Monday, March 8, 2010

The Enlightenment? Sure, But Which One?

Alan Wolfe on Gertrude Himmelfarb

[Wolfe is known as a gentleman of the center-left; Himmelfarb (mother of William Kristol!) as a gentleperson of the right. An excerpt from Wolfe's review of Himmelfarb's The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments:]

European politicians these days frequently find themselves invoking the values of the Enlightenment, especially when simultaneously challenged at home by ever increasing numbers of Muslims immigrants. If they were to read Gertrude Himmelfarb, they would discover that there are different Enlightenments from which to choose--and that serious consequences follow once the choice is made.

An essay in the Encyclopedie, the Bible, so to speak, of the French Enlightenment, proclaimed that "Reason is to the philosopher what grace is to the Christian." A devotion to reason (even more than to the idea of liberty) guided the views of French intellectuals such as Voltaire and Diderot. Indeed, under the proper set of conditions, the pursuit of reason might mean the curtailment of liberty, which helps explain why so many of the thinkers of the French Enlightenment supported enlightened monarchs and expressed nothing but disdain for the rabble. The French Enlightenment, as Himmelfarb portrays it, has more room for principle than for people; without fully endorsing the view that there is a direct line from Rousseau to the French Revolution's Terror, Himmelfarb sees in French versions of the Enlightenment the dangerous idea that abstractions such as the "general will" can and should run roughshod over the desires of ordinary people to lead lives appropriate to their situation.

All of which makes Himmelfarb admire the British. Far more moderate in temperament than their French counterparts, thinkers like Adam Smith believed that "the public realm, governed by the principle of justice, was of secondary importance compared with the private realm, where the sentiment of sympathy and benevolence would prevail." The British Enlightenment was a common-sense sort of affair, Himmelfarb believes. It sought not the radical transformation of individuals so much as methods of unleashing the decent instincts that human beings already possessed. Eighteenth-century Scottish and British thinkers had no need to launch a frontal attack on religion; quite the contrary, they viewed religious motivation as part and parcel of the spirit of benevolence society should embody. Uninterested in waging a war to make human beings perfect, they were true democrats, for they generally admired real people with all their flaws and strengths.

The American colonists rebelled against Great Britain, but, from Himmelfarb's perspective, they wisely chose to condemn the British monarch, not the British Enlightenment. In, for instance, The Federalist Papers, one sees the same kind of cautious pragmatism and taste for experimentalism that Himmelfarb admires in British thought. Unlike the French Enlightenment, ours did not require a renunciation of religion. We made liberty, and not reason per se, central to our outlook on the world. Our quest, as Himmelfarb insightfully points out, was for "a more perfect union," not the one perfect society. No wonder, then, that the Enlightenment is more alive in the United States today than it is in France or even Great Britain; every time we invoke the Constitution or proclaim our commitment to freedom, we bring the best of the eighteenth century to bear on the realities of the twenty-first.

Himmelfarb the conservative enthusiast can be brittle and ideological. Himmelfarb the historian is nearly always thoughtful and engaging. Although a few needless polemics are thrown out in The Roads to Modernity, this is the Himmelfarb I love to read.


King of Ireland said...

This seems to be right in line with the theme I have been hitting on surrounding Goldstone's essay on modernity and your post on Christianity being the catalyst for tolerance in the arena of religion.

It seems to me that some like Barton want to use "Rational Christianity" to their advantage but not be honest in how some of this branch of thought differs from Evangelical beliefs today. I think Jon does a fair job of pointing that out.

BUT I think we go too far the other way and use terms like "Theistic Rationalist" that seek to purify Christianity from rationalism by equating "Rational Christianity" with the idolization of reason seen in some parts of the Enlightenment.

Both extremes ignore the impact that this stream of Christianity had on the polictical theology/philsophy that brought about "free individuals sovereign" that used wisdom of the ages in relation to forms of limited government that they would be able to maintain sovereignty over.

If we are going to nail Barton, and when he overstates his case and uses shitty evidence we should, then we have to nail the other side when they use terms like "Theistic Rationalist" that chop off thousands of years of intellectual church history.

The greatest shame, as I have pointed out numerous times at Dispatches, is that most people use the term do not know the first thing about the Bible, Christian Theology, or Church History. They that claim intellectual superiority are just as bad as the "simpleton" Christians they mock for their ignorance.

