Here are two not-quite-complete yet compelling to me thoughts that haunt the windswept hallways of my head. Or something like that. When I consider history, especially the history of philosophy, it seems that certain ideas fall into stages: somebody forcefully, if not particularly logically, takes a position that sticks it to a particular concept of The Man. Then, thinkers come along who like the earlier forceful statement or its consequences, and they back-fill and scaffold it so that it can claim some respectability. Finally, the respectable-ish philosophical positions get reduced to slogans or New Think or something like that. Sets like this – old, forceful idea; philosophical back-fill; slogan – occur to me regularly. Of course, now that I sit down to type, I can only recall this one Triad. More later as events warrant.
I think that, for the people who believe them, these thoughts occupy the same strange emotional landscape, even if the logical connections are hidden (they’re there, but hidden).
Lot of drivel for a 3/4 baked idea. Anyway:
Post-Modern: You don’t understand because you aren’t woke.
Hegelian: The Spirit is not constrained by the rules of traditional logic.
Luther: Reason is a whore.
Ponder. There really is a subset of people who get things done – leaders, we often call them – whose defining intellectual and emotional trait is defining and fixing on a goal, and then backing into the steps needed to achieve it. You see this, if it is the sort of thing you notice, at every level of life: the business and political worlds, certainly, but also the school meeting and church cleanup committee, and everywhere in between.
Many people, most people, it seems, rarely if ever notice what leaders are doing, but rather just notice who it is they’re following. They hear a heavily abstracted version of a goal – affordable health care, a great America (again) – and that’s all. Only a minority ask how, in detail, we are to achieve the goal, or even for a clear definition of what the goal is. All they do is decide which heavily abstracted vision they will accept. It has taken me, a very small ‘l’ leader, a lifetime to understand this, and has caused me a lifetime of frustration – I want to explain, people don’t want an explanation. But they will follow.
Weird. I wouldn’t and don’t follow in that sense. Odd duck, me.
The constant regurgitation of Hillary’s popular vote ‘victory’ by her, I suppose, shell-shocked supporters is getting almost as pitiful as it is telling. They just don’t understand how Trump & his team would do what they obviously did: simply back into what steps were needed to win according to the rules in place at the time, and then execute the hell out of them. So, for a fraction of the money Hillary spent, they won. And Trump’s claim that, had the rules called for a popular vote victory instead, he’d have won that, too, ring true in light of the evidence at hand.
This state of things is, I think, simply inconceivable to a large number of people. They want to believe, and therefore do believe, there are essentially magical forces at work, forces that reward Right Thinking on the Right Side of History. These are the mental processes needed to be a socialist True Believer – the concepts break down at every step once you consider the real world so the true believer never considers the real world. Every failure is the fault of some other factor – not True Socialism; every success, however problematic upon examination, is conclusive. Sweden must be a paradise; Venezuela is not Real Socialism.
What to do about the resistance of the real world to beautiful theory? We’ll just make New Soviet Men to replace the recalcitrant and unwieldy people we actually have, and everything will be wonderful! This seems practical and doable to certain people.
That such thinking is common would be even more panic-inducing if it weren’t for the mitigating grace that such thinkers don’t lead. On the flip side, it is terrifying to realize the people who do lead in this direction don’t think this way – they merely want power, which includes the power to eliminate those persistently recalcitrant and unwieldy people.
My beloved and I have been driving to San Jose or thereabouts to attend these monthly meeting for the last few years whenever we can – good people, and, hey! Chesterton! I thought my regular readers, who, to my surprise, are well into double digits these days, might find our current reading interesting.
However, enough of us wanted to read Everlasting Man, and the indomitable John Rose had a reading plan already in hand that broke it into suitable segments, that we were able to jump right in! Thanks, John! We’ll be taking it a dozen or 2 pages at a crack.
July, first meeting: Prefatory Note & Introduction, about 14 pages. You can find it online free here or here. In this short 14 page introductory section, Chesterton calls out H. G. Well’s Outline of History, which can be found here (I have not read it yet).
As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide.
Amusing side story: when Well’s work was first published, Belloc, who is the bad cop to GKC’s good cop as far as smacking down nonsense goes, reviewed it rather harshly, Wells responded with a piece titled “Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History.” Belloc then responded to the response with “Mr. Belloc Still Objects.” Apparently the exchange got rather heated, various partisan publications wouldn’t print the responses, names got called. Belloc was an actual historian, and took umbrage at Well’s playing fast and loose with the evidence. Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. which takes a view very much opposed to Wells’, was first published in 1920, the same year as Outline.
So Chesterton starts by praising Wells for being an amateur – in other words, highlighting Belloc’s central claim. He’s charmingly paradoxical about it, as is his style, but there’s little doubt whose side he’s on.
