The Aristocratic Ideal

Sorel believed that the bourgeoisie, having derived its moral ideas from eighteenth-century absolutism and from the decadent aristocracy fostered by absolutism, was now attempting to instill this ethic of irresponsibility into the workers, seducing them with the promise of endless leisure and abundance.

He argued, in effect, that the aristocracy of the old regime, with its cultivation of the "art of living,” had anticipated the modern cult of consumption. Aristocrats had traded their power for the brilliant, feverish delights of the Sun King's court. Without civic functions, they determined at least “to enjoy their wealth with relish"; they "no longer wanted to hear of the prudence long imposed on their fathers." The assumption that improvement had become automatic and irresistible relieved them of the need to provide for times to come. “Why worry about the fate of new generations, which are destined to have a fate that is automatically superior to ours?”

Aristocrats tried to avoid their obligations not only to the future but to the poor; this escape from responsibility, according to Sorel, was the dominant theme in eighteenth-century aristocratic culture. 

“At the dawn of modern times, anyone who held any authority aspired to liberate himself from the responsibilities that archaic conventions, customs, and Christian morality had, until then, imposed on the masters for the benefit of the weak.”

The idea of progress furnished the theoretical justification for the abrogation of reciprocal obligations, the foundation of aristocratic morality in its heroic phase, before enlightened aristocrats were corrupted by easy living.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.307

The second position, advanced by Thorstein Veblen, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Dewey, Randolph Bourne, Lewis Mumford, Van Wyck Brooks, and Waldo Frank, among others, rested on a very different idea of both culture and democracy.

These writers distrusted the missionary impulse they detected in the progressives' program of cultural uplift. Instead of popularizing leisure-class values, they advocated a new set of values based on the dignity of labor.

Their program derived from William Morris rather than from Arnold. They did not necessarily share Morris's enthusiasm for handicraft production, but they followed him in making a revival of craftsmanship the prerequisite of a democratic culture. In his influential essay "The Art and Craft of the Machine" (1901), Wright tried to show that craftsmanship could be reconciled with machine production.

Dewey thought of his educational reforms - the clearest expression of this prewar speculation about the democratization of culture - as another method of bringing about a rehabilitation of labor. Like Veblen, Dewey deplored the "cultured" contempt for honest labor - a legacy, as he saw it, from the aristocratic past.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.346

Britain was regarded as divided into two groups the “classes” and the “masses.”

The “classes” were the ones who had leisure. This meant that they had property and income. On this basis, they did not need to work for a living; they obtained an education in a separate and expensive system; they married within their own class; they had a distinctive accent; and, above all, they had a distinctive attitude.

This attitude was based on the training provided in the special educational system of the “classes.” It might be summed up in the statement that “methods are more important than goals” except that this group regarded the methods and manners in which they acted as goals or closely related to goals.

This educational system was based on three great negatives, not easily understood by Americans. These were (a) education must not be vocational - that is, aimed at assisting one to make living; (b) education is not aimed directly at creating or training the intelligence; and (c) education is not aimed at finding the “Truth.”

On its positive side, the system of education of the “classes” displayed its real nature on the school level rather than on the university level. It aimed at developing a moral outlook, a respect for traditions, qualities of leadership and cooperation, and above all, perhaps, that ability for cooperation in competition summed up in the English idea of “sport” and “playing the game.”

Because of the restricted numbers of the upper class in Britain, these attitudes applied chiefly to one another, and did not necessarily apply to foreigners or even to the masses. They applied to people who “belonged,” and not to all human beings.

The chief element in the old attitude which both groups failed to grasp was the one which we have attempted to describe as emphasis on methods rather than on goals.

In government, as in tennis or cricket, the old attitude desired to win but desired to win within the rules, and this last feeling was so strong as to lead a casual observer to believe that they lacked a desire to win. In parliamentary life this appeared as a diffidence to the possession of high office or to the achievement of any specific item of legislation. If these could not be obtained within the existing rules, they were gracefully abandoned.

This was not an attitude which either the new business leaders of the Conservative Party or the working-class leaders of the Labour Party could accept. Their goals were for them of such immediate concrete value to their own interests that they could not regard with equanimity loss of office or defeat of their legislative program. It was this new attitude which made possible at one and the same time the great increase in party discipline and the willingness to cut corners where possible in interpreting the constitutional conventions.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.293-4

Related posts:

The Rise of the Managers

Simple          -            Complex

The aspiration to value-neutrality often hides a claim to manipulative power. Beneath bureaucratic forms and lofty idealism are often to be found Nietzschean premises.

As “good determinists,” liberals knew that history always marches forward. “The human race never turns back to an old order.” 

The best hope lay in an orderly “transition to that which Dewey and Beard have called a ‘technological-rationalist society.’” even if the “more valid equality” it promised meant the “inevitable sacrifice” of individual liberties.