King of Ireland said...

Tell them I said it too! It will give them more opportunties to ignorantly jump up and down beating their chests saying they debunked something they have no idea about enough to know whether they debunked it or not. What a bunch of clowns. They go around repeating Frazer the same way ignorant people go around repeating Barton.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This is an interesting distinction among the Enlightened movements. I'd be interested in reading more in this vein.

Reason protects the ruling class and thier understanding of "life" and liberty, as it were. But, reason does not protect everyone's "life" and liberty, as the term is defined differently...

King of Ireland said...


After many years of not being a Catholic( I was but an atheist one if that is even possible) I went to talk to a Priest about life and law school today.

It was on interesting conversation that brought up many of the topics we discuss here and others that have been on my mind as I sort through what I actually believe. But the most interesting thing he said was that the Civil War was about faith. I do not buy his whole argument and think that the powers that be were fighting over money.

Nonetheless, there is at least some truth in what he said because many on both sides quoted passionately from the Bible. Some really think that God wanted people to be slaves so much that they were willing to fight for it. Others fought just as vehemently because they were convinced that God did not want people as slaves.

You see this faith thing is simple yet complex. If that is even possible. I mean that love god and your neighbor as yourself is simple. How that gets distorted is complex. I think the hardest part is to figure out if it is worse hashing out all the complexities that history has created or just throwing it all out and starting from simplicity.

I think the former is more productive in that in starting over people throw the baby out with the bathwater and needlessly try to recreate the wheel. Does it surprise you that there was more than one enlightenment if I I just stated is true?


King of Ireland said...

By the way as I get to know you better I am starting to see where you are coming from here. I think you ask some good questions. I would caution you against throwing the baby out with the bath water as far as the Church thing. Faith does not have to go contra reason or Science. Or for that matter modernity as some think.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I hate simplistic thinking because it is SO prejuidicial and short sighted. Of course we all have our biases, but I really get physically ill because of things that have happened in the name of God, without thought or reason. No self reflection or analyzing just "believe". I don't buy into all.

I wrote about his opinion on my blog, in fact. And I am prejudiced about knowing why one believes what one does. If that makes me arrogant, so be it. But, I will admit readily that I am not well informed in many areas, but I am attempting to educate myself. And I hold tenaciously that we are individuals in our own right and NO ONE has a right to subvert that right in regard to a law abiding citizen. Otherwise, any of us are '"game" for another's appetite for power and/or money.

Daniel said...

I think it overstates the point to refer to two Enlightenments. The Enlightenment had two (or more) major branches, but each saw a crisis of epistemology, each used reason as its primary tool, and each felt free to re-invent philosophy, theology, and politics. These branches were intertwined and in constant dialogue.

Tom, you have pointed out that the American revolution was Scottish. Voltaire is often credited with saying that "we look to Scotland for all of our ideas of civilization." Jefferson, who we associate with liberty, admired the French revolution.

The Enlightenment went in radically different directions, because its skepticism went to the root of everything. The differences between the American Enlightenment and the French Enlightenment were profound. So were the differences between Witherspoon and Edwards. But all had their philosophical roots in the same place -- in a quest to develop knowledge and understanding using the methods of Bacon and of Newton.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you Daniel.

I was thinking this morning that our Revolution identified more with the French because of Laffeyette writing to the King of France to support our cause. And we also got our Statue of Liberty from the French.

The Revolution was against Britian, as Britian still adhered to a "State" sanctioned Church, which the Protestants protested.

The problem with the sects, is that their epistomology is shortsighted, because of their insistance that Scripture is "God's Word".

But, at the same time, I wouldn't want to sanction a State rule over another's conscience, either. And the conscience does not have to be a religious conscience. That is what liberty is all about, isn't it?

Daniel said...

I'm really not sure we can untangle things well enough to say that our revolution was closer to the French (or to the British). There was too much cross-pollination on the European continent to really sort out French thought from English thought from Scottish thought. There are distingishable strains, though, and I think it is fair to say that the Founding was closer to Reid (Scottish Realist) than to Hume (Scottish sceptic) or Montesquieu (French Romantic).

There is also the question: which Fench? Keep in mind that our revolution came before the French revolution and was supported by the French King (as a tool to serve his own ends).

