I labour upwards into futurity.
William Blake?, 1796
31 July 2006
Murray Bookchin, Leading American Anarchist Intellectual,
Bookchin, Visionary Social Theorist, Dies At 85
by Brian Tokar
July 31, 2006
My one encounter with Bookchin was not pleasant, but I feel a lossas
are all endings, and this is another marker of the end of an era.
31 July 2006
Rebecca Goldstein on the 350th Anniversary of
the Excommunication of Baruch Spinoza
July 29, 2006
The New York Times
By REBECCA NEWBERGER GOLDSTEIN
"THURSDAY marked the 350th anniversary of the excommunication
of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza from the Portuguese Jewish community
of Amsterdam in which he had been raised."
This is a cut above the average editoriala ringing defense
of the Enlightenment, connecting Spinoza to Locke and Jefferson,
and implicitly indicting Baby Bush's faith-based reign of terror.
Verdict: reason, NOT faith.
[> My Yiddishe Spinoza]
[> October Reading
31 July 2006
With considerable justification several scholars have attributed
to Nietzsche an anti-politics. As countless commentators
since World War II have pointed out, Nietzsche would never have
supported anti-Semitic politics, the Nazi regime, or any such regime.
His aristocratic individualism would have kept him away from any
system of governance, which he would have felt beneath him. The
Nazis for their part should not be judged competent readers of Nietzsche
in spite of their obvious affinity for some of his thoughts.
Thus, the relationship between Nietzsche and reactionary politics
demands a more sophisticated correlation. This is one reason I reference
Raymond Williams' The Politics of Modernism. In any event,
the 20th century was filled with avant-garde artists and thinkers
sympathetic to fascism but who never would have been accepted into
fascist circles due to the latter's conservative, philistine cultural
tastes, which also figured into their manipulation of the masses.
I believe the Italian Futurists were an exception; I don't know
Similarly, the claim that Nietzsche represents the interests of
monopoly capital in the age of imperialism requires refinement.
To understand this properly, one needs to understand the historical
position of Romantic anti-capitalism. This, however, is the province
of disaffected petty bourgeois intellectuals, not of monopoly capitalists
themselves. Lukàcs made this oversimplification in The
Destruction of Reason. This is only a guess on my part, but
I suspect that Lukàcs based himself based on the Comintern's
self-serving theory of fascism as the organ of monopoly capital
in its final dictatorial, terroristic phase. But in actual fact
fascism in several countries did not originally issue from the existing
state or big capital but from other disaffected social strata, and
was a mass movement. Of course it became tied to monopoly capital
as capital's means of ensuring its own survival and as an expression
of its own corporatist tendencies, especially in rapidly industrializing
nations. (I suppose that in Japan fascism just came from the top
and was never a petty bourgeois mass movement, but I'm open to correction.)
Romantic, quasi-religious, superstitious and anti-scientific tendencies
are the ideological expressions either of the disgruntled petty
bourgeois intelligentsia or of modernizing elites barely out of
In general, disaffected artists and intellectuals smell which way
the wind is blowing, regardless of their specific social ties, and
the 19th century is already replete with examples of sensibilities
and premonitions of developing trends. There is no unique starting
point, but the Romantic reaction to Enlightenment and modernity
beginning in the late 18th century reveals this development in embryonic
form. It is interesting to watch these Romantic tendencies unfold
with the historical developments of the 19th century. The citation
of Engels on Carlyle in Landa's article helps to illuminate forces
already in play. In philosophy, the birth of Dilthey's hermeneutics
and Lebensphilosophie exemplify the widening split in the
bourgeois mind. Already in 1851 Melville
takes in all of these ideological contradictions in Moby Dick.
Nietzsche, however, marks a historical turning point. Nietzsche's
aversion to practical politics is well known; that makes him no
less a forerunner of the reactionary trends of 20th century bourgeois
thought. See Stuart Hughes' Consciousness and Society to
see the rising tide of reactionary thought from the 1890s on.
Raymond Williams' The Politics of Modernism has only three
passing references to Nietzsche, in connection with August Strindberg,
who adored Nietzsche and who was also celebrated by the Stockholm
Workers' Commune. Williams explains this complex conjunctural political
affinity in chapter 3, "The Politics of the Avant-Garde."
Both workers and modernist/avantgardeists had a common enemy in
the philistine bourgeoisie, both factions expressing their wish
to destroy the existing order from different vantage points. Here
is a brief extract on the characterization of the concepts with
which this avantgardeist hostility was expressed:
But it is not only that the enemies have changed, being identified
now as those tendencies which had hitherto been recognized as
liberating: political progress, sexual emancipation, the choice
of peace against war. It is also that the old enemies have disappeared
behind these; indeed it is the strong and the powerful who now
carry the seeds of the future: 'Our evolution . . . wants
to protect the strong against the weak species, and the current
aggressiveness of women seems to me a symptom of the regress of
the race.' The language is that of Social Darwinism, but we can
distinguish its use among these radical artists from the relatively
banal justifications of a new hard (lean) social order by the
direct apologists of capitalism. What emerges in the arts is a
'cultural Darwinism', in which the strong and daring radical spirits
are the true creativity of the race. Thus there is not
only an assault on the weakdemocrats, pacifists, womenbut
on the whole social and moral and religious order. The 'regress
of the race' is attributed to Christianity, and Strindberg could
hail Nietzsche as 'the prophet of the overthrow of Europe and
Christiandom.' [p. 50]
Williams highlights the ambiguous loyalties of this conceptual
language, perhaps clarifying how Nietzsche, acclaimed by many socialist
intellectuals (but by workers?) could be assimilated by the
Romantic left as well as right. This gives us a more elaborate picture
of what's happening here, more complex, I would say, than Lukacs'
condemnation of Nietzsche. The question then would be, is Landa
missing out on something here?
Well, Nietzsche's contempt for the common herd doesn't seem to
be supplemented by any social understanding of what makes the herd
a herd, because he is completely lacking a social theory and has
only his idealist genealogy and crackpot (non-racist) racialism
to offer. His rage against the perceived mediocrity of the proletariat
as well as the bourgeoisie (the two forming, perhaps, a social unity
in his mindNietzsche as a non-dialectical, anti-marxist Marx?an
anti-Kautsky!) exemplifies a sensibility itself molded by a mystified
relation to society. Nietzsche has a harsh view of his societyperhaps
he is justified in ithe's got a bad attitude toward the poor
and miserable, seeing them as the enemy; he even needs their mediocrity
so his genius can stand out so much the more.
Indeed, it's easy to see how Nietzsche would have disdained being
part of any political movement, even a right-wing one. His adoration
of the Laws of Manu, his abstract glorification of coldness and
warhis fantasy lifeis rather aloof from any conception
of organizing society in the modern world. His particular petty
bourgeois fantasy is a prophetic one, not a political programme.
But what is it prophetic of? Nietzsche has created all the elements
of the new sensibility. All that is required is to connect it to
a dissatisfied class that does want to seize power.
There is more to be said about the contemporary appeal of Nietzsche
among the liberal and the leftish, fanning out from Nietzsche-based
French poststructuralism. The French intellectual elite has a more
obvious vested need to épater les bourgeois from deep
inside its highly centralized cultural system. The self-cannibalization
of cultural capital as a form of self-indulgent alienation will
have a similar basis of appeal elsewhere, and will gather momentum
in the academic brainwashing process. This extra layer of social
mystification masks the severely regressive nature of this movement.
Why Marx and not Nietzsche? Marx early on had to grapple with the
ontology of social being (his focus of interest being different
from Engels' later dialectics of nature), but not for the purpose
of doing traditional philosophy. There's a twofold perspective to
be had here:
(1) Marx's "ontological" perspective is invested in a
historically evolving metabolic interchange between humans and naturenot
understandable purely physiologically as compared to the static
materialism of the French Enlightenment (or today's sociobiology,
for that matter);
(2) Marx decidedly rejects the deduction of empirical realities
from metaphysical constructs. And thus he doesn't do traditional
"philosophy", or for that matter metaphysical anti-metaphysics
á la Nietzsche and Heidegger. (Adorno already busted Heidegger
Thus Marx's approach to social theory is fundamentally different.
This difference is so huge, and Marx towers so far above the rest,
it is essential to get a panoramic view of how and why bourgeois
ideology functions as it does, and why it cannot reconcile its romantic
and positivistic tendencies in a non-mystified whole.
Intellectuals and the Workers" by Karl Kautsky (1903)
"Intellectuals" and Party Principles by Karl Kautsky
Philosophical Roots of the Marx-Bakunin Conflict by Ann Robertson
30 July 2006
Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews
Yovel, Yirmiahu. Dark
Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews. University Park,
PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.
Apparently I never wrote the second half of this review, which
would have been about Nietzsche. Note remarks on Hegel vs. Spinoza,
the Enlightenment, and the problem of the volksgeist.
Written 14 August 2000:
Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews by Spinoza scholar Yirmiyahu
Yovel is a book of great importance and multiple applicability.
Although eschewing any pretence to grand conceptual generalization
and limiting himself to the minutiae of intellectual history, he
does throw out a general issue of great importance: while it is
usually thought that Enlightenment rationalism is associated with
cosmopolitanism and opposes parochial prejudices, and the irrationalist
reaction is intimately tied to anti-Semitism, the cases of Hegel
and Nietzsche refute such generalizations, for Nietzsche in the
end becomes an advocate of the modern (not ancient) Jew, and Hegel
never overcomes his youthful antipathy to the Jews but moreover
views them as an historical fossil, just the opposite of Nietzsche.
All the questions of the relation of Jews to modernity are implicated
here, and I presume Yovel draws them out in the course of his book.
We shall see. Before I started reading the first chapter, I immediately
saw some important implications which Yovel himself may or may not
recognize. Here my some of my thoughts before I read any further:
(1) Yovel does emphasize Hegel as a rationalizer of the basic world
view that sees the telic progress of civilization as essentially
European and Christian. This is the view of Geist, which
I claim that Marx totally obliterated in his turn to historical
materialism, regardless of any other residual West European prejudices
he may have indulged from time to time. One could also immediately
deduce why Nietzsche, as a cultural warrior in his campaign against
Christian civilization, would want to reverse the usual order of
values and support Jews as a modern cosmopolitan people against
the established view of the evolved state of Christian civilization,
Nietzsche's otherwise anti-democratic world-view notwithstanding.
(2) In any event, this immediately shows up a fundamental weakness
of Hegel if he continues to look at the world in essentially mythic
terms, rationalized or no, that only sees Jews as a heterogenous
element in the grand march of European Christian civilization. This
highlights what is most pernicious about geistig thinking.
It is also what Marx opposed in his polemics on the Jewish
question against Bruno Bauer, which is often accused of being an
anti-Semitic tract, whereas in essence its purpose is to overthrow
the whole mythological interpretation of the history of peoples,
along the way opposing the inherently volksgeist tradition
which Bauer (as an atheist theologian) inherited, which is fundamentally
far more anti-Semitic in its implications than any cracks Marx ever
made about Jews.
(3) Also, I've thought for a long time that the role of Jews in
modern European thought is a far more serious indicator of European
theoretical racism than the intellectual prejudices against Africans.
For all the pathetic attempts by black bourgeois philosophers to
discredit the entire Enlightenment by collating all the racist remarks
made by Hegel, Hume, Kant, etc., I contend that the overall result
of such effort is quite meagre in both extension and intension,
and that the geographical and practical distance of most European
philosophers from the slave trade (i.e. those who had no direct
investment in justifying slavery) meant that their psychology and
cultural habits were not as thoroughly and profoundly saturated
with their racial prejudices against a distant continent as with
the intensity and constancy with which they turned their energy
against the Jews, a people living on their soil against whom their
culture had cultivated a deep-seated animosity for a millennium
or more, and whose mythology is deeply bound up with Christianity.
(4) I'm looking forward to Yovel's correlation of Hegel's anti-Jewish
orientation with Hegel's opposition to Spinoza, which in
se is inherently ambiguously motivated. One could say on the plus
side that Hegel in recognizing historical development and substance
as subject that Hegel places greater emphasis on the integrity of
the individual than in Spinoza's seemingly impersonal and super-holistic
system. On the other hand, some Marxist critics have favored Spinoza
over Hegel on various grounds, among them that Spinoza has a utopian
flavor that anticipates post-class society while Hegel's historicism
concedes too much to the Machiavellianism and bloody hands of history.
Perhaps even more significantly, one could show that Hegel's evaluation
of Spinoza as opposed to his own system is seriously compromised
by the implicitly mythological character of his philosophy of history.
