Book Review: Nowhither

Nowhither: The Drowned World (The Unwithering Realm Book 2) by [Wright, John C.]

The long-awaited sequel to John C. Wright’s epic multiverse-spanning fantasy Somewhither (reviewed here), Nowhither is the second book of The Unwithering Realm series. Short and sweet, and it hardly needs saying, if you liked the first book, you need to read this one, too, and probably already have. Over a 3 year wait!

Our hero, the deathless hulking teenager Ilya Muromets, has just made a breathless escape from the heart of the enemy’s stronghold, rescuing 150 soon-to-be harem girls and his heartthrob, the voluptuous sea witch Penny Dreadful, with the indispensable aid of Nack, a headless monstrosity with the strength of 100 men and the distressing habit of eating people, Foster, a magical gypsy from some parallel world with all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, Ossifrage, an Old Testament style holy man with way cool super powers, and Abby, a young teenage girl with boundless spunk and heroism and some way cool powers of her own.

They dodge certain death when they dive through a Mobius Gate into a multiverse transfer station, where they are promptly trapped! But between Ossifrage’s ability to ignore the laws of gravity and Nack’s ability to reduce buildings to rubble, they hold off the pursuing vampires just long enough to escape…

…to another way-station, on another world in another parallel universe – at the bottom of an ocean! And so on. The non-stop action of the first book continues through roughly the first half of the second. Then the story takes a bit of a break from the action and banter of the first book in the series in order to fill in some much appreciated backstory. It gets emotionally complicated, and has all sorts of who-can-you-trust twists that I will not spoil.

A quick, fun read, well deserving of you money and time. Wright never fails to blow my mind with the pure density and variety of his imagination. Another author might take 2 or 3 of the ideas in this series and write a perfectly acceptable story; Wright kicks it up a whole bunch of manic, entertaining notches. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out.

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Classic SFF Book Review: The Metal Monster

Metal monster sharp.jpg

Short and sweet: This novel appears on John C. Wright’s list of essential SF&F reading (I’m working my way through the list here), for good reason. Cool story, presenting in 1920 images and concepts that reappear in such things the Machine City in the Matrix and the Borg. Well worth the read, and available free through Project Gutenberg.

The over-the-top yet fun prologue I affectionately mocked here. A Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, fresh off a trip to the Himalayas, charges the author with recording and spreading the unbelievable tale he is about to tell him.

Part of the charm of this book is the lovely, over the top (by degenerate modern standards) language. It’s a bit of a vocabulary quiz, at least for me, full of delightful, colorful words I did not know, but do now. And Merritt layers on the history and science, circa 1920, to give the story versimilitude. Here’s a taste:

For almost three months we had journeyed; Chiu-Ming and I and the two ponies that carried my impedimenta.

We had traversed mountain roads which had echoed to the marching feet of the hosts of Darius, to the hordes of the Satraps. The highways of the Achaemenids—yes, and which before them had trembled to the tramplings of the myriads of the godlike Dravidian conquerors.

We had slipped over ancient Iranian trails; over paths which the warriors of conquering Alexander had traversed; dust of bones of Macedons, of Greeks, of Romans, beat about us; ashes of the flaming ambitions of the Sassanidae whimpered beneath our feet—the feet of an American botanist, a Chinaman, two Tibetan ponies. We had crept through clefts whose walls had sent back the howlings of the Ephthalites, the White Huns who had sapped the strength of these same proud Sassanids until at last both fell before the Turks.

Over the highways and byways of Persia’s glory, Persia’s shame and Persia’s death we four—two men, two beasts—had passed. For a fortnight we had met no human soul, seen no sign of human habitation.

(“Impedimenta” is definitely going into the quiver.)

Goodwin has gone to do some botanical research in the remote mountain valleys of the Himalayas. The hills are alive – with Americans. Can’t hardly turn around without meeting some. Goodwin and his cook/guide run into Dick Drake, son of an old science buddy. They decide to travel together.

Things get weird. Or weirder. First off are bizzare atmospheric phenomena that defy description and any sort of natural explanation. Goodwin tries a little early 20th century handwavium on them, something about high mountains and inversion layers, but Drake isn’t buying it. Then they come across what appears to be a gigantic footprint, perfectly geometrical, that has crushed the stone beneath it into what appears to be a surface machined flat. Finally, the two explorers and their guides follow an ever-narrowing mountain crevasse into a huge green bowl shaped valley, stumble upon some ruins.

A mysterious despair grips them, a tangible effect of the place. As they struggle their way out of the valley and the emotional pall, they run into more of Goodwin’s old friends, Martin and Ruth Ventnor, brother and sister scientists. Ruth is of course lovely, and she and Drake promptly fall in love.

