Sunday, 30 June 2019

On Philosophical Tyrants

It will be hard to find a man capable of greater brutality than a philosopher who is devoted to creating a perfect society based on his own philosophical theories. A country where philosophers rule directly, or indirectly by joining hands with the politicians, is always a miserable place. For the philosophers, everything, including human life, is an abstraction. They are prone to ignoring reality and rationalizing about the problems that the country is facing. They will keep philosophizing while the country’s economy and standard of living goes down the drain.

A normal politician may appear unsophisticated and even uncultured because he generally wins support by organizing extensive grassroots level campaigns and addressing gatherings of raucous people. But he is far less dangerous than any “philosopher king”—and he has the capacity to understand the problems that the masses are facing and making genuine efforts to solve them. A country is much better off when political power is being wielded by the politicians who do not belong to the intellectual and philosophical class.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

On Nationalism and Renaissance

The intellectuals who condemn nationalism are ignoring the connection between nationalism and renaissance. Every renaissance that humanity has experienced in the past has been inspired by the desire of the people in a nation to revive the glorious culture that their ancestors had once created from their political, intellectual, economic, and militaristic achievements.

A renaissance, by definition, is a revival, a reawakening, a rebirth. A political and cultural movement to radically transform a country (a renaissance) can succeed only when a large section of the population has a good sense of history and culture, and they love and admire their nation for its past achievements.

The Age of the Renaissance in Europe (between the 14th and 17th centuries) was also an age of rising nationalist sentiments—people started identifying with the culture and history of their nation as they had never done before. A “nationalist” is a person who loves his nation, its culture, and its history—people like him are a necessary condition for a renaissance.

Jung On The Stages of Life

Carl Gustav Jung, in his essay, “The Stages of Life,” (Chapter 1; The Portable Jung, Edited by Joseph Campbell; translated by R. F. C. Hull), points out that there are four stages in a man’s life, and he talks about the physiological issues that arise as a man transitions from one phase of life to other. Here’s an excerpt in which he is using the analogy of the sun’s motion to describe the difficulty a man faces in transitioning from the phase of mature adulthood to extreme old age:
"Experience shows us, rather, that the basic cause of all the difficulties of this transition is to be found in a deep-seated and peculiar change within the psyche. In order to characterize it I must take for comparison the daily course of the sun—but a sun that is endowed with human feeling and man's limited consciousness. In the morning it rises from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness and looks upon the wide, bright world which lies before it in an expanse that steadily widens the higher it climbs in the firmament. In this extension of its field of action caused by its own rising, the sun will discover its significance; it will see the attainment of the greatest possible height, and the widest possible dissemination of its blessings, as its goal. In this conviction the sun pursues its course to the unforeseen zenith—unforeseen, because its career is unique and individual, and the culminating point could not be calculated in advance. At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning. The sun falls into contradiction with itself. It is as though it should draw in its rays instead of emitting them. Light and warmth decline and are at last extinguished." 
Jung notes that it is fortunate that we are not like rising and setting suns, because that would fare badly with our cultural values. “But there is something sunlike within us, and to speak of the morning and spring, of the evening and autumn of life is not mere sentimental jargon.”

Friday, 28 June 2019

Intellectuals Versus The Ignorant

The silliness that you find in intelligent and perceptive intellectuals is often more severe than the silliness that you may find in people who are seemingly ignorant.

On the Correlation Between Philosophy and History

Theory and practice cannot be dissociated from each other because one informs the other. Alasdair Macintyre is of the view that an artificial division between theory and practice (philosophy and history) had its origins in the Enlightenment. Here’s an excerpt from Macintyre’s After Virtue (Chapter 5: “Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality”):
Abstract changes in moral concepts are always embodied in real, particular events. There is a history yet to be written in which the Medici princes, Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, Frederick the Great and Napoleon, Walpole and Wilberforce, Jefferson and Robespierre are understood as expressing in their actions, often partially and in a variety of different ways, the very same conceptual changes which at the level of philosophical theory are articulated by Machiavelli and Hobbes, by Diderot and Condorcet, by Hume and Adam Smith and Kant. There ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions, the other only by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action. 

Thus the transition into modernity was a transition both in theory and in practice and a single transition at that. It is because the habits of mind engendered by our modern academic curriculum separate out the history of political and social change (studied under one set of rubrics in history departments by one set of scholars) from the history of philosophy (studied under quite a different set of rubrics in philosophy departments by quite another set of scholars) that ideas are endowed with a falsely independent life of their own on the one hand and political and social action is presented as peculiarly mindless on the other. This academic dualism is of course itself the expression of an idea at home almost everywhere in the modern world; so much so indeed, that Marxism, the most influential adversary theory of modern culture, presents what is just one more version of this same dualism in the distinction between basis and ideological superstructure. 
This chimes with my own view of the artificial division between history and philosophy—I think there exists a distinct parallel between intellectual and social history.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Why is Libertarian Political Analysis so Lousy?

Why is political analysis by libertarian scholars so lousy? I think this is because the libertarians tend to take a philosophical approach to politics. They don’t get it that political activism and philosophizing do not mix well in a man’s mind. Good politics is one thing; good philosophy is another. You can either be a philosopher, or a political activist. If you try to orchestrate a forced marriage between politics and philosophy, they will not live happily ever after—they will rip each other apart, and a stage will be reached when there will be neither good politics nor good philosophy left.