Some Historical Context: This dispute about how history is to be understood is just a tip of a particularly large iceberg, one still very much afloat today. For the century leading up to 1920, popes and other leaders had been descrying the threat of Modernism, the relevant aspect of which is stated in bold below:
Wells published his Outline in 1920 as a universal history – one that deals with more than “reigns and pedigrees and campaigns”. Wells had embarked upon his Outline as a result of his work with the League of Nations and a desire to aid world peace by providing the world “common historical ideas”.The Outline proved to be an expansive, all-encompassing work. Wells had a panel of specialists at his disposal to review and check his work. Although the panel revealed many inevitable “gaps, misjudgments and misproportions”, Wells reserved the right to “maintain his own judgments”. As a result, The Outline contained what were alleged by Belloc to be a number of biased statements, intolerant statements and false assumptions. Materialistic determinism was viewed as a central philosophy underlying the Outline, with Wells portraying human progress to be both a blind and inevitable rise from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of scientific utopia. (my emphasis) Unfortunately, Wells’ judgments and perceived bias left his work open to heavy criticism.
Wells was a Fabian Socialist for a while, at least, right around the time he wrote this book. The Fabian’s coat of arms:
To Wells and his besties, the League of Nations was an obvious means to promoting Communism, if only as a tool to bring about destruction of the status quo. If you believe that materialistic determinism is true, and human progress is a blind and inevitable rise resulting therefrom, you will feel (I daren’t say ‘think’) that any steps may be taken to destroy the current system – because something better will *inevitably* result! There is no going back, it’s forward all the way! The magic fairies of materialistic determinism say so! The larger truth of inevitable progress forgives in advance all the little lies perpetrated in its honor. And also forgive the murder of many tens of millions by the Communists, history’s sterling example of blind faith in Progress, for the sake of a glorious future.
In 1920, the battle between the Hegelian/Marxist faith in Progress (differing chiefly in what, if any, role one gives religion) and sanity (the understanding that progress is a highly contingent and often intermittent result of individual human actions) had been raging for almost a century. Pope St. Pius IX had issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, containing a number of anathemas against modernist ideas. Pope St. Pius X had issued Pascendi Domini gregisandLamentabili sane exituin 1907, and his Oath in 1910.
This is the environment in which Chesterton published Everlasting Man in 1925. Similarly, his essays collected in In Defense of Sanity are defending, under the name ‘sanity’ the notion that ideas and the free choices of men matter, that the understanding of what is true, beautiful and good by a common man is to be valued, and that preposterous preening and self-importance of the Progressives are empty, futile yet dangerous.
The chief characteristic of progressive thought is that it doesn’t have to make sense. This is the fruit of Hegel, who in turn is best understood in this context as a Lutheran theologian more so than a philosopher. Certainly, he tries to describe an intellectual universe where discontinuity and contradiction are not signs of intellectual failings, but rather clear indications of intellectual progress. The Spirit (Hegel found ‘God’ too loaded a term) unfolds itself through History. Being is too limiting. A real philosopher must consider Becoming. What the Spirit is Becoming can be seen in the world in His actions – History. It will make sense when and to the extent that the Spirit has unfolded itself, but not before, and only to the enlightened. Inconsistencies and contradictions are just par for the course.
Hegel could not – no one can – hold the field against the Thomists when the game is reason and logic.(1) Therefore, Hegel begins by attempting to discredit ‘propositional reasoning’ (in Phenomenology of Spirit) and logic as understood since the ancient Greeks (in Logic). He substitutes for reasoning and logic insight and enlightenment. He dismisses the Law of Non-Contradiction, and replaces it with the notion of contradictory ideas being suspended in a fruitful opposition within a synthesis. (As with most of Hegel, that last statement makes as much sense as it sounds like it does. Which is, after all, the point.)
In the hands of lesser(?) intelligences such as Marx and Freud, the idea was quickly shed that there’s a Spirit revealing itself in History, and instead it was just assumed History is moving itself forward – making Progress. We also lose Hegel’s charming humility in disavowing any knowledge of the future, since such foreknowledge would require guessing how the Spirit was going to unfold next – which is as close to sacrilege and heresy as an Hegelian can get. Marxists and Progressives in general know where we’re going: some flavor of a worker’s paradise. That’s why it’s so important to ‘be on the right side of History’ and not to ‘turn back the clock’.
Marx is the poster boy for that materialistic determinist Wells was getting on about. He knows what he knows not through reasoning, but rather through Enlightenment. He is woke. Any attempts to reason with him are in themselves conclusive proof that you don’t get it, are laboring under false consciousness, and need to be educated.
Wells knows there is no God. Yet he also knows there has been progress. Therefore, to provide a mechanism by which this observable progress has been made, he has to make a god out of Progress itself.