Ruth and Martin are fleeing some Persians, like from 24 centuries ago, an ancient civilization still alive in this secret, remote place. But that’s not all that worries them. In the ruins, Ruth shows Goodwin some small metallic cubes, spheres and other geometric forms. Goodwin picks one up to examine it, and is quickly confronted by many others, who stack and form themselves into a little vaguely animalish shape and threaten Goodwin until he drops the one he’s holding. The little shapes disappear into a crevasse in the floor of the ruin. They are living metal creatures of some sort, who coordinate their actions in a sophisticated ways, forming and reforming shapes as desired.

The Persians attack! An army more than a thousand strong descends upon our heroes, trapped in the mountain valley. Our team, with guns, is doing serious damage, but cannot defeat so vast an enemy. Up from the crevasse arises a goddess, tall, stately, glowing. At her gesture, the humans gather round her, and the crevasse vomits forth vast numbers of the metal creatures, who form themselves into a killing machine, and exterminate the Persian force….

And it builds from there. If you like fantastic action, detailed word-painting in the 19th century tradition, and surprise endings, this is a book for you. Fun stuff. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out.

Book Review: Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday

Charming, odd, surprising book. If you like Chesterton at all, you’ve probably already read it. If you’re just getting into him, put this on the list. If you’re wondering what the fuss is about, The Man Who Was Thursday is as good a place to start as any what is likely to become a life-long Chesterton project.

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No spoilers, which means I’ll be brief. The chief feature of the book is that once every chapter or two, everything you thought was going on gets stood on its head. It starts in a newish London neighborhood, where a Mr. Gregory, a pessimistic poet, an anarchistic poet, is holding forth. A young man named Syme is also a poet, but a poet of Order, for whom nothing is more poetical than a train arriving exactly on time, and so the two naturally have at each other. Syme asserts that Gregory is not serious about his anarchism. Gregory sets out to show him that he is serious. Dead serious. Promises are extracted, for a poet, even an anarchist, may be an honorable man. These promises are put sorely to the test.

Thus the adventures begin. There is a secret anarchist council; there is a secret anti-anarchist police force. Each is lead by a secretive man, one flamboyant and larger than life and thus inscrutable; the other invisible. The clash of world views personified in the two poets allows Chesterton to expand on the nature and importance of a man’s philosophy, for lack of a better word. Philosophical digressions are often the death of a story; Chesterton very nearly makes them the life of his.

An introduction to this book I saw somewhere says that, when a bunch of spies and secret agents were asked which work of fiction best captured their world, The Man Who Was Thursday was acclaimed most life-like. Since it is a typically Chestertonian broad and almost cartoonish work, this at first seems odd. What the spooks identify as life-like is, I think, the sense of uncertainty, of not knowing who your friends and enemies are, indeed, of running the constant risk that an enemy may be a friend, or a friend an enemy; that at one moment the man you have to kill might in the next be he who saves your life. Another true to life aspect: you never know what, exactly, your superiors are up to, or even whose side they’re on. You are always acting on imperfect information, sometimes on deliberately misleading information.

Core Chestertonian canon. Read this book.

Book Review: The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton

Short and sweet: A wonderful story, full of startling Chesterton prescience and hitting on his favorite themes of the common man versus the aristocracy, the joys of simple, concrete life and the insanity of the modern age.

Image result for The Flying Inn

I’d never heard of this novel before it was suggested for our Chesterton Reading Group last month. First published in January, 1914, The Flying Inn is set in some slightly future England, where, due to the support of the aristocracy, specifically a powerful Lord Ivywood, Islam is making serious inroads into English life.

Let that sink in: Chesterton, writing in 1913, before the Great War, has Islam threatening normal English life, aided by muddle-headed English Progressives and other rich people. Chesterton does this kind of crystal ball gazing all the time. It is a little unnerving.

The story begins with Joan Brett, a lovely, melancholy young woman, walking along the beach, half listening to an array of quack street preachers, each with his spot from which to harangue the holiday crowds. She eventually stops before a colorful Turkish quack, who, like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding showing how every word has a Greek origin, claims that all English inns – think pubs – are really derived from and named according to things found in Islam.

She is the only one listening to his heavily accented expostulations, although he carries on as if speaking to a vast crowd. As tea time approaches and the crowd thins out, just as the Turk begins trying to formulate an Islamic etymology for the local pub, The Old Ship. The quack admits that the old ship presents a challenge to his thesis, so has spoken with the proprietor, a Mr. Pump, in an effort to overcome this. The Old Ship had been named in anticipation of the return of a Captain Dalroy, a good friend of Pump, who was expected any minute to arrive – from Turkey.

Joan, it appears, is also a friend of Mr. Pump and is also awaiting the return of Captain Dalroy.

Captain Patrick Dalroy, a very large and redheaded Irishman, left the English navy due to England’s treatment of Ireland, and became, as the result of numerous adventures, the King of Ithaca. This little kingdom consisted of all the Christian rebels still holding out against the Turks, as the Great Powers had decided that peace with Turkey was worth the sacrifice of any number of small Christian nations in its sphere.

