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Samizdata quote of the day

It’s a problem when the people who are supposed to be the curators of your culture fundamentally don’t like it.

Instapundit

21 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • PeterT

    This is a difficult statement and not one easy to agree with without some further thought. It seems to me that ‘Culture’ can mean both the values, language, conventions etc of the population, and more narrowly art; i.e. books, photography, plays etc. Art may help us reflect on our culture and also develop it (e.g. Shakespeare). The issue in the US perhaps, is that, for the purpose of this debate at least, there are two cultures; the metropolitan left of centre one, and the rest. ‘The rest’ are denied the benefits of art by the control of the first culture of the nations media. Art aside, it can’t do much for social cohesion if ‘the rest’ always get treated as a separate country by the main stream media.

    In the UK at least, maybe the BBC’s move to Salford might do some good although maybe they get to work in armoured carriers :-)

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    This is why so much of the BBCs “popular entertainment” is so ghastly. The people producing it and the people in charge of the BBC so obviously have such total contempt for its audience.

  • rosenquist

    a nonsensical quote that assumes there is some monolithic and stable entity called ‘American culture'; The iconic ground zero photo is one aspect of American culture, not a metonym for it.

  • Tedd

    rosenquist:

    This quote from the article gets to the heart of the issue.

    “I really believe that the way America will look best, the way we can really do best, is to not be Americans so vigilantly and so vehemently,” Shulan said.

    In other words, it’s not that the photo presented America in a misleading way, but rather that it did not present America in the way Shulan wished it to be represented. To me, that very clearly confirms Reynolds’ suggestion that he lacks the objectivity to do his job well.

  • RRS

    The neat thing about life is – such people will not be part of the future, which will determine its own viewpoints.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The problem is real. One of the great strengths of Western cultures is their ability to self-criticize, and the honor paid to dissenters and rebels.

    It is through such criticism, dissent, and rebellion that the West cast off its oppressive institutions and rulers, and became modern (scientific, capitalist, free). That is how we became the leaders of the world.

    In many other cultural traditions, slavish devotion to tradition and the established order was the norm. That is why they were overcome, culturally, militarily, economically, by the West.

    But the self-critical impulse in Western culture has mutated into an auto-immune syndrome. The agents of our culture are opposed to it.

    “White guilt”, multi-culturalism, oikophobia, and xenolatry are rampant – especially in the academy and high culture circles.

    Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
    Complaints about “heteronormativity”. The obsession with “racism”. The rewriting of history at the expense of whites. “Marriage = slavery”. Grovelling to Moslem goons and hucksters. “Transgressive” art. Whitewashing of crime by non-whites or non-western immigrants. Reflexive credulity for Arab accusations against Israel – even among many Jews and even among some Zionists.

    (Jews have imbibed the Western liberal ethos very deeply, and Israel is “white”.)

    The gross decay of family structure, of public manners, of standards of behavior, of civil order.

    It will go on until it can’t go on, because there is no functional society left.

  • […] Rich Rostrum commenting on Samizdata […]

  • rosenquist

    Jews have imbibed the Western liberal ethos very deeply, and Israel is “white”

    while I don’t doubt that there exists such a thing as a ‘self hating jew’ or even a ‘self hating American’, these are usually labels attached to those critical of Israeli or American state policy. A individual critical of a particular government is ‘self-hating’ only insofar as they view their own individual identity as continuous with the state.

    “[t]he state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.” – Friederich Nietzsche’

    By The way Jews have not ‘imbibed the Western liberal ethos'; Jewish culture has always been self-reflexive and dialectical. The critical theory taught at Western universities today is the product of primarily Jewish thinkers, so it might be more accurate to say that Western liberals have imbibed the Jewish ethos.

  • Eric

    I agree with Reynolds. The photo should have been automatically included if for no other reason than the effect it had on the public discourse at the time. In their quest to control nationalistic impulses the government-media-academia axis is pushing nihilism.

  • RRS

    Rosenquist –

    While one can quite agree (after study of the History of Ideas)that “Jewish” thought has had more influence on “Western” thought than Western on Jewish, whether one could agree with your concluding phrase may turn on whether “liberal” is taken in its original classical meaning or in its current US political inference.

  • Paul Marks

    I know little of Israel (I have only been there a few times – and I can not speak the language). But it seems O.K. to me – there is industry, and there are children (to married parents), there is loyalty to nation (the “international community” is one of the greatest threats to liberty – and, in spite of all its faults, loyalty to nation is a guard against de facto world “governance”). And yes (and here I part company with many of my libertarian brothers and sisters) – there is belief in God (and not as an abstraction meaning “the people”).