On The Limitations of Human Reason

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
By Francisco Goya
Hugo Mercier and Daniel Sperber are looking at the evolution and working of reason in their book The Enigma of Reason. Here’s an excerpt from the their Introduction to the book:
Human reason is both biased and lazy. Biased because it overwhelmingly finds justifications and arguments that support the reasoner's point of view, lazy because reason makes little effort to assess the quality of the justifications and arguments it produces. Imagine, for instance, a reasoner who happens to be partial to holidays at the beach. When reasoning about where to spend her next vacation, she will spontaneously accumulate reasons to choose a sunny place by the sea, including reasons that are manifestly poor (say, that there’s a discount on the flight to the very place where she would like to go, when in fact the same discount applies to many other destinations as well). 
The solitary use of reason has two typical outcomes. When the reasoner starts with a strong opinion, the reasons that come to her mind tend all to support this opinion. She is unlikely, then, to change her mind; she might even become overconfident and develop stronger opinions. But sometimes a reasoner stars with no strong opinion, or with conflicting views. In this case, reason will drive her toward whatever choice happens to be easier to justify, and this sometimes won’t be the best choice. Imagine she had the choice between visiting her horrible in-laws and then vacationing at the beach, or somewhat cheaper. Reason will drive her toward what seems to be the rational decision: taking the cheaper option. 
I think reason has contributed greatly to our success as a species—it is what makes us special. However, we are really bad at reasoning. We tend to place a greater weight on evidence that supports our existing beliefs, and less weight on evidence that contradict them. More often than not we rationalize to find support for the good or bad choices that we have made in life.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

How Objectivism Destroyed Ayn Rand’s Legacy!

To say that a movement is essential to develop and disseminate a philosopher’s work, is tantamount to saying that a government is essential to build roads and provide healthcare. The countries with big governments have the worst roads and healthcare, likewise the philosophers whose work is monopolized by a movement face the risk of becoming irrelevant.

None of the important philosophers in the last 2000 years have wasted their time in trying to start a movement.

Ayn Rand ruined her legacy by teaming up with a bunch of foolish youngsters and starting objectivism which soon developed a government like command-and-control structure and inserted a collectivist element into her philosophy of individualism. Her legacy would have been in a better shape if she had never met these youngsters and continued to do what she was good at—writing novels, movie scripts, and articles.

What did the youngsters bring to her? Nothing, except a massive loss of reputation and credibility. What has objectivism brought to her? Nothing, except the indignity of being regarded as the founder of the world’s most incompetently argued philosophy.

A Memorable Passage from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Here’s an interesting passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (Page 53-54):

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect."

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Philosophical Movement! Who Needs It?

The idea that you need a philosophical movement dedicated to the cause of liberty and reason to create a free and scientific society is a blatant rationalization by some intellectuals. There is no historical evidence to show that such philosophical movements are a necessary condition for the rise of good nations. In fact, such movements lead to intellectual corruption and often fail to create a milieu that is conducive for genuine liberty and reason.

A country can find itself sinking deeper and deeper into statism and mysticism despite being home to several prominent intellectuals who night and day philosophize and rant about liberty and reason. On the other hand, a country where very little attention is being paid to the philosophy of liberty and reason may develop an advanced capitalist culture. Countries like the USA, the UK, and Japan have never had philosophically inspired mass movements and yet they are mostly free and they have a scientific culture. Their politics is mostly in control of the men of action—the politicians, who try to attain power by running extensive grassroots level campaigns.

Also, there is no guarantee that a philosophical movement that talks about reason and liberty will implement those ideals if it manages to attain political power. It is easy to talk about all kinds of values when you are out of power, but once you are in power, you may get corrupted or have a change of mind or find yourself incapable of implementing those values. I think, several non-philosophical factors have a much greater role to play in the development of good nations.

The Dialectics of Liberty

One of the issues that I see in “libertarianism” is that it is not clear what this word really stands for—your libertarian might turn out to be someone quite different from my libertarian. There are different types of libertarians who embrace all kinds of philosophical and political values and define their personal philosophy by terms such as divergent as: Anarcho-Capitalism, Civil Libertarianism, Classical Liberalism, Fiscal Libertarianism, Libertarian Socialism, Minarchism, Agorism, Neolibertarianism, and Paleolibertarianism. These schools of libertarianism have wide ideological and methodical differences with each other.

Today I started reading The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. The book has 18 essays by 19 well known libertarian scholars. (The chapter 4, “Whence Natural Rights?” is jointly written by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen.) The book is divided into three parts, each with six essays—Part 1: Foundations and Systems of Liberty; Part 2: Government, Economy, and Culture; and Part 3: Justice, Liberation, and Rights. But, as the coeditors point out in their Introduction to the book, this division of parts has nothing to do with the ““Hegelian Triad”—which actually originated with Fichte, since Hegel himself never used the terms “thesis,” “antithesis,” “synthesis,” in his work!”

I think, this book, with its emphasis on dialectics, may shed light on the context that is common to libertarianism’s myriad offshoots. In their Introduction, the coeditors note that their dialectical approach takes into account all forms of libertarianism: “Dialectical libertarianism is thus a large umbrella formed from the welding together of two major components—the methodology of context-keeping and the ideology of human freedom. It is a very broad paradigm, with numerous variants contending for acceptance, as is reflected in the range of essays in this collection. The nature of the dialectical approach we champion allows for libertarian views that run the gamut from the Mises-oriented “right-libertarians” to the Center for a Stateless Society “left-libertarians,” but all still within the “universe” of the dialectical libertarian alternative the volume represents.”