In other words, that Hegel does not deliver what he promises, and
that Spinoza's "oriental" philosophy (as Hegel described
it) undermines all the presumptions of Christian civilization, but
not in a regressive, pre-individualist manner as Hegel pretends.
(5) Conclusion: Yovel's book could prove a crucial testing ground
for uncovering the covert cultural dynamics of certain philosophical
systems and their relation to social development.
I have just finished the chapter on Hegel's phenomenology. The
book is proving to be invaluable though there is not yet a direct
test of any of my larger hypotheses attempting to unravel the mythology
of the geistig interpretation of cultural evolution, though
there are some important clues to be found. But the book is priceless
in showing how tightly Judaism and Christianity are tied together
in the struggle of modernity and reason with religious tradition.
Before Hegel enters the picture, the stage is set with the complementary
strategies of Spinoza and Mendelssohn, followed by
Kant. One of Spinoza's innovations is to deny any metaphysical
claims to Judaism and to intepret it as a strictly political religion.
Spinoza is not concerned with the covert rational content of superstition.
As an advocate of the secular state, Spinoza aims for a direct relation
between the abstract citizen and the secular state, not to be mediated
through the political rule of the religious corporation. Spinoza
was after all excommunicated by the Jewish establishment. Mendelssohn's
strategy is somewhat different. As an Enlightenment figure Mendelssohn
has a stake in the rule of reason, so he interprets Judaism exclusively
as concerned with moral law and commandments and not with beliefs
and metaphysics. This is one way of defending the Enlightenment,
preserving Judaism's role in an emancipated secular society, albeit
a strategy poised on very thin ice.
The treatment of Kant is very interesting, esp. when the
influence of his Jewish colleagues and his attitudes to Judaism
are brought into account. There is an important distinction between
anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism that must be maintained,
though the boundary is very fragile. Kant exemplifies this as his
contempt for Judaism as a religion shades later in life into explicit
anti-Semitic prejudices about the mentality and behavior of Jews
as people, though Kant had close Jewish friends and colleagues.
More important though is the relation of Kant's Enlightenment aversion
to superstition and his conception of moral law as internal to his
hatred of Judaism as strictly a religion of external moral compulsion.
There is another important factor. I can't recall what pertains
to Kant and to Hegel but I believe it pertains to both as well as
to a broader picture: all the very worst characteristics of Christianity
are attributed to Judaism: the rule of external compulsion, intolerance,
etc. If one accepts that such defects exist, there is only one remaining
question: whether Judaism gets sole blame as the scapegoat for the
sins of Christianity, or whether Christianity itself is ascribed
its share of the blame. Catholicism is also a culprit in this picture.
I guess there is some argument over Protestantism, in which at least
the interiority of religious conviction comes to the fore whatever
other defects remain. The only thing then left out of consideration
then is the initial assumption: that because Judaism is a political
religion founded upon external compulsion, that there is no remainder
of authentic spiritual content within it.
Then the one remaining issue is the character of the Jewish people
themselves, who embrace such a religion. So far there is no accounting
for any discrepancy between official morality and real behavior
and personal rationalization, which of course is where the thin
line between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism vanishes. One must assume
that geistig views of the world are the most prone to the occlusion
of such distinctions.
Lessing's Nathan the Wise, inter alia an Enlightenment
intervention against traditional anti-semitism, also enters the
picture in terms of the negotiation between the morality of individual
Jews and Christians and their collective moral record and proclaimed
values. One curious consequence of the Enlightenment is that both
Kant and Hegel have a means of despising Jews collectively while
respecting some of them individually based on universal human characteristics.
There is so much to say about Hegel; it is difficult to remember
it all, and I haven't even got through him yet. Important factors
to remember: Hegel's aversion to the austerity, joylessness, and
asocial character of Kant's conception of morality; Hegel's changing
relationship to Christianity as a positive religion, and Hegel's
historicist attempt to find a rational spiritual content to religion
rather than dismissing it as superstition. Judaism comes off very
poorly in this quest. The early Hegel denies any spiritual content
whatever to Judaism; it drops out of spiritual world-historical
development though paganism does not! The end of the Jewish state
means the end of the development of the Jews in world history; they
persist as a frozen and sterile culture as they survive beyond their
time. Also very interesting is Hegel's account of the ancient Hebrews,
whom he considers to be craven, unprincipled, and slavish. Only
on one occasion does he give any credit for Jewish heroism.
Most fascinating is Yovel's treatment of the Phenomenology.
The virtual silence about the Jews in this book speaks very loudly:
the absence of Judaism from the evolution of spirit, the exclusion
of the Jews from the master-slave dialectic, but also the covert
presence of Judaism, for example, at the birth of Christ, central
though non-spiritual in the birth-pangs of Christianity.
I probably forgot some things, and there remain a few chapters
of the mature Hegel to cover, before the fascinating account of
Nietzsche's anti-anti-semitism begins (that's right!). There
is much to digest here. Clearly, the role of the Jews is absolutely
central to any historical interpretation of Christian Europe's cultural
self-conception. If culture or religion or volksgeist is
the conceptual foundation of sociology and historiography, rather
than historical materialism, then everything that happens within
history must be filtered, from our secular perspective, through
an essentially metaphorical screen. Herein lies the extreme
danger of geistig explanations, which also implicit in what
Althusser calls the expressive totality.
The relation of Hegel to the Enlightenment remains to be triangulated:
does his treatment of religion and civilization represent progress,
regress, or both? There is the ahistorical, abstract Enlightenment,
and there is historicism and the attempt to penetrate the hidden
truiths of the concrete. Which is more progressive? Doesn't it seem
that, whatever additional sophistication historicism adds, that
it is in fact dangerously illiberal? No, Hegel did not oppose Jewish
emancipation, but isn't his fundamental world-picture far less liberating
than that of Spinoza? An old cliché applies here:
is it good for the Jews? And much more foundationally: doesn't the
effect of philosophy on the Jews foretell its effect on all other
peoples? There is a reason Louis Farrakhan and Pat Buchanan think
about the Jews as they do, but the danger they pose is not to the
Jews themselves but to their own people in the first case and to
all American citizens in the second. Compare what abstract secular
man did for the Jews to what the volksgeist did to them (and
later to the Palestinians); then tell me where you stand.
While I never finished this review, I wrote a follow-up post
the same day:
I believe the blurb on the back cover of Yovel's book paraphrases
a statement made in the preface. But one cannot make do with such
an incomplete statement without reading the body of conclusions
Yovel draws from the Nietzsche case. All I have done is some
random browsing. Yovel says something about Nietzsche's overall
anti-democratic views and the overall uselessless of Nietzsche for
any political position. He also suggests something about Nietzsche's
uniqueness as a philosopher not to be understood in conventional
terms. But this is not revealing much. I doubt very much though
that Yovel is willing to reduce Nietzsche's significance to the
question of whether he was good for the Jews . . . .
The decisive unasked question is not anti-semitism or philo-semitism,
but the basis of either one. To curse the Jews for being money-hungry
or to admire them for being so talented in business are in the end
not antithetical positions, and neither is flattering. . . .
Which brings us to another problem of volksgeist thinking.
It is not merely a question that ethnic metaphysics cannot account
for individual variation; it cannot account for the infinite adaptability
of any religious or metaphysical system to a seemingly limitless
variety of interpretations, factions, temperaments, and contexts.
Any ideological framework that is rich enough to bind the most diverse
social forces together to create a common imaginative terrain must
be rich enough in conceptual possibilities to suit every possible
occasion, temperament, and facet of human existence. Hence one cannot
necessarily predict the specific adaptation of religious ideology
to an individual's personal metaphysics and value system just from
a general interpretation applicable to a whole civilization. The
idea of a one-to-one correspondence between a civilization and its
religious superstructure remains tenable without extreme modification
only so long as one's knowledge of human culture and world history
is strictly constrained.
I am, generally speaking, anti-Nietzsche, and nothing is more loathesome
or telling than the postmodernist adoration of Nietzsche.
Nevertheless, Nietzsche was not a garden-variety irrationalist reactionary
mediocrity. He was brilliantly perceptive up to a point, and then
his materialist tendencies revert to ideology and subjectivism.
But a chief failing rarely commented on is that he fails to advance
beyond the prison of the ideological forms of appearance
that kept the Young Hegelians from breaking through. The
genealogy of morals is not historical materialism.
It is an advance only in terms of breaking through one veil of ideological
appearance, but sociologically, there is not the slightest advance
beyond Bauer and Feuerbach, and politically, Nietzsche
is already a regression from Bakunin. Nietzsche reamins limited
to the geistig view of world history. Nietzsche's haughtiness
is the apex of mediocrity itself. He is a wimp posing as a lion
on paper and that is why the professors love him so. Nietzsche is
an insignificant little piss-ant in the wake of William Blake.
[> Anti-Nietzsche (5)]
[> My Yiddishe Spinoza]
30 July 2006
Thinker on Stage: Nietzsches Materialism
by Peter Sloterdijk
Written 1 Jan. 2001:
Sloterdijk, Peter. Thinker
on Stage: Nietzsches Materialism; translation by Jamie
Owen Daniel; foreword by Jochen Schulte-Sasse. Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1989.
In the intellectual world, it seems that outside of every silver
lining theres a cloud. Or, for every promise contained in
the work of an innovative thinker, there is always a containment
strategy lurking within it to ensure that nothing useful ever comes
of it. When Peter Sloterdijks Critique
of Cynical Reason appeared in English translation, its basic
concept inspired many more people than are normally concerned with
trends in German philosophy. The essential insight of cynical reason
as enlightened false consciousness was contained in the first dozen
pages; one hardly needed to read the hundreds that followed, and
those uninitiated into the ways of European intellectuals would
likely have gotten lost anyway, perhaps misled as to Sloterdijks
ultimate agenda. His huge preoccupation with the somatic should
have been a tip-off that something was wrong, but alas, many of
us were clueless as to how he would defuse the dynamite contained
in his original insight.
This brings us to Thinker on Stage: Nietzsches Materialism.
At the start Sloterdijk poses the question:
Has not the division of the labor of talent that characterizes
our times led to the tendential opposition of the psychic attitudes
that capacitate scientifically oriented knowledge to the expression
of the self, while those that accommodate self-expression betray
a propensity that is hostile to knowledge? [p. 12]
We shall see how Sloterdijk fails to resolve this dilemma. But
Nietzsche, an intellectual centaur, breaches the gap between the
scholar and the artist. Nietzsche defies the professional specialization
of his time, resists the "intellectual division of labor"
The bulk of the book is devoted to Nietzsches premiere work,
The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, and the
struggle between two primary modes of being, the Apollonian and
the Dionysian. Nietzsche becomes the first philosopher-psychologist,
and the path to knowledge given such radical duality is laden with
self-doubt [pp. 31-32]. Nietzsche uncovers the compulsion to lie
at the basis of the will that was heretofore alleged to be the will
to truth [pp. 37-38].
If, however, truth is not something that can be sought, and if
any search is defined for it in advance as terrifying,
intellectual candor finds itself in a position it had not expected
to be in. Truth no longer reveals itselfif it reveals itself
at allto the seeker and the researcher, who actually want
to elude it, but instead to him who exhibits the deliberateness
and courage required to not seek it." [p. 38]
Let us introduce one more ingredient before we regroup. Nietzsche
is shown not to be a simple advocate of the Dionysian, for he remains
true to his Apollonian tendencies. Sloterdijk delineates the relationship
between the two tendencies in an illuminating manner, and this is
probably the greatest strength of the book.
Let us pause here to consider what is encompassed by truth within
or beyond the division of labor. The philosopher/scientist-artist
who has rejected the narrow specialization of the scholar (Nietzsche
was a philologist on the intellectual fringe), who has rejected
the self-identity of philosophy (and by extension science) and hence
its straightforward self-assertion as the quest for truth, unites
the aesthetic, the somatic, and the psychological within himself,
overthrowing the pretensions of the disembodied mind. Yet what can
this type of synthesisor even de-alienation if you willyield
in the modern world? The psychological, the personal, the somaticthe
immediacy of the battle of these forces undergirding the operations
of the intellectyield an impressive drama, but is the enterprise
of the philosopher-psychologist sufficiently encompassing in todays
world, or does its immediate physicality show it up to be another
abstraction in the end? On the one hand there are the mechanisms
of rationalization and self-deception, and on the other there are
the objects of reflection. Considering the range of these objects,
is it possible to reduce the matter to considerations of subjectivity
without simultaneously engaging the objective world in all its dimensions?