    As for many (not all) the academics and other such…. that is part of the general Western “Treason of the Intellectuals”.

    This was not always so (even an Arch Gloomy Guts like me is going to pretend that) once the academics (like the writes and artists and composers) were loyal to the culture of the West.

    Of course there were sharp disagreements – but they were within a context of shared loyalty to Western principles (Dr Johnson and Edmund Burke were political opponents – but they were both loyal members of “the club”, what united them was more important than what divided them).

    Even universities used to be under the control of good people – such as Richard Whately (of Oxford and Trinity Dublin) in the United Kingdom, and people such as Noah Porter and James McCosh in the United States.

    I am told (although I do not know) that even in Britain some ghost of the old loyalty to Western civilisation still lingers – in places such as Oriel College Oxford and Peterhouse Cambridge.

    Of course I am a barbarian myself – I am loyal to Western civilisation, but I would not claim to be part of it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, I’m just a suburban hick, but I’ve never seen this “iconic” Ground-Zero photo.

    Which is a shame. I love it, I really do.

    (I think the resemblance to the Iwo Jima photo is amazing. And wonderful. They both speak volumes and so does their similarity.)

    And here is a comment from Instapundit’s little note (boldface mine):

    Steve Gregg

    They don’t want to show the ugly worst of the Sep 11 attacks nor the best of the American spirit in reaction to them. They are cropping the extremes to show a banal, sanitized middle. Will the words Islam or Muslim appear anywhere in this museum or will future generations be taught the Sep 11 attack was like a natural disaster with neither good nor evil at play?

    16 hours ago

    Even my Proudly Progressive close relative was still angry a year later because people kept talking about “the 9/11 tragedy”: “It’s not a tragedy, it’s mass murder!” Dunno if he still feels that way or not.

  • RRS

    This was not always so (even an Arch Gloomy Guts like me is going to pretend that) once the academics (like the write[r]s [ed.] and artists and composers) were loyal to the culture of the West.

    Emphasis supplied

    Paul Marks

    Perhaps “expressive of” rather than “loyal to.”

    Now, there is neither.

  • veryretired

    There was a fuss the other day about some academic who has written a book claiming that the success of the western developed world was a one-time fluke, a lucky sunny day in a climate of rain and snow.

    When I read about it, I just shook my head and laughed.

    In order to believe that the prosperity of the west was the tangible results of better ideas about how to organize society, this professor and his devotees would have to question nearly everything they held to be true, a daunting task for anyone, and especially for someone who must desperately deny, deny, deny in order to maintain their beliefs.

    The ideas of the Enlightenment, for all their faults and missteps, unleashed the creative energies of individuals, of commercialism, and of the middle class in ways and to levels that had never been seen in history before.

    The emergence of this powerful engine to drive society in new directions was a direct and deadly threat to several powerful elements in traditional society, and they recognized it, and counter-attacked viciously and relentlessly.

    Stop and think about it for a moment.

    An individual who demanded the right to think and speak for himself, who demanded the freedom to conduct her life as she saw fit, who saw himself as the fount of all political and social power and authority—this is the stuff of nightmares for the authoritarian minds in the aristocratic and religious elites.

    The idea that shopkeepers and workshop owners could just start doing things in new ways, change production techniques, invent new products and make older, traditional items and processes obsolete, become wealthy and start living above their station, flaunting their wealth, and even daring to try to join the “better classes” of society, all this was an outrage for the nobility, and the source of resentment and envy from the peasantry and their self-appointed spokesmen.

    The idea that someone could write books and produce theatricals, in whatever form, without the approval of the clergy, or could break some of the hallowed rules of religious society for commercial purposes, or could pick and choose what they believed in, religious or not, was the cause of endless heartburn to those of an older social view, in which the religious authorities were actually authorities in many cases, and people who did naughty things, or said things that were scandalous or blasphemous, could be held to account and made to pay a sometimes fearful price.

    These may be 19th century attitudes, but their variations and permutations have worked their way down through the decades into the current day.

    There are tendrils of all these old antagonisms and hatreds in many of the collectivist and pc assertions we see being taught as dogmatic truth in our schools, and assumed as foundationally true by many in the media and politics, and parroted endlessly by the befuddled metallurgy students who come out of our chaotic educational sausage factories with their minds stuffed with half-formed theories taught as fact, and valueless assertions treated as ethical standards, all floating around in a fluid plasma of partial axioms and broken syllogisms.