The first essay, “Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism,” by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, concludes with these lines:

“In the final analysis, dialectical libertarianism forms the basis of a broad research program, within which there may be much theoretical diversity and varying strategic implications. The project seems daunting, for the invitation to large-scale theorizing might give the impression that one must analyze everything before one can change anything. But this specter of “analysis paralysis” is as much of an example of the “synoptic delusion” fallacy as is the notion of central planning. What is required is a more fully developed critique of the system that generates the social problems in our midst—and a corresponding vision for social change that resolves these problems at their root, in all their personal, cultural, and structural manifestations. A genuinely radical project beckons, one that integrates the explanatory power of libertarian social theory and the context-keeping orientation of dialectical method.”

Currently I am halfway through the book’s second essay, “Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines,” by Edward W. Younkins. I will have more to say on the book in the days to come as I finish reading its other essays.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Why Ayn Rand Failed as a Philosopher?

Ayn Rand was probably unaware that philosophy provides the proximate explanations and not the ultimate explanations. She started her philosophy of objectivism with the intention of providing the ultimate explanations for living happily on earth.

She and her followers saw themselves as the chosen people, they regarded the truth that they embraced as the ultimate truth, they envisioned a perfect civilization which they would create after vanquishing the imperfect civilization that exists today. Their agenda was so monumental and magnificent that only an entity with superhuman powers, a “god”, could have achieved it. The objectivists didn’t have a god, but they had a perfect mind in the person of Rand. After all, 100% certainty implies 100% perfection and as Rand was 100% certain, she had a perfect mind.

And so what was originally conceived as a “philosophy of reason and individualism,” soon morphed into a movement that is dedicated to worshipping its founder as the perfect mind and the world’s ultimate repository of ultimate explanations.

I believe that Skepticism is the fountainhead of philosophy. A man who is convinced that he is a repository of all the ultimate explanations will make a lousy philosopher. I am not saying that a philosopher should be skeptic all the time and about everything—but he must never lose sight of the fact the “philosophical arguments” that he is providing may invite counter-arguments.

Rand has written good novels, but as a philosopher, she was a failure because she was incapable of having any kind of self-doubt. She never cared to examine the arguments of all those who disagreed with her on any issue because she was 100% certain that she was always right.

What Turns Intellectuals into Strident, Ruthless, Slavedrivers?

Eric Hoffer, in his essay, “The Readiness to Work,” observes that most intellectuals, even those who stand for liberty and individualism, cannot feel wholly at home in a free society. Here’s an excerpt:
"The paradox is, then, that although the intellectual has been in the forefront of the struggle for individual freedom, he can never feel wholly at home in a free society. He finds there neither an unquestioned sense of usefulness nor favorable conditions for the realization of his talents. Hence the contradiction between what the intellectual profess while he battles the status quo, and what he practices once he comes to power. At present, in every part of the world, we see how revolutionary movements initiated by idealistic intellectuals and preserved in their keeping tend to crystallize into hierarchal social orders in which an aristocratic intelligentsia commands and the masses are expected to obey. Such social orders, as we have seen, are ideal for the performance of the intellectual but not for that of the masses. It is this circumstance rather than the corruption of power which has been turning idealistic intellectuals into strident, ruthless, slavedrivers." ~ (The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer; Chapter 5, “The Readiness for Work”) 
I think that our modern society offers several examples to substantiate Hoffer’s point of view.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

On The Advantage of Having a Philosophical View

To have a philosophical view of the world is like going up a mountain and from the height taking a look at the world below. All the filth and confusion, sadness and pain, irrationality and malice fade away and what you have is a sanitized, grand, orderly, and sublime perspective of civilization.

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness is the story of a journey into the heart of Africa—up the Congo River and into the Congo Free State. The story has great insights on human nature. I think this book can also be seen as a work of philosophy.

Here’s a description of a scene from the novel’s final pages:

When Mr. Kurtz, the rogue ivory trader, dies his last words are: “The horror! The horror!” By then the novel’s narrator, Charles Marlow, is himself very ill—he is in the borderline between life and death when he contemplates about the sadness of life in these words:
“Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is — that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.” 
Marlow survives and returns to London and there be breaks the news of Kurtz’s death to his fiancé. But in the settings of the modern world he is unable to tell her the truth and lies about Kurtz’s life and business in the jungles of Africa. When she asks him what were Kurtz’s last words, Marlow replies: "The last word he pronounced was—your name.”

Ayn Rand’s Mission Proselytization

The philosophies of the world can be divided into two broad categories: the philosophies that seek to explain and the philosophies that seek to proselytize. However, there are several philosophies that have components of both—they seek to explain as well as proselytize. Ayn Rand’s objectivist movement is, I think, focused mainly on proselytization—that is why the objectivists seem less devoted to philosophical research, and producing books and papers. They are mainly into organizing events and public meetings. One of the first steps that Rand took for objectivism was the creation of NBI in partnership with Nathaniel Branden. The NBI was not devoted to philosophical research—it was primarily into events and promotion related work. I think it is quite amazing that Rand had not produced a single book or paper on any area of philosophy when she started an institution (the NBI) to preach her gospel.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Moral Argument is Rationally Interminable

Why can’t mankind reach an agreement on the problems of wars, abortion, welfare state, and several other issues? Why is it that the philosophical and political debates on these issues are always unending? According to Alasdair Macintyre, in modern times all moral argument is rationally interminable. In Chapter 2, “The Nature of Moral Disagreement Today,” of his book After Virtue, Macintyre writes:

“Contemporary moral argument is rationally interminable, because all moral, indeed all evaluative, argument is and always must be rationally interminable. Contemporary moral disagreements of a certain kind cannot be resolved, because no moral disagreements of that kind in any age, past, present or future, can be resolved.”

