratic theorists had done in debunking this consensus was to leave the mass of people to their own impulses. (p. 81-2).

“Debunking” is an idea and a practice attacked by C.S. Lewis in his essay The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis expresses (in that essay and elsewhere) similar views and values to those of Walter Lippmann, a man whom Mencken greatly admired.

Lippmann’s observation about the political danger of subverting moral habits was no doubt unconvincing to those he criticized. Liberal democrats had long cultivated a skeptical attitude toward received knowledge other than their own. Indeed they quoted with approval Mill’s aphorism (from On Liberty [read the text of chapter one here]) that “the despotism of custom is a standing hindrance to human advancement.”… It was not a socialist but a Victorian liberal, Edward Beesley, who in his confessional essay “Why I am a Liberal” (1885) asserted that “the right course to practical politics cannot be ascertained by mere reference to the will of the people at any given moment but must be sought in conformity with the laws of order and progress revealed in the scientific study of man and his environment.” (p. 83.)

I’m not familiar with the name Beesley, nor with his essay, but its title reminds me of an essay by Friedrich Hayek called Why I am not a conservative. Perhaps Hayek was familiar with Beesley’s.

Like Lippmann, Hallowell believed that the “impugning” of the inherited moral order would undermine the capacity of Americans for self-government. What neither he nor Lippmann saw fuly… is that the impugning of inherited beliefs was merely a first step in the pluralist process of change… It tells much about our intellectual climate that those who today examine cultural pluralism and value-relativity ignore the real use of these concepts. They take for granted that value-relativity is somehow connected to liberal democracy. Religious traditionalists try to minimize that connection while nonetheless professing liberal democrat beliefs. Overlooked is the function played by the relativity in question… Despite his apparent reduction of values to relational and subjective interests, [Horace] Kallen devised ways of privileging his own values by identifying them with a universal good. (p. 84.)

Some of the most respected pluralists present hand-to-mouth arguments, but these arguments have prevailed in the court of public opinion because they jibe with what the managerial state is doing… They begin by appealing to unproved premises, which the reader is nudged into accepting, move on to therapeutic criteria for right reasoning, and finally, as we have seen in recent hate speech and anti-Holocaust revisionist laws, end by reverting to the argumentum baculinum, which may mean arresting those considered criminally insensitive… At stake here is not the idle pastime of scribes. It is an attempt undertaken by prominent intellectuals to elevate pluralism into behavioral coercion… In The End of the Republican Era, former president of the American Political Science Association Theodore Lowi makes two startling admissions about a liberal democratic regime that he claims to admire: one, bureaucratic interventionism is now shaping liberal democratic politics; and two, the interventionism practice by the “instrumentalist state” has become therapeutic. (p. 85.)

He overlooks the values, particularly sensitivity, that democratic pluralists impose in their role as guardians of mental health. He assumes in an equally axiomatic way that his own concern for equality exists in a moral vacuum or as a function of technique… (p. 86.)

A straightforward approach to value-assertion is the one taken by a professor of philosophy at Harvard University, Hilary Putnam. (p. 86.)

Like Horace Kallen, Oxford professor of jurisprudence Ronald Dworkin has to smuggle in his privileged rights in what is intended as a defense of cultural diversity. Although rights, like values, are traced to individual interests, for Dworkin, one particular right trumps others, the demand for social equality on behalf of aggrieved minorities. In a study of the Supreme Court case DeFunis v. Odegaard (1994), in which a Jewish applicant sued the University of Washington Law School on grounds of reverse discrimination, Dworkin dismisses DeFunis’s complaint as morally unconvincing. Though DeFunis had higher grades and test scores than the minority applicants who were admitted, his right to admission rested, for Dworkin, on disputable grounds, namely “intellectualism”.  (p. 86-7.)