There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote [Manalive]. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.
The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.
Hegel and especially Marx are in some real sense heretics. They are not pagans, but people who have left aside some parts of Christianity while still clinging to its central claims of redemption from a fallen state through the intervention of the Divine. They are too close to see how much their beliefs are still Christian, no matter how twisted, like how a human form can still be recognized in the rubble of a ruined statue. But they are too close, and do not want to see.
Next month: 2. the first half of The Man in the Cave up to “Art is the signature of man.”
What about scientists and mathematicians? They make progress, insofar as they do, by deploying exactly the musty old reasoning and logic familiar to and beloved by the Thomists. Hegel consigns them to the philosophical outer darkness: their work is OK, as far as it goes, but not exalted like what real philosophers do! Irony alert: the very fields that give Wells the most ammo for his claims of self-propelled Progress are those Hegel had to toss out in order to make his claims that enlightenment trumps reason. Ouroboros.
In 1996, Stanley Fish wrote an article for First Things called Why Can’t We All Just Get Along, a link to which was washed up on my beach via Twitter. This fairly dense and densely reasoned essay touches upon a subject of some interest here on this blog: how did our colleges and universities arrive at the disastrous state we’ve reached today? I’m going to have to pick a few of many worthy thoughts to comment on, since this is a blog post and I don’t have a week to research and write a reply. Please read the whole essay, as I am not going to be able to do justice to the full scope of his very interesting argument. The reasoning here will not be as tight as the subject deserves, for which I apologize to Dr. Fish and my readers. The line of challenge and pursuit is I think important to get out there, however imperfectly.
First, Fish is a college professor, and thus, when he talks about how Americans think, he’s talking about how people in colleges and the penumbra of colleges think. When this battle was being fought back in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, less than 10% of the population attended college; as late as 1945, less than 30% graduated high school. As late as Harry Truman, America could elect as president someone who attended no college – and not feel particularly bad about it.
I mention this because Fish doesn’t concern himself with the downward push of these ideas from the university to the vast bulk of the citizens. That these ideas were cultivated among a small and very self-conscious elite and inflicted on their presumed inferiors is, I think, an important and telling aspect of the process, as is the fundamental difference in mindset between the children and grandchildren of Calvinist Puritans who founded Harvard and a typical American farmer. (Most Americans lived on farms until almost 1900, and most lived in close proximity to farms until maybe 1940.) Employing the sort of reasoning prefered by Fish, it could be said that certain unconscious assumptions made by a farmer and by a Harvard grad would be mutually unintelligible, and thus kill the possibility of free discussion a-birthing. I would add: minds are not that open; minds simply cannot be that open and remain rational. Thus, what is to be imposed is not rationality, but a belief system.
But Fish’s essay is not about how liberal open-mindedness got promulgated and eventually swept the field, but rather is about its dogmatic intolerance. He gets close to the heart of the matter when he notes that no reasoning can begin without premises, and that such premises cannot be the result of reasoning. Thus, he rejects the idea that articles of faith can be judged by their reasonableness, and calls no less a witness than Augustine.
Is this true? That I’m asking this question reveals my own premises, most important of which are that truth matters, is knowable and can be reached or at least approached by reason. Fish calls Augustine to the stand to defend the idea that articles of faith are by their nature unreasonable (or, perhaps, a-reasonable, after the immoral/amoral distinction) and thus sticks to the Platonic side of the pool. By omission of the arguments from the Aristotle/Thomist (deep) end of the pool, Plato stands as the type of the only line of reasoning to be considered.
Like Augustine, Thomas would reject the idea that one could reason his way to the Resurrection (to stick with Fish’s example), but he would consider it completely correct, required, even, to understand that the claim that Christ is Risen is not unreasonable. One who holds to the Perennial Philosophy would expect all revealed truths to be confirmed by all other truths however arrived at. They would expect all Truth to be One.
A book or two would be required to spell out how, say, knowing the melting point of iron points to the Incarnation. For now, it is enough to insist that rational discussion is not possible if we admit the idea of multiple contradioctory truth into the arena. I contend that the fundamental premise that all truth is one, that no truth arrived at one way can stand unchallenged by a contradictory truth arrived at some other way, is not only tacitly assumed by people with any claim to being reasonable, but is required for any rational discourse whatsoever. Contradictions are not acceptable. Something’s afoot. We must look harder.
Avram: (gestures at Perchik and Mordcha) He’s right, and he’s right? They can’t both be right.
Tevye: You know… you are also right.
My fundamental objection to Fish’s otherwise sympathetic analysis is his shying away from examining which premises support the activity of rational discourse, and which defeat it or, rather, preclude it. In this regard, I find it odd that Marx gets mentioned indirectly and in passing once, and Hegel not at all. Yet I think it indisputable that the premises of Hegel and Marx have replaced the Enlightenment premises as expressed by Jefferson and company as the foundation upon which the current ideas of open-minded discussion, so called, are built.