Macintyre notes that this challenge of there being no rational way of securing agreement in moral disputes invites us to confront the philosophical theory of emotivism. He defines emotivism as a “doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”

Thursday, 20 June 2019

On Ayn Rand’s Attacks on Past Philosophers

You can learn a lot about a philosopher’s agenda by looking at the philosophers that he or she attacks. A philosopher who is lusting for glory will attack the most popular and powerful philosophers with the hope that by vanquishing the reigning emperors in the history of philosophy he will prove his own mettle as a philosophical warrior and make himself relevant in the eyes of his contemporaries and posterity.

Ayn Rand, I believe, was lusting for glory when in the 1960s she aimed her bazooka at Plato, David Hume, and most importantly, Immanuel Kant. Unfortunately, her plan backfired because her attacks were ignorantly and sloppily orchestrated—instead of vanquishing the topmost philosophers of the western tradition, she shot herself in the foot and caused irreparable harm to her own reputation as a thinker.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Is 21st Century the Age of Anti-Aristotelianism?

There are two kinds of philosophers — the conformists and the rebels. The conformists play a role in explicating and strengthening the ideas that are already dominant in the society, whereas the rebels are focused on refuting the dominant ideas and establishing a new system of thought. In order to be effective, the rebels must target the philosophical systems that are most popular among the scholars and the masses.

Aristotelianism was never targeted in a big way by the rebellious philosophers for more than 2000 years after Aristotle because Aristotelianism was never seen as a dominant school of thought in any past culture—before the 19th century very few scholars bothered to discuss Aristotle and the masses were mostly unaware of him. Even during the Renaissance, the Aristotelian schools were relatively small and posed no threat to other schools. The fight during the Renaissance period was between the Humanists and the Religious thinkers. But in the 19th century Aristotelianism has come of age—it is now quite powerful, and so I suppose a major backlash is round the corner.

The 21st century could as well turn out to be the age of anti-Aristotelian philosophical movements.

On the Rise of Socialism in Asia

In his article, “The Awakening of Asia,” (Chapter 2; The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer), Eric Hoffer examines the reasons for which the masses in several Asian nations were eagerly embracing the communist system and accepting the hegemony of the Soviet Union. The article was written in the 1960s, but it contains wisdom that is relevant to our times. Here’s an excerpt:

“It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.”

Hoffer goes on to note that the intellectual and cultural weakness is so deep-rooted in some of the Asian countries that it is difficult to stop the march of communism through any kind of direct intervention:

“Nor can we win the weak by sharing our hope, pride, or even hatred with them. We are too far ahead materially and too different in our historical experience to serve as an object of identification. Our healing gift to the weak is the capacity for self-help. We must learn how to impart to them the technical, social, and political skills which would enable them to get bread, human dignity, freedom, and strength by their own efforts.”

I think Hoffer’s arguments can be summarized in this modification of Lord Acton’s words: Weakness tends to corrupt, and absolute weakness corrupts absolutely.

Monday, 17 June 2019

On Philosophy, Legends, and Religions

Philosophy entails venturing into unknown areas. That is why good philosophy always develops in cultures which are dominated by religions whose theological structure is explained through enduring legends which are full of all kinds of adventures. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle believed in Zeus. The religion of Zeus, propagated mainly through the legends of Hesiod and Homer, brought to the thinkers in Ancient Greece the desire venture into unknown areas of intellectualism.

In Plato’s the Republic, Socrates and his friends use the phrase “by Zeus” 92 times (as per my count in Allan Bloom’s translation of Plato’s the Republic). Socrates and his friends also talk about the Oracle of Delphi in several passages. Socrates insists that in the city founded by the philosophers, the Oracle of Delhi will be the final authority. Aristotle too was a believer in Zeus and Athena. According to Diogenes Laertius, in his will Aristotle left a sizable sum of money to build statues "4 cubits high in Stagira to Zeus the Preserver and Athena the Preserver, in fulfilment of [his] vow. "

Good philosophy and a religion rich in legends always walk hand-in-hand. The philosophers who hold religious beliefs have contributed far more to the development of a free, scientific, and tolerant society than the atheistic philosophers. The atheistic philosophers do not have any legends or traditions and so they mostly preach revolutionary ideas which denounce modernity and aim to take society into the dark ages when farmers and workers were the property of feudal lords and tyrants.

On The Libertarian Flags

Why do some libertarian movements use as their flag the picture of a rattlesnake coiled ready to strike with the text “DON'T TREAD ON ME” written beneath it? I understand that the flag has a historical connection—it was designed in 1775 (during the American Revolution) by the American general and politician Christopher Gadsden. During revolutionary times a flag with this kind of a symbolism is fine, but it makes little sense to use it in times of peace and stability.