Dalroy, following the wishes of his people to end the war, first appears negotiating surrender on a little Greek island with representatives of the Great Powers: Lord Ivywood “the English Minister, was probably the handsomest man in England,” and Dr. Gluck, “the German Minister, whose face had nothing German about it; neither the German vision nor the German sleep…. his scarlet lips never moved in speech,” as well a representative of the Turks, Oman Pasha, ” …equally famous for his courage in war and his cruelty in peace; but who carried on his brow a scar from Patrick’s sword, taken after three hours’ mortal combat—and taken without spite or shame, be it said, for the Turk is always at his best in that game.”

Dalroy knows that he cannot fight all of Europe as well as the Turks, and has resigned himself to the surrender his people had accepted, even if the terms – the Turks will keep all the women and girls they’ve captured and enslaved, an issue Lord Ivywood sees as just a quibble – enrage him. The whole scene shows the state of affairs under the realpolitik of the Concert of Europe: the little people are willingly sacrificed by the powerful in pursuit of the appearance of peace. Dalroy does what his people want, but first, while the horrible terms to which he cannot object are being read, he rips from the ground the olive trees at hand and tosses them into the sea. He ignores the diplomats, shakes hands with Pasha, and heads back to his ship and to England, to the inn named the Old Ship.

Eventually, the Turkish quack and Lord Ivywood unite, after a fashion, to impose Prohibition on England, and ban all inns. When the authorities arrive to impose this new law on the Old Ship, Patrick rips the inn’s sign out of the ground, and he and Mr. Pump escape with the last barrel of good rum and a large wheel of cheese.

The new law allows for an exception: inns displaying their sign may sell alcoholic beverages, on the presumption they have gotten some sort of exemption. Dalroy and Pump proceed to create the Flying Inn, arriving unannounced at some out of the way place or other, Dalroy sticking the sign of the Old Ship into the ground. A crowd of thirsty commoners soon gathers; the police don’t know what to do, and Dalroy and Pump, after dispensing a little rum and cheese, make their escape. Lord Ivywood, an ambitious and hard man, makes it his crusade to stop them.

In other words, classic fabulous and slapstick Chesterton. Any more detail would be spoilers. We have ambition and hypocrisy exposed, battles fought, songs sung, the working man rising up, Islam revealing itself, and true love – a wonderful, outrageous story. Highly recommended. You can download it free or read it on line here.

Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure V

Concluding this review with the final lecture in the series. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here, Lecture III here, Lecture IV here. Going into more detail than usually is possible, including just pasting the the entire lecture below, because of Harris’s importance in advancing compulsory state schooling, and the lectures are short enough to admit of it.

This final lecture is also written as one run-on paragraph, this one nearly 3 pages long; clearly, these are outlines or note.

Let’s summarise our current state after Lecture IV: Harris believes all ‘substantial education,’ which he defines as the rote training and thoughtless inculturation every child in every culture receives, reduces the student to an ‘automata,’ careful to accept cultural premises and follow acceptable cultural paths. He tacitly dismisses the idea that a child could learn to think for himself, and accepts some form of tabula rasa: the idea that a child might already be himself, and thus not a clean field for indoctrination, is never considered.

In Hegel-speak, a substantially educated child has his individuality ‘subsumed’ into the culture. Such a one will have surrendered his individuality in order to belong. Harris then proposes a second educational principle, which frees the student’s individuality from this subsumption (while simultaneously not freeing it – hey, it’s Hegel!): learning to be an Hegelian. Only Hegelians, in Harris’ view, possess the tools to address society’s problems.

This second kind may be called individual or scientific education; it is the education of insight as opposed to that of authority.

Here we find the traditional Hegelian and especially Marxist abuse of the word ‘scientific’ to mean ‘untestable and poorly-defines assertions that I’d really like to be true.’ We know Harris means this, because he calls this an ‘education of insights’. Hegel places insights – direct infusions of truth into the soul, not subject to logic nor testable by experiment – above and beyond the reach of the little people and their math and science and technology. It is by insight, for example, that the enlightened Hegelian sees the Spirit unfolding and coming to know Itself through History. Thus progress is not a measure of net relative advances, if any, over time, but is instead Progress, a god-like force moving us ‘forward’. This is all very scientific.

Another aspect of scientific education is that it must be doled out a spoonful at a time by experts – here he echos Pestalozzi and Fichte – lest the child get the crazy idea that he can figure stuff out on his own, and become unmanageable. We see here the foundation of our dumb-them-down system that does everything possible to exclude or trivialize parental involvement.  Harris praises textbooks as the perfect tools to this end.

So, after the first two lectures, we are to understand that we all are automata except insofar as we’ve been enlightened, the sole measure of this enlightenment being our agreement with Hegel and his acolytes like Harris. Our schools need to be run by professionals, who alone are able to properly ration out knowledge, and who will take great care that their charges remain docile.