The answer has many components, including the Jeffersonian project of softening sectarian aggressiveness and establishing a general religion of peace, reason, and morality, the identification of common sense philosophy with Christian morality within the assumption that each supported the other, the rise of the cult of the expert whose skills and authority were independent of his character or religious faith, and the substitution for the imperative of adhering to an already-revealed truth the imperative of continuing to search for a truth whose full emergence is located in an ever-receding future.
This last was particularly important because if truth was by definition larger and more inclusive than our present horizons declared it to be, obedience to traditional norms and values was no longer a virtue, but a fault, and a moral fault at that.
“The higher truth was an ever progressing ideal toward which the human community . . . always moved, yet never reached. Since truth was by definition always changing, the only thing ultimately sacred was the means of pursuing it. No religious or other dogmatic claim could be allowed to stand in its way.”
It is not the business of a university, declared Charles Eliot of Harvard, “to train men for those functions in which implicit obedience is of the first importance. On the contrary, it should train men for those occupations in which self-government, independence, and originating power are preeminently needed.” (Or, in Satan’s more succinct formulation, “self-begot, self-raised.”)
We see here Hegel’s idea of the Spirit unfolding itself through history, an idea that conquered Harvard in the early 19th century, and infused all top-down educational efforts from that point forward. This idea – that men are not given to know divine truths unless and until the Spirit comes to know them in concrete History – held great appeal to Protestant and recently Protestant minds. Rather than an indictment, they could reframe the radical fracturing of Protestantism over time and space as the necessarily messy workings of the Spirit, and the Church’s claim to being the repository and defender of unchanging Truth to be the height of ignorance and hubris.
Princeton’s Francis Patton declared that “the rationality or rather the reasonableness of a belief is the condition of its credibility.” That is, you believe it because reason ratifies it, a view Augustine would have heard with horror, one that John Webster, writing in 1654, rejects as obviously absurd. “But if man gave his assent unto, or believed the things of Christ . . . because they appear probable . . . to his reason, then would his faith be . . . upon the rotten basis of human authority.” By the end of the nineteenth century, human authority has been put in the place of revelation; or rather human authority, now identified with the progressive illumination afforded by reason, has become the vehicle of revelation and of a religion that can do very nicely without any strong conception of personal deity.
This realization was not instantaneous nor universal by any means. Up until the early 20th century, it was not uncommon for various Protestant leaders (Francis Patton, for example) to cry anathema on other Protestants and Christian sects for the heresy of disagreeing with established dogmas. These firebrands still believed that there were revealed truths that *required* our assent if we were to be saved. Since then, and especially over the last 5 or 6 decades, it has become moot to wonder what an American Episcopalian or Lutheran, say, would have to do to be a heretic by the lights of the leaders of their own denominations. Still, among the sheep, there are those who believe that it is possible to be wrong – but, practically, among the leadership? I’ve seen no evidence.
Once Christianity fades entirely and Hegel’s Spirit is laughed off the stage, Marx substitutes his strangely efficacious History into the Spirit’s slot (it fits once Hegel is flipped on his head). Marx renounces Hegel’s considered modesty: we, in the person of Marx, no longer need to wait for Spirit/History to unfold itself, it has unfolded itself to the end! We know where we’re going – and the only foolishness is to be on the wrong side.
Hegel considers what he calls ‘propositional reason,’ which is what Fish is calling simply reason in this essay, to be useful to the little people such as scientists and mathematicians, but of no use to real philosophers doing the hard thinking of real philosophy. For such lofty person pursuing their high and lonely destinies, the law of noncontradiction does not apply, neither do they attempt to work from true premises using valid logic to new states of knowledge. No, like Freud attacking his critics from within his theory (they only disagree because they are repressed, you see), reason is based on some form of unassailable enlightenment. It doesn’t have to be consistent; it doesn’t have to make sense. In any case, it is beyond the reach of mere logical discussion.
The attentive reader will note that such premises are not only as dogmatic and more than anything claimed by Calvin or Luther, but that they serve at least as well the purpose of ending discourse, or hope of discourse. You either get it, or you don’t.
It’s not like people didn’t notice, even at the time:
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Yale’s Noah Porter scoffed at the supposed neutrality and evenhandedness of secular educational theory, which, he pointed out, was its theology: “The question is not whether the college shall or shall not teach theology, but what theology it shall teach”theology according to . . . Moses and Paul or according to Buckle and Draper.” By the beginning of this century it was all too evident which of these directions had been taken by American education. In tones recently echoed by conservative polemicists, the editors of Cosmopolitan magazine complained in 1909 that
In hundreds of classrooms it is being taught daily that the decalogue is no more sacred than a syllabus; that the home as an institution is doomed; that there are no absolute evils . . . that the change of one religion to another is like getting a new hat; that moral precepts are passing shibboleths; that conceptions of right and wrong are as unstable as styles of dress.