“There is something ponderously fatal about such a transition,” Josephson mused, “but if it results in order, enthusiasm, harmony, we will be content with our sacrifice.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.363

"The public interest in a problem," Lippmann argued, "is limited to this: that there shall be rules. ...The public is interested in law, not in the laws; in the method of law, not in the substance." Questions of substance should be left to experts, whose access to scientific knowledge immunized them against the emotional "symbols" and "stereotypes" that dominated public debate.

Lippmann […] rejected the "mystical fallacy of democracy" and the "usual appeal to education as the remedy for the incompetence of democracy." Democratic theory presupposed an "omnicompetent citizen," a "jack of all trades" who could be found only in a "simple self-contained community." In the "wide and unpredictable environment" of the modern world, the old ideal of citizenship was obsolete.

In a complex industrial society, government had to be carried on by officials who were expected to "conceive a common interest." In their attempt to stretch their minds beyond the limits of immediate experience," these officials would be guided either by public opinion or by expert knowledge. There was no escape from this choice.

Public opinion was unreliable, according to Lippmann, because it could be united only by an appeal to slogans and “symbolic pictures.” In a society ruled by public opinion, government became the art of "manipulation" - the "manufacture of consent." "Where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. ... Everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda."

At best, public debate was a disagreeable necessity - not the very essence of democracy, as Brownson or Bourne would have argued, but its "primary defect," which arose only because "exact knowledge," unfortunately, was in limited supply. Ideally public debate would not take place at all; decisions would be based on scientific "standards of measurement" alone. Science cut through "entangling stereotypes and slogans," the "threads of memory and emotion" that kept the "responsible administrator" tied up in knots.

Like Edmund Burke, Lippmann distrusted memory as an important source of conflict and disagreement. He proposed to counter its influence, however, not with custom but with “organized intelligence."

An earlier theory of democracy had considered ordinary citizens at least competent to manage their own affairs, if not consistently capable of self-denial and sacrifice. Their opinions were held to command respect, as Lippman saw it, because the business of government did not greatly exceed their experience. But it was “not possible to assume that a world, carried on by division of labor and distribution of authority, can be governed by universal opinions in the whole population.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.366

The "practical comfort of the moment" outweighed the "great moral issues of the future.” The question of how to provide practical comfort" was a technical question, not something that could be settled by an appeal to first principles. It was a question for "experts," not for "orators.”

As a lawyer, Arnold might have been expected to recognize the intractability of conflicting interests and to doubt the possibility of making politics an exact science. His faith in expertise, however, exceeded even that of many social scientists.

He measured intellectual progress precisely by the absence of debate. 

Doctors, he argued, no longer engaged in pointless controversies about the rival claims of homeopathic and allopathic schools of medicine. The medical profession had been "taken over by men of skill rather than men of principle," with the result that there was "little left in medicine for thinking men to debate.”

Whereas medical learning had become "technical rather than philosophical,” however, economic and legal learning remained “predominantly philosophical” - a sure sign of cultural lag.

He too dismissed as "irrational" the notion that "the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy." "Public argument never convinces the other side," he wrote; its only function was to rally the true believers. The "noise of competing theories" drowned out the voice of the expert. To submit social questions to the "feeble judgment of the common herd" was the height of folly.

Arnold did not have to engage in this kind of self-deception, since he held no brief for democracy in the first place. Insofar as the idea of democracy had any substance, it was simply another name for “humanitarian imperialism,” in his view. It meant the universalisation of material well-being, engineered by “fact-minded persons” and “competent diagnosticians.”

A democratic regime, to be sure, had to “carry its people along with it emotionally”; but that did not imply that the people should take an active part in governing themselves. As long as the governing classes grasped the nature and importance of political symbolism, they could satisfy the public demand for inspiring slogans and “ceremonials” without allowing public “ritual” to interfere with production and distribution.

When the public came to value “practical results” more highly than “preconceived principles,” a “competent, practical, opportunistic governing class” would find it possible to get on with the serious work of making people comfortable, without having to inspire and amuse them as well.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.432, 434-6

[…] from ancient Rome to medieval England, there were bureaucracies also in the pre-modern world.

With industrialisation and the emergence of mass society, however, the bureaucratic apparatus has expanded to the point that a quantitative difference has become a qualitative one. In their scale, complexity, and their power, modern bureaucracies are like nothing the world has ever seen before, and they cause states to behave in new and incomprehensible ways.

Above all, power has been steadily diffused downwards, through the ranks of countless even mid-level functionaries, and government policies are subject to enormous inertia.

Those who doubt this, should look at the military. This is one sector of the bureaucracy, which for operational reasons has tried to avoid the unmanageable diffusion of powers and prerogatives. They have gone to extreme lengths to establish clear lines of command, ensure obedience to orders, and avoid excessive consensus-based decision making.

