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    • Michael Stuart Kelly

      Evil emoticon   04/16/2016

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22 posts in this topic

This is a brief history of the philosophy and culture of liberalism. It describes a life-style and civilization which lifts human beings far above that of animals, chimpanzees, hominids, and even tribalist hunter-gatherers. Liberalism features man at his best. Liberals are clear-thinking and rational men: natural, sound, healthy, happy, uplifted, and heroic.

Liberalism is a fundamental category of philosophy and life-style -- something broad and general. It constitutes a definitive concept -- beyond which one can not venture or improve -- like life, happiness, greatness, transcendence, virtue, beauty, pleasure, thought, reality, existence, and the universe. Liberalism's subsidiary concepts are also ultimate and final: rationality, egoism, and liberty.


In the story of mankind, first come bonobos, then semi-human Homo habilis, then primitive man Homo erectus, then highly advanced Neanderthals, then truly intelligent and impressive Cro-Magnons -- who used their 100 IQs to exterminate their brutish competitors, and invent sophisticated arrow technology, and make art such as those Venus statues and cave paintings.


By 9000 BC the Ice Age ended and humans immediately converted from hunter-gatherers to rancher-farmers. After domesticating multitudinous plants and animals, by 3300 BC human beings further cultivated them with irrigation on their new private property, backed by their revolutionary social institution called government. By 1700 BC men had well-established written laws, and well-developed literature and art, and easy personal transportation using horses, and elaborate international trade using sophisticated great ships.


All of this constituted impressive advances in humans' quality of life; but none of it constituted philosophical or cultural liberalism.


Finally, by about 600 BC, the ancient Greeks created the indescribably magnificent phenomenon of Western liberalism. They invented rationality or "Greek reason" or syllogistic logic -- or pure thought or epistemology. This is usually described as "the discovery of science and philosophy."


But along with the stunning and wondrous epistemology of reason -- naturally and inevitably and inherently -- came the ethics of individualism, and the politics of freedom.


All of this can be fairly, accurately, and usefully denominated as the thought-system and life-style of Western liberalism -- of liberal philosophy and culture, especially as exemplified by Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno the Stoic. These three theorists, ironically, were labelled by their intellectual opponents as "dogmatic." This was not because these scientifically-minded, open-debaters claimed to know everything based on faith, but because the claimed to know something based on evidence and analysis.


By the 100s BC in Greece, the general ideology of liberalism was well-established in the middle and upper classes. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and within a century made liberalism their own. They even advanced the noble ideas and ideals a bit, with such thinkers as Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Aurelius.


But skepticism of reason ascended rapidly by the 200s AD, and with it came the decline of the greatest country in human history. The new phenomenon of monotheism began to dominate in the 300s AD, especially Christianity or "Plato for the masses." By the middle of the 400s the philosophy and culture of liberalism was dead, and so was Rome. A long, terrible Dark Age ensued.


This irrational, illiberal nightmare of Western civilization lasted for a millenia. The wretched and depraved philosophy of Jesus ruined everything.


But a bit of reason and hope came back into the world in the 1100s of northwest Europe with the mini-Renaissance. High-quality Greek thinkers were gradually reintroduced. Then came the 1300s and the Italian Renaissance.


By the 1500s a whole European-wide Renaissance began with France's conquest of northern Italy. The French brought their reborn art and philosophy to everyone in the West. The beautiful general philosophy of liberalism ascended still higher while the ghastly evils of fundamentalist skepticism, Platonism, monotheism, and Christianity declined. The classical liberal era was brought about by radical and heroic innovators like Francis Bacon, John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson.


The late 1700s Enlightenment and Age of Reason in Britain, France, Holland, and America featured liberalism at its height. But it was gradually and massively undermined by the irrational, nonsensical philosophers Bishop Berkeley, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Hegel.


After the 1790s the French Revolution went astray and embraced ideological dogmatism and self-sacrifice to the cause. It also converted itself into an early version of modern communism; as well as the false, evil, and illiberal ideologies of right-wing conservatism and left-wing progressivism. In the art world this was manifested by the slightly but definitely irrational Romantic movement of 1800-1850. Paintings started to turn ugly again.


Socialism and communism fairly quickly went into high gear after Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto of 1848. Religion also somewhat revived in the late 1800s. These two monstrous ideologies backed the moral ideal of self-destruction, or the "Judeo-Christian ethic," or, even better, the "religio-socialist ethic." The fin de siecle 1890s was the giddy, despairing, hopeless, lost, end of a noble era in the West -- a dynamic, heroic, rational, liberal era.


A practical, real-world, irrational, illiberal, dystopia was achieved in the mid 1900s with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. Later in the 1900s there was Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini, and countless other despots. Illiberalism reached a hellish trough around 1985.