The American Revolution did provide inspiration for the French version. And the American Founders were sympatheic, although many condemned the Terror when it arose. As you point out, that Statue is emblematic of the dreams of both revolutions. And the cry of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" is compatible with either revolution.

Even the Christian Enlightenment theorists developed epistemologies that were not rooted in scripture. Even Edwards (who was a prototype for the evangelical movement we are familiar with) in his philosophical writings began primarily with reason and observation. And he was willing to allow reason to lead him to conclusions that varied from 'received truth' as he knew it. The Edwardsians argued that scripture should be accepted as God's word because it was verified by reason.

The more mainstream (Christian) Common Sense Realism also began with doubt, reason, and observation but did not find that reason could confirm the key tenets of scripture, though it was not incompatible with them either. They argued that some things could not be known through reason and observation alone, and for those, scripture and faith were needed. The epistemology of these Scottish Calvinists was not very compatible with Calvin's 'Total Depravity' and they essentially abandoned that tenet of their religion.

Daniel said...

Four? I should take a look at the book. Let's see: 1. Extreme Scepticism, 2. Common Sense Realism, 3. Romanticism, 4. ?Immaterialism (e.g. Berkeley and Edwards)? or maybe Romanticism should be divided into two and Immaterialism omitted.

Have I got it right? If I have identified them correctly, I think each has its effect on the Founding. I don't know of any extreme sceptics amond the Founders, but the challenge and attraction of scepticism can be seen. Common Sense Realism was powerful and arguably dominant. Romanticism (in both its Lockean and its French forms) has a strong influence. I'm not sure about the level of influence of immaterialism. The Edwardsian revivals were crucial to the revolution, and Edwards' philosphical writings were brilliant (and were influential in Europe) but I don't know whether immaterialism was a significant part of the mix in this country.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You know, Daniel, philosophy can be useful to prove just about anything. Therefore, the philosopher Kings of Plato's Republic...was a prototype of conservatism, wasn't it?

When observations are made, interpretations follow, which in the human psyche are personal or indivdually evaluated. These observations cannot be interpreted apart from knowledge of the world. The more knowledge one has, the more one is apt to understand closer to what is "real". But, we are still going to be limited as to full knowledge of the world and all that is, individually speaking.

This leads me to question what you suggest, as it relies on a text as revelatory and the Transcendent is not observable. Therefore, we cannot make claims concerning that realm, only assumptions based on what we know through science, that is, the world has some sort of order. But, do we understand all about that? Certainly not.

Therefore, we cannot make experiementations concerning human pscyhe conditions, unless we want to make humans projects of science that itself is limited to what we can observe and evaluate through our own limited views, frames of knowledge, biases, and observations...this seems presumptuous to me.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Moral education is the presumed "rightful behavior" according to social norms. But, the ethical values, or ideals of life and liberty must be for all humans. Therefore, the quandary of universiality and parituclarity...

The question becomes where we draw our lines of defining ethical behavior, which is universal, while maintaining social boundaries which create an environment that brings human flourishing. This is where, I think the Founders were brilliant, from what I have read. They understood that the "ideals", which are universal appeal to universality, but can be specifically defined within different communal contexts...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Could we assume that Jefferson was a libertarian, then, since he saw our Revolution as more in line with the French Revolution?

Edmund Burke, the conservative, thought that revolution was not the answer, as he was a social reformer, but not a revolutionary, in the true sense. Do I remember correctly? (my memory is slowly escaping me)

Daniel said...

Plato's Philosopher Kings were conservative. But, in the end, so was the scepticism and rebellion of the French Revolution. Philosophy is a tool for thinking and communicating those thoughts. Biases always creep in, but philosophy does provide tools for discovering and addressing those biases. It is imperfect, but very useful. Our understanding of "liberty" is a product of the Lockean philosophy. Enlightenment philosophy, in all of its branches, seeks to question everything and subject everything (including the Transcendent) to the test of reason.

Presumptuous? Absolutely. And it has given us a level of freedom and accomplishment that would have been unimaginable to those who began the project. And many of those accomplishments have relied on humans as the subject of scientific study.

I agree with the Realists that reason can show that there is a divine, but cannot define the Divine. But, whether through the tools of reason, ecstacy, or faith, I find the pursuit worth the effort.

Daniel said...

I would not define the French Revolution as 'libertarian.' While it cried for 'liberte' and swept away an entrenched, powerful system, it put a new liberty-crushing system in its place. Napoleon's wars were a phase of that revolution.