After an excursion through Kant and some more blank slate nonsense in Lecture III, Harris gets to the point in Lecture IV: the little benighted people need to be lead by the good and enlightened people, a sort of revolutionary vanguard, as it were.

LECTURE V. February 4th, 1893.  HERBERT SPENCER AND WHAT KNOWLEDGE IS OF MOST WORTH.  (found here.)

In Herbert Spencer, the return to nature means the study of natural  science, and this becomes the great thing. But natural science is only the  instrument with which we conquer nature. Everybody becomes filled with the idea of progress by it, for we see that nature as it is, existing in time  and space, is conquered by inventions and made to serve man. There was never a more unscientific book made than Spencer’s essay on education ; for while he praises science, he does not apply it to a study of education as it  is and has been. To do this he ought to study the genesis of the course of study and explain its functions. The unscientific person takes things as they are, and cares not for their origin. To study things from a scientific standpoint means to take an inventory of them to find the process in which  they are being produced ; to connect them with other things ; to see things in their causal process. He does not understand the system of education as it exists, because he does not know the educational value of its branches. The education he proposes for us is for the purpose of complete living; but  what is Spencer’s definition of this complete living? Spencer does not take education as the genesis of man’s spiritual life, but merely as something useful for showing how to care for the body and perform the lower social functions as the tool of life, the instrument by which life is preserved.

More specifically Hegelian criticism. All current action is to be judged by its place within the Spirit’s unfolding both now and in the future. I have little knowledge of Spenser’s educational theories and would likely find them appalling based on what little I do know, but Harris’s critique here hangs on Spenser not being Hegelian enough, which I would take as a complement.  Sure, sound education is first and foremost education toward spiritual growth. Hegel’s idea of spiritual growth is hardly anything I’d sign up for.

Now  suppose the definition of complete living to be, to elevate each individual so that he can take advantage of the life and experience of his race. Then  he would find complete living to involve the initiation into the civilizations of the past that furnish the elements out of which our own civilization is formed.

This sounds good, having children learn about past civilizations, until you see it in an Hegelian context: past civilizations are mere illustrations of the Spirit’s march through History. One would not be permitted by Hegel to dwell too much on how our modern age has in many ways lost the excellence of past cultures – e.g., Greek excellence, Roman honor, Medieval logic, Renaissance conceptions of beauty  – and failed to replace them with anything of equal value, let alone exceed them. Hegelians have no place in their schema for genuine admiration of the past, which is just prelude to an ever more glorious present and future.

Spencer thinks that the first business of the child is to know physiology ; the next is the selection of a vocation or trade, which leads to training for citizenship ; and last of all he puts relaxation and amusement, in which he includes literature and art. Now, Aristotle characterized man as the symbol-making animal. Human nature has to be expressed by symbols. The poets of a people first paint the ideal, which makes civilization possible. Literature furnishes the most essential branch of education, so far as its function is to help the child into civilization. Man sits in the theatre of the world (as Plato tells us) and sees the shadows of men and events thrown on the curtain before him. Behind him and out of his sight is the Great Leader, who is making these shadows. From them he draws his ideals, but ideals are potentialities, not realities. Self-activity, the freedom of the soul, is made possible by the institutions of society, the family, civil society, State and Church. We must not confound the mere school with these other great institutions of civilization. In the family are learned the mother tongue, habits, and nurture. Civil society teaches him his vocation; the State, his duties as citizen ; and the Church shows him his place in the divine plan of the universe. Spencer calls education the subject which involves all other subjects, and the one in which they should all culminate. But some one has better said that school education is the giving to man the possession of the instrumentalities of intelligence. By his school education he does not attain all education, but he gets the tools of thought by which to master the wisdom of the race.

OK, sure, pretty common understanding, although the glossing over of “church” Mere Christianity style fails to address the real, passionate disagreements people have over what constitutes a proper church. This, I suppose, would be an area Harris would expect the little people to be lead by their betters.

There are, then, three epochs  of school education elementary, secondary and higher. The first or elementary stage is the opening of the five windows of the soul. (1) Arithmetic is the foundation of our knowledge of nature, by which we measure  and count all things inorganic. When its first principles are mastered the child begins to want to combine the organic with the inorganic, and then we come to another window (2), that of elementary geography. The distribution of animal and plant life is learned, and the child begins to peep  into the organization of things, the growth of plants, and the formation of the continents and the earth. Thirdly, he learns to read and write, and gets a glimpse into literature. The original colloquial vocabulary learned at home, variously estimated at from 300 or 400 to 3,000 or 4,000 words, deals  only with commonplace things. But the school takes this colloquial vocabulary as a key and opens up the great reservoir of literature in books, initiating him into a higher class of words, expressive of fine shades of feeling and thought. Thus, to his own vocabulary are added those of great writers, who have seen nature from a different point of view, and presented their thoughts  in gems of literary style. Literature lifts up the pupil into the realms of human nature and discloses the motives which govern the actions of men. Yet Spencer puts this last in his course of study. After learning all science has to give, after learning one’s trade and the care of his body, he would then, if there is leisure, permit literature and art. But literature is the greatest educator we have. It has made possible newspapers and periodicals and books, with pictures of human life and of the motives governing  our actions. The fourth window of the soul is grammar, wherein we have a glimpse of the logical structure of the intellect as revealed in language. The fifth window is history (that of his own country), wherein he sees revealed the aspirations of his countrymen, his own nature, written out in colossal letters ; and these five studies should make the elementary education of the student.