“The neutrality we have,” thundered William Jennings Bryan in 1923, “is often but a sham; it carefully excludes the Christian religion but permits the use of the schoolroom for the destruction of faith and for the teaching of materialistic doctrines.” From a quite different perspective, Walter Lippmann agreed: “Reason and free inquiry can be neutral and tolerant only of those opinions which submit to the test of reason and free inquiry.” What this means, as Marsden points out, is that “two irreconcilable views of truth and education were at issue”; but of course the issue was never really joined, because the liberal establishment thought of itself as already reconciled to everything and anything and therefore was unable to see how exclusionary its policy of radical in clusion really was: “Groups that were excluded, such as Marxists and fundamentalists, often raised the point that they were being excluded by liberal dogmatism, but they were seldom heard.”
That they were not heard is hardly surprising, since what they were saying was that a state of “warfare” existed, and warfare ”deep conflict over basic and nonnegotiable issues” was precisely what liberalism was invented to deny; and it manages that denial by excluding from the tolerance it preaches anyone who will not pledge allegiance to the mimicry of tolerance.
The point being missed: an Hegelian or Marxist will very easily “pledge allegiance to the mimicry of tolerance.” They have already done it. They’ve been doing it for a century. They are doing it now, most notably at Berkeley. War is Peace. Speech is Aggression. Beatings and Intimidation are Freedom. Gramsci and Alinsky would nod approvingly.
On an intellectual level, we must challenge the premises that preclude rational discussion. While on a strictly logical basis, Fish is correct that premises cannot be chosen rationally – you have to have premises to reason in the first place. But the logical outcomes of our premises can be examined, and contradictions can invalidate certain combinations of premises as being incompatible. Thus, I cannot defend open-minded discussion without some sort of assumption that truth matters, that truth is knowable at least to some degree, and that words carry meanings that can be communicated between interlocutors.
It is not merely a question of this or that indifferent premise being enforced because we like it better for pre-rational reasons, so to speak. Some premises support conversation and some defeat it. Any society worth defending supports the free expression of ideas. To do so, it must hold up to scorn and refuse to enshrine in law or custom any premises that defeat communication by their nature.
Things have only gotten worse since Dr. Fish wrote this essay. When we allow thugs to shut down speech, when we are ‘tolerant’ of views that defeat the very idea of tolerance, when we cede the field to those who claim the very idea of logical consistency is irrational, we are not furthering this grand experiment. We are less, not more, free.
(Working on that How Airlines Finance Their Planes essay, but, in the meantime…)
Yes, I know I’ve got piles of books still to read cluttering up my desk, my Kindle and the floor near my bed. Yes, I have even more books that I’d really like to reread. But how could one pass these beauties up?
From right to left: The Forest of Time had been in my Amazon cart for a while, couldn’t put it off any longer; speaking of Mike Flynn, he quoted from and recommended R. A. Lafferty’s Fall of Romehere, and it sounded so good I had to; and finally, I don’t remember who recommended the Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, but most likely it was that Flynn guy again. It, too, had been sitting in the cart for ages. Once you order one book, the next ones get much easier…
Meanwhile, I am so close to finishing this short story I started about a month ago! For the last week or so, I’ve tried the whenever-you-get-bogged-skip-ahead-and-keep-writing approach, and it has proved very helpful. Last night, couldn’t sleep, so sat up until I’d written the ending. Massive relief – I now know where everything is heading, and so, filling in the spots I’ve skipped and doing one and only one quick revision is proving much easier so far (woke up early and put another hour into it).
I’m going to put it aside for a few days once finished, give it another once over, then inflict it on my poor family. Hey, anybody want to read a story and give me feedback? It’s only maybe 6,000 words, not too big a deal…
Also, found the latest partial draft of a story I started a couple decades ago, which I liked enough to write it twice so far, each time deciding I didn’t like the draft, start a third time, and – it’s been there for a couple years now. Sheesh. But I really like the story, so, as soon as this one is done, I’m going to finish that other one. The good news is that I know exactly where it goes, lack of which knowledge has been the source of my petrification on many, many occasions.
THEN it’s back to the Novel That Shall Not Be Named, which – you’ll be shocked to hear – I don’t know exactly where it’s going, and so have become frozen in place. AND I’ve got to get back to Hegel and all that education reading I started.
Sure hope I live, and keep my eyesight and mind (such as it is), to at least 80 – because I’m booked (ha!) through then at least.
Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been widely adopted in America’s teacher-training programs. A 2003 study by David Steiner and Susan Rozen determined that Pedagogy of the Oppressed was frequently assigned at top education schools.
So, if your child is being educated by one of the graduates of a “top education school” or any of the myriad of education schools which ape the top education schools (hint: almost all of them), there’s a very good chance that the education of such a teacher included this piece of unabashed Marxist – I gave up potty talk for Lent.
Imagine a young person, bright eyed, optimistic, and yet insecure, ignorant (which is how they justify going to college, right?) and desperate to fit in and get good grades. When an education professor gets out the trowel and starts laying this stuff on, how likely is a student to protest? Argue back? Call out manifest errors? How likely are they to even see any problems? They have been trained for years to please, not to think. Thus, our K-12 schools are full of teachers who think feel this sort of nonsense is simple common wisdom. Our children marinate in those assumptions – for 12+ years.
Thinking I should do a detailed chapter by chapter review, pointing out what Freire means in practice. He alternates, roughly, between typical Hegelian gibberish and nice sounding passages about freedom and even love. One who is ignorant, gullible or both – as is nearly always the case with the products of our schools (hey, they’re kids – I was ignorant and gullible back then, too) – might find his words sympathetic – Christian, even. Yet one must remember that examples from history – what actually happens, not the “concrete historical reality” of Marx and Hegel, which consists of cherry-picked items hammered beyond recognition into the mangled shapes of theoretically acceptable outcomes – tend strongly to contradict everything Hegel, Marx, and Freire say. Half-truths are the coin of this realm. They ape truth enough to fool the inattentive, which is always how the better class of liars work.
Here are some samples from early in the book (I’m into the second chapter so far; don’t know how much of this I can stomach):
While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. (1) Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.
Clear? If so, let me muck it up for you. Imagine you’re a conventionally-educated young person, with a fresh diploma from any of the thousands of institutions governed by the sort of people who inflict the above on more or less innocent young people: have you ever been required to parse out anything this obtuse? Do the terms – humanization, axiological, ontological, historical reality, concrete, objective, context, uncompleted, conscious (Hegelian, Marxist, even a bit of Freud eventually) – mean anything to you? Would you even suspect that they don’t mean what common English might lead you to think they mean?
Of course, these are all rhetorical questions. There is approximately zero chance any 20-something in America who attends an education school has any substantial understanding of any of these things. In fact, K-12 training (it will hardly do to call it education) conditions children to regurgitate what the teacher or test expect.
If they did, they might know, for example (3):
“Humanization” – this term has a history. Hegel views the world as always Becoming, never Being – being is dead, only becoming is real. Therefore, we cannot talk about a duty to recognize the humanity in another person – that would be to talk about Being: being human. If we go down that road, we might expect to be called to treat all people as human beings (not human becomings!) and imagine that justice would require all of us to have, for example, unaliable rights and duties to each other.
No, much better from Freire’s and Marx’s perspective if we think of human beings as incomplete, in their rights, freedoms, and duties. Then, we can talk about how to violate some people’s rights in order to get other people their rights without ever using those terms – which might, just barely, cause a twitch of conscience.
“Historical reality” – much beloved concept by Hegelians and Marxists. One might imagine it means “what is evident looking at history”. What it really means is “how history looks once it has been tortured into a shape determined by Hegelian or Marxist theories.” Those theories, in turn, do not base their truth claims on anything observable in history, but rather on special insights gained by getting sprinkled with the right magic fairy dust – something like that. Just know that Hegelians and Marxists reject out of hand that one should be able to arrive at their conclusions by rigorous and logical examination of the facts on the ground – nope, as in all religions, they claim “I believe, so that I might understand”.
“Conscious” – this is a measure of how much you agree with Freire, Marx or Hegel. If you totally disagree, you consciousness is ‘false’; if you totally agree, your consciousness if high or complete. If you are (mercifully) unaware of the discussion, you are unconscious. Thus, whenever these folks speak of raising consciousness, they mean getting people to agree with them, generally the unconscious. It seems the kids these days use the term ‘woke’ in the same manner. In such a world, anyone who claims to thoroughly understand Marxist premises and nonetheless completely dismisses them – me, for example – becomes irredeemably evil – I don’t even *want* to have my consciousness raised! (My consciousness is already raised way higher than theirs, as I explain here.)
More important even than never having heard these Marxist notions explicitly laid out, our education victims have never heard them vigorously attacked. They assume such notions represent the universal educated view – and their teachers will never do anything to disabuse them.
With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the product of violence? How could they be the sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.