When the libertarians use such a flag, they risk sending out the signal that they are dogmatic in their thinking, full of hatred for all non-libertarians (which means vast majority of the population), and alienated from the society. Your philosophical, economic, and political thinking might be good, but few people will come forward to support your cause if your calling card contains the image of a rattlesnake with its fang bared and the text “DON'T TREAD ON ME”. People have a poor sense of history—most of them may not even know about the connection with the Gadsden flag.

Some libertarian scholars, I have noticed, use the image of a hemp leaf as their flag. Perhaps they think that that the hemp leaf stands for liberty and good life. I believe that people should be free to consume the intoxicants of their choice, but to use a hemp leaf as the flag for a social and political movement is not a good strategy as it creates the impression that this is a movement of the hedonists, by the hedonists, and for the hedonists.

The “DON'T TREAD ON ME” flag and the hemp leaf flag should be rejected because they create the impression that the libertarians are a community of unhinged and alienated people. A social and political movement is also about winning—your flag should be such that it helps you in making a positive impression on maximum number of people.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Skepticism is the Fountainhead of Philosophy

In his book Way to Wisdom,  Karl Jaspers writes, “The source of philosophy is to be sought in wonder, in doubt, in a sense of forsakenness. In any case it begins with an inner upheaval, which determines its goal.” ~ (Chapter 2: “Sources of Philosophy”). I think this is correct. Till about 70,000 years ago the human beings were more or less like animals—they did not have the ability to doubt anything and they had to believe all the information that they received through their senses. In such a condition there could be no philosophy. Philosophy came into being when language become so advanced that the human beings had the ability to communicate to themselves and share with others their doubts about the nature of the world that they perceived around them. The first spark of philosophy must have been lit by the man who for the first time propagated the idea that the things that he and others see can be something else or may not even exist. This means that the idea that there is a reality outside the mind and that the world that we perceive through our senses is real has been gained through skepticism itself. We can then say that skepticism is the fountainhead of philosophy. Human beings philosophize because we wonder about things, we are filled with doubt and a sense of forsakenness.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

8 Heads of Libertarianism

Libertarianism has eight heads: Anarcho-Capitalism, Civil Libertarianism, Classical Liberalism, Fiscal Libertarianism, Libertarian Socialism, Minarchism, Neolibertarianism, and Paleolibertarianism. However, libertarianism cannot be compared to a Hydra because the eight heads are mostly disjointed from each other—they do not have a common body. Each of the eight heads thinks that it is the “real” libertarianism and the other seven are imposters and charlatans—the thought of coexisting with each other in the same body is an anathema to them.

The Definition of an Intellectual

In his article, “The Definition of an Intellectual,” (February 16, 1969), Eric Hoffer gives a definition of the kind of intellectuals that he despised:
I have been wiping the floor with the intellectuals these many years, blaming them for everything under the sun. Though I have spelled out many times who these intellectuals are, I am still being asked quite often for a definition of the intellectual. Here it is:  
My intellectual is a person who feels himself a member of the educated elite with a God-given right to direct and shape events. He need not be well educated or very intelligent. What counts is the feeling of the being a member of the educated elite. 
What the intellectual wants above all is to be listened to—with deference. He will forgive you everything if you take him seriously, and allow him to instruct you. It is more important to him to be important than to be free, and he would rather be persecuted than ignored. 
He ends his article with these lines: “The intellectual knows with every fiber of his being that men are not equal, and there are a few things he cares for less than a classless society. He is convinced that government is too weighty and complex to be left to common people. He cannot see how anything originating in an uninformed, unprincipled and uncommitted populace could be of any value. There is nothing he loathes more than government by and for the people.”

Friday, 14 June 2019

MacIntyre's Comparison Between the Fall of Rome and Modern Civilization

Alasdair MacIntyre ends his book After Virtue with this paragraph:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.” (Page 304-305)

Since the barbarians are not at the gates, but are governing us, what should the modern man do?

Thursday, 13 June 2019

My Thoughts on Objectivism

Ayn Rand
Here are some of my thoughts on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism:

1. Whenever the objectivists are confronted with a new political or social problem, they look backwards towards their messiah, who did her best work between the 1930s and 1950s, to find in her writing what she would think about this problem. So objectivism is the philosophy of past, the philosophy of archivists, the philosophy whose best time is now gone for good.

2. The objectivists are convinced that Ayn Rand has provided the solution to every philosophical and political problem in her writings. Doing your own thinking, coming up with your own ideas, have never been the objectivist way. The objectivists prefer philosophy that comes in a can which carries the label: Ayn Rand Cola.

3. A philosophical movement has not come of age till it outgrows its founder. Objectivism has no chance of outgrowing its founder. When Rand was around, objectivism was like a bonsai plant growing out of a small bottle kept on her study table. After her demise in 1982, Leonard Peikoff transferred the objectivist bonsai plant to his own study table. He waters and tends it as a religious duty everyday but he has no ambition of freeing it from the bottle.

4. The objectivists believe that they are revolutionaries who are fighting to create a better world. But they are not revolutionaries. They are a very small cultish establishment. The objectivist movement was designed as a privately owned “business establishment” by Nathaniel Branden in the 1950s and 60s, and it has continued to function in more or less the same way after his departure in 1968.

5. Rudeness is generally a trait of the philosophers who are dogmatic, intolerant, and not confident of their own knowledge. The objectivists are often rude because they want to hide their intellectual weakness and project the impression of strength.

6. Objectivism cannot be the philosophy of living happily on earth because it has been founded by a lady who herself desperately quested for happiness but found very little of it. The objectivists, who follow Rand blindly, don’t know what happiness is or how it can be achieved.