    Ideas have consequences. If a society recognizes, values, and protects human rights and individual liberty, a creative force beyond any power ever seen on this earth short of volcanoes is released, and human society, which has seen nothing but the rear ends of horses and oxen, and heard the crack of the slavemaster’s whip as a sound as familiar as birds chirping, can find itself looking at the Earth from the Moon, and examining the wonders of Jupiter and Saturn in pictures taken from only a few thousand miles away.

    But, in one respect, I agree with the professor—it was a fluke.

    There was a time in human history when the chains of theocracy and aristocracy were both broken in pieces on the ground, and men and women could stand up on their own two feet, and set out on their own path, both physically and mentally.

    But, regardless of what the pessimists might say, even as I understand the reasons for their pessimism, that time has not yet passed, and there are a multitude of men and women, from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary, who demand the right to live as true human beings, with their minds and hearts unfettered.

    Of course the struggle for the right to live and think freely will go on. But humanity has seen much darker days than this, and free people have had little of the resources we possess now, and still triumphed.

    And so we shall again.

  • RRS

    VR –

    we must have read very different histories and taken different clues from the events and ideas of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, particularly in northeastern Europe. How else can we account for the considerable differences in the results of those periods in England and France?

    Extracting just one paragraph from your comment:

    The idea that shopkeepers and workshop owners could just start doing things in new ways, change production techniques, invent new products and make older, traditional items and processes obsolete, become wealthy and start living above their station, flaunting their wealth, and even daring to try to join the “better classes” of society, all this was an outrage for the nobility, and the source of resentment and envy from the peasantry and their self-appointed spokesmen.

    Is it really your conclusion that that’s what occurred in England with his history of movements of families from their merchant and commercial roots into the aristocracy?

    How do you regard the impact of the reaction of the Romantic Movement and the ideas it spawned which are still with us, to the absolutism of Rationalism?

    Is it not more likely, as McCloskey has suggested in her works on the rise of the Bourgeoisie that what has been overlooked were the changes in the attitudes of people toward one another in particular societies, and the failure of those changes in other societies?

  • RRS

    Ah Me –

    That should have been Northwestern Europe.

  • Paul Marks

    veryretired is correct.

    RRS – LOYAL TO – “expressive of” is not enough.

    Hayek was mistaken, it is not enough to for Western culture to be a series of “evolved” habits – if basic principles(the reasons for them) are not understood by the cultural leaders of society then they start to die. Indeed there is no reason why ordinary people should not also understand these principles and the reasons for them.

    “He who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom” (Gandalf’s reply to Saraman) does not mean that we should not understand what things are (it means that one should not destroy things with the excuse of investigating them) as a conservative Catholic Tolkien would not make the mistake of thinking that the life of the mind is wrong (contrary to the stereotype of a conservative Catholic) and a conservative Protestant (like the “judicious Hooker” or Charles Wesley) would not make this mistake either, and nor would a (real) conservative atheist.

    Relying on (not understood) habit and tradition is an oddly “conservative” position for a Classical Liberal to take, and it is not even a real conservative position (it is a stereotype). Actual conservatives (going all the way back to Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle) carefully explain the reasons why they support cultural institutions such as the traditional family. If the world of ideas is left to the critics of good practices and principles then these practices and principles die. Even if they do not come under formal attack they start to die – they become unthinking, stale, form-without-substance.

    Freedom must itself be CHOICE (a thoughtful choice) – not an unthinking “habit”. It must be based upon principles that are widely understood (if they are not wildly understood they will either collapse like a house of cards when attacked, or they will gradually fall apart – even if they are not formally attacked, and society will collapse back into the savage chaos of evil that that is the natural default state of affairs).

    How long ago did the cultural leaders of society (or those who present themselves as the cultural leaders of society) stop being LOYAL TO the principles of the West?

    I would argue that as late as the 1930s there were (for example) many good teachers of the mind in Oxford.

    Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Gough, Harold Prichard, Sir William David Ross, Joad (see his “Critique of Logical Positivism”) and ……

    I believe that P.E. Moore (the American teacher of C.S. Lewis) when he visited in Oxford in the 1930s was too gloomy when he described Oxford as a place where collectivism went unchallenged – yes there were many collectivists there and the challenge to them was not strong enough, but they were still challenged (there were still great men at Oxford).

    By the way – both P.E. Moore and Irving Babbitt (the leading defenders of Western culture in interwar America) were widely mocked by the emerging intellectual and cultural elite of the United States. Even H.L. Mencken mocked them – and pushed the writers who opposed all the philosophical and cultural values they stood for.