Without this overt command discipline, it is impossible for any single person to direct bureaucratic structures, or for the bureaucrats themselves to shift strategies, absorb new information, or take up fresh initiatives quickly.

The one thing I want to convey here, more than anything else, is the complexity and extent of modern western governments. These are unbelievably elaborate systems, and they are not easily controlled or understood by individuals or confined groups.

‘Stupid and Evil in Equal Measure: II - Mass containment as conspiracy and as emergent phenomenon’ and 'Spontaneous Order in Complex Systems', eugyppius: a plague chronicle

The civil servant has as his nineteenth-century counterpart and opposite the social reformer: Saint Simonians, Comtians, utilitarians, English ameliorists such as Charles Booth, the early Fabian socialists. Their characteristic lament is: if only government could learn to be scientific!

[...] in his insistence that the rationality of adjusting means to ends in the most economical and efficient way is the central task of the bureaucrat and that therefore the appropriate mode of justification of his activity by the bureaucrat lies in the appeal to his (or later her) ability to deploy a body of scientific and above all social scientific knowledge, organized in terms of and understood as comprising a set of universal lawlike generalizations, Weber provided the key to much of the modern age.

The manager's claim to moral neutrality, which is itself an important part of the way the manager presents himself and functions in the social and moral world, is thus parallel to the claims to moral neutrality made by many physical scientists.

So we can now see in bare skeletal outline a progress first from the Enlightenment's ideal for a social science to the aspirations of social reformers, next from the aspirations of social reformers to the ideals of practice and justification of civil servants and managers, then from the practices of management to the theoretical codification of these practices and of the norms governing them by sociologists and organization theorists and finally from the employment of the textbooks written by those theorists in schools of management and business schools to the theoretically informed managerial practice of the contemporary technocratic expert.

But in every case the rise of managerial expertise would have to be the same central theme, and such expertise, as we have already seen, has two sides to it: there is the aspiration to value neutrality and the claim to manipulative power.

Both of these, we can now perceive, derive from the history of the way in which the realm of fact and the realm of value were distinguished by the philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Twentieth-century social life turns out in key part to be the concrete and dramatic re-enactment of eighteenth-century philosophy.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.92, 100-1

[...] Nietzsche's prophetic irrationalism - irrationalism because Nietzsche's problems remain unsolved and his solutions defy reason - remains immanent in the Weberian managerial forms of our culture.

Whenever those immersed in the bureaucratic culture of the age try to think their way through to the moral foundations of what they are and what they do, they will discover suppressed Nietzschean premises.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.133

RAND’s rational choice is an argument that denies the obvious - cooperation, self-sacrifice, and abnegation do exist, people do love each other and don’t always think of themselves first, elections are won fairly and agreed to by all contestants, elected officials do act on the public interest, marriages and institutions do last.

Rational choice has given birth to a world shaped by decisions made in the dark, outside the realm of public debate - justified by false objectivity (change the parameters if you don’t like the results) and biased scientific bases that denigrate collective responsibility (much like the corporate battle cry of “it’s all for the shareholders,” discarding as demote previous social commitments of companies to employees, government, and community).

Moreover, deliberately or not, rational choice theory has become a handy rhetorical weapon for groups whose political and financial aims are to reconstruct the social system of the United States - returning the country to pre-New Deal days, while making billions in the process. These changes have resulted in a society where, for instance, the top 5 percent of the population controls 60 percent of the wealth and where corporate executive pay is 400 times greater than that of the average worker.

The final irony of rational choice theory is that it is not rational. It fails to comprehend the world as it is (in academic terms, it is normative but not empirical), positing a make-believe structure where only one kind of rationality is extant.

[Alex Abella]
Soldiers of Reason, p.308-9

The real essence of industrialism was to be found in the application of nonhuman energy, such as that from coal, oil, or waterpower, to production. This process increased man’s ability to make goods, and did so to an amazing degree.

But mass production could exist only if it were followed by mass consumption and rising standards of living. Moreover, it must lead, in the long run, to a decreasing demand for hand labor and an increasing demand for highly trained technicians who are managers rather than laborers.

And, in the longer run, this process would give rise to a productive system of such a high level of technical complexity that it could no longer be run by the owners but would have to be run by technically trained managers.

[...] The ultimate nature of that new system of economic and social life is not yet clear, but we might call it the “pluralist economy,” and characterize its social structure as one which provides prestige, rewards, and power to managerial groups of experts whose contributions to the system are derived from their expertise and “know-how.”

These managers and experts, who clearly are a minority in any society, are recruited from the society as a whole, can be selected only by a process of “careers open to talent” on a trial-and-error basis, and require freedom of assembly, discussion, and decision in order to produce the innovations needed for the future success, or even the survival, of the system in which they function.