Jefferson's libertarianism was complicated, and at points, contradictory. He hated bankers and didn't much care for freedom of contract when it protected them. He disliked commerce and industry, except on the most basic level. While he championed human freedom, the vision of freedom he favored was that of the yeoman farmer who relied on slaves to maintain his existence. He contained contradictions -- part of his brilliance was his ability to see the worst of them.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So historicizing the text for moral example, is via historizing Jesus life in real time to evaluate human response/reaction to another life "so framed". And Jesus life is of ultimate value in proving the historicity of human experience in interpreting the text's writers, or experiences, as real human encounters...

This view would understand that the Church used philosophical argument to underwrite what became Tradition. But, the starting point was expeience in real historical Jesus was a "minister to the ousider" (whoever happens to be the outsider)...

The question I have, then, is why has there been so many scholarly differences in understanding who Jesus really was? Sage. revolutionary, reformer, humanist, Jewish skeptic, etc...Is it because, as the Church Fathers addressed different needs within the Church in a particular context, they found philosophy a valuable way to interpret Jesus life, as universally valid?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, Whenever assertions of "authority" are made, then there is also with it, arrogance. Authority must be a balanced power...otherwise, we are back to medieval authority via the Church...or the authoriatarianism of the STATE...both assume too much over individual automonomy..

Tom Van Dyke said...

" When Reason invades the rights of Common Sense, and presumes to arraign that authority by which she herself acts, nonsense and confusion must of necessity ensue; science will soon come to have neither head nor tail, beginning nor end; philosophy will grow contemptible; and its adherents, far from being treated, as in former times, upon the footing of conjurers, will be thought by the vulgar, and by every man of sense, to be little better than downright fools. "

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom, This is a fabulous quote, where did you find it?

Reason is the indivdidual's right to allign his common sense, isn't it? Common sense is not educated. That is my problem.

King of Ireland said...

"No self reflection or analyzing just "believe". I don't buy into all"

Nor do I. That is not what I was trying to say. I was not really commenting on the truth or it or not. I was stating that it is pretty clear what the core principles of the Bible are since Jesus stated it.(Love God, self, and neighbor) Whether they are true or not is for each person to investigate on their own.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, the author is actually saying the opposite: reason can take us to errors that common sense would never permit.

The interesting thing about intellectual history is that it's written by the intellectuals, the same elite whose reason takes them into absurdities like Marxism.

So the source, a smash hit treatise that got him inducted into the American Philosophical Society, is James Beattie's An Essay on The Nature and Immutability of Truth In Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism (1770).

[Sounds like I'll like him. You won't.]

We never hear of Beattie, of course, although at the time he was thought to have bested David Hume's skepticism and empiricism and his book was a bestseller around the world.

Now it's only partially unfair Beattie's unknown today---he's surely not as brilliant as Hume, but his pre-modern philosophical viewpoint would be out of fashion with today's academics, so perhaps that figures in as well.

But as we deal with the history of ideas around here, he's going to be getting a closer look, as will most of the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment, the real philosophical core of the Founding.

James Beattie was a Scottish philosopher and poet who spent his entire academic career as Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic at Marischal College in Aberdeen. His best known philosophical work, An Essay on The Nature and Immutability of Truth In Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism (1770), is a rhetorical tour de force which affirmed the sovereignty of common sense while attacking David Hume (1711-1776). A smash bestseller in its day, this Essay on Truth made Beattie very famous and Hume very angry. The work’s fame proved fleeting, as did Beattie’s philosophical reputation.

While the Essay on Truth is little read today, it is well worth reading. First, it is an important document in the history of the Scottish common sense school of philosophy inaugurated by Beattie’s colleague, Thomas Reid (1710-1796). Second, Beattie’s style– lively, polished, pure, and lucid–still has the power to please and charm. Finally, Beattie is an abler philosopher than his vociferous detractors were willing to allow. Though by no means an original or profound thinker, he can and should be given credit for presenting a systematic and accessible defense of a simple-sounding thesis – that philosophy cannot afford to despise the plain dictates of common sense.