In matters directly personal and political, the mandate of psychological
projection and rationalization is not hard to ascertain for the
philosopher-psychologist. The history of social theory, political
theory, moral theory, religion and its theoretical dimension (theology)
are all fitting subjects for such scrutiny, as the objects are just
as much products of will and projection as are the subjects. Moving
outward from the province of the directly human, we can see mechanisms
of rationalization in the realm of metaphysics as a wholein
philosophical idealism. In the realm of the sciences, biology is
most susceptible to political projection. Beyond that, what can
be say about the will to deception or self-deception in the other
realms of scientific endeavorin chemistry, physics, astronomy,
mathematics, or logic? The sociology of science has piled up reams
of paper analyzing the imperatives of self-preservation in the organization
of scientific research. Here ones attachment to ones
pet theories may in the majority of cases in modern times not be
ideologically characterizable with any greater definition other
than to show how people are deeply attached to views of reality
they already hold and/or have a material interest in perpetuating.
Yet, the fundamental erroritself highly ideologically motivatedof
a strong sociology of science that would reduce the question of
objective truth to an issue of personal or social interest, treating
all objects of human knowledge entirely externally, as if hundreds
and thousands of years of engagement with the natural world and
with the analysis of the nature of human cognition itself were merely
an arbitrary and subjective affair, as if there were no natural
constraints on this process, as if the objective did not worm its
way as deeply into the subjective as vice versa.
How does this general concern over ideology relate specifically
to the problem of Nietzsche? The engagement with the universe and
the quest for truth encompass vast structures of the natural and
social worlds. In modern times to reduce all this to a matter of
individual psychology and to call this an overcoming of fragmentation
and specialization: this is the rankest intellectual act of hypocritical
philistinism imaginable, at the end of the day yet another abstraction
external to the totality of the objective world, masquerading as
something really concrete because the intellectual entitles himself
to get hot and sweaty once again. Leaving Nietzsche to the side
for the moment, we need to indict Peter Sloterdijk on just these
grounds, for delimiting his universe in just this way.
A short memoir I wrote on 16 April 1995:
Well, today's visit to my local was not as inspiring as yesterday's,
but I did get through all but the last couple pages of Thinker
on Stage: Nietzsches Materialism by Peter Sloterdijk.
What a writer.
Actually, another woman came in today and asked me what I was reading.
Knowing her I knew she would be as complacently blase as ever, but
I handed her the book so she could see it for herself. She turned
it over and read the back cover, and then with that characteristic
facial expression and "you couldn't possibly be interesting
enough to make me think about something other than my nails"
sigh, she asked: "And what do you intend to apply this to?"
Caught somewhat off-guard, I hesitated and said, "Well, let
me think about that." She asked, "Are you taking a course?"
I replied: "No, I'm not taking a course." She passed the
book back to me and resumed her characteristic self-satisfied blankness.
However, I was thinking: well, how am I going to apply this? I
thought I knew why I picked it up, and what was on my mind when
I started, not that I would want to bore the first person I saw
with the esoteric, minute details. I picked up the book because
of the e-mail interchange on Critique of Cynical Reason and
I needed something short to read to fill some spare moments and
I thought, why not see what else Sloterdijk has to say. When I started
to read the book, I was struck by Sloterdijk's remark on Nietzsche
and the division of labor. And as I progressed in my reading, just
before she got on my nerves, I was really getting into the poetic
brilliance of Nietzsche's expression of his ideas. And I realized
that I was going to apply this book to myself as a writer. However
crude, scatological, and autoerotic, my modus operandi has been
to combine strong emotion and even theater of the absurd with the
sober logical expression of concepts. It's in my nature. My exuberance
of pleasure and pain, of ecstatic communion with the cosmos and
snarling impatience with buttheads who have the nerve not to be
on my wavelength, it's all got to come out. Reading about Nietzsche
again after a hiatus of 15 years reminded me of why I was so inspired
by him in the first place. This afternoon he reminded me of my own
identity as a communicator.
For now just a few stylistic remarks on the book. Once in a while
I become reminded of Sloterdijk's European landscape and neuroses
and his preciosity, but most of the time I am stricken by the metaphorical
and stylistic beauty and precision of his manner of expression as
well as his thoughts. There are many memorable passages.
[> Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews
[> Anti-Nietzsche (2)]
30 July 2006
Bernard Reginster on Brian Leiter on Nietzsche
Reginster, Bernard. Review
of Leiter, Brian, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Nietzsche
on Morality, Routledge, 2002. Notre Dame Philosophical
Written 4 January 2004:
Judging from Bernard Reginster's review alone, Leiter seems to
be colonizing irrationalism for positivist technocracy, rather than
These two paragraphs esp. caught my eye:
The distinction, and the chief merit, of Leiters account
is its emphasis on the naturalism of Nietzsches approach
to morality. Leiter may not quite be the first to portray Nietzsche
as a naturalist, but his characterization of Nietzschean naturalism
in connection with morality is the most systematic and compelling
to date. Chapter 1 carefully circumscribes Nietzsches naturalism,
by way of some distinctions. According to Leiter, Nietzsches
naturalism is primarily methodologicalhe believes
that the methods of philosophy ought to be continuous with the
methods and results of the empirical sciencesand qualifiedly
substantivehe rejects any explanation in terms of
non-natural causes (e.g., God), but, in contrast to many contemporary
naturalists, he also opposes materialism, i.e. the
reduction of all phenomena to physical phenomena.
In broad outline, Nietzsches naturalism implies that all
human beliefs, values, and actions, including moral ones, can
be explained by appealing to causal determinants in features of
human nature. At the heart of this naturalistic account of morality,
there is what Leiter calls the doctrine of types,
according to which each person has a fixed psycho-physical
constitution, which defines him as a particular type of
person (p. 8). These type-facts, in combination with environmental
factors, such as a prevalent moral culture, determine the actual
trajectory of a persons life.
Clearly the reviewer at least doesn't know what materialism is,
and, furthermore, does not understand the nature of Nietzsche's
biologism. But overall, there is something quite naive and stupid
about all of this.
Addendum, 30 July 2006:
The dominant application of the philosophical term materialism
in anglophone philosophy is restricted to the mind-body problem.
Not only should this not be allowed to pass, but also the restrictive
limitation of the term to a reductionist physicalism. Ontologically,
naturalism is a highly ambiguous term, but if it means merely
the abjuration of supernatural entities, causes, and explanations,
Nietzsche could be classified thusly.
It is also suggested that such naturalism is automatically continuous
with the empirical sciences, i.e. that the latter are seamlessly
integrated, without distortion, into the former. However, this is
not necessarily the case, especially given the history of social
darwinism and racialist pseudo-science. A naturalistic or biologistic
posture does not guarantee a liberation from metaphysics. There
are now several books on Nietzsche's extensive interest in the sciences,
and these as well as Nietzsche's philosophy of science should be
closely analyzed. However, it is also the case that Nietzsche's
naturalism is heavily saturated by his Romantic orientation, and
thus mere rational calculation and empirical science would not agree
with his overarching metaphysical perspective, and specifically,
not with his nonsense about the Eternal Return. The gullibility
and superficiality of American philosophers is truly remarkable,
now that they are selectively admitting "Continental Philosophy"
into their canon. Like all bourgeois philosophers, they really do
not understand the mutual interdependence of positivism and Lebensphilsophie.
It is not surprising, therefore, that these silly people could integrate
Nietzsche so smoothly into positivist philosophy of science.
There are more damning considerations. The opportunism and intellectual
dishonesty accompanying the integration of 'continental philosophy'
into the American philosophical establishment necessarily involves
the exclusion or distortion of Marx, who gives the lie to all these
people stand for. The mere admission of a naturalistic perspective,
or even materialistic perspective, if you will, does not even begin
to imply an adequate basis for social theory, let alone the integration
of social theory into natural science.
Coincidentally, in researching Bakunin, I just came across an essay
that explains the issue brilliantly:
Ann Robertson, The
Philosophical Roots of the Marx-Bakunin Conflict
What's Next, December 2003.
[> Anti-Nietzsche (3)]
[> Anti-Nietzsche (1)]
[> Philosophy's Future?]
[> Brian Leiter,
Nietzsche, and American Philosophy]
30 July 2006
(Or, Why Marx & Not Nietzsche)
This is a selected bibliography focusing on Nietzsche and his influence,
race, fascism, and philosophy of science.
If this subject interests you, you really must get hold of this
Landa, Ishay. "Aroma and Shadow: Marx vs. Nietzsche on
Religion," Nature, Society, and Thought, vol.
18, no. 4, 2005, pp. 461-499.
This has got to be one of the most important articles on Nietzsche
I have read. The author's thesis is that Nietzsche's atheism is
not only not similar to Marx's, but is its direct opposite.
That is, Nietzsche's atheism was constructed in conscious opposition
to socialism and egalitarianism and thus to Marxism. Atheism as
such was not a novelty in Nietzsche's time. It was linked to humanism
and it already had a role in demystifying and combatting the arrogated
authority of the ruling classes. The minions of the ruling classes,
e.g., John Henry Cardinal Newman, were quite anxious about this.
The Death of God was the key issue for Nietzsche, in that the positive
value of religion was its ability to sustain hierarchy, and what
he most despised about Christianity was its egalitarian and democratic
dimension, and thus the Death of God must be exploited as an occasion
for the transvaluation of egalitarian values into a new apologia
for hierarchy. God "humanized" the universe; but the pessimistic
nihilism issuing from the Death of God issue in the frisson
of coldness and heartlessness. How does the naturalization of humanity
according to Nietzsche's prospectus differ from Marx's? Since the
universe does not strive to imitate man, "humans should
imitate the universe, bow before the indifference and absurdity
of existence and rearrange their lives accordingly. . . .Thus, it
does not suffice to affirm that the world is nonhuman; somehow we
must all exult in this nonhumanity, come to applaud the magnificence
of the void; we may even wish to consider a glorious plunge into
its 'chaotic' depths." (472)
This is in direct opposition to the vision of socialist atheism.
Above all, Nietzsche's Zarathustra dissociates himself from "these
poisonous spiders"the "preachers of equality."
Socialists are excoriated as continuators of the Christian disease.
To me this sounds akin to the Nazi Heidegger. Heidegger is not
mentioned, but this peculiar 'naturalism' is linked to the Nazi
desecularization and reenchantment of the world. (474) The view
of nature as alien, hostile, pitiless, and meaningless is of course
a staple of existentialism, and MarxistsFrederic Jameson is
citedhave fooled themselves into thinking it compatible with
Marxism, though it is in contradiction with Marx's conception of
de-alienation (cf. 1844 mss). (475)
Since life is not about peace and self-preservation but war and
conflict, the affirmation of life entails the affirmation of cruelty
and death, and ultimately a "yes-saying to death," i.e.
a death cult. This is one paradox of Nietzsche's Lebensphilosophie;
another is the curious reification of life (apart from concrete
lives) as an abstract force, linked to the Übermensch. (483-5)
The final section of the article is devoted to Marx's and Engels'
refutation of the Ubermensch. Landa analyzes their critique of Eugene
Sue's The Mysteries of Paris in The Holy Family.
Religion is criticized as a dehumanizing and inegalitarian force.
'Good' and 'evil' are criticized as moralistic abstractions in contradistinction
to the empirical experience of good and evil of the poor. The overcoming
of moralism and metaphysics for Marx and Engels lead to conclusions
diametrically opposed to Nietzsche's 'beyond good and evil'. Working
class 'anthropomorphism' is an anticipatory manifestation of the
drive to humanize the world, in opposition to Nietzsche's dehumanizing
naturalization of the human.
Marx and Engels provide, in retrospect, only an indirect preemptory
refutation of Nietzsche. But Engels' critique of Carlyle's aristocratic
Romantic anti-capitalism cuts closer to the bone. Carlyle is remarkably
observant of the realities of capitalist "progress", but
from a mistaken metaphysical, moralistic and aristocratic perspective.
Engels accepts Carlyle's empirical observations but directly attacks
Carlyle's mysticism and all notions of the superhuman. On the contrary,
for Engels "Man's own substance is far more splendid and sublime
then the imaginary substance of any conceivable 'God'. . ."
Engels also defends democracy, limited and transitory as it is,
against Carlyle's anti-democratic perspective. In other words, to
hell with irrationalism, pantheism, vitalism, and all the alternative
Landa concludes with the ironies of the ensuing centurysecularism
and religious revivals crossing back and forth between social classes
and political loyalties, with both God and godlessness fighting
on both sides, at various times. The ideology of contemporary society
is ruled by a schizophrenic God.