“… in certain circumstances a policy which puts many individuals at a disadvantage is nonetheless justified because it makes the community as a whole better off.” That result is achieved if compensatory justice is applied to those who personally or through their ancestors had suffered unequal treatment in the past. Members of these groups deserve not only “equal treatment” but “treatment as an equal”, which is the right “to be treated with the same respect and concern as anyone else.” But that respect, we then find out, entails unequal treatment… Dworkin’s position exemplifies what Max Weber characterized as the “tyranny of values”. In nontraditional societies without recognized moral authorities, intellectuals compete, according to Weber, to make their private value-preferences generally accepted. (p. 87.)

John Locke - 17th century English philosopher (from Wikipedia)

John Locke - 17th century English philosopher (from Wikipedia)

… what Dworkin is defending is not some quintessential Lockean civil society. He favors social engineering taking place without popular restraints, and courts in the United States and in Europe have become a vehicle of carrying out change under the guise of guaranteeing newly discovered human rights… Amy Gutmann [director of the Princeton University Center for Human Values] calls for opening academic discussions to the works of black and feminist authors who address contemporary moral and political concerns. (p. 88.)

In the name of multicultural respect, Gutmann explains, “Some differences – racism and anti-Semitism are obvious examples – ought not to be respected.”… It does not seem coincidental that two groups into which Gutmann herself its, Jews and women, are held to be “disadvantaged.” Why these groups in the United States should merit handicap consideration in discourse is never sufficiently explained…. Another problem inherent in Gutmann’s prescriptions concerns the appointment of an umpire to oversee liberal democracy: who gets to decide in her society which opinions are “morally respectable” …? … Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor complains that advocates of multicultural politics and education often labor under two mistaken assumptions: they judge positively other cultures about which they are ignorant, and they prematurely load on to them the “homogenizing assumptions” about all “worthy” cultures that they construct for themselves as Western liberal democrats. (p. 89.)

Like Michael Lerner, his associate at Tikkun and Hillary Clinton’s self-proclaimed mentor, Peter Gabel… Both spirituality and justice signify the inclusion of other groups in a diverse society. This prescribed inclusiveness ought to express itself in therapeutic gestures (“healing” and “caring” being two of the favorite terms of Tikkun), and public administrators should be charged with the task of spiritually transforming the rest of us… The Platonic image found in the Republic of healing (iatrike) as the essence of governing runs through this type of discourse. (p. 90.) … In the Tikkun social vision, however, … Its foundation is not a shared concept of truth located in a presumably unchanging reality but enforced fellowship that comes through sensitizing administrators. (p. 90-91.)

For almost half a century the defense of liberal democratic pluralism has been tied to therapeutic politics. (p. 91.)

In the foreword to the Studies in Prejudice series that Adorno and his group’s research inaugurates, the general editors, Max Horkheimer and S.H. Flowerman, announce that “our aim is not merely to describe prejudice but to explain it in order to help in its eradication. Eradication means reeducation scientifically planned on the basis of understanding scientifically arrived at.” (p. 91-2.)

Curiously, Adorno himself in The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, written during the War, had offered a far more devastating criticism of the modern bureaucratic state than any later associated with “pseudodemocrats.” Adorno attacked administrative collectivism as spurious democracy and identified it with a totalitarian development leading from the Enlightenment to Nazism. Adorno changed his own judgement sufficiently to scold Mack for having second thoughts about the growth of American bureaucratic government. This volte-face is all the more remarkable in view of the persistence of the critique of impersonal bureaucratic structures among the German emigres in whose circle Adorno moved. Hannah Arendt and Max Horkheimer continued to produce such criticism into the postwar years, though like Adorno they sometimes conveniently associated the prevalence of bureaucratic control with a capitalist dynamic. In The Authoritarian Personality Adorno also depicts Mack as perverted because of his quest for power instead of love. Mack expresses his belief in the need for male dominance in the home, which is seen to indicate a cluster of troubling, interrelated personality traits: “conventionalism, repression, and a cult of strength and masculinity.” (p. 93.)