7. The objectivist project (as conceived by Ayn Rand) is so huge and the people charged with managing it are so “small” that the aims of this project can never be achieved. The objectivist scholars, it seems, have been intellectually and morally crushed by the weight of Rand’s monumental and grandiose undertaking. They appear clueless.

Monday, 10 June 2019

“A Paradigm of Philosophical Incompetence”

In his review of Ayn Rand’s For the New Intellectual, the libertarian philosopher Bruce Goldberg calls the book a “paradigm of philosophical incompetence.” He notes that he is tempted to see the book “as a huge joke, a farce by means of which its creator can laugh at the gullible.” Goldberg’s conclusion to the review is quite sharp:
For the New Intellectual is an intolerably bad book. More than that it is a silly book; street corner rabble rousing can affect only the vulgar. That it should have come from the pen of the author of The Fountainhead, which is a genuinely fine novel, is not a little surprising. But as unfortunate as this book is, it would be even more unfortunate if it came to be regarded by anybody as a representative sample of libertarian thought. How easily the Left could shatter capitalism if this were its only defense! Fortunately the superiority of free-enterprise can be demonstrated. But while von Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, to name only a few, make for more difficult reading and demand greater attentiveness than does Ayn Rand, the reward justifies the effort. 
It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic. Those who are concerned with discovering the principles of a sound social philosophy can read and study libertarian thought at its best. The ludicrously mistitled “philosophy of Ayn Rand” is a sham. To those who are traveling her road I can only suggest its abandonment—for that way madness lies.
There is too much of anger and hatred in Rand's book. In the eponymous title-essay, she attacks several philosophers—Plato, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Comte, Spencer, Nietzsche, Bentham, and the logical positivists. Without offering a single piece of evidence or rational argument, she accuses them of being in bed with Attila and the Witch Doctor. The 41-page essay mentions the word “Attila” 106 times and the words “Witch Doctor” 116 times. Only Aristotle receives a little bit of consideration. Her depiction of Aristotle is incorrect, but at least she shows him some respect.
In a footnote to the title-essay, Rand writes, “I am indebted to Nathaniel Branden for many valuable observations on this subject and for his eloquent designation of the two archetypes, which I shall use hereafter: Attila and the Witch Doctor.” This means that it is Nathaniel Branden who introduced Rand to these hysterical words: “Attila” and “Witch Doctor”. Rand was herself weak in philosophy and the people that she collected around her were as ignorant as she was.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

The Myth of the “Saintly” Libertarian

Like most intellectuals, the libertarians have a contempt for the common folk. They believe that their libertarianism bestows on them some kind of “saintliness”. Their thinking, as reflected in their articles and books, is—I am a libertarian and so I am virtuous and correct; if you question my theories, then you must be ignorant or evil.

The concerns that drive the political choices of normal human beings are “trivial” for the libertarians—their political writing is full of ideas that are monumental, majestic, and sensational. (The truth is that they mostly sound clueless.) Even if 10% of the libertarian political predictions had come true, our civilization would have ended in a giant fireball 20 years ago. But we are still living—and the libertarians are still ranting.

In their writings, libertarians tend to demand instant gratification. They want instant transformation of politics and economy—instant gold standard, instant reform of law & order machinery, instant open borders, instant deregulation of the entire economy, instant abolishment of the entire government or of the superfluous sections of the government.

But the real world does not work on an “instant” basis. The libertarians don’t understand that if any government made such “instant” reforms, it will risk a counter-coup. People have become used to living in a bureaucratized society in the last 200 years, and if they are suddenly given total freedom, they will become confused and disoriented and they might even participate in a socialist revolution. That is why reforms must always be conducted at a pace that does not lead to any drastic and sudden transformations in the nation’s way of life.

The libertarians claim that they are too good to be involved in politics. But they are always hinting that they can run the country in a much better way than the “morons” who are in office. They condemn all politicians, and often call for abolishment of the entire government machinery, but they are themselves not averse to enjoying the perks of political power. In several countries, the Libertarian Parties have been contesting elections (and winning less than 1% of the votes)—they contest elections even though they claim that they stand for abolishing the system of government and establishing an “anarchist utopia.”

The libertarians cannot make a serious dent in politics as long as they regard themselves as saints. Politics is the job of normal human beings, and not of saints. Only a normal human being can empathize with the problems that other human beings are facing—but from the self-proclaimed saints of libertarianism, you can’t expect any understanding.

The Libertarian Political Parties cannot succeed until libertarianism is free of its “saintly” connotations. The word “libertarianism” must become a dirty word. By dirty word, I mean “non-saintly,” or a part of the corporeal world. You cannot win an electoral battle in any advanced democracy unless you are ready to wrestle in the mud. Political battles are fought in the real world and not in some saintly utopia.

I hope that one day there will be the rise of a libertarian politician who is a total scoundrel. It will take a scoundrel to rescue libertarianism from the libertarians who have become convinced that they are saints.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

On the Politics of Libertarianism

Here’s a rule: Any individualist and liberty oriented political movement that is dominated by intellectuals will over a period of time become collectivist and statist. This happens because most intellectuals have the tendency of falling in love with their own thinking—they love to rationalize. But “individualism” and “liberty” cannot coexist with rationalization, so when the intellectuals are in control, the movement will become collectivist and statist.