References to note:
Engels, Frederick. "A
review of Past and Present, by Thomas Carlyle, London, 1843."
Written January 1844, published in the Deutsch-Französische
Gedö, András. "Why
Marx or Nietzsche?", Nature, Society, and Thought,
vol. 11, no. 3, 1998, pp. 331-346.
[> Anti-Nietzsche (2)]
[> Nietzsche's Super-Laughter]
28 July 2006
Critique of Critical Thinking (5):
Butterflies and Wheels
I have remarked on the Butterflies
and Wheels: Fighting Fashionable Nonsense web site in my essay
Professional and Popular Philosophy:
Online Debates, in my Emergence
Blog, and in various communications, covering the time span
22 September 2003 to 17 March 2006. I'm going to cobble all these
bits and pieces together, and hastily fuse them into a new piece.
Let's hope they cohere reasonably.
The ability to apply critical philosophical thinking to the whole
range of human experience, both in everyday life and in relation
to the intellectual capital inherited from the past, would be most
subversive. I have not found a single book that teaches anybody
how to do this in a meaningful fashion. It's all shallow gimmickry
at best, even the propaganda for critical thinking. For example,
there is Critical Thinking
on the Web, with an accompanying mail list, email@example.com,
which is quite uncritical of much of the material it promotes.
There is the lack of a real vehicle for philosophical synthesis.
The bourgeois marketplace of ideas affects the left press as well
as mainstream Anglo-American publications such as Philosophy
Now and The
Philosopher's Magazine. Note also the bourgeois dualities
and the one-sidedness of defenses of scientific rationality such
the Sokal affair, the sociobiology dispute, etc. Everything seems
to be driven by the logic of the marketplace rather than by the
need for synthesis. I don't keep up with the magazine Radical
Philosophy, but I suppose the same problem must prevail there.
How about the journal Historical
Materialism? I cannot think of a single organ for philosophical
The editor of The
Philosopher's Magazine has a web site, Butterflies
and Wheels, dedicated to the debunking of fashionable nonsensepostmodernism,
New Age pabulum, occultism, antiscience, irrationalism of all kinds.
This project is linked to a general orientation of secular humanism,
atheism, and scientific rationalism. There is some terrific material
on the site, but there is also the smug tone and sound bite mentality
of this sort: they glibly dismiss 'fashionable nonsense' (including
dialectical biology) without a deep critical understanding of what
they either oppose or defend. The site is limited in that its war
against irrationalism does not recognize any real problems with
existing science or established institutions, and tends toward a
certain smugness, not recognizing that bourgeois rationality and
bourgeois irrationality comprise a unified system.
Looking at both sides of the science/culture wars, I couldn't but
be struck by the futility of this dynamic. (There is, of course,
an obvious parallel to the general naivete of the atheist/secular
humanist movement in the anglophone world.) The defenders of science,
including philosophers, are not always terribly sophisticated.
But worse, in an oversaturated propaganda environment, everything
gets turned into a sales pitch. Critique becomes reduced to pop
debunking. Ideas have become so cheap in our soundbite culture that
rational discussion of any subject becomes impossible. While it
is good to see a countermovement to the postmodernist dispensation,
the soundbite techniques of advertising and propaganda are also
prevalent in it. Jeremy Stangroom, an editor of this site and of
The Philosopher's Magazine,
has come out with a new book: The Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense:
A Guide for Edgy People. This, I suspect, goes beyond Sokal's
original program, and furthers the tendency to reduce ideas in our
society to sloganeering even as it purports to combat irrationalism.
The shallow, sound-bite approach is evident in Butterflies and
Dictionary. The problem of backsliding into generalized propaganda
in the manner of campaign slogans, advertising, flash and hype is
ubiquitous. Escape from this situation is almost impossible. The
campaign for rationalism adds to the superficial marketing and sloganeering
of canned positions, without any real depth of social analysis.
A sensationalist, propagandistic approach to "fashionable nonsense"
only feeds into the dominant cultural vulgarity.
This fashionable dictionary is a perfect illustration of what I
mean by the shallow, propagandistic, sound-bite approach, naively
reproducing the technocratic-managerial mentality of the mainstream
of the secular humanist movement, which, though superior to the
irrationalist obscurantism it criticizes, is nonetheless ideological
itself, and thus incapable of following through on truly critical
thinking. Just look up the "definitions" of "dialectical
biology" and "Marxism", and you will see how little
thought there actually is here.
It is instructive to search for unwitting illustrations of the
aggregative polarities and tendencies of bourgeois thought, in our
discussion, the science vs. mumbo-jumbo camp in the Anglo-American
world (of which the fraudulent dichotomy of analytical and continental
philosophy is a manifestation). The defenders of science who oppose
religion, postmodernism, etc., nonetheless have no problems with
all kinds of pseudo-science that suits them. To take an example:
they lump together dialectical biology (we'll set aside its possible
deficiencies for later discussion) together with postmodernism and
all other kinds of claptrap as 'fashionable nonsense'. Yet these
opponents of religion and other irrationalisms proffer pseudoscientific
piffle like memes and God genes. The Dawkinses of the worldquite
eloquent in opposing religious nonsensehave no conception
of social science.
A couple samples of Butterflies' offerings:
Superstition Revisited: an interview with Norman Levitt
Here is a case in point of Stangroom's shallowness:
is Something Wrong With Humanism"
The reasoning behind this is shallow and idiotic. The author's
specious reasoning is based on the ways the fact-value relation
can go wrong in assessing scientific claims, i.e. that humanist
values may pre-empt science, for example, when science shows us
to be biologically more limited than our pretensions are willing
to accept. In following such a line of argument, Stangroom unwittingly
shows us what is really wrong with the humanist movement,
i.e that it is dominated, apparently in the UK as in the USA, by
managerial-technocratic types who can't see past their limited role
in the social division of labor, and hence cannot perceive how limited
bourgeois rationalism and irrationalism together form a social totality.
Luckily, this web site offers a rebuttal to Stangroom's piffle:
is Nothing Wrong With Humanism" by Kenan Malik
There is even more to be said about the social basis of these ideological
conflicts. There are also implications for understanding the artificial
boundaries enforced within the knowledge industry, for example between
analytical and Continental philosophy, i.e. between scientism and
the philosophy of the subject. But there are alternatives to both
shallow Anglo-American empiricism and anti-scientific subjectivism.
Let's end this digression here.
A phrase like 'fashionable nonsense' lacks the requisite dimension
of sociological and ideological analysis combined with the history
of ideas. The attribution of these postmodern tendencies to the
'academic left' is a misnomer; there's no such a thing. Postmodernism
is what you get when you take the labor movement out of the picture.
The only egalitarianism the pomos know is the diversification of
elites, the cosmetic surgery of multiculturalism. Beyond this they
are all bluff and show.
Personally I'm in favor of the scientists fighting back against
the postmodernist SOBs. (You should have seen them howl then when
Sokal exposed those wankers at Social Text). The issue comes
down to the conceptions of scientificity and science that are being
defended, whether the motives of the science defenders are questionably
political or more 'innocent '. I think the question of where scientists
go wrong on the big synthetic questions is also a subject for conceptual
Here liberal critique, which is not radical critique, must be criticized.
Popperians for example are like little children who prattle on about
falsifiability, testing, criticism, etc., but really have little
to say about why things go as wrong as they do. Establishment science
defenders, unable to address what the real free market is really
about, are also naive about the 'free market of ideas'. Moreover,
liberal scientists are incapable of advancing to the level of social
theory and philosophy that would embrace and explain more phenomena
than they are prepared to engage. This goes for the staunch defenders
of evolutionary theory like Dawkins; it goes for the advocates of
'critical thinking'; it goes for butterfliesandwheels.com.
They all are unprepared to recognize and address the ideological
antinomies of bourgeois society. What they do is valuable, but it
is not adequate to the situation.
I don't know what Sokal has to say about mystifications in his
own field of expertise. physics. Politically, he is an avowed leftist.
Most of those holding the fort for science against the forces of
irrationalismthe atheists, secular humanists, "skeptics",
Norman & Levitt, Dawkins, butterfliesandwheels.com, etc.can
only fight the rearguard position of defending the mainstream position
without any serious grasp of ideology or social theory or the history
of ideas to draw upon, and thus to some extent remain intellectually
and politically helpless in the face of the right-wing onslaught.
The universe of discourse is so restricted that certain deeper,
more radical questions cannot be raised, even though the magnitude
of the social crisis demands that they be raised. Liberalism is
so weak, tenuous, and endangered that it can barely defend itself,
let alone incorporate a more radical critique that would in fact
explain and address its weakness.
Now if you know people trained in the natural sciences, as I do,
you know they are not primed to think in certain termsdialectical
materialism, dialectics of any kind, critical theory, Western Marxism,
etc.you get the idea, I hope. This is foreign to the way they
think, just as partisans of said intellectual streams are customarily
incapable of engaging scientific matters credibly. Though I haven't
read Sokal's book, I've read enough reviews of it to note the deep
contempt the intellectually hip have for an intellectual hick like
him. But it's also the case that a much greater scientific and political
figureChomskyis incapable of grappling with social theory.
How does one propose to bridge the gap between the scientifically
oriented among the left and those on the othernow misleadingly
dubbed 'continental'side of the intellectual divide?
The futility of the science wars, including
the weaknesses of the scientific (and usually liberal) contingent
of the 'two cultures' and the pseudo-radical, scientifically and
philosophically incompetent and irresponsible (postmodern) social
studies side, hit me when I was researching Paul Forman on the web.
I was following links to and from Ivor Catt's highly eccentric website,
where I found his piece:
Whig History of Science
I also had a somewhat troubling interchange with Chris Mooney,
author of the superb new book The Republican War on Science,
which also reminded me of the intellectually confining limitations
I'm all for united fronts, and I definitely believe in taking sides
with liberal scientists to smash the irrationalist right and the
postmodern liberal capitulators to it. (It would be a mistake to
call these people the academic or any kind of left, because there
is the only thing left about them is that they're what's left of
liberalism without the labor movement.) But there is something naive
in the merely liberal defense of science just as it is.
I have never given one inch in the defense of individualism, individual
autonomy, and freedom of thought. These are virtual principles engendered
by bourgeois society, but bourgeois society cannot and will not
sustain them. They have rhetorical value in an allegedly "free
society" like the USA that ritualistically must uphold them
even while suppressing themit's part of our folklore. But
the relationship between these ideal values and the material conditions
governing society has always been problematic, and liberal ideologues
have never solved them; rather, they must gravitate toward idealism
as an escape from the acknowledgement of social causality. Habermas
never solved this problem. Popper was a second-rate propagandistic
Liberalism cannot successfully defend liberal values, for nothing
exists in a vacuum, not even intellectual independence, individualism,
and the free play of ideas. At its best, liberalism is like virtual
reality; at worst, it's a game of make-believe played by the professional
upper middle class.
26 July 2006
Critique of Critical Thinking (4):
The Critical Thinking Industry Continued
On May 29 I received a couple of interesting responses
to my previous intervention. One respondent quoted
from the critical thinking literature:
Here's a sidelight from the leading college textbook on Critical
Thinking (Thinking Critically by John Chaffee, published
by Houghton Mifflin). [This] includes a major section on "Thinking
Critically About Moral Judgements" . . .
After examining the usual proferred rationales which people give
for the moral choices they make (Conscience, Scripture, Authority
figures, greatest good of the greatest number, my own happiness,
etc.), this book posits a "Thinker's Guide to Moral Decision-Making"
for "constructing your own moral code."
The components of this Guide are:
- Make morality a priorityby increasing AWARENESS of
the moral choices you make every day.
- Adopt an "ethic of justice"by treating everyone
- Adopt an "ethic of care"by nurturing your
- Universalize your moral choicesà la Kant.
- Treat people as Ends, not Meansditto.
- Accept responsibility for your moral choices.
- Seek to promote human happinessesp. in OTHERS, as well
- Develop an informed Moral Intuition.
- Choose to be a Moral Person.
What does Chaffee advise the putatively moral person to do when
he realizes that his society is organized to achieve precisely
the opposite set of goals from those he counsels?
And furthermore, what does it mean to treat everyone equally?
The other respondent began as follows:
Yes, viz critical thinking for skepticism, since the latter seems
to me a passive exercise in doubt which connotes nothing. On the
other hand critical thinking itself begs the question. What are
the values of the critical thinker. We naturally assume that critical
thinking will be anchored in the values we treasure.