Here the Pestalozzian approach is clear: the expert decides the child shall learn Arithmetic first, and not go on to anything else until it is mastered; then  basic Geography, and only once this is mastered, reading and writing; then Grammar, then the History of his own nation.

Well? Anyone who has been around kids knows that no two are alike, and that one may take to math like a fish to water at age 5, while another will find it baffling into adulthood. Lumping kids together by age, a barbaric practice championed by Harris and his predecessors, makes it certain that the first kid is going to be bored out of his mind and the second baffled and confused. Sure, in some Pestalozzian, anti-Fichtean dream world each kid gets all the attention he needs and moves ahead at his own pace. Sure. History shows how well the graded classroom model has approached that ideal. If education were the goal, it might; but since control is the goal, it won’t.

And so on. I’m old enough and, after a fashion, smart enough that I got left alone by the teachers for the most part when I was a little kid, because I either knew the stuff or could fake it. Now? from what I can tell, teachers are not allowed to let a kid skate on attention or classwork if he seems OK to them. Nope, conformity is demanded. Control is, after all, at the base and summit of Harris’s ideal.

The secondary education takes up human learning and continues it along the same lines, namely : 1, inorganic nature; 2, organic nature; 3, literature (the heart); 4, grammar and logic (the intellect); and 5, history (the will). Algebra deals with general numbers, while Arithmetic has definite numbers to operate with. Geometry and physics continue inorganic nature, while natural history continues the study already commenced in geography. Then come Greek and Latin, and here is opened up a great field of study into the embryology of our civilization. In the dead language* we have the three great threads running through the history of human progress. The Greek, with its literature and aesthetic art and its philosophy, showing the higher forms of human freedom in contrast with the Egyptian, which showed only the struggle for freedom and never the man separated from the animal and the inorganic world. The Roman, with the continual gaze upon the will of man, seeks the true forms of contracts and treaties and corporations, whereby one man may combine with another, and it essays the conquering of men and reducing them to obedience to civil law, not only external conquest but internal conquest as well. The Hebrew thread is the religious one, which we recognize in the celebration of worship one day each week and in the various holy days. We acknowledge this the most essential thread of our civilization. So, with the secondary education we begin to get the embryology of our forms of life.

As mentioned here, high school education at the close of the 19th century puts virtually all undergrad work to shame. Admission to Harvard at this time merely required a demonstration of basic competence in Greek, Latin and calculus – which a high school student who hoped to go to college could reasonably be expected to have achieved.

Harris seems to support this model, which is quite similar to what I went through at St. John’s College.  He seems confident it will produce exactly the good little Hegelians he invisions all enlightened people to be.

But what if it doesn’t? What if the vanguard decides good little Hegelians are good little Marxists? Then, understanding history, logic, scripture, etc., become positive liabilities if they don’t produce such Marxists. There’s even a risk a student who really learned this stuff might forcefully reject Marx! What if education leads away from, not towards, the glorious revolution?

Best not to take that risk. Stick with basic indoctrination. It’s the only way to be sure.

The higher or collegiate education is the comparative step of education. Each branch is studied in the light of all the others. Natural science  and sociology are investigated ; logic and mental philosophy ; ethics and rhetoric; as well as the philosophy of history and of literature, and the comparative sciences, which furnish the light for the whole method of  higher education. The first, or elementary education, then, is but superficial, a mere inventory ; the secondary insists on some reflection on what has been learned ; and the third, or higher education, is the unity and  comparison of all that has been learned, so that each is explained by the whole. Give the child possession of the embryology of civilization, and his insight into the evolution of civilization is insured.

“Insight” – and there you have it. Harris is naively confident this insight is Hegelian. His Marxist successors excised all the basic stuff because they more wisely understood that all this education could, from their view, go terribly wrong.

Educators have  adopted the course of study as it exists, led by an unconscious or blind  impulse. Herbert Spencer should have investigated and discovered its purpose, which is a far deeper one than he has thought out when he advocates its overthrow for the sake of knowledge that leads to direct self-preservation.

“…led by an unconscious or blind  impulse. ” More Hegel, the Spirit unfolding itself despite men not being aware of what is happening.