Here we pull a neat trick, one very popular in modern Marxist thinking: Everything you, the designated oppressor does, is an act of violence; nothing I, the designated oppressed or victim, do can be violence by definition. Thus, a white person doing *anything* other than complete self-immolation on the altar of institutional racism is committing an act of violent oppression. Thus, personally being kind and accepting with no regard for a person’s race is – ready? – violent racist oppression. And inciting people to shoot and murder white policemen with no regard for the policemen’s personal behavior, or committing the actual murders themselves are – not violence, and cannot be. By definition.
Under Marxist and, indeed, Hegelian analysis, the Law of Noncontradiction (4) does not apply: something *can* both be and not be at the same time in the same way. The obvious violence involved in murder is not violence – because we say so. Oh, sure, in some *technical* petty way, blowing somebody’s brains out (or starving 20 million Ukrainian peasants, or taking a power drill to the heads of Cambodian children, or forcing Venezuelans to eat their pets, or refusing asylum to Cuban refugees) might be called violence by the small minded and those not yet woke, or otherwise laboring under false consciousness, but in the big picture, any means to achieving the glorious end is licit and commendable – and, per Freire, not violence.(5)
Thus, when thugs – excuse me, fully conscious individuals acting out of true fraternal love – threaten and beat people, burn cars, and destroy shops in order to prevent other people, people clearly laboring under false consciousness, from hearing wrong thoughts – well, only oppressors would call that the violent suppression of free speech! Orwell rolls his eyes.
In the same way, obvious kindness involved in acts of true generosity are not only not kindness, but are acts of violence and oppression UNLESS they further the cause of the revolution:
True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life’, to extend their trembling hands. Real generosity lies in striving so that those hands – whether of individuals or entire peoples – need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human -hands which work and, by working, transform the world.
I believe Freire here means to evoke the image of, say, English landholder in Ireland who, by law, had to feed their starving Irish serfs – or, if it turned out to be cheaper, pay their passage to Canada or the US. There is no charity in such an arrangement, just business. And the goal clearly was to do whatever was cheapest to maintain the English as lords and owners, and the Irish as powerless serfs. History (again, what actually happens, not Marxist hamburger) does indeed present us with a nearly limitless supply of such cases. Brazil, where Freire spent years of his life, would not lack for examples.
We are intended to see cases of true oppression by means of violence and the threat of violence at the hands of invading conquerors as the type of false charity. But: if you were to ask Freire (or any Marxist): what about the charity of, say, nuns starting a school in the wild, feeding and clothing the children of the poor as well as teaching them? That happens a lot, too. He’d say, on principle, that those nuns are acting violently to perpetuate the oppressor’s dominance UNLESS they are PRIMARILY concerned with raising the consciousness of those children, to make them into Marxist revolutionaries. So, feed them, cloth them, teach them to read if you must, so long as those are steps on the way to making them little Comrades who are willing to commit any act of violence-that-is-not-violence to free the oppressed.
But, boy, it sounds so cool with no context, striving so that hands need less and less to be extended in supplication. Sounds like a free market guy, even. But helping people help themselves is not exactly what he means.
A full review would be another book. Sigh. We’ll see what we can do, if the interest is there.
Not looking for pity, here – just read Mike Flynn’s excellent Captive Dream and his latest in Analog, so I’ve gotten a good solid fun read fix. I’ve willingly accepted the grim responsibility that motivates reading this other stuff. As those addicted to outrage evince, getting worked up does have its meager, transient and probably not good for you rewards.
An amusing tidbit: in the translation I’ve downloaded onto my Kindle, the translator uses traditional Marxist jargon – man, New Man, mankind – and, when referring to ‘the worker’ or the ‘new man,’ uses the generic pronouns he, him, his. The translation linked above is more recent, and so refers to New Person, humankind, and uses ‘he or she’ etc. Seems that even Freire himself, or at least his translator, was trapped within an oppressor construct, and his apparent good-will and generosity were self-serving delusions, merely tools of oppression designed to maintain the oppressor/oppressed dynamic. In other words, he ain’t woke. But: a still more recent translation, if such exists, would of course use ‘zur’ or whatever the heck made up pronouns the kids these days are using, revealing even the newer (2000) translation as socially constructed to maintain the current oppressor paradigm. I’m sure even now in a classroom somewhere, Freire is being held up as an oppressor in sheep’s clothing for the delectation of wide-eyed 19 year olds. And then the next translation…
Please note that this is a way high-level analysis. I know it’s not complete. What I’m trying to do is give a flavor of the sort of thing that will likely never get discussed, because neither the student or the teacher have much of an idea of what’s going on in the text.
The contradiction is suspended in the dialectical synthesis (murder of oppressors isn’t violence) of thesis (murder is violence) and antithesis (but I really want to!) – suspended, but not contradicted or resolved in any way accessible to a rational person using logic as understood by anybody who is not a Hegelian. Because Marx says so.