This article (1) outlines Beattie’s life and career, (2) reviews the basic argument of the Essay on Truth, (3) summarizes the Essay’s neglected critique of Hume’s racism, (4) briefly describes Beattie’s later Elements of Moral Science, and (5) reflects on Beattie’s place in the Scottish common sense school.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ah, now, it is turning from Locke, while those at the university had their say in what "matters"? So, the "common person", can be formed according to "form" that others might glorify their works and proclaim them "gods", (leaders). It sounds facist to me...

bpabbott said...

"The author is actually saying [that] reason can take us to errors that common sense would never permit."

That is how I understood it as well. However, I don't see how a proper application of reason can contradict common sense ... on the other hand there is nothing common about sensible reasoning ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Why, Ben, what you describe was called in the Founding era [and now, and by the ancient Greeks] "right" reason.

And what Beattie describes as "common sense"

(2) The principles of common sense are universally accepted. Far from being prejudices peculiar to a given time, place, culture, sect, or class, they have been believed by virtually all people in all ages.

corresponds pretty well to "natural law."

All roads lead home, baby.

Daniel said...

I like the quote. Beatty is an interesting character. I suspect that he is forgotten simply because a Scottish Realism gets one representative and Reid get the citations. Although they were friends and key members of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, there were some interesting differences in their thought. Beatty, I believe, had a somewhat broader understanding of the power of "common sense" while Reid was more inclined to test its conclusions with reason. The quote out of context sounds a bit like a rejection of reason in favor of intuition (common sense) but Beatty was rooted in Enlightenment method and condemned reason only when it led to nonsensical results, such as the extreme scepticism of Hume. The reliability of "common sense" was defended in the same manner as the reliability of the physical senses -- and with the realization that either could be tricked or corrupted.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

May I ask a question? Delete as you will...

Why do I feel I am being "guided" into natural law thinking?

I recognize that natural law defnes "human rights", "moral philosophy, according to Roman Catholicism or Augustine.

Is it wrong to resent being "used", or "guided", "limited", or "determined"? I think so, and this is my resistance or lack of trust.

Does anyone have a right to co-cerce another to do anything, even the "right" thing? And what is the "right thing"? And who determines the "right thing"?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Daniel. I'm playing catchup here on minor figures who were well-known in the Founding era but are no longer studied.

I don't blame the academy too much. They don't study philosophers for their impact on history; they study them for their impact on philosophy.

Hume is a giant in philosophy for his originality; Beattie is considered just an echo of the better mind of Thomas Reid.

And Reid is only a consolidation of the ancient wisdom meeting the Enlightenment: at his best a transitional figure in philosophy's "progress" from the ancient to the modern.

And like modern art, modern philosophy makes its living on the New, not the Old. What if you could paint like Rembrandt? So what? Mebbe you could scratch out a living selling "wall art" for Holiday Inn's 100,000 rooms. But only if you can work cheap and dirty.

I'm thinking the major influence of minor but popular philosophers like Beattie on great historical shifts like the Founding is virgin territory. But I'd bet a Beattie scholar couldn't even get a job at a community college.

That's the sitch, people, which is why this blog is here and why i keep contributing. Our stuff turns up amazingly often and amazingly high on Google, even the comments. Unpaid volunteers for Truth, whatever the truth might be.

This blog doesn't waste any of our time.

[Anybody with anything on Bishop Joseph Butler, another minor philosophical figure but well known to Abagail Adams, pls tweak me. Playing catchup bigtime. So sick of talking about Jefferson. Abagail knew so much more about Bishop Butler's religious beliefs than she knew of Jefferson's, and so did the rest of the Founding.

And that's where the rubber met the road. This blog---and the comments---never fail to get the juices flowing. That's what keeps me around.]

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, it's OK. It's not a tyranny. Plato, Aristotle and the Roman Stoics all detected a "natural law," all without benefit of "Christianity." It just took Christianity to see all men---all persons regardless of race or gender---as equal in the eyes of the cosmos. That was Christianity's contribution.

This goes to your heart, I think I know you well enough by now.

Because all men are not equal: males are stronger than females for one. Some persons are born mentally retarded. Crippled, whatever.

But does that mean you can hog the armrest between the seats of a crowded plane?

I don't care who you are. No, you can't, even if you're bigger, stronger or smarter.

But that won't stop you from hogging it unless you believe we're equal in human dignity. And there's nothing I can do to coerce somebody bigger. Stronger or smarter---of faster---to give up his advantage over me.

Yeah, I know you were traumatized by the jerks at your former church. But I'm not trying to convert anybody to anything, God forbid. But it's clear the Founders agreed there was a "natural law," even if the details were foggy, which they were.