    Mencken failed to understand that he was helping cut the ground from under his own feet.

    How can one have political liberty (free markets and so on) if one does not believe that humans are beings? That humans are actually capable of making CHOICES (that the actions of humans are not all predetermined). And how can one resist the expansion of the state when the alternative to it (civil society) is undermined and ridiculed by writers who have nothing but hatred for it? It is no accident that Sinclair Lewis calls the main character in his sneer-fest attack on Middle America “Babbitt” (it is an attack on Irving Babbitt – by comparing him to a “stupid” small town businessman, much as leftists later sneered at Robert Nozick for having the “morality of a Midwestern gas station owner”).

    “All very much up in the clouds theory, Paul”.

    No it is not – actually it is basic (basic to everything).

    For example, people who say they have X amount of gold should have X amount of gold – and should know why it is wrong to say they have gold (or anything else) they do not have.

    Sadly the “conservative” part of the elite are often corrupted by FALSE principles of philosophy just as open “Progressives” are.

    For example, I was shaken by Benjamin Anderson’s “Economics and the Public Welfare” – – he understood (unlike Milton Friedman) that the “Bank of the United States” was a wild fraud – but he just took for granted that establishment banks should be allowed to BREAK CONTRACTS (for example by “suspending cash payments”) he did not even defend this practice – of course establishment people should be allowed to break their word…..

    Anderson even (politely) sneers at a United States Senator (Carter Glass) whose only crime was to believe the United States Constitution meant what it said (about gold – and about private contracts) and over his general philosophical attitude.

    That morality and honour were “rules up in the sky” – not just makeshifts (to be broken when it suits – for “progress”).

    A society where people like Anderson are the “conservative” voice is fucked – and I use the vulgar word quite deliberately.

    If even a formal oath to Protect and Defend the Constitution of the United States means NOTHING, then there is no hope.

    There is hope – there really is.

    But only by rejecting this false philosophy.

    The right (and the truth) are NOT just the “expedient”.

    William James and co are a dead end. That is not really “Progress”,

    And YES – artists and writers and composers (and gas station owners, and street sweepers) should know this.

  • Paul Marks

    Short version.

    Kipling’s “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”.

  • Paul Marks

    I should have written that Paul Elmer Moore was a teacher of T.S. Eliot (not C.S. Lewis), although their views on poetry (and some other things) were very different.

  • veryretired

    RRS—I can’t say I’m too surprised that you and some of the authors you’ve read have different takes on something than I do. It seems to me that the whole point of having freedom of thought is to enable and protect the differences of opinion that people will normally have on just about anything.

    My little essays are never meant to be exhaustive examinations of any subject, although I would imagine some of the people trying to read through these threads get mighty exhausted from trying to wade through them on occasion.

    The Enlightenment, like any human activity, is a mixed and tangled skein of many threads which wove their way through the decades and centuries that followed.

    I emphasize the rationalist, empirical, and individualist elements in the various ideas that contributed to the movement because they are the intellectual and cultural aspects I find most valuable and compelling. That there are other, darker, and in my opinion, erroneous elements also should come as no surprise.

    The foundational documents of the republic that I value so highly are also a mixed bag of high ideals and low errors, the worst of which, regarding slavery, eventually caused a devastating and bloody war that almost tore the nation apart. (And no, I don’t have any sympathy for those who think that would have been a good thing)

    The irrational school of thought influenced many future developments, from the French terror to many of the 19th century theories which emphasized larger social entities as more valuable than the individual, and finally culminated in the 20th century conflicts between the various people who desired to be free and live in open societies, and those who had chosen a collectivist and closed model.

    It is one of the greater positive outcomes in human history that the free and open won out over the opposition in those wars, and the following cold war, rather than the other way around.

    As Wellington said after Waterloo, it was a close run thing.

    But ideas do not simply die, and powerful beliefs will persist through any number and scale of defeats, as we see now with the resurgence of both collectivist and theocratic power blocks in our own culture and around the world.

    The collectivists make the same crucial errors over and over again, especially as regards the meaning of equality and the benevolence of the state and its cadres, and the theocrats make the ancient error of believing that some deluded fanatic is in touch with a supreme power which can over-rule both law and reason.

    And both, by definition, demand complete uniformity and obedience from everyone they can get control over, thereby demonstrating the fundamental error underlying all of these flavors of ideology, i.e., that human beings are products that can be “machined” into identical parts, and are as disposable as piston rods when they deviate.(extra credit for the movie reference)

    So, we disagree. Good. Go to the track and pick a horse to bet on. I like longshots—how about you?