This is indeed the essential dilemma. What values are critical
thinking rooted in? One might also ask, in what objective knowledge
of the world, for the merely formal exercise of criticism lands
us in the same boat as a priori skepticism.
However, I'm disappointed in the turn the argument takes [not quoted
above]. While the thinking of CEOs, terrorists, and dictators may
well be as much 'thinking' as anyone else's, by what definition
does it qualify as critical thinking? Very few of such individuals
can be said to engage in critical thinking. These are not good examples.
One would do a better job were one to pick examples of terrorists
and dictators that manifested in some respect critical thinking
but not in others.
The Unabomber would be a good example. He was 'critical' enough
to question some of the presumed values of his society, but not
critical enough to put his conclusions together with any critical
notion of social movements. Bred on lone hero cowboy films, vigilantes
dispensing their own justice, etc., plus completely alienated from
other people and thereby unable to imagine reaching them in any
other way, the Unabomber apparently never heard of a social movement
or collective political organization. He formulated a first thought
in his head but not a second. The Unabomber is not terribly atypical;
he's the quintessentially stupid American.
Partly critical dictators might include people with some ideas,
however limited, of reorganizing society, such as Stalin or Mao.
Second rank dictators and killers typically have no real ideasPinochet,
Amin, the list is endless.
I also think that the formulation of putting aside one's "personal
interest for the benefit of the whole" is based on false premises.
No less than Karl Marx ridiculed that notion. "Informed self-interest"
gets closer to the issue.
But returning to the main question, one can formulate abstract
principles for critical thinking as for "open-mindedness".
Paradoxically, it is impossible to act on them using some quasi-algorithmic
procedure, for critical thinking is only critical with respect to
some defined situation. There is no guarantee that advocates of
critical thinking are in fact capable of exercising it when they
need to. In such instances, 'critical thinking' becomes another
ideology, unaware of the forces actually operating behind its back.
Popper would be an example of this problem. But one could also,
in philosophy, counterpose Spinoza to Descartes (and Kant, who of
course comes later), or Marx to the Young Hegelians.
26 July 2006
Critique of Critical Thinking (3):
The Critical Thinking Industry
Written 27 May 2006, continuing
Instead of "skepticism" I generally would
use a term such as "critical thinking." The question then
naturally arises: well, what does this imply in terms of the ability
and desirability of doubt and affirmation about some subject at
some given point in space and time? There is a whole literature
and mini-industry on critical thinking which addresses its components
and characteristics. See the links
I would like to make a project of examining this literature across
the board, in a critical fashion, to reveal the tacit assumptions,
world views, ideologies, and commitments embedded in it, because
I think that some of it is rather uncritical of ideas where it should
be. But this is a basic and general problem with the liberal idea
of 'open-mindedness': is there really any such thing, or is this
too another ideological conception unconscious of its preconceptions?
I don't think this issue has been adequately examined, and where
it has been raised, its attempted resolution is not one I agree
There is a fundamental tension at the heart of liberal theory,
which ties in with the free will and determinism issue: is the autonomous
individual a reality or a fiction? If a fiction now, can it become
a reality in the future? If so, what conception of reality is needed
to reconcile freedom and determinism in an intelligible fashion?
26 July 2006
Critique of Critical Thinking (2):
Critical Thinking vs. 'Skepticism'
Written 26 May 2006, as part of an online discussion I'll be
excerpting in subsequent entries.
Philosophical skepticismthe doctrine of the impossibility
of objective knowledgeis useless for ordinary skepticism,
and historically, may even work against it. See Popkin's history
of skepticism, also Max Horkheimer's essay on Montaigne.
Philosophically, skepticism should be seen, à la Hegel,
as a moment in the quest for objective knowledge. The skeptical
challenge propels us forward in the development of a more sophisticated
But I have a problem with "skepticism" as a synonym for
critical thinking. Being "skeptical" in an abstract sense
is meaningless; it all comes down to concrete cases. When you wonder
if people can/should be 'skeptical' about their own positions, you
really mean 'critical'. I really dislike the term 'skepticism' to
denote a generalized philosophical position, including the investigation
of paranormal claims. It's a confused concept.
I'd also advise seeing the excellent film Thank You for Smoking.
The protagonist, a PR man for the tobacco industry, consistently
uses skepticism as the primary tool of his BS. He teaches the technique
to his son, who becomes quite adept as a sociopath. Another reason
to be skeptical about 'skepticism'.
Furthermore, paranoia and conspiracy theoryskepticism become
cynical and out of controlis historically a tool of the right,
not the left. Occult conspiraciesProtocols of the Elders of
Zion, the Illuminati, etc.have an affinity with fascism. This
is the reason that in a cynical age, paranoia rather than critical
enquiry is injected into popular culture. TV shows such as the X
Files, Dark Skies, etc., are part of the paranoid landscape
and are essentially right-wing. They've never turned anyone into
critical thinkers. Just the opposite, they soften people up for
further manipulation. In explaining this to people while consuming
alcohol (they, not I) I would say, "If you believe anything
is possible, you'll believe anything."
Georg Lukacs on Irrationalism and
Nazism: The Unity of Cynicism and Credulity
Cynicism & Conformity,
by Max Horkheimer
26 July 2006
Critique of Critical Thinking (1)
I posed a series of cryptic questions in the introduction that
tops this blog. Yes, even "critical thinking" can become
an ideology. And now part of the critical thinking literature examines
'critical thinking' critically, attempting to transcend a formalist
perspective. I shall review some of the alternative perspectivessome
which are on the right track, some bankrupt (especially the feminist
literature). The critical examination of critical thinking is one
of the central intellectual issues of our time.
I'll begin with extracts and paraphrases of a communication I sent
out on 15 March 2006, in response to a friend.
"Magritte said that one could not provide a valid explanation
of something until one had explained that explanation."
(1) Problems of infinite regress and so forth are endemic to philosophy,
and there's a long history to them, but again, I don't find a formal
logical approach particularly useful for our concerns.
(2) The questions and potential paradoxes of relativism, self-consciousness,
and reflexivity also have a long history, often related to skepticism.
The question of bias becomes more common in our time than in the
past; we become more aware that we have biases without knowing what
they are. As a result, many claim openmindedness as a principle.
This may be better than the alternative, but I don't think such
formal "openmindedness" ever makes anyone open-minded
in a given practical situation. I will return to this point repeatedly.
(3) My most recent experience of liberal "openness" was
in interaction with devotees of Karl Popper. Liberals turn out to
be very slick at preaching about being open to criticism while remaining
utterly clueless about their own presuppositions in practice. The
liberal approach to critical thinking is not a radical approach.
The formalism of liberal open-mindedness is the ideological correlate
of the free market.
(4) The notion of reflexivity is very popular among the postmodern
crowd, primarily due to the aftereffects of the cultural revolution
of the '60s-'70s and the increasing abstractness of social existence.
The literature comes from philosophy, the social sciences, social
theory, cultural theory. Now does this generate a problem of infinite
regress? Well, once you observe what the problem really is, you
should realize it's not a formal problem, but a structural problem
of ideology being ratcheted up several levels, i.e. new layers appearing,
the more abstract social life becomes. The fact that millions of
people can easily consume and understand a highly abstract cultural
product like The Matrixi.e. virtual realitymeans
that the masses have mastered what used to be avant-garde thinking,
which is in actuality (i.e. real reality beneath ideology) rather
trivial and childish. It is the specialty of critics and intellectuals
to analyze this stuff, but even their analyses form new levels of
ideology to be penetrated. Hence we are in a trickier situation
now than in any time in history.
Some web pages of mine are relevant to these issues:
Reflexivity & Situatedness Study
Guide (with side orders of slumming & liberal guilt)
This is my master guide to the whole problem. It points to other
central themes, e.g.
Cynical Reason Today: A Selected
Cultural Sophistication and Self-Reference
on American Television: Seeds of Hope?
Ideology Study Guide
. . . . and to bibliographies on other sites.
While the theme of reflexivity is common today, my approach to
the question is unique. Nobody else does what I do.
(5) Re the notion of "Indoctrination to Indoctrinate":
two ideas have been proposed. I have already disposed of the formal
problem, involving matters of infinite regress and formal open-mindedness,
originally posed thusly: '"we become aware of the inescapable
fact that we are 'Indoctrinates' investigating the 'Indoctrination'
of other 'Indoctrinates'." Instead of treating this as a formal
logical dilemma, I suggest there are specific current problems of
critique itself becoming another ideological industry that requires
yet another layer of mystification. This is unique to our time and
may well correspond to its other distinguishing ideological feature,
"cynical reason", defined thusly:
What Is Cynical Reason? Peter
(6) Addressing this question: "Elaboration on this subject,
I believe, is of critical if we are to gain an insightful understanding,
not only of the process by which individuals become indoctrinated,
but how their initial indoctrination is key to further indoctrination."
How we are initially indoctrinated, as we all are, sets us in a
mindset that primes us for the next input of indoctrination. If
we are indoctrinated to be receptive to indoctrination, as opposed
say to resisting it (a paradox to be sure), then there may be a
closed feedback loop as in the case of fundamentalism or other totalitarian
ideologies. But if we were never comfortable in our initial indoctrination,
and it was the wrong kind, then we may struggle with unease even
if we haven't a clue as to how to get out of it. Either way the
apple-cart may be overturned by catastrophic social or individual
events that force us to change our assumptions. Or maybe not.
If you approach the question this way, then the initial indoctrination
of both the uncritical and the critical individual are both subject
to critical examination. Also, I see no infinite regress here, because
once you question your questioning you have the whole dynamic in
place. There is reflection on reflection, but an infinitely higher
series of levels of reflection on reflection on reflection is qualitatively
meaningless; it's just formalistic masturbation.
26 July 2006
Future for Philosophy, edited by Brian Leiter. Oxford: Clarendon
Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Leiter has become prominent in the world of professional philosophy
(at least in this part of the world), not least of all for his ranking
of graduate programsThe Philosophical
Gourmet. See also the Leiter
Reports blog. He has a special interest in Nietzsche. This anthology
surveys perspectives in academic philosophy, according to Leiter
and his contributors. I'm not terribly impressed. Some of the questions
posed may be prominent academic questions, but not necessarily the
most important questions that could be asked. What constitutes the
cutting edgeother than in formal terms of what are the dominant
trends in Leiter's corner of the worldis a debatable matter
of perspective. Of course, now that "continental philosophy"
is recognized along with the analytical philosophy that created
this bogus category after repressing its subject matter, one might
think the perspective given here is open, comprehensive, and universal.
See the table
of contents for yourself to get an overview.
Leiter himself is the only one in the volume to acknowledge Marx,
in his essay "The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Recovering Marx,
Nietzsche, and Freud." The title alone, inspired by Riceour,
itself is enough to make one suspicious. Quoting someone else (Cohen?)
to dismiss summarily any scientific claims for Marx, Leiter aims
to rehabilitate Marx for moral theory. Though Leiter seems to be
under attack by right-wingers, I am not terribly impressed by any
great perspicuity on his part regarding Marx or even one of his
This is hardly a reliable volume for those seeking philosophical
synthesis, though undoubtedly one can pick up some of the scattered
ingredients one needs.
For my purposes, the most immediately interesting contribution
is "Philosophy and History in the History of Modern Philosophy"
by Don Garrett (pp. 44-73). On this subject see also my Philosophy
of History of Philosophy & Historiography of Philosophy: Selected
[> Anti-Nietzsche (2)]
[> Brian Leiter,
Nietzsche, and American Philosophy]
21 July 2006
Jim Murray (April 10, 1949 - July 21, 2003
3rd anniversary of his death
In memoriam: Still in pain
I don't know what to say to commemorate this occasion. It's too
painful to discuss. So for now, just a couple of links:
C.L.R. James Institute: Jim Murray Memorial
Murray Memorial Address by Ralph Dumain
And these are the gems of the Human Soul
The rubies & pearls of a lovesick eye
The countless gold of the akeing heart
The martyrs groan & the lovers sigh
William Blake, The
19 July 2006
"Strong Men" by
Sterling A. Brown (published 1931, 1932)
I'm pretty sure I first encountered this poem during my teenage
years. As I recall, the standard anthologies of black literature
then were Black Voices and Dark Symphony. Some of
this material was fairly current circa 1968; probably the bulk was
older. The black power movement propelled a tendency toward ideological
posturing and bad poetry to the forefront. I was much more responsive
to older stuff. Among the limited number of writers I was exposed
to (or exposed myself to, as my exposure in high school was severely
limited, and then mostly to aforementioned posturing), the writers
(among those few I recall) impressing me the most were Langston
Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hansberry . . .
and, for some reason, this poem by Sterling A. Brown stuck in my
mind. I doubt I even paid much attention to the details, but the
general concept imprinted itself on methe feeling of a gathering
historical momentum building up to an imminent climax. I thought
the idea was brilliant.