  1. Rosenkranz: Paedagogik als System (English Translation, D. Appleton it Co., New York). Third part, treating of the substantial contents of the national education Its sacred books, and the idea that the nation stands for in the history of the world. (Lec ture 1.)
  2. Karl Schmidt : Geschichte der Paedagogik ; gives a much fuller statement of the details of the culture systems of the several nations. (Lecture 1.)
  3. R. H. Quick ; Educational Reformers. (Lectures 2, 3, 4, and 5.)
  4. Pestalozzi : Lienhard und Gertrud. (English Translation, Boston.) (Lectures.)
  5. Herbart; Lehrbuch zur Psychologie. (English translation, tfno York). (Lectures.)
  6. Rousseau : Emile. (Lecture 4.)
  7. Herbert Spencer ; Essay on Education. (Lectures.)

Book Review: William Torrey Harris – The Philosophy of Education, Lecure IV

Continuing this review. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here, Lecture III here. Going into more detail than usually is possible, including just pasting the the entire lecture below, because of Harris’s importance in advancing compulsory state schooling, and the lectures are short enough to admit of it.

One more after this one. Another lecture written as one run-on paragraph. This one, more than the previous, appears to be just an outline or notes. I’d assume there was a lively discussion period afterwards?

LECTURE IV. January 25th, 1893. ROUSSEAU AND THE RETURN TO NATURE. REVOLUTIONARY PROTEST. (found here.)

The time of Louis XIV: the nobles attracted to Court and to a life of gayety, neglecting their estates and wasting the fruits of toil in riotous living ; the laborers deprived of the advantage of the directive power of the nobility fail in power of production. The French Revolution is the result. Rousseau its prophet ; he proclaims a return to nature. “Nature,” a word of ambiguous meaning; human nature versus physical nature; human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual. Nature in time and space is under the dominion of necessity, everything constrained to be what it is by outside forces. Human nature is an ideal, and when realized it has the form of freedom and self-determination, each man a law unto himself and each one engaged in helping every other one, for by this each one helps himself. Rousseau appealed to nature in everything. What we call civilization was to him a mere artificial form. His plea was to be natural, come back to the point where nature leaves you. Rousseau came from Switzerland to France, and at an opportune time for him ; for there was a great ferment of ideas at this epoch. He was struggling along in Paris, barely securing a livelihood, when there came the offer from the Academy of Dijon of a prize for an essay on the progress of the arts and sciences, whether it has tended towards the purification of morals and manners. The negative side suggested itself more forcibly to him, as he was better fitted for it by his mode of living and morals, and by his literary style, and he found himself at once a “censor of civilization.” This essay was soon followed (1752) by one on the origin of the inequality among men. The great tension produced by the artificiality of the civilization of the Court life of the time had caused men to become anxious to get back to a simplicity of living, and Chateau briand painted the charms of the forest life of the Indians. In this reaction the meaning of civilization is ignored. Man emancipates himself from drudgery and compels nature by the forces of his intellect to feed and clothe him. The “Social Contract” followed (1762) this with an attack on the authority of the State; and in the same year his Emile undermined the School and the Church : and so he attacked all the social institutions one after another the family, civil society, the Church and State. He proposed to sweep all away by summoning them before the bar of his individual judgment and condemning all. In the opening paragraph of his Emile he declares that everything which comes from nature is good, while everything degenerates in the hands of man. The antithesis of civilization is savagery, and Voltaire wittily exposed the fallacy of Rousseau’s teaching in his letter accepting the book. He said “never has anyone employed so much genius to make us into beasts. When one reads your book he is seized at once with a desire to go down on all fours.” External authority is a perennial necessity for man in his immaturity. An appeal to nature is always a piece of jugglery with words. In mere nature we have matter and force. Everything inorganic is made by some external influence. But organic nature is the opposite of inorganic. The plant has the power of assimilation, and the animal the further powers of locomotion and feeling, or ability to select or choose its surroundings. In man this is still further increased by recollection and memory, by which the mind makes over its impressions. To do his duty properly he must look to higher things, and in ethical ideas the human becomes transcendental. The moral man acts as though the sole being in the world is humanity. No natural instinct is admitted as having validity against the moral law. If we adopt the doctrines of material nature and yield to our feelings and impulses, we remain animals. But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility, and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture.

Harris is an Hegelian:

With Brockmeyer and other of the St. Louis Hegelians, he founded and edited the first philosophical periodical in America, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy (1867), editing it until 1893. It promoted the view that the entire unfolding was part of a universal plan, a working out of an eternal historical dialectic, as theorized by Hegel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Torrey_Harris

It is said that Harris, as the United States Commissioner of Education, tried to make Hegelianism the official philosophy of American compulsory schooling. He only succeeded in making it, as dumbed down(!) by his incorrigible idiot child Marx, the *unofficial* philosophy of American schooling.