I don't think "natural law" is going to make a comeback in the 21st century. I think "modernity" rejects it, and will win. Man will do whatever he damn pleases, and find a "reason" to justify it. As in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Duh.

The Founders knew this, that "reason" is manipulated by the human passions. We're homo sapiens sapiens, the cleverest of all the apes. We can justify anything, even if it defies our "common sense."

If we as a People are going to reject natural law---and I think we already have---I just want us to be clear about what we're doing. That's all.

The Founders knew and lived natural law. It's in every quote. That's just fact.

I'm not selling you on anything, Angie; neither do I find natural law to be any kind of tyranny. According to the Founding generation, man's reason discovers it, that life has a "common sense" to it. He either uses his common sense toward the best way to live, or he uses his free will to go in some other direction.

In the end, it's man's choice. That's the way the universe---and man himself---were designed. You can be Caligula, the ultimate expression of the human will and of human "freedom," or you can be Mother Teresa. Or somewhere in between, like the rest of us.

Being in the natural law makes man happy. That was the Founders' argument.

Your call.

bpabbott said...

"Does anyone have a right to co-cerce another to do anything, even the "right" thing? And what is the "right thing"? And who determines the "right thing"?"

Our public schools "coerce" (or try) students to become educated.

Our colleges and universities do the same for adults.

The Nazi's also coerced many into participating in genocide.

What make's one coercion admirable/good and another reprehensible/bad? In a language that would recognized by the founders ... Natural Law determines what is right/true, and Right Reason is the means by which we may aspire to discover/interpret/understand natural law.

Daniel said...

Interesting thing about Beattie. Once you are familiar with him, his name seems to pop up here and there, usually in obscure correspondence and journal entries. Reid not so much, but Reid now remains cited in philiosphical literature.

I'm not sure that modernism will win the battle over the existence of natural law (by whatever name). If Beattie (and Aquinas and even Plato), then we have a sense within us that some fixed rules exist; and those principles are part of our nature and serve us well. They are not likely to disappear. Modernisms advantage is in the difficulty of defining those principles (and in our unwillingness to follow them once discovered). It is an old struggle and I suspect that it will continue for a long time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The "party of the future," the modern "historicist," will say that "progress" has been made and is irreversible. If so, "natural law" is truly dead and gone.

The "party of the past," classical philosophy, is "ahistorical," and would say that since man's problems are "perennial," natural law is probably just sleeping. Apparently, Daniel, you are a man of the "party of the past."

Which is a somewhat unfair dichotomy and use of terms---"perrenial" is akin to the eternal, the enduring. The modern sees everything as contingent and temporal. Its answer to most everything must be "it all depends."

bpabbott said...

"The "party of the future," the modern "historicist," will say that "progress" has been made and is irreversible. If so, "natural law" is truly dead and gone."

Why? ... is the progress of man-kind incompatible with natural law? ... if so, how have be "progressed"?

Tom Van Dyke said...

The question would be whether modernity is a continuation of the classical Greek [Aristotle] meeting the medieval Christian [Aquinas and his successors], or a break with the "past."

The French Revolution was unquestionably a complete break with the past: man and his society was reinvented from scratch. The calendar, the metric system. everything was reinvented. Man was reinvented. Man's cleverness and reason; man's will to reinvent reality.

Edmund Burke said from the first [contra Jefferson] that this was a bad idea. You don't remodel your house by tearing posts out willy-nilly. Tear out the wrong load-bearing one and the house collapses.

Revolutions are better at tearing out posts than constructing new ones; modernity--"change"---is inherently destructive, tearing out posts; "reform," per Burke, builds new props to the roof.

Burke sought to grow liberty without destroying the house, to make it stronger, not weaker, not a zero-sum game. He supported the American colonists in their complaints, and indeed if his advice and counsel to Parliament had been followed, the American revolution would have been unnecessary.

And as he supported Irish liberty, so he opposed slavery and surely would have supported women's sufferage.

In his way, the godfather of "conservatism" was quite the "progressive."

And a disciple of the "natural law." On the maltreatment of the inhabitants of the British Empire's India:

This geographical morality we do protest against. . . . We think it necessary . . . to declare that the laws of morality are the same everywhere, and that there is no action which would pass for an act of extortion, of peculation, of bribery, and of oppression in England, that is not an act of extortion, of peculation, of bribery, and oppression in Europe, Asia, Africa, and all the world over. This I contend for not in the technical form of it, but I contend for it in the substance.