As a teenager in the '60s, I could have not been more clueless,
but luckily I have learned a few things in the past three and a
One association I made a few years back when this poem popped into
my head was with Hegel's master-slave
dialectic in The Phenomenology of Mind. In the historical
process, the slave/bondsman/serf, while initially at a disadvantage
after being subjugated, gains strength through his rootedness in
the objective world and his mastery of natural processes through
labor, while the master/lord becomes more dependent, and eventually
a critical point is reached when the balance of power is reversed.
This poem to me exemplifies that principle.
In thinking this, I was still going on vague memories. Re-reading
this poem now, I see much more. I never paid attention to the date
of publication. Considering that this poem was published as early
as 1931, its perspective and militancy are remarkable. This date
follows the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance and the Garvey movement,
and stands poised just as the labor radicalism of the 1930s is beginning
to take shape, and a decade prior to the March on Washington Movement,
and then the Detroit and Harlem riots of 1943, and the modern (1950s+)
Civil Rights Movement known to us today.
This poem is structured as an historical abstract, first, of the
social forces pressing down upon black Americans through the course
of American history, and secondly, their response in song, suggesting
their mood and bearing in response to their situation. The recurrent
refrain "The strong men keep a-comin on / The strong
men git stronger" insinuates subterranean energies stirring
beneath their cultural expression even in its least overtly political
manifestations, signaling a social counterforce that will someday
bust loose. Whether Brown's approach was rare or commonplace in
his time, I can't tell you, but from today's vantage point, I find
it remarkable. C.L.R.
James made a comparable prophetic observation in 1948, which
readers now still find striking. Such a perspective is now commonplace
in what is called Cultural Studies, and here we find it already
in 1931! So returning to my youth as well as to the American past,
I come full circle. Revisiting our past, we find new things in it.
17 July 2006
Where then, lies the duty of surrationalism?
It is to take over those formulas, well purged and economically
ordered by the logicians, and recharge them psychologically, put
them back into motion and into life . . . In teaching a revolution
of reason, one would multiply the reasons for spiritual revolutions.
Only the beginning of the 1990s did I discover the article from
which this quote originates. Many of my youthful interests went
into hibernation in my adult life. As I explain in my epistle, "Surrationally
Yours", I first came upon Bachelard and surrationalism
in my teenage years, almost certainly from this book which I found
in the public library when I took up an interest in surrealism:
Caws, Mary Ann. Surrealism and the Literary
Imagination: A Study of Breton and Bachelard. The Hague: Mouton,
Caws' point of reference is Bachelard's book The Philosophy
of No. Perhaps I looked at the book then; it is rather scarce
now, especially if one wants to buy a copy.
There is little else on the web that I can find.
A French Popper
destroyed by sorbonnism?
Note cites from The Philosophy of No.
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, Translated from
the French by Maria Jolas
by Joan Ockman
Representations/Misrepresentations Number 6, Fall 1998
Other uses of the word:
The surrealist painter Victor
Brauner is said to have authored an article using this word
Mutter: A More Perfect World
Years ago, I bought a calendar, I think, of "Surrational Images."
Maybe this is the same guy? This fellow authored a book called Surrational
Images. The same person, I suppose? Did he get the word or concept
The term "surrationalism" has also been used in architecture.
For example, Hans
Ulrich Öbrist deploys the term. See also the book Surrealism
Back to the philosophers. Information on Bachelard is more plentiful,
in English and French. You could begin with the Wikipedia entry
but see also the French
version for links. The usual online reference sources seem to underrepresent
Bachelard. If you read French, the place to go for information is:
Bienvenue sur www.gastonbachelard.org,
site de l'Association des Amis de Gaston Bachelard
There are scarce references to surrationalism here, mostly bibliographical.
An interesting educational application of Bachelard's philosophy
explanatory model for conceptual development during A-level chemistry
(1999) by Keith S. Taber
17 July 2006
Adorno's True Thoughts & the
Logic of Aphorisms (2)
Continuing from the previous entry:
True thoughts are those alone which do
not understand themselves.
The only true thoughts are those, which
do not understand themselves.
Aphorisms that contain paradoxes are some of the most
striking. How would one translate statements like these from ordinary
language into logical expressions? Is it possible? And proceeeding
in the reverse direction: could it ever be possible to generate
thoughts like these from a basis in logic?
People generate meaningful though non-obvious statements
all the time. Should these be viewed by logic-worshippers (like
the old logical positivists) as meaningless, or non-cognitive (as
they claimed poetry to be)?
The first observation to be made here is that the
underlying logic of this statement (and others of this nature) is
complex, and covert. Two ways of logically unpacking it and describing
its meaning are: (1) hermeneutics or literary interpretation/criticism,
(2) translation into formal logic. The relation between (1) and
(2) is not entirely clear. Some low-level interpretation is necessary
simply to get this expression into elementary logical shape.
A mathematician and I did this as an exercise two
days ago, but with a difference, as I had I misremembered the aphorism
as 'great thoughts' instead of 'true thoughts'I don't know
whether this made the task easier or harder or less insulting to
logic. The attempt was made on as simple-minded an interpretation
as possible. The most formidable semantic obstacle is: how can a
thought understand itself, since people are the ones who understand
as well as generate thoughts? So our universe of discourse was people
and thoughts, and the predications or functions included
thinking, (fully) understanding, and because I had
misremembered the quote, greatness. A further assumption
was that person x who thinks the thought is the same one
who does/does not understand it. Another assumption was to ignore
the problem of degree (though it may be more than that) represented
by the word fully. So the logical formula generated came
to something like this: For all x: there is a person x
and there is a thought y and thought y is such-and-such
and x thinks y, and if all these conditions hold,
then x does not understand y. This is a godawful mess.
I'm not sure what this says, but I think it asserts that if people
generate great (or true) thoughts, they don't understand them. I
don't know how the logical formula holds up syntactically, but semantically,
it's pretty much nonsense, if one assumes that people have to understand
what they think and then assert, or they couldn't generate
anything that made sense, let alone that was true or outstanding.
If thay did so, then the fact that they are people and that
they think is rendered superfluous. (Why not a computer program
functioning automatically? But then a computer, let us assume, neither
thinks nor understands, though it functions according
This problem does not seem to me essentially the same
problem you get from vagueness or poetic symbolism. It is true that
metaphor is involved and that expressions like these cannot be taken
literally. But there is logic mixed in with metaphor and double
meaning. At issue in this case is the nature of thinking,
understanding, and interpretation. I'm not sure that
an identity or differentiation between the generator and
recipient of the thought is decisive. Perhaps this
is why Adorno referred to thoughts as not understanding
themselves, even though thoughts don't think.
Furthermore, as I introduced interpretation into the universe
of discourse, I have to relate the two concepts understanding
and interpretation. Understanding is not an either/or
proposition, but grows with an increasing depth of interpretation.
This process, according to the aphorism, is determined by the properties
of the thought, not only that, but by the truth value
of the thought, wherein truth is not simply a matter of assigning
a truth value (T, F, or even the spread of truth values one
gets via fuzzy logic) to an expression. Depth implies layers
of meaning, perhaps navigation of multiple frameworks.
I don't know how the apparatus of formal logic can
handle this. I attempted to unpack the aphorism using an informal
logical process as well as semantic interpretation, but note the
primacy of semantics in this exercise. Though the notion of thoughts
understanding themselves cannot be taken literally, it's not
quite poetic symbolism either. And while the notions, thought,
thinking, understanding, interpretation, and
depth are not precisely defined, is the problem simply one
of vagueness or polysemy? I think it is something else. Once we
get to this point of unpacking the aphorism, we have an intuitive
grasp of what is being said, or we have made more explicit the intuitive
grasp we had in the beginning. We have thought this through with
informal logic up to this point. Perhaps you can take it farther,
but I doubt we can think these thoughts in formal logic. I also
wonder about the extent to which logicians and mathematicians can
decipher the meanings of statements made in natural language. The
larger question, is: do theyand can theyapply
their norms of logical rigor to the affairs of personal and social
life, and with what degree of perspicacity?
Logic as a discipline arose via abstraction from actual
arguments to the delineation of their formal properties, divested
of content. While ontology got mixed into itor was never separated
from itby philosophers, one could at least view logic as the
science of pure inference. But at this point the relation of its
formal apparatus to empirical reality is not so straightforward,
for the actual meanings of terms and their conceptual structure,
overt or covert, are decisive for their validity as inputs to the
logic processing machine. Logic really had nothing to offer to the
scientific revolution, nor did it comfortably co-exist with the
new mathematicscalculus or analysisfor a couple of centuries.
A number of developments in mathematics and logic came together
in the late 19th century to usher in a whole new era. The philosophy
of language took off as well. One should not forget the development
of linguistics as a science, which underwent two major revolutionsstructuralism
early in the 20th century, and the Chomskyan revolution publicly
inaugurated in 1957. How all this fits together today I cannot tell
you, but I'm betting that the fundamental problem I outlined remains.
What if there remains an unreconciled duality in our thought, and
the perfection of logic is comcomitant with the perfection of alienation?
17 July 2006
Adorno's True Thoughts & the
Logic of Aphorisms (1)
Following up on my recent entry on aphorisms
. . . A great master of the philosophical aphorism is Theodor
W. Adorno. He may be most widely known for his famous phrase
(often misquoted and almost always out-of-context) no poetry
after Auschwitz. Several of his works are eminently quotable,
but he wrote a brilliant book consisting almost entirely of aphorisms.
The standard English translation is:
Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, translated
by E.F.N. Jephcott. London: Verso, 1974. (in German, 1951)
Here are some quotes from it:
Quotes: Theodor W. Adorno
There is also a different, online translation:
Moralia, translation by Dennis Redmond (2005)
Section 122 is subtitled Monograms. Someone made a slide
show of sorts out of it:
Moralia: No. 122 Monograms
This is one of the aphorisms. In Jephcotts translation:
True thoughts are those alone which do not understand
The only true thoughts are those, which do not understand
I wrote this commentary on 18 Dec 1999:
I take Adorno's statement to mean that writers who formulate
great truths or profound models of social reality objectively
say more than they can possibly intend or be conscious of; later
generations may see implications that the actual creator of the
true thoughtcould never have anticipated, hence the
thoughts unintentionally say things beyond which they were consciously
willed to say. The delicious irony of this aphorism is that any
truth that totally understood itself would be trivial, which contravenes
the full self-consciousness one ordinarily expects of truth, and
the paradox of a great thought is that it seems to be inexhaustible
and uncontainable; understanding can always improve and enrich
the truth content of the true thought, but that the thought cannot
initially fully comprehend all its implications or contain its
15 July 2006
My Yiddishe Spinoza
Reviews of books on Spinoza in The
Forward (formerly The Jewish Daily Forward):
Hero, Infidel, Celebrity
by Daniel B. Schwartz
June 30, 2006
review of: Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity
by Rebecca Goldstein
An excellent review! I only skimmed the first 130 pages of the
book. This review summarizes it well. Haven't gotten to the punchline,
i.e. Goldstein's actual interpretation of Spinoza. The reviewer
tells us we are in for a disappointment.
Essential Louis Zukofsky
by David Kaufmann
April 7, 2006
review of: Selected Poems by Louis Zukofsky, edited by Charles Bernstein
I have not read a single word of Zukofsky, but after reading this
review, I've got a hard-on for him. Anyone who would write a rebuttal
of that fascist douchebag T.S. Eliot has got something going for
him. (So different an approach from CLR
James, a veddy British Trinidadian who preferred the dry-wit
rebuttal of Eliot.) I like Zukofsky's overall attitude.