  • Paul Marks

    It makes sense to talk of such things as the “evolution” of the way pots are made and so on.

    Although even in this sort of thing the word “evolution” should not be pushed too far – making better pots (or better buildings) involves thought and choices (that is NOT the way biological evolution works).

    Mr Wedgewood was not some mindless “evolutionary force” – he was a thinking man. A human BEING (the sort of free willed agent that Mr Wesley was trying to save).

    And Gothic cathedrals did not “evolve” in the way that animals do – their development (every step of the way – with indeed all the trial and error) was guided by the thought of gifted men (who had objectives).

    However, to treat political and moral principles as the same sort of thing as new ways to make a pot, is the road to ruin (utter ruin).

    Such principles are foundational.

    Undermining such foundations is not a good thing.

    What is a good thing is to say (and act on) the following….

    “Our practice does not fit with good principles – how can we make our conduct get closer to what it should be?”

    That is how people such as Granville Sharpe, William Wilberforce (and Mr Wedgewood) campaigned against slavery.

    By clearly setting out what moral principles are – and then showing that this practice (the practice of slavery) did not fit with them.

    This is just about the opposite of saying that these principle evolve following practice (and justifying it) – which is a basically Marxist way of looking at things (with moral principles being “ideological superstructure” to justify economic interests).

    There is a mystery, a question that Hayek asked about his own work – and could never come up with the solution to.

    He wrote (mainly) to influence the intellectuals (the academics and other such) – not ordinary people. Even “The Road To Serfdom” (his only work even partly aimed at the general public) is dedicated to the “Socialists of All Parties” (in the hope of convincing them).

    Yet the intellectual elite was mostly unmoved by Hayek’s work – and the general public was often profoundly moved (even by such works as the Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty – which are not easy reads).

    Why so?

    The solution eluded Hayek to the day he died – but it is oddly simple.

    Most of the intellectual elite shared (and still share) a philosophy that was based on utter hatred of human freedom (that denied its very existence – in any real sense). They were not making some mistake of reasoning – people such as Carl Schmitt were reasoning utterly logically (from their UTTERLY FALSE starting assumptions)

    The general public (or large sections of it) did not share this philosophy – so they were horrified by Hayek’s exposure of the consequences of collectivist thought.

    Whereas the intellectuals (the audience that Hayek was desperately trying to reach) were unmoved – as they already knew what the consequences of their ideas would be (at least some of the consequences – the economic bit, from Mises, that the economic damage from their tyranny would eventually be so bad that it would lead to collapse, that bit was unknown to most of them) before Hayek wrote a word (indeed before he was born).

    However, the general public (including me) were also in error – we assumed that Hayek’s careful (and scholarly) description of what the intellectuals believed and the consequences of collectivist policies, meant that he was saying “this philosophy leads to these terrible consequences – this shows that the philosophy is wrong”.

    That is not quite what Hayek was saying.

    What he was actually saying is closer to….

    “This philosophy is correct (at least in its basic principles), but the intellectuals have misunderstood what sort of policies this philosophy should lead to (they think it should lead to intellectuals ordering people about, “planning”, and so on) – and this misunderstanding leads to these terrible consequences”.

    Actually the misunderstanding was his.

    Such things as the denial of real existence of human choice (that humans are beings – agents whose actions are not predetermined) and the denial of such things as the basic, foundational, existence of good and evil (which are not just “expedients”), naturally leads to the sort of policies that the collectivists (both National Socialist and international socialist) thought it did (and still do).

    As for holding we should act “as if” false things are true – this is both contemptible and useless.

    If these basic foundational things are false, the intellectuals (the academics and so on) are quite correct to smash them – to support enslavement and extermination. Indeed it would be better, if humans are not really beings, for this vile brood to be wiped out entirely and at once (brut biological existence has no moral value of its own – and creatures that appear to be beings but are not, are an obscenity).

    Getting rid of freedom can not be wrong if freedom does not really exist anyway. And nothing can be morally wrong if morality (good and evil) does not really exist either.

    David Hume was a clever critic (and far more elegant with words than defenders of the West such as Thomas “Common Sense” Reid – who sound like old ravens compared to his musical song bird)- but to try and build something on his thought is like building on quicksand (to his credit David Hume seems to have understood that himself – he was not a system builder and never claimed to be one).

    Lastly I should point out that none of the above has anything to do with the immortality of the soul or the existence of God.

    If God does not exist and the soul dies with the body – then all of the above would be exactly the same.