The plea by Adorno and other contributors to the Studies in Prejudice series on behalf of social planning and economic reorganization is both continuing and unmistakable. In examinations of “prejudice”, certain traits unacceptable to the authors are forced together made to appear symptomatic of an authoritarian personality… One should not view Adorno’s analysis as the work of an isolated refugee socialist, without bearing on American political culture. His collaborators on The Authoritarian Personality and all the contributors to Studies in Prejudice held respected academic positions, and even a generally reasonable participant in the project, S.M. Lipset, did not dispute Adorno’s conclusions.  The American Jewish Committee… promoted the series and financed the Studies… (p. 94.)

The Committee and Commentary [magazine] were concerned about defending liberal democratic values against, on the one side, anti-Semites and “traditional” anti-New Deal conservatives and, on the other, the assembled forces of world Communism. And for those thereafter engaged in debates about liberal democracy, it became convenient to treat one’s opponents as prejudiced and sick…. In After Virtue, ethical philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes the value-invention characteristic of modern culture and treats it as symptomatic of the breakdown of traditional social authorities. Even more striking than this value-inventiveness is the accompanying tendency to impose values in the context of battling prejudice. … This behavior modification must go on indefinitely. The sensitivity needed to practice “democracy” or to enter the political conversation continues to rise. .. today’s public personality must master gender-inclusive language, remain abreast of the changing designations for designated minorities, and say nothing to offend gays. The apparent reasons for these restraints are the growing compassion and openness being practiced by society. But the real reason may be widespread fear. People are afraid to engage in pathologically described dissent or to oppose the favored values of journalists and government administrators. (p. 95.)

… social commentator Chilton Williamson Jr. explains… “By 1964 Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were recognized gods in the pantheon…” The drive toward extending equal citizenship at home and the opening of America’s borders to larger and larger numbers of Third World immigrants became related tendencies in the sixties. As Williamson notes, religious and political publications, like Christian Century and the New Republic, and such national leaders as Robert and Edward Kennedy exalted these twin missions of outreach. .. The point is not only that some choose to make a connection between civil rights and immigration rights… rather, that pluralism as a privileged American creed was brought into play to justify both sets of presumed rights. In Alien Nation, Peter Brimelow, editor of Forbes … makes a compelling case that since the revision of American immigration laws in 1965 and congressional legislation to reunite families, the influx of largely Third World immigrants, with few marketable skills and little incentive to assimilate, has continued to grow. (p. 96.)

One feature piece in the New York Times (13 December 1992) by Deborah Sontag, describes the oppositions in California to illegal immigration as “rudeness goes public.”… A leading advocate of increased American immigration, Julian Simon, observes in the Economic Consequences of Immigration his own “delight in looking at the variety of faces I see on the subway when I visit New York.”… On an equally personal note the director of Brandeis University’s Institute for Jewish Advocacy and an early sponsor of the Studies in Prejudice, Earl Raab, notes with pleasure that “half of the American population will soon be non-white and non-European.” Raab expresses relief that “we have topped the point where a Nazi-Aryan party will be able to prevail in this country.”… does the passion for heterogeneity voiced by Simon and the national press justify the pariah status assigned to those who feel otherwise? Here again, the treatment of dissenters, which this case may describe the majority of American citizens, shows the cost of liberal democratic pluralist argumentation. Not only have the immigration restrictionists supposedly forgotten the presumed lessons of Nazism, but they have also turned their backs on the “American lbieral tradition”. (p. 97.)

… the U.S. Congress is not forbidden to restrict immigration and passed a law to that effect in 1924… a visiting scholar at the Cato Institute, Sikha Dahmia [wrote] “a commitment to individual rights” kept the Founders from giving to Congress “the constitutional authority to keep out immigrants who might dilute that [broad social] consensus [about democracy].” … Nowhere in The Federalist Papers, a liberal document that defends dual federalism and distributed powers, is there evidence of Dahmia’s inalienable right to cross borders while “pursuing private good.” (p. 98.)