The movement of the liberals gravitated towards leftism more than 100 years ago because most liberals were intellectuals. The same thing is now happening with the movement that has inherited the mantle of the liberals, the libertarian movement. I think eventually the word “libertarianism” will go the “liberal” way because the libertarian movement is also dominated by intellectuals. While the intellectuals rationalize and bicker with each other and futilely fantasize about a libertarian utopia, the control of the word “libertarianism” slips from their hands.

A political movement needs two things to expand the reach of its ideas while adhering to its core principles: structure and direction. Libertarianism has a direction but no structure. By structure, I mean a set of institutions which agree on the broad philosophical and political principles. The libertarian institutions have very little agreement—their intellectuals bicker all the time; they accuse each other of being a socialist. It is not clear what libertarianism stands for—does it stand for free market capitalism, anarchism, minarchism, agorism, welfare state, socialism, or something else?

The libertarian political movements can create a structure by removing the intellectuals from positions of power in their organizational set-up, and putting some real politicians in charge. Only the extremely naive will believe that people support a political movement because they like its ideology and are impressed by all the blather about having a rational and free society. That is not how it works. People support a movement because they think that it will lead to an improvement in their own living condition—they are seeking a solution to their own immediate concerns.

I will end on a positive note: some schools of libertarianism have a good sense of the direction in which they want society to move. This is because the libertarians are good economists—they have written a number of books and papers on economics. Even in the areas of political history and moral theory, the libertarian scholars have done good work. They have a clear conception of the economic and political policy that they would like the government to implement. The libertarians can improve their political prospects by putting some actual politicians in charge of their political messaging.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Libertarian Politics is a Failure

The libertarians might be good in philosophy, but their political opinions are often flawed. I follow libertarian writing quite closely, but I rarely get to see a convincing political analysis by a libertarian intellectual. I think this is because most libertarians are too dogmatic—they can’t see beyond the confines of their brand of libertarianism. They don’t consider what is going on in the world and what concerns are uppermost in the minds of the people.

Like Narcissus, the libertarians are obsessed with themselves, not with their good looks (I hope), but with their own thinking which they believe is the best in the world.

You will rarely find a unique perspective on political issues in the articles authored by libertarians—in their articles they mostly rehash the same old viewpoints that you would have already picked up from dozens of media outlets. To make their articles appear unique, they try to insert some libertarian cliches and their own rationalizations, but most readers are not going to be impressed by cliches and rationalizations.

The libertarian political movements cannot win support because they are not being led by real politicians—they are dominated by intellectuals and philosophers who don’t have any political talent and whose perspective on political issues is flawed. A successful politician is not an armchair rationalizer, he is a man of action: he is a communicator; he goes out in society, listens to the people’s problems, and offers his solutions; he gets into verbal duels and even nasty street brawls with his political rivals; he struggles to raise money to fund his campaign; he does all that he can to convince the people that he is the right man for the office.

Instead of men of action, the libertarian political movements are being dominated by theorists who sit in their armchair and rant against their political rivals, or rationalize and pontificate about a “libertarian utopia” that they will create if the masses vote for them. They never listen to anyone who is not a libertarian intellectual like them; they never make the effort to understand the historical nature of the problems that their country is facing. Their thinking is utopian and they are convinced that their libertarian philosophy is a magic wand for curing the world of all its woes and bringing happiness to all.

The only people that the libertarians can hope to impress with their philosophizing are other libertarians. The man on the street is unimpressed by libertarianism, because he is not looking for philosophy; he is looking for concrete solutions to specific problems; he is looking for politicians who are capable of taking “actions” to solve social problems. I am not saying that the political choices that the voters make is always correct—often they end up voting the wrong political force into office with disastrous consequences for their society. But they will generally vote for politicians who offer a plan for action and not for philosophers whose entire campaign consists of rants, philosophical theories, and rationalizations.

In most Western and Asian democracies, the libertarian movements fail to get more than 2% of the vote. All the rationalizations and pontifications of the libertarian politicians and intellectuals is having no impact on the people. The general public is not going to be impressed by the libertarian political movements as long as these movements are dominated by intellectuals and philosophers who don’t listen to anyone and preach without getting up from their armchair.

I don’t see any major progress happening in the libertarian space in the next 20 years. The libertarian political movements will continue to be dominated by philosophers and intellectuals who have zero understanding of the political realities.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Philosophy is a Never-ending Dialogue

Julia Annas in her book Ancient Philosophy (Page 17):

"Ancient philosophy (indeed, philosophy generally) is typically marked by a refusal to leave things opaque and puzzling, to seek to make them clearer and more transparent to reason. Hence reading ancient philosophy tends to engage the reader’s reasoning immediately, to set a dialogue of minds going.

"Ancient philosophy is sometimes taught as a procession of Great Figures, whose ideas the student is supposed to take in and admire. Nothing could be further from its spirit. When we open most works of ancient philosophy, we find that an argument is going on – and that we are being challenged to join in."