Oh, on Spinoza:
In the epic, 24-part collage poem (titled "A") that
occupied him for most of his adult life, he includes other translations
from Yehoash, renderings of the Bible and long quotations from
Martin Buber's accounts of the Hasids. (To be fair, though, he
also finds a place for almost everything else under the sun
from Arapahoe chants and books on physics to direct quotations
from Baruch Spinoza, as well as a retelling of "The Epic
. . .and Muse
by Joshua Cohen
June 30, 2006
review of: Conversation With Spinoza: A Cobweb Novel by Goce
Smilevski, translated by Filip Korzenski
This novel looks intriguing. But almost as intriguing are the reviewer's
comments about Spinoza's current popularitya popularity I
sense exists but can't prove:
A few centuries too late, it seems that Spinoza's time has finally
come. In a world in which many Jews are yet again attempting to
assert a secular identity as the dialectic antipode of extremism,
Spinoza has been credited lately as the first secularite, as the
founder of Modern Jewry, identifier of its humanitarian agenda
and prophet of the existential crises that follow the philosophical
limitation of God's meddling within the mundanity of His creation.
As unwitting subject or spokesperson, Spinoza is especially attractive
to American Jewry because he seems to us a rebel, the Enlightenment
equivalent of a bar mitzvah boy gone bad.
I suspect that the current Spinoza obsession in America has much
to do with our need to justify our secularism, in substantiating
it as not just a modern dereliction but as an actual European
creed, with history behind it, the bona fide of ages of thought
on the nature of man's relationship with God.
Could it be?
[> Rebecca Goldstein on the 350th Anniversary
of the Excommunication of Baruch Spinoza]
[> October Reading
15 July 2006
Check out this article by Benjamin Balint in the July 14, 2006
issue of the Jewish Daily Forward. It's the 50th anniversary
of his death.
I first discovered Rosenfeld upon reading Alan Wald's The New
York Intellectuals. I subsequently read a non-fiction book by
Rosenfeld, don't remember which. Most of the New York intellectuals
didn't do much for me, but I was intrigued by Rosenfeld. Glad to
know he is remembered. Sometimes we need to regroup.
15 July 2006
Politics and Ethics, lecture by Dr.
I attended this remarkable lecture on 13 July and
will report at length. And now I am inspired to pursue my thoughts
on the implications of Borges' idealism, not only my old thoughts
of decades ago, but brand new ones.
"Spinoza knew that all things long to persist
in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the
tiger a tiger." Jorge Luis Borges, "Borges
For the reading list, add the short story "The
Congress" from The Book of Sand.
Here is a list of relevant links.
Bon Voyage, Aisha!
14 July 2006
World in a Phrase: A History of Aphorisms by James Geary
This is a terrific topic. The amazon.com reviews describe the contents
pretty well. The most interesting chapter is on heretics. The quotable
quoted include Spinoza and Blake, and naturally Nietzsche. There
is a brief mention of Bob Dylan. No Adorno, though.
13 July 2006
Chinese Philosophy in the West: Globalization
Gone Bad (4)
Chinese Philosophy, edited by Chung-Ying Cheng and Nicholas
Bunnin. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.
Click on the link above to find my amazon.com review,
which condenses my commentary here.
13 July 2006
Chinese Philosophy in the West: Globalization
Gone Bad (3)
Chinese Philosophy, edited by Chung-Ying Cheng and Nicholas
Bunnin. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.
The 2nd installment outlined the generic problems
in dealing with Asian philosophies and specifically with Chinese
philosophy, while the 1st reviewed my relevant
intellectual encounters of the past few years. Perusing the book
now under review yielded a number of these same complaints. For
reference, consult the book's table
of contents as you read what follows.
Apart from the introductory and concluding essays, the contents
are organized according to these broad periods and categories:
Part I: Pioneering New Thought from the West
Part II: Philosophizing in the Neo-Confucian Spirit
Part III: Ideological Exposure to Dialectical Materialism
Part IV: Later Development of New Neo-Confucianism
Of these, the categories named by parts II and IV are bound to
create the greatest irritations.
The co-editor Nicholas Bunnin in his Introduction indicates two
categories of excluded philosophers:
(1) lesser though better-known philosophers, mainly Mao;
(2) Chinese philosophers whose work fits entirely into the category
of Western philosophy, e.g. philosophy of science (including the
dialectics of nature).
Dammit! It's this second category that most interests me. And already
we see dishonesty at work. Or am I wrong? An excuse could be made
for inclusion/exclusion selecting works representative of "Chinese
Philosophy" either in a statistical sense, or in the sense
of dominant schools of thought within said national/linguistic entity,
or perhaps of the most distinctive contributions. Compare to what
one might include under French, British, or American Philosophy,
or some other national, regional, ethnic, or linguistic entity in
the past or present. This might still be a dangerous game, but let's
grant some latitude for the sake of argument. The problem is that
there is a presumption not just of philosophical schools but of
civilization and cultural tradition that from the start distorts
the project and the generalizations to be made. Why could not not-distinctively-Chinese
work in philosophy of science yet constitute a distinctive contribution
to the field?
Now I will single out a few essays of interest.
8. Feng Youlan's New Principle Learning and His Histories of Chinese
Philosophy: Lauren Pfister.
Feng is of pivotal importance, also for his role in the anglophone
world. Note his Marxist turn with the establishment of the People's
Republic, the Hegelian influence and applications of historical
9. He Lin's Sinification of Idealism: Jiwei Ci.
Note his incorporation of Hegelian idealism into the Confucian
Part III: Ideological Exposure to Dialectical Materialism:
Chapters 10-12. The editors picked out what they considered to
be the most creative (and presuambly most "Chinese")
adapatations of Marxist philosophy.
10. Feng Qi's Ameliorism: Between Relativism and Absolutism: Huang
Wisdom: the transition, knowledge > wisdom, is
a leap, effected by intellectual intuition.
Dialectical logic: theory > method. Dialectic
analytic & synthetic methods,
knowledge & practice,
logical & historical methods,
disagreement & agreement.
Freedom: theory > virtue. Principles of:
Feng Qi criticized Confucianism and Chinese communism for ignoring
the individual (p. 230).
11. Zhang Dainian: Creative Synthesis and Chinese Philosophy: Cheng
12. Li Zehou: Chinese Aesthetics from a Post-Marxist and Confucian
Perspective: John Zijiang Ding.
Kantian subjectivity & post-Marxian anthropological ontology
Heidegger, Wittgenstein, & Foucault
future of philosophy
"the fourth outline of human subjectivity"
I did not take better notes that these on these chapters. But let
us proceed to the Afterwords section to see what more we can learn
of the editors' perspective.
Recent Trends in Chinese Philosophy in China and the West: Chung-ying
While there was early discussion of Chinese philosophy in the
West when it was first discovered there, there was an absence
of conversation until Russell and Dewey came along, and then there
was a tendency for the Chinese to reject tradition in the quest
of modernization. Important figures mentioned are Wing-tsit Chan,
Chung-ying Chen, Antonio Cua, Fu Weitun[?], Liu Shuxian, Tang
Liquan, Qin Jiayi, Du Weiming.
An Onto-Hermeneutic Interpretation of Twentieth-Century Chinese
Philosophy: Identity and Vision: Chung-ying Cheng.
The challenge of the West to Chinese tradition > logic,
science, analysis, identity issues. Cheng outlines 5 stages of
Chinese philosophy's modern development, 4 of which are covered
in this anthology. There remains a 5th stage to discuss:
Stage 5: Reinterpreting Chinese and Western philosophies (1960s-present)
Cheng provides his explanation of the transition from Confucianism
to Marxism (and susbsequent fusions)both stem from social
and ethical needs, and the latter could be considered an adaptation
of common needs to new conditions. Western philosophy challenged
Chinese tradition based on the organic unity of substance and
function. Considerations proceed under these headings: horizon,
method, truth, creativity, applications.
Cheng summarizes current issues:
(1) I Ching issue of change
(2) human person
(3) moral metaphysics
(4) nonseparation of method & truth (traditional philosophy
was methodologically underdeveloped)
(5) science & scientific methodology problem for
(6) undeveloped political philosophy
Perspectives for the future: Traditions work like scientific
theories (cf. Quine's holism) in the process of a dialogue of
I consider the last word of the book to sum up its bankruptcy.
It's all about the artificial packaging of a tradition, based on
dubious metaphysics and premises. I find this as rotten and ultimately
uninteresting as what I found in the Journal of Chinese Philosophy.
It turns out to be another aspect of the globalization scam. One
would be well-advised to turn elsewhere for intellectual synthesis.
13 July 2006
Chinese Philosophy in the West: Globalization
Gone Bad (2)
In my previous entry I summarized my reactions
over the past few years. Before I launch into the book under consideration,
I want to make a few more general comments.
Before the advent of the postmodern dispensation, amongst the general
public and also in scholarly circles the most common theme was "the
meeting of East and West." For Westerners, the alternative
to the mere escapism from modern (Western) civilization was the
notion of the complementarity of East and West. This of course is
predicated on a view of the essential characteristics of both civilizations/ways
of life/philosophies and their histories, and implies an interpretation
of society and history.
This is, however, a conception that excludes (aside from the sordid
realities of "Eastern" civilizations) imperialism from
history, and Marxism from philosophy and historical-social interpretation.
The exclusion is total and necessary to maintain the framework of
"East" and "West" and the possible "meanings"
of each. There is also a history of how these notions of "East"
and "West" were created as well as the ideological negotiations
involving both parties.
There are also watershed historical moments in the alleged pursuit
of intercultural understanding. One such was the 1893 Parliament
of the Worlds Religions. Another important moment was
the Universal Races Congress of 1911. A significant lapse
in these various gestures towards international understanding and
mutual respect is absence of imperialism from the dialogue. What
we now call 'cultural imperialism' would be a theme for discussion,
but real, material, honest-to-god imperialism, nothat is the
elephant in the room. This also means: on all sides, whose interests,
whose world views, whose interpretations of history and society
enter into the conversation?
Marxism, excluded from the "meeting of East and West,"
has a whole different history. In the colonial and underdeveloped
world, it was inextricably tied to problems of modernization and
the overcoming of tradition, with a perspective on history and society
not based on "culture" or "civilization" as
the foundational explanatory category. Even with nationalistic undertones
where Marxism took root, or under the crude iron heel of the Stalin
era and the Maoist Cultural Revolution, Marxism's theoretical and
ideological stance incorporating notions of universalism, scientificity,
historical materialism, class struggle, and historical progress
effected a different interpretation of history and cultural traditions.
Even in their crudest, most schematic, propagandistic form, Marxist
approaches to philosophy in the West were the least Eurocentric,
without romanticizing Eastern thought. (The question of Russocentric,
Sinocentric, and Afrocentric slants on Marxism needs to be treated
separately, but even in the worst cases of national-cultural chauvinism
and manipulation of traditions, a fundamentally or explicitly volkisch
philosophical view won't fly.)
Boundary lines are not absolute, but outside the intellectual world
of Marxism, another question of modernization arose in the non-Western
world: for those who want to follow this path, how to update traditional
philosophies to make them viable in a modernizing world? My memories
of how this went with Chinese philosophy have faded over the decades,
but my general impression is that various metaphysical systems (Neo-Confucian?)
were retooled, and I found the results dubious. From a materialist
or an empiricist standpoint, there is something hopelessly artificial
and arbitrarymetaphorical, mythological, and even theologicaland
ultimately sterile and obscurantistabout maintaining a metaphysical
system in the traditional sense, especially an old oneeven
one that purports to accommodate modern scientific discoveries.
It is very much like updating and liberalizing religions, or updating
metaphysics that accompany the religions (as has been done, e.g.,
for Catholicism and Islam). Even updating (relatively) secular metaphysics
runs into the same problems.
Historical consciousness is not traditionalism. Other than simply
jettisoning outworn traditions for modern science and its philosophical
correlates, there are other approaches to addressing the past, to
philosophical history: (1) logical analysis of philosophies and
the problems they attempted to address; (2) socio-historical analyses,
perhaps in combination with (1); (3) judging the heritage of the
past based on (1) and (2) suggesting what is worth preserving, either
as a monument or something still viable; (4) finding the hidden
meaning of metaphysical systems, translating idealism into social,
historical, materialist terms (Feuerbach, Horkheimer), (5) unearthing
the hidden truth content of thought systems (Adorno); (6) relating
philosophical systems and their evolution to the state of scientific
knowledge and the organization of society (post-Stalin Soviet philosophy).
There is, though, in the past quarter century, a new wrinkle, that
affects Chinese philosophy and its reception as it has affected
Indian philosophy and African philosophy (already in a much more
frustrated situation): the introduction of what is loosely termed
postmodernism. In certain parts of the world postcolonialism
is a going concern. Now that globalization is the buzzword,
the whole world is potentially mixed into the ideological stew.