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Book Notes – Deschooling Society (2)

Degree ceremony at the University of Oxford. T...
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Following on…

For most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school. ((From the introduction.)

the existence of the university is necessary to guarantee continued social criticism (p. 37)

The man addicted to being taught seeks his security in compulsive teaching. (p. 39)

once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all non-professional activity is rendered suspect. In school we are taught that valuable learning is the result of attendance; that the value of learning increases with input; and that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates. (p. 39)

School teaches [the myth that] instruction produces learning. The existence of school produces the demand for schooling. Once we have learned to need school, all our activities tend to take the shape of client relationships to other specialized institutions. (p. 39)

Knowledge … is conceived of as a commodity put on the market in school. (p. 47)

School makes alienation preparatory to life, thus depriving education of reality and work of creativity. (p. 47)

Knowledge is not a commodity which can be forced into the consumer. (p. 50)

[Schools should]

  • be convivial places which folk do not have to be convinced to use (p. 55)
  • move towards praxis (action) and away from poesis (making) (p. 62)
  • increase the opportunity and desirability of human interaction (p. 63)

Institutions men use without having to be institutionally convinced that it is to their advantage to do so… (p. 55)

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Book notes – The Shadow University

(Part 1 of 2. Part 2 is here).

Ralph Raico mentioned this book in a speech he gave on the occasion of his being awarded the Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty. (Read the speech on the Mises Institute website.) Here’s the relevant section from the speech:

Today America is in the grip of a dominant political class.  It consists of the media, the educational establishment, and the state apparatus–the federal bureaucrats, the federal judges–as well as their supporters at every level of government.

Paul Gottfried has described this political class and its aims and goals very well, in his book, After Liberalism [I’m reading that, too. Book notes to follow].  It is a self-appointed elite that fully intends to bring about a radical restructuring of our society, to alter all of our inherited ideas and values in the direction of egalitarianism and socialism.  In the end, there will be a systematic redistribution of property, from the rightful owners to the “needy.”  So, massive expropriation, together with a crusade to remake the nature of man–the Bolshevik Revolution, but without, to all appearances, any need for mass murder.  It will all be done through what passes for “democracy” today.

In the colleges and universities, the agenda of this political class is virtually unopposed. Unless you are actually in the midst of academic life today, you will find it hard to imagine what it is like.

There are whole departments, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, in some places Chicano Studies, and others devoted to this task.  On every campus there is a Diversity Office, dedicated to bringing more professors of victimology on to the campus.  There are speech codes and the incessant war against fraternities.  Agitation and violence are sanctioned and permitted for privileged groups, while conservative speakers often are not even allowed on the campus because of a threatened riot.

In many schools–including the best schools– “sensitivity training” for the whole class of entering freshmen is mandatory.  A new profession has been created, sensitivity “facilitators,” whose job is to remake the personalities of the students. You can read about this in documented detail in the excellent book by the distinguished scholar Alan Kors and the civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. Read the rest of this entry »


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Book Notes – Deschooling society

Ivan Illich
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Here are some quotes from chapter 1 of  Ivan Illich‘s classic Deschooling Society, which I recently re-read. The quotes are sentences or ideas that caught my attention. They are not necessarily representative, either of the book itself, nor of Illich’s or my thinking; that is, you won’t get an objective summary of the book by reading these quotes.  (For a 1971 libertarian review of Illich’s book, click here). With that disclaimer out of the way, here we go.

Chapter 1: Why we must disestablish schools.

[Schools school students] to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, … the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

… In these essays, I will show that the institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence. … I will explain how this process of degradation is accelerated when non-material needs are transformed into demands for commodities; when health, education, personal mobility, welfare, or psychological healing are defined as the result of services or “treatments”.

The ideology of obligatory schooling admits of no logical limits. [Illich goes on to illustrate using as an example the proposal of]
Dr. Hutschnecker, the “psychiatrist” who treated Nixon before he was qualified as a candidate, recommended… that all children between 6 and 8 be professionally examined to ferret out those who have destructive tendencies, and that obligatory treatment be provided for them…. Indeed, preventive concentration camps for predelinquents would be a logical improvement over the school system.

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