Now, the primary and defining belief of Hegelians is that they’re smarter and, most importantly, more enlightened than everybody else. They worship the power they lack but feel they deserve. Therefore, in their world, ignorant masses need (and deserve) to be lead into the glorious future by better people: “…the laborers deprived of the advantage of the directive power of the nobility fail in power of production. The French Revolution is the result.” Catch that? One might suspect that Harris is not entirely on board with America’s idealized egalitarianism. Also, I’m thinking there might be a few more tiny steps between indolent French counts and marquis neglecting to guide the farm hands and the Committee for Public Safety decapitating nuns. But hey, I’m not an Hegelian.

Following right on the heels of this vigorous & evidently double-jointed self back-patting (1) and not so subtle petulance about not being in charge is the idea of Progress: there’s this universal plan, see, under which the Spirit (2) reveals itself to itself inevitably through History. Through, of course, the ministration of enlightened Hegelians such as Harris, whose belief in the inevitability of Progress doesn’t seem to extend far enough to stay the hell out of imposing it on others.

Rousseau is a manifest idiot. Figures he’d be the prophet of the murderous idiocy of the French Revolution.

Now we get to the hardcore Hegelianism:

“Nature,” a word of ambiguous meaning; human nature versus physical nature; human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual. Nature in time and space is under the dominion of necessity, everything constrained to be what it is by outside forces. Human nature is an ideal, and when realized it has the form of freedom and self-determination, each man a law unto himself and each one engaged in helping every other one, for by this each one helps himself.

Digression: Generally, the world, or ‘Nature,’ can be understood according to two general steps. The base level is either/or, as succinctly stated in the Law of Noncontradiction. The next level is both/and, and is perhaps best expressed in the Schoolmen’s advice: “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.” Using these two steps, one first establishes what is logically necessary and what is common experience, and moves from there to what might be (conditionally) true about the world. The Church, for example, has for centuries issued anathemas and proclaimed dogmas as a first step, then seemingly splits hairs when considering the application of those dogmas and anathemas. Science works the same way: the definitions and assumptions are necessarily dogmatic; data collection is always thoroughly hedged in by the assumptions and definitions; conclusions are always conditional. In both cases, we may yearn for more forceful and unconditioned conclusions, but the careful thinker is not likely to give us them.

Hegel strove for a third way: he wanted a dialectic within which everything is conditional – nothing ‘is, everything is ‘becoming’ – where violations of the Law of Noncontradiction were never resolved but rather suspended in the synthesis, where the currently unknowable workings of the Spirit create a new reality in its unfolding through time.

If this sounds like bafflegab, that’s because it is. It’s meant to fend off – summarily dismiss, really – the sort of careful dissection of questions which is the hallmark both of the Aristotelian/Thomist schools and science insofar as science works. (3) Hegel, and Marx much more so, are simply nonsensical. They contradict themselves in word and deed at every step. But since they know they’re right – what superior individual does not? – these contradictions must not be valid. Therefore, etc.

Here’s where Harris gets evil: “…human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual.” Under the both/and approach, one would distinguish as follows: it is the inalienable dignity of men as individuals that gives any meaning to the institutions within which man finds himself; yet it is true that men are formed and most fully realized within these institutions: marriage, family, village, state and church. Under Harris’s formulation, one would focus all efforts on changing institutions (sound familiar?): change the institution – school, in Harris’s case – and thus change the individuals.

One of the things naive supporters of more centralized control over people – progressives, socialists, Marxists (but I repeat myself) – seem unable to imagine is that this control, once established, will not long remain in the hand of the avuncular and well-intentioned as they imagine the Bern to be, but will in short order end up in the hands of Pol Pot. That’s the lesson of small ‘h’ history; that’s why capital ‘H’ History seeks to ignore and rewrite it.

Another historical aside: throughout the history of philosophy, there have been camps promoting multiple truths that need not gibe, and those after the beloved Emerson Cod: “The truth ain’t like puppies, a bunch of them running around, you pick your favorite. One truth… and it has come a knockin’.”

Here, Harris is proposing that there’s a material world of complete determination, and a spiritual world where, once idealized human nature is realized, everyone will be perfect little saints. Not one world of matter and form, but two worlds where different truths prevail. Subtle, but important: rather than a man striving to be personally better as a creature comprising an inseparable and essential body and soul, Gnosticism has crept back from the dead: the body is evil, only the soul is good. Gnosticism has proven many times over the centuries to ba an idea tending inexorably toward misery.

We have thus arrived at a situation that should sound very current and familiar: we are to focus our attention on changing institutions, which, once conformed to the enlightened ideas of the elect, will produce perfect, happy little people. Remember, enlightenment means never having to listen, let alone explain yourself, to the unenlightened – they just won’t understand! (This also conveniently absolves the enlightened from having to personally behave themselves, since their personal behaviour has no effect by definition: Weinstein can rape away and Gore and AOC can jet around like rock stars, just so long as they mouth the right platitudes in favor of *institutional* change.)