Dewey, an earlier education theory god, from his perch high in the education pantheon, likewise excused Soviet atrocities as simply necessary pragmatic steps – the only meaningful way one could say murder, even murders rising to the level of statistics, was ‘wrong’ is if it failed to achieve its end. (Note to the note: yes, I am aware of the dispute around whether Stalin actually said that line, but given his actions, misattributing it to him seems a fairly tame error.)
A. Just got back from a industry conference and a pilgrimage – more on that later – which provided a bit of sitting-on-a-plane and stuck-in-a-hotel-room reading time. When reading Brian Niemeier’s books – Nethereal and Souldancer – it is *essential* that one be wide awake and paying attention. Reading either in bed as sleep stalks and takes you – not going to work. Far too much going on. BUT: reading them on the plane home, after getting 9 hours of sleep (unheard of for me) and a brief nap on the plane – well, MUCH better, much more engaging and followable. In a way, this is unfortunate, since I tend to use my small, uncertain and therefore valuable wide-awake reading time for stuff like Fichte and Hegel and education history, while fiction, mythology and short stuff like Chesterton essays get the 30-60 minutes it typically takes me to fall asleep.
B. I’ve mentioned Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club a few times on this blog, generally very favorably.He writes elegant and pithy prose that is a joy to read. His knack for telling details and ability to draw fascinating connections that others might miss are wonderful, and led me to rethink some stuff with which I was already familiar and explore other issues of which I was not yet aware: for example, the role of Puritan Calvinists in the founding of Harvard and thereby in the fabric of American higher education; the (mis)use of statistics at the very foundations of American science; the ubiquity of Pragmatism in American thinking; and, less felicitous and perhaps not entirely intended by Menand, the prevalence and ultimate dogmatic orthodoxy of bone-headed irrationality masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Examples of this abound. Most strikingly, those following Charles Sanders Pierce, as Menand’s examples amply illustrate, took his Pragmatic Maxims as meaning ‘the ends justify the means’ pure and simple, despite their protestations otherwise. Dewey’s defence of Trotsky (not discussed in the book, although Dewey himself gets plenty of ink) states emphatically that any appeal to conscience or ideals in determining what is ethical is delusional, that all that matters is the outcome of the actions – bring the Worker’s Paradise closer, and your actions are ethical in any meaningful sense. Continue reading “Quick Reading Update”
Following links around (the ‘who is this who pointed somebody to my blog?’ links), I came across this:
Because of his great reverence for books and intellectuals, Hitler amassed a large personal library during the 1920s. Especially once royalties began to arrive from sales of his 1925 Mein Kampf, he was able to indulge in serious collecting. When he came to political power in the 1930s, visiting foreign dignitaries knew of his passion and presented him with gifts of books, including a set of volumes on Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
And Hitler read them — the Fichte volumes contain “a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose,” according to historian Timothy W. Ryback, author of Hitler’s Private Library, writing in The Atlantic.
Ah, Fichte! Ever since I first read him, I’ve pointed out that he was a proto-Nazi, that his ideas carried through logically would call for the establishment of Germany as the ruler of the world. Via von Humboldt’s patronage and role in reshaping the German schools, Fichte’s ideas had become part of the intellectual background of Prussians and all Germans. But here, we find the direct link: Hitler himself was a fanboy!
Who would have thunk it?
I also like the reference to ‘theological prose’ – the Fichte I’ve read seriously is his Addresses to the German People, which is a collection of popular lectures (I have yet to gird up my intellectual loins for the journey through his more scholarly stuff – may I live that long! (I’d be really old…)). In them, God is treated as more an historical force manifesting itself through the self-realization and evolution of the (German, natch) people, rather than as the personal God of Jews and Christians. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism during his career, which he denied and which were hard to pin on him, given the ability of a creative mind to frame almost any sufficiently vague concept of God as acceptable within a Lutheran/Protestant framework. (1)
The formula of a divinely blessed supreme state as the means to crush evil and establish Heaven on earth is shared, under a variety of guises, by just about all of our post-post-modern revolutionaries. That capital ‘H’ history as described by Hegel is that History on the wrong side of which no right-thinking person will willingly be found. Therefore, being told that one is on the wrong side of History is an unintentional honor and might well be worn as a badge of sanity.
Too bad saying someone is like Hitler has become nothing more than a meaningless ritualized insult. Because a lot of people now days are, in their hearts and thoughts, a lot like Hitler.
Hegel himself was known to be a conventually devout practicing Lutheran, which seemed to spare him from the charge of Atheism leveled at both Kant and especially Fichte, even though the God of Hegel’s works is nothing like the personal, almighty Father of Scripture and tradition. The idea of a Spirit that comes to know itself over time and through History (always a capital ‘H’ with Hegel…) cannot, logically speaking, refer to the Supreme Being. Hegel might call it the Supreme Becoming.