Then came Ronald Reagan in America, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, and Deng Xiaoping in China. These four political semi-revolutionaries, in four leading nations, used their governments to change world culture in a liberal direction.


These liberal leaders emerged on the world scence because theory always proceeds practice, and the theory of liberalism began to rise again -- at least intellectually, and in certain recherché circles -- around the early 1900s. It began anew with Austrian economic thinkers like Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and Friedrich Hayek. In addition to the dry, mechanical realm of economics, they addressed the fields of politics and sociology -- and even ethics and epistemology. They filled in many of the gaps, and corrected many of the weaknesses and failures, of Locke, Smith, and company.


The Austrians also attacked the communism, socialism, and progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. And they taught the fiery intellectual novelist Ayn Rand.


Rand converted from fiction to philosophy from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. She was by far the most liberal thinker in the history of man. She created the philosophy of Objectivism. Ayn Rand advanced human knowledge about as much as Bacon, Locke, Voltaire, Smith, and Jefferson combined.


Sadly, however, Rand undercut her liberal ideology with a heavy atmosphere and subtext of cultism and religiosity in her propaganda movement. This was understandable, considering how revolutionary and hated her philosophy was, but hardly rational.


However Rand died in 1982 and a highly rational and non-religious organization organized around her discoveries emerged in 1989. This brought the world Objectivism as a thought-system, not a belief-system; and Objectivism as a rational, benevolent, effective philosophy -- not an irrational, malicious, weird cult.


There are currently three separate but related avant-garde liberal ideological movements: Austrian economics, libertarian politics, and Objectivist philosophy. All three are tiny but, based on historical intellectual standards, seemingly growing solidly.


Pure liberalism -- a pure, clean, complete comprehension that reason was 100% right in epistemology, individualism was 100% right in ethics, and freedom was 100% right in politics -- began in the early 21st century. Randroid illiberalism began to die out. A New Enlightenment is about to begin.

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Kyrel,

Thank you for posting this interesting - and optimistic - article!

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Thanks, Jerry. That was my attempt to write a lightning-fast intellectual history of the West, while trying to place the radical ideologies of Austrianism, Objectivism, and libertarianism in context.

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Thanks, Jerry. That was my attempt to write a lightning-fast intellectual history of the West, while trying to place the radical ideologies of Austrianism, Objectivism, and libertarianism in context.

Concise summaries as you have written can be quite valuable. I remember a television interview that Eric Sevareid had with Eric Hoffer (there were two prime-time hour-long specials in 1969-1970). At the time of the interview, Hoffer had a position as "visiting scholar" at Berkeley. He told Severeid that often, students would come to his office, brimming with what they thought were new and innovative ideas, which they wished to explain to him. He did not have a high opinion of verbosity, since it led more often to obfuscation rather than clarity. So, he would tell them to not write a long treatise, but instead to concisely summarize their points into a one-page statement, and then submit it to him.

Which is exactly what you have done here!

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Kyrel,

Yes, provocative. And stimulating in a good way.


It would be nice to see an amplification of liberalism and the Greeks. I would look at and show how rationality, egoism, and liberty were treated by their philosophers we take as major, at what schools of philosophy had influence on their politics at the various periods of their civilization, and at what were the various weights of influence of philosophy and science and religion and past events on their political organization. One work pertinent to liberal constitution and Aristotle would be Fred Miller’s* Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics* (see also a, b). There are good chronologies and references on the Grecian wars at J. D. Lewis’ site here. His Early Greek Lawgivers* would seem likely to be helpful. Let us know sources you have found helpful already.


By the way, George Smith has a book coming out in April from Cambridge University Press titled The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism.* Good news that bears repeating.


Showing in some detail the ways in which the Romans “made liberalism their own” would be good. I’d consider too what other big influences, besides Greek, if any, there were favoring any liberal elements in Roman politics and culture.


About the philosophy of Jesus. I wonder if there are other important influences in the philosophies and theologies of those in power during the Christian era besides the influence of Jesus. You mention “Plato for the masses,” and it would be nice to see elaboration of that.

I would question whether Berkeley had any influence on political philosophy at all, whether Hume’s influence on political philosophy and constitution was bad and whether it had much to do with the skepticism in his philosophy, and whether Kant’s philosophy itself undermined his substantial liberalism and treasured Enlightenment as opposed to the twisting of his philosophy by subsequent fideists, romantics, and fans of Plato and Spinoza. I almost violated the rule of having at least two sentences in a paragraph, but as you see, I have the remedy.


Stephen

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Many thanks for your compliments, and the thoughtful detailed critique, Stephen! There certainly needs to be far more elaboration in that essay as well as a citation of sources. Hopefully I'll do that eventually. But if yourself or anyone else thinks I'm flat-wrong about the various other claims, I'd love to hear it. I'll also try to answer one or two of the points mentioned above in the next few days.