There is a curious exclusivity to be found in all this promiscuous
syncretism. If we look at the rise or resurrection of continental
philosophy in the Anglo-American worldan entity having
no real existence except as an artifact of the historical amnesia
of analytical philosophypersons with a broader grasp
of intellectual history might detect some curious biases and omissions.
One might be fooled because the continental philosophy package
with its assembly of analytical techniques is diverse and seemingly
inclusive, and also includes some varieties or elements of Marxism
as one ingredient, but a slippery ideological bias and selectivity
can be found in this packaging. And when we here in the Anglo-American
sphere expand our attention to draw in other areas of the world
in globalized dialogue, we will find the same selectivity and tacit
ideological agenda at work. Of course!since these are the
outcomes of the same overall social forces.
Several sections of my philosophical diary New
Year's Resolution: Exploring Philosophical Cultures (December 2003
- January 2004) detail the chicanery alluded to in the preceding
12 July 2006
Chinese Philosophy in the West: Globalization
Gone Bad (1)
For appropriate links, begin with:
Occultism, Eastern Mysticism, Fascism,
& Countercultures: Selected Bibliography
This links to a number of interesting contributions, including
several on Indian philosophy, and to my related bibliography:
Holistic Thought, New Age Obscurantism,
Occultism, the Sciences, & Fascism
I have suggested many times that western engagement with Asian
philosophies merits a great deal of suspicion. I take dissident
voices within Asian traditions themselves far more seriously, as
indicated by my selections on Indian philosophy. I've seen little
comparable literature on Chinese Philosophy since the crude polemics
produced during the Cultural Revolution.
After many years of inattention, I had a chance to catch up in
January 2004 with the 30th anniversary issue of the Journal of
Chinese Philosophy (vol. 30, nos. 3 & 4, September/December
2003). I found it pretty disagreeable then, and after reviewing
it in August 2005, I found it just as obnoxious. I don't know what
is going on in philosophy in the People's Republic these days, or
whether mainland Chinese are involved in this journal. But if this
anniversary issue is representative, the field is not to be trusted.
Most obnoxious of all are the combinations of traditional philosophies
with postmodernism, e.g. mixing deconstruction or hermeneutics with
Confucianism or Taoism. It makes me want to hurl. But all in all,
I don't find most of this stuff interesting intellectually in the
least. There were only two articles of interest to me in all 300
pages of this issue. One is summarized in my bibliography.
The other is:
Bunnin, Nicholas. "Contemporary Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical
Following a rather impressive condensed summary of the development
of analytical philosophy, modern Chinese philosophers impacted
by western philosophies are outlined, including Hu Shi (whom I
read over 30 years ago), Jin Yuelin, Hong Qian, Feng Youlan (author
of a standard text on the history of Chinese philosophy), Zhang
Shenfu, Zhang Dongsun, Mou Zongsan, Li Zehou (347-51).
I found references to two contemporary books of possible interest.
One I am about to review. The other is:
Mou, Bo. Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophical
Traditions. Chicago; La Salle: Open Court, 2001.
My next major engagement was a group study of the Dao De Jing
(Tao Te Ching) which I led in the spring of 2005. (Since
most people my age are more familiar with the old transliteration,
I will henceforth refer to Taoism instead of Daoism.)
This was a fascinating experience, and our discussion was of much
higher quality than anything you will read by the scholars in English.
(One day I must compile my notes and publish them on this site.)
This is because the agenda if not the credentials of everyone invested
in this subject matter is untrustworthy and the perspective distorted.
Reading several commentaries of amateurs and experts alike confirmed
this impression, as did this book, which I reviewed:
Taoism & the Tao of Bourgeois Philosophy
(review of J. J. Clarke, The Tao of the West). 23 May 2005.
One other datum before I proceed to the book I intend to review:
a few years ago I attended a lecture on contemporary Confucianism
at the Library of Congress. The only useful thing the Maoists ever
did was attempt to obliterate Confucianism. I don't know how well
they fared in the end on the mainland, but they couldn't touch it
on Taiwan or elsewhere. The lecturer was an advocate of contemporary
Confucian ethics and morality, which sounded as wonderful as any
moralism sounds detached from the slimy social order which produced
it. I noted that the metaphysical pronouncements of the virtue ethics
of any civilization are noble cover-ups of social realities, and
I deemed this lecturer duplicitous.
Now that you have digested the appetizers, in my next entry I will
serve the main course, a review of this book which I scrutinized
Contemporary Chinese Philosophy, edited by Chung-Ying Cheng
and Nicholas Bunnin. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.
12 July 2006
C. Wright Mills on Intellectuals
"The independent artist and intellectual are among the few
remaining personalities equipped to resist and to fight the stereotyping
and consequent death of genuinely living things. Fresh perception
now involves the capacity to continually unmask and to smash the
stereotypes of vision and intellect with which modern communications
[i.e. modern systems of representation] swamp us. These worlds of
mass-art and mass-thought are increasingly geared to the demands
of politics. That is why it is in politics that intellectual solidarity
and effort must be centered. If the thinker does not relate himself
to the value of truth in political struggle, he cannot responsibly
cope with the whole of live experience."
SOURCE: C. Wright Mills, Power, Politics, and People: The Collected
Essays of C. Wright Mills, ed. Irving Louis Horowitz (New York:
Ballantine, 1963), p. 299.
This is quoted in Edward W. Said's Representations
of the Intellectual, p. 21.
For other quotations from C. Wright Mills, see:
Wright Mills - A Few Quotes
Some other Mills sites and pages:
Wright Mills' HomePage
World of C. Wright Mills by George Novack
On my web site, see this very important treatise:
The Incoherence of the Intellectual:
C. Wright Mills' Struggle to Unite Knowledge and Action by Fredy
12 July 2006
Julien Benda's Treason of the Intellectuals
See my amazon.com
review of this 'classic'an alternative to the conservative
See my companion review of Edward Said's Representations
of the Intellectual.
Note my coinage of the term 'Left Benda-ism'.
See all my
amazon.com reviews on one page.
11 July 2006
Bergson's Vitalism & French Philosophy
Burwick, Frederick; Douglass, Paul; eds. The Crisis in Modernism:
Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy. Cambridge [UK]; New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1992. See table
of contents and publisher
This book seems unavailable anywhere at this moment, but it likely
hits the bullseye as far as the subject matter is concerned. The
conceptual structure of the fundamental philosophical duality of
modern society is addressed in my study guide:
Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie)
Bergson, though he eventually went out of fashion, spearheaded
the irrationalist charge in Europe at the beginning of the 20th
century. (One of his opponents, though not without his own shortcomings,
was Julien Benda, author of the famous La Trahison Des Clercs
[The Treason of the Intellectuals].)
There is a connection here to the Nietzsche revival in French philosophy.
The Adventure Of
Badiou is the flavor of the month from France. This article is
a succinct summary of a slice of intellectual history, but what
blows me away is how fundamentally unconscious Badiou seems to be
of the underlying dynamics motivating his intellectual universe.
I wrote about this last year. Perhaps I will transpose my analysis
to this blog. Unfortunately, this article is no longer available
[> Julien Benda's Treason of the Intellectuals]
in Modern Thought Culminating in Overpriced French Philosophy]
11 July 2006
Weeks, Mark. "Beyond a Joke: Nietzsche and the Birth of 'Super-Laughter',"
Journal of Nietzsche Studies, no. 27, 2004, pp. 1-17.
This article opens up a new vista for me viz. the history, sociology,
and philosophy of humor. The closing decades of the 19th century
is claimed to be imbued with a comic spirit, coinciding with what
is generally termed postmodernism, and which also looks back to
historical (modernist) predecessorsNietzsche, Bergson, Freud,
etc. But there is a 'shared anxiety' at work. If, as Milan Kundera
claimed (Immortality, 1991), that 'the boundary between the
important and the frivolous' has collapsed, without any effective
sense of normalcy and thus perspective by incongruity, then how
can the comic do its work?
The incongruity theory of laughter is traced from Kant to Schopenhauer
to Nietzsche, figuring in the role of the tragic. Nietzsche chafed
against the popular comic atmosphere pervading 19th-century Europe:
counterpoised to will, it represents the irresponsible 'cheerfulness
of the slave', hence fails to joyfully surmount fate. The dovetails
with Bergson's heroic vitalism. For Bergson, the comic degrades
art, and belongs to the common herd.
There are some subtle discriminations to be made here. Laughter
as a physiological release is not equivalent to joy. Nietzsche's
writings are analyzed with respect to this distinction. Nietzsche
begins to shift his position in The Gay Science, wondering
if there's a future for laughter, wherein tragic striving would
finally overcome the anti-heroic laughter of the crowd.
There is a lot of postmodernist garbage intermixed with this exposition,
most which does not bear the waste of space. But there are concerns
in the generation precedingBataille and Sartreas to
whether laughter can ever be revolutionary, as it is so easily manipulated
by the Right. Perhaps the 'subversion of temporality' of laughter
really subverts the future rather than the present. Similar doubts
could be raised about the recent past, once the flush of the Bakhtinian
revival was spent. Umberto Eco made a shrewd remark: Carnival can
exist only as an authorized transgression."
Nietzsche's Zarathustra is placed in a defensive position: Weeks"The
laughter response constitutes the wall between the visionary philosopher
and the common folk . . . " Nietzsche takes up the challenge,
prompting his readers "to will a new kind of laughter."
And then Weeks delivers what is for me the punchline, if not for
him: "Nietzsche's strategy is, in a sense, to neutralize laughter's
fundamental indifference by rendering as a privileged marker
of hierarchical difference." (14)
Aha! Of course, as we knew all along: Nietzsche's prime directive
is to wage war on equality.
This is the mirror image of Bakhtin, who posits a revolutionary
community above a conservative individual. Bakhtin's arguments,
though, are alleged not to hold up well to scrutiny.
While modernists might have had the ambition to marshall laughter
as a progressive force, laughter became the emblem of playfulness
for postmodernists, but they could not see that the endless carnival
of the marketplace would overrun all subversive pretensions, a fact
that would not please Nietzsche.
This article is rich with implications, beyond the conscious intentions
of the author. For there is an implicit duality in his argument.
His narcissistic preoccupation with postmodernism, as if invested
in exactly what he criticizes, results simultaneously in a containment
of the argument within the logic of this illegitimate investment
and a transcendence of same. The final Bakhtin coda notwithstanding,
the argument ends at its point of origin: Nietzsche's entire philosophy
is based upon the institution of social inequality. Now what
are the implications for the validity of the entire line of argument?
That an exceptional individual may be more perceptive than his
fellows is not an infrequent occurrence, but the actual logic of
this situation is obscured by the metaphysical notion of the 'common
herd'. Otherwise the question of a counterstrategy of securing the
subversive function of laughter against cooptation could be explored.
But aside from the suggestiveness of the Bhaktinian option, Weeks
completely misses an alternative logical path, because he assumes
that the ostensible if thwarted objective of postmodern laughter
was somehow emancipatory. But it never was. It was only the cynical
play of a privileged class. Week's is tripped up by his own disillusioned
Yet one would be self-deluded in romanticizing the masses. There
is much uncomfortable truth in this argument: one need look no further
than television comedy to see how powerfully conservative laughter
can be, and in the daily life of the nation, how can satire ever
keep up with the shameless self-parody of the American freak show?
Weeks has pinpointed a central ideological problem of our time.
Factoring in cynical reason
will explain how perverse the situation has become.
Two footnotes for further deliberation (1) In anatomizing
the temporal character of laughter and its relation to will, Weeks
suggests to me a distinction between laughter (as a visceral response)
and comedy (the world view or cognitive orientation of the humorist).
(2) We are given this neologism 'super-laughter'. Could it
factor into an antidote to what Teresa Ebert calls metacynicism?
Humor & Philosophy: Selected Bibliography
Simpsons, Hyper-Irony, and the Meaning of Life" by Carl
"Why Marx or Nietzsche?"
by András Gedö
[> Anti-Nietzsche (1)]
10 July 2006
Philosophical Portrait of a Dying Civilization
by Ralph Dumain
Embarrassed though I am by my writing of the 1980s, I nevertheless
resurrect a paper I delivered on 29 December 1988 in Washington,
DC to a meeting of the Society of Philosophers at Work in the World
(SPWW) as part of a conference of the Eastern Division of the American
Philosophical Association. I have not heard from SPWW since 1990,
so I assume that the organization is defunct. The title and concept
of the paper was inspired by Christopher
Caudwell's critical studies in the 1930s of the ideas of a civilization
at the end of its rope. Errors detected in proofreading have been
corrected; errors of content remain preserved for posterity.