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Legends and Civilization

There is affinity between legends and philosophy. The legends are not ideologies, but by giving shape to new gods and inspiring a sense of identity in people, they can give birth to a culture with a new kind of philosophical thinking. In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt notes that the legends have served as the spiritual foundations of all ancient cities, empires, and civilizations. Here’s an excerpt from Arendt’s book (Chapter 7: “Race and Bureaucracy”):
Legends have always played a powerful role in the making of history. Man, who has not been granted the gift of undoing, who is always an unconsulted heir of other men's deeds, and who is always burdened with a responsibility that appears to be the consequence of an unending chain of events rather than conscious acts, demands an explanation and interpretation of the past in which the mysterious key to his future destiny seems to be concealed. Legends were the spiritual foundations of every ancient city, empire, people, promising safe guidance through the limitless spaces of the future. Without ever relating facts reliably, yet always expressing their true significance, they offered a truth beyond realities, a remembrance beyond memories.  
Legendary explanations of history always served as belated corrections of facts and real events, which were needed precisely because history itself would hold man responsible for deeds he had not done and for consequences he had never foreseen. The truth of the ancient legends—what gives them their fascinating actuality many centuries after the cities and empires and peoples they served have crumbled to dust—was nothing but the form in which past events were made to fit the human condition in general and political aspirations in particular. Only in the frankly invented tale about events did man consent to assume his responsibility for them, and to consider past events his past. Legends made him master of what he had not done, and capable of dealing with what he could not undo. In this sense, legends are not only among the first memories of mankind, but actually the true beginning of human history. 
Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin have posited that the philosophical tradition begins not with Socrates and Plato but with Homer. In his book The World of Polis, Voegelin says that the Homeric poems led to the formation of Hellenic cultural consciousness by giving it a common past and by superimposing the gods of its pantheon on the various local cults. This means that the Homeric poems contributed to the creation of a culture in which philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle could do their work.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Ignorant are More Wise than the Learned

Eric Hoffer, in his article “The Cauldron of Youth” (Published on Feb 11, 1968), writes:
The ignorant are a reservoir of daring. It almost seems that those who have yet to discover the known are particularly equipped for dealing with the unknown. The unlearned have often rushed in where the learned feared to tread, and it is the credulous who are tempted to attempt the impossible. Where you see a revolution taking place without revolutionaries there the vulgar and the ignorant are at work.  They know not whither they are going, and give chance a chance. 
Often in the past the wise were unaware of the great mutations which were unfolding before their eyes. How many of the learned knew in the early decades of the 19th century that they had an industrial revolution on their hands? The discovery of America hardly touched the learned, but it influenced the minds of the common folk.
I think Hoffer is spot-on. A country of ignorant and hardworking folks is more likely to succeed than a country dominated by intellectuals.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

On the Regime of Ignorance

Here’s an excerpt from the speech by Thon Taddeo in Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz:

"Ignorance has been our king. Since the death of empire, he sits unchallenged on the throne of Man. His dynasty is age-old. His right to rule is now considered legitimate. Past sages have affirmed it. They did nothing to unseat him.


"Tomorrow, a new prince shall rule. Men of understanding, men of science shall stand behind his throne, and the universe will come to know his might. His name is Truth. His empire shall encompass the Earth. And the mastery of Man over the Earth shall be renewed. A century from now, men will fly through the air in mechanical birds. Metal carriages will race along roads of man-made stone. There will be buildings of thirty stories, ships that go under the sea, machines to perform all works.


"And how will this come to pass?" He paused and lowered his voice. "In the same way all change comes to pass, I fear. And I am sorry it is so. It will come to pass by violence and upheaval, by flame and by fury, for no change comes calmly over the world.”

He glanced around, for a soft murmur arose from the community.

“It will be so. We will not will it so.”

“But why?”

"Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power. Even literacy they fear, for the written word is another channel of communication that might cause their enemies to become united. Their weapons are keen-honed, and they use them with skill. They will press the battle upon the world when their interests are threatened, and the violence which follows will last until the structure of society as it now exists is leveled to rubble, and a new society emerges. I am sorry: But that is how I see it."

(A Canticle for Leibowitz; Chapter 20; Pages 214-215)

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Reading Kant in the 1790s

In the 1790s Germany witnessed the pantheism controversy, the effects of the French Revolution, and the rise of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. Jakob Friedrich Fries was introduced to Kantian philosophy by one of his teachers Karl Bernhard Garve at the Moravian seminary in Niesky where he was studying in the years 1792—1795. The brethren at the Moravian seminary considered Kant’s thought bad for religious faith and they did not take kindly to Garve’s endeavors for acquainting his students with Kantianism. Garve was relieved of his duties, but his efforts had the intended effect—at the top of the reading list of his students was Kant.

In his book The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880, Frederick C. Beiser gives the following description of Fries’s attempts to read Kant at the seminary:
"At first the only books he could obtain were the Prolegomena and the so-called Prize Essay, that is, Kant’s 1764 pre-critical work Untersuchung über die Deutlichkeit der Grundsätze der natürlichen Theologie und der Moral. Fries was greatly impressed by both works, which, he said, taught him a completely new method of doing philosophy. But how was Fries to get Kant’s masterwork, his Kritik der reinen Vernunft? Only with great stealth. Against regulations, Fries sneaked out of the seminary and walked to the bookdealer in neighbouring Görlitz. There he bought only parts of the book, some printed sheets; he dared not buy a whole bound copy, because this would have attracted the suspicion of the inspectors. When the seminary’s doctor visited the bookshop in Görlitz, the bookdealer praised the youth’s intellectual curiosity; the doctor raised alarm, and the inspectors duly confiscated the sheets. Fries managed to get them back by convincing the inspectors that he would do it again anyway." 
Beiser notes that “Kant had become “forbidden fruit” for students at the seminary. The temptation of reading him was all the greater precisely because it had been prohibited.”