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Stephen -- The books by Fred Miller and John Lewis seem promising, and probably George Smith's upcoming book too. I certainly appreciate your suggested references!

One reason why I think the Romans were massively liberal in philsophy and culture is that their best thinkers -- maybe Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Aurelius -- all seemed to favor the Greek liberal trio of Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno the Stoic, while mostly disfavoring the principal illiberals, mainly: the Platonists, Cynics, Skeptics, and emerging monotheists.

Hume seems like an illiberal disaster and destroyer to me based on such ethical beliefs as: "Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason." And:"Actions may be laudable or blameable; but they cannot be reasonable: Laudable or blameable, therefore, are not the same with reasonable or unreasonable. The merit and demerit of actions frequently contradict, and sometimes controle, our natural propensities. But reason has no such influence. Moral distinctions, therefore, are not the offspring of reason."

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Kyrel, thank you for #7, especially for the quote from Hume. This note is prepared mainly from Copleston.

Hume surely did minimize the power of practical reason. At least in name.

Although he thought reason issues no emotions, he thought there are calm desires and tendencies that are often confused with operations of reason, which latter really only judges truth and falsehood. The desire for good as such and aversion to evil as such are passions even if they occur calmly. Passions that can take a calm form include benevolence, resentment, love of life, and kindness to children, which are implanted in humans by nature. Individuals in which calm passions prevail are said to possess strength of mind.

Reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions. The final sentence, it is probable, which pronounces characters and actions amiable or odious, praiseworthy or blameable; that which stamps on them the mark of honour or infamy, approbation or censure; that which renders morality an active principle and constitutes virtue our happiness and vice our misery: it is probable, I say, that this final sentence depends on some internal sense or feeling, which nature has made universal in the whole species. For what else can have an influence of this nature? But in order to pave the way for such a sentiment, and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparisons formed, complicated relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained. – Essays, Moral and Political (1741)

Hume held we are able to reflect on the self-interested utility of benevolence, though that sum is not the only reason we approve of it morally. Justice, however, is entirely a matter of the self-interested association and the need for conventions in establishing and regulating the right of property. This idea of Hume’s has inspired contemporary game-theoretic investigations of the emergence of rights from self-interest, which I have surveyed here.

Hume did not rest the duty of allegiance to one’s present legal system on promises or contracts, written or implicit (cf.). He founded that duty on utility and self-interest. Good plan.

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Sources to add to those in #5:

Greece, Rome, and the Bill of Rights

Susan Ford Wiltshire (1992)

Libertas as a Political Idea at Rome during the Late Republic and Early Principate

C. H. Wirszubski (1950; available at abe for about $40)

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Hume held we are able to reflect on the self-interested utility of benevolence, though that sum is not the only reason we approve of it morally. Justice, however, is entirely a matter of the self-interested association and the need for conventions in establishing and regulating the right of property. This idea of Hume’s has inspired contemporary game-theoretic investigations of the emergence of rights from self-interest, which I have surveyed here.

After reading this I Nashed my teeth.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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A challenging alternative historical account:

Inventing the Individual

The Origins of Western Liberalism

Larry Siedentop (2014)

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A challenging alternative historical account:

Inventing the Individual

The Origins of Western Liberalism

Larry Siedentop (2014)

If religion gave Western Civilization individual rights and ethical individualism, did it also gift us with science, logic, and reason?

This long- and tedious-seeming book looks like an insidious, pernicious destroyer of Western liberalism, along the theoretical lines of Berkelely, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, rather than the practical lines of Jesus and Marx.

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220px-John_Carlos%2C_Tommie_Smith%2C_Pet

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If religion gave Western Civilization individual rights and ethical individualism, did it also gift us with science, logic, and reason?

This long- and tedious-seeming book looks like an insideous, pernicious destroyer of Western liberalism, along the theoretical lines of Berkelely, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, rather than the practical lines of Jesus and Marx.

Hume rescued philosophy by slaying metaphysics. Unfortunately he unleashed Kant as an unintended side effect.

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[duplicate deleted]

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This long- and tedious-seeming book looks like an insideous, pernicious destroyer of Western liberalism, along the theoretical lines of Berkelely, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, rather than the practical lines of Jesus and Marx.

I do not know what university education is like where you come from, but my experience is that if you are going to try to bullshit your way through a class discussion on a book you did not actually read, then you should at least read three good reviews of it.

Like the best books, Inventing the Individual both teaches you something new and makes you want to argue with it. Its real strengths lie, however, more in raising questions than in providing answers. -- Kenan Malik of The Independent (UK) here

The rise of medieval cities and of urban self-government is another area where Siedentop misses the point. He romantically assumes that all citizens were equals. But that is not how things worked in Florence, Venice and elsewhere, where aristocracy mattered and family power (exercised by patriarchs very similar to the paterfamilias of Roman times) lay at the heart of politics. -- David Abulafia in the Financial Times here.