Substance. Great men argue on "substance."

"the laws of morality are the same everywhere..."

Natural law. As "conservative" as Burke is said to be, is this not "liberal," too?

King of Ireland said...

Great discussion! I think I better clarify what I mean by the "modern" world more often in my posts. I do see a clear break and I see most profoundly in what I now consider the cult of public education that is based whole heartedly on modern philosophy. There is absolutely no room for dissent. None.

The religion of Dewey is preached pure and simple. Yet because we do not call it what it is it goes unchallenged and does more damage than anything anyone can do with a Bible or Koran. Secular Humanism wins the day.

Daniel said...

Yes, Tom, I probably am a man of the past. I look to the future, but I think the clues to understanding and building the future are found in the past. That probably makes me a bit of a Hegelian although I have never seriously studied Hegel.

I understand your point that the French Revolution was a complete break from the past, but I would argue that that was its objective, not its form. It was pretty effective in destroying the existing rulers and institutions, but it methods and forms, while incorporating some new technology and new-ish elements, were not new. The Legislative Assembly? been done before. The Terror? dreadfully familiar. Dictator, emperor? I think we've been there before. Yes, they used some new language and rejected some traditional formulae, but dictators and revolutionaries have been rejecting any law higher than themselves for millenia.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This is the fundmental view of fundamentalism. The fundamentals were written when their reality or "worldview" via the Bible was threatened by "secularism" via the disciplines.

Science is a neutral discipline, and its use can be for good or ill, which must be evaluated by ultimate values or concerns.

Free societies will not all agree as to what those values are and what those values mean. And that is as it should be. For whenever one side gets the "upper hand" in power then we dissolve compromise, which is the slow process of wisdom and leads to tyranny. So, let the discussion continue and continue, as to sciences ends, purposes and value. This is what academics do.

The real world of politics should be no less deliberative in their processes. For we must not limit equal opportunity of voices in the public square. We must limit government by the consent of the governed...and that will be a challenge for those who want change when the status quo doesn't see the need, as the temptation is to limit their access to the public square or limit information, which will inevitably dissolve our American form of government to "the most powerful", whether politically or monetarily. And sometimes in America these days, the two coalesce....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And need I say the power of the Academy itself...

Correction...diliberation will bring wisdom, where otherwise, tyranny will prevail over the populace.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Interesting comment about Dewey, Joe. I see no reason to disagree at this point.


Daniel, I was thinking of the French Revolution's "new man." The Americans didn't try to reinvent man, they dealt with him as they found him. [And why madison is credited with a residual Calvinism, that men would not find unanimity, so factions should be set against each other in a balance of competing powers.]

Re the French:

This, as in so many other things, the French revolutionaries were replacing religion with politics. Propaganda had a religious origin in the propaganda fide , a special religious congregation established in Rome in the seventeenth century to oversee missionary work. In 1792, French radicals began to call for 'Apostles' and 'Propagators' of Reason, who would form the cadres of 'la propagande revolutionnaire'. Propaganda in this new political sense was part of an ambitious programme of public instruction that aimed at nothing less than the total regeneration of the French people. The Revolution required a new man, republican man. And every possible means was mobilised in the national effort to produce a people of virtue: festivals, songs, medals, ribbons, speeches, newspapers, prints, posters, even the design of plateware and playing cards could carry the revolutionary gospel.

This is modernity.

bpabbott said...

"This is modernity."

Do I understand correctly that you see "This" to be the introduction of propaganda in politics?

Me? ... I'm not sure. I assume there was always propaganda, but that the historians filtered out the rhetoric.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I was referring to the "new man" part.

Daniel said...

I don't know of pre-Enlightenment attempts to re-make man. But I do think that, in spite of their efforts, there are no "New Men"; not in France, nor in China. But the attempt certainly had its antecedents in the ancient mystery religions (including forms of early Christianity) which offered transformation to their adherents.

I do not mean that there is no progress. I think there is, even moral progress. But it builds on what comes before. To tear down and start over is to tear down the progress that has already been accomplished. The "New Man" was the brutal, pre-civilized man.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heh. Even worse, Daniel, The Last Man.