After thankfully disposing of Rousseau – hey! Stopped clock got one right! – Harris turns back to his own naive mysticism:

External authority is a perennial necessity for man in his immaturity. An appeal to nature is always a piece of jugglery with words.

That he considers man immature is almost a tautology; that he considers appeals to human nature ‘jugglery’ is an appeal to more Hegelian and especially Marxist nonsense: while Hegel merely denies any permanence to our understanding of human nature – it’s unfolding along with the Spirit, and is always becoming, never being – Marx just flat out denies the existence of human nature: it’s a social construct, man.

He and his will be happy to provide the external authority needed by us immature people until the point at which we are mature: by definition, when we agree with Harris. Not quite fair: when we agree with Harris, we will be counted among the enlightened and allowed to indulge our tyrannical jones over the less enlightened and sit at the Kool Kids Table until the Spirit is done unfolding itself. Not kidding: Harris worked his whole adult life to make the schools the instrument of the Enlightened.

He succeeded.

To do his duty properly he must look to higher things, and in ethical ideas the human becomes transcendental. The moral man acts as though the sole being in the world is humanity. No natural instinct is admitted as having validity against the moral law. If we adopt the doctrines of material nature and yield to our feelings and impulses, we remain animals. But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility, and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture.

Ethical ideas are spiritual. Natural instincts are controlled by morality. Going with feels is to remain an animal. So far so good. “But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility,” This sounds sensible, out of context “… and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture. OK, so we yearn to fulfill our divine destiny, which can be realized through – school? We’ll school kids so that they will change the culture? To bring about the Hegelian Valhalla?

What could possibly go wrong?

One more lecture to go.

  1. How do they not pull a muscle?
  2. Hegel may not have invented the practice of renaming old ideas in order to sound smart and hip, but he certainly advanced the art: here, anybody else would say ‘God’, but that turf had already been worked over pretty good by the Salvation History folks, most prominently Augustine. In contrast to Hegel’s Spirit unfolding and coming to know itself History, Salvation History posits, on the one hand, a God Who reveals Himself to us over time and on the other a lamentably realistic view of secular history as one long tragic train of failure punctuated every now and then by a passing victory, until, in the end, we all lose – and then Jesus comes! Hegel wanted God embedded, as it were, with the forward troops in a long march to Victory! Marx’s eschatology, all but indistinguishable in outline from traditional Christian eschatology
    excepting that that God person has been renamed History, reflects this persistence.
  3. The irony here: Hegel, writing in the early 19th century, assumes Progress is so completely obvious that his task is to explain the origins and workings of that Progress. In doing so, he dismisses scientists, mathematicians, and technologists as the little people, those who need to use logic and reason as traditionally understood – not *real* philosophers like Hegel, who have transcended all such crutches. Problem: the only really obvious progress has been made by precisely those scientists, mathematicians and technologist Hegel dismisses. Everything else we might want to call progress is highly debatable, to say the least. He saws off the branch he’s sitting on.

Insomnia Book Review: Honor at Stake

Woke up about 3:30 in the morning today, started to get up, but then forced myself to stay in bed and read. Fired up the Kindle, tried Rousseau’s Emile – tedium – and some Everlasting Man, which I read for maybe half and hour, and then started losing interest (I’ve read it many times, just didn’t work at 4:00 a.m.)

So I tab through the stuff on my Kindle and discover, contrary to all my customary reading practices, a vampire romance novel: Declan Finn’s Honor at Stake. I don’t remember when or why I ordered this book, but, what the heck, I can’t sleep anyway, so…

It was a lot of fun, definitely more than $2.99 worth of fun – and remember, I’m about a million miles from the target audience. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out!

I’m going to have to keep the review vague, as there are a couple nice reveals early on that saying much might spoil, and I liked them a lot, so I’m holding back. The book is about a couple of very different and seemingly star-crossed lovers who take a long time to realize that’s what they are. And vampires. Lots and lots of vampires.

Finn wisely starts right in on the action, then introduces us to the main characters, who we get to know through how they act under pressure. His major characters are very well fleshed out, attractive and sympathetic, and his minor characters are well and quickly sketched. It’s a fairly short novel – I read it in under a day – and does not drag. Finn also has a nice touch with dialogue.

Image result for Declan Finn Honor at Stake

Finn also deftly works in the Catholic elements alway present in all the traditional vampire stories – holy water, crucifixes, rosaries, priests – so that Catholics can be delighted and amused, while there’s nothing anyone sympathetic to the roots of the genre could complain about. Vampires and their hunters treat the signs and sacramentals of the Church seriously. He also works in a few more or less original twists around the Church that are also fun. There is a Swiss Guard Vampire Ninja squad, for example, and firehoses shooting holy water. It’s cool.

The love affair smolders, often quite intensely, but never bursts into anything above very light PG level stuff – for which I, for one, am grateful as a reader.

Fun read, check it out.