Siedentop recognizes that the world is a battleground of ideas — a proposition that seems obvious in light of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the “transmuting of Marxist socialism into quasi-capitalism in the world’s largest country, China.” He traces arguably the most lasting and significant idea of Western liberalism — that of the individual — from its roots in Greek and Roman antiquity to its proliferation during the Middle Ages and finally to its current manifestation in secularism. -- Allen Mendenhall writing for FEE here.

I have not read the book, either, but I do know from books that I have read in the original ancient Greek that the ancient Greeks had no concept of individualism consonant with ours. "Socrates is a man. All men are mortal…" leads us to assume too much about the personhood of Socrates. We know that Diogenes of Sinope was captured while a passenger on a ship and sold as a slave. ("Sell me to that man. He needs a master!") Once you left your city, you lost all protections. Inequality was the natural order of things: Greeks over barbarians, men over women, the strong over the weak. In Thucydides is the story of the Athenians surrounding some hapless little island and threatening them all with death and enslavement. "That is contrary to natural law!" says the spokesman for the city. "You sound like a hare in the clutches of a hawk," the Athenian replies, "for the natural order of things is for the strong to rule the weak."

"Privilege" is literally private law: in Roman society, the pater familias could do whatever he wanted with the people on his farm. Moreover, whereas the Greeks merely ostracized individuals, the Romans put whole families to death for the actions of their pater familias.

As far as I can tell, the broad thesis seems correct: Christianity brought a new view of the individual apart from tribe or clan. Incidentally, Ayn Rand noted the same fact.

See here: http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/texts/jesus.html

and our discussion on OL here

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=11147

and the original letter to Reverend Dudley here:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220842770782

Images of that here:

KZ: "If religion gave Western Civilization individual rights and ethical individualism, did it also gift us with science, logic, and reason?"

In point of fact, calculating Easter required bringing the solar and lunar calendars into conformance. Expecting the Second Coming some unknown centuries into the future, they carried their calculations forward. That is how they discovered that they were off over centuries. They tried to fix their models while "preserving the phenomenon." Eventually, a couple of monks suggested putting the Sun at the center of the model. "In 1533, Johann Widmanstetter, secretary to Pope Clement VII, explained Copernicus' heliocentric system to the Pope and two cardinals. The Pope was so pleased that he gave Widmanstetter a valuable gift." -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus

Extending their work, medieval astronomers figured that Saturn was a billion miles away -- close enough… I could go on about other sciences, also. Yes, there were idiots in the Church: it was a "big tent"… But scientists also worked. Galileo's Two New Sciences cites the calculations on falling bodies carried out by the Oxford Calculators in the 14th century. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Calculators)

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One of your best posts. And thanks for the links.

--Brant

two thumbs up!

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Nice.

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In point of fact, calculating Easter required bringing the solar and lunar calendars into conformance. Expecting the Second Coming some unknown centuries into the future, they carried their calculations forward. That is how they discovered that they were off over centuries. They tried to fix their models while "preserving the phenomenon." Eventually, a couple of monks suggested putting the Sun at the center of the model. "In 1533, Johann Widmanstetter, secretary to Pope Clement VII, explained Copernicus' heliocentric system to the Pope and two cardinals. The Pope was so pleased that he gave Widmanstetter a valuable gift." -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus

Extending their work, medieval astronomers figured that Saturn was a billion miles away -- close enough… I could go on about other sciences, also. Yes, there were idiots in the Church: it was a "big tent"… But scientists also worked. Galileo's Two New Sciences cites the calculations on falling bodies carried out by the Oxford Calculators in the 14th century. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Calculators)

One of Galileo[s earliest backers was Fr. Clavius, after whom a crater on the Moon was named. Clavius found Galileo's astronomical calculations first rate and it was Fr. Clavius who insisted that the Vatican obtain the best telescope, then available.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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My thanks to Stephen Boydstun (in post 12) for calling to my attention the book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism by Larry Siedentop (2014)! I came across a similar book about 12 years ago which was lightly discussed on the WeTheLiving.com Atlantis forum. I haven't read either book, but the ideas inside certainly seem important, however profoundly mistaken.

I carefully read the first 4 of 27 sections, and 48 of 442 pages, of Inventing the Individual. It doesn't seem worthwhile. It's five main authorities are hopelessly obscure, and most of its initial claims are false, misleading, or irrelevant. It's also immensely boring -- which is often a clue to a book's quality.

Still, these are ideas worth considering! Ayn Rand herself seemed to fall victim to some of the above pro-Christian fatuous claims.

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Well if she did, you fell in shortly afterwards.

Your stated position was not this man's...

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

A...

Post Script:

monkey-waving-smiley-emoticon.gif <<<<Kyrel, does this constitute contact?

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