Thus the pluralist economy and the managerial society, from the early 1940’s, have forced the growth of a new kind of economic organization which will be totally unlike the four types of pre-1939 (American laissez faire, Stalinist Communism, authoritarian Fascism, and underdeveloped areas).

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, p.241, 348

Regardless of the outcome of the situation, it is increasingly clear that, in the twentieth century, the expert will replace the industrial tycoon in control of the democratic voter in control of the political system.

This is because planning will inevitably replace laissez faire in the relationships between the two systems. This planning may not be single or unified, but it will be planning, in which the main framework and operational forces of the system will be established and limited by the experts on the economic system even as he will replace the governmental side; then the experts within the big units on the economic side will do their planning within these established limitations.

Hopefully, the elements of choice and freedom may survive for the ordinary individual in that he may be free to make a choice between two opposing political groups (even if these groups have little policy choice within the parameters of policy established by the experts) and he may have the choice to switch his economic support from one large unit to another.

But, in general, his freedom and choice will be controlled within very narrow alternatives by the fact that he will be numbered from birth and followed, as a number, through his educational training, his required military or other public service, his tax contributions, his health and medical requirements, and his final retirement and death benefits.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The New Age,’ p.548

Both the Soviet system and the free market are experiments in economic rationalism.

Free marketeers tell us that the unprecedented productivity of a rational economic system will remove the causes of social conflict and war. Soviet Marxists used to assure us that socialist planning would make scarcity a thing of the past. Both tell us that rising productivity will of itself solve most social problems, both exalt economic growth over all other goals and values.

Like the Bolsheviks, the shock troops of the free market are resolutely hostile to any tradition that stands in the way of what they view as economic progress. If their goals demand the sacrifice of a few cultures on the way, it is a price which free marketeers do not shrink from paying.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.141

Related posts:

One True Path

Reason                            -          Nature
One                                 -          Many
Global                             -          Local
Context independent       -          Context dependent
Clear                               -          Complex
Closed                             -          Open
Predetermined                 -          Free
Transcendent                   -          Immanent

Christians opened to door to infinity; rationalists walked through it.

Pre-modern rationalism was contained within a (religious) tradition. Modern rationalism is uncontained. The problem is not rationality per se, but 'rationality without a cause'.

The progressive, focused on a dream of universal consensus, attempts "to escape the agonistics of the network." Argumentation, confusion, conflict, and error disappear in a higher synthesis.    

The global vision can be reductionist or pluralist. The former attempts to unify under a "single privileged vocabulary" (e.g. physics or maths) whereas the latter attempts to synthesise all vocabularies and levels of description into an "integral" vision.

The Kantian transcendental project, like all transcendental theologies, aims to give grounds for settling all moral disputes.

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;
Till the war-drum throbbd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

[Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
'Locksley Hall'

Niebuhr found another example of this misguided search for unity - for an "absolute perspective which transcends the conflict” between competing loyalties - in Dewey's little book on religion, A Common Faith (1934).

Niebuhr considered Dewey's plea for a "religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race" as an attempt to “eliminate conflict and unite men of good will everywhere by stripping their spiritual life of historic, traditional, and supposedly anachronistic accretions." Dewey's position exemplified the "faith of modern rationalism in the ability of reason to transcend the partial perspectives of the natural world in which reason is rooted."

Liberals like Dewey mistakenly put their faith in moral suasion, education, and the scientific method. They imagined that “with a little more time, a little more adequate moral and social pedagogy and a generally higher development of human intelligence, our social problems will approach solution."

Dewey did not understand that competing loyalties were rooted in "something more vital and immediate than anachronistic religious traditions.” The fervor they evoked could not be modified or resolved, as Dewey seemed to think, by a "small group of intellectuals" who enjoyed the "comparative neutrality and security of the intellectual life."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370, 375

Niebuhr distinguished prophetic religion not only from scientific rationality, which cannot justify hope, but from mystical religion, which cannot justify it either, except by turning its back on the "facts of incoherence.”

If science dismissed the existence of moral order and coherence in history as an illusion, mysticism dismissed the natural world itself as an illusion, together with the whole course of human history. For the mystic, reality dwelled in the timeless realm of pure essence, the contemplation of which, undistracted by unruly historical facts, became the goal of religious aspiration.

Mysticism, according to Niebuhr, was rationalism's mirror image. It carried the “rational passion for unity and coherence to the point where the eye turns from the outward scene, with its recalcitrant facts and stubborn variety, to the inner world of spirit."

The prophetic tradition found moral significance in history (since history is under God's judgment) without denying the reality of incoherence and evil. The achievement of the “prophetic movement in Hebraic religion," Niebuhr wrote, lay in its ability “to purge its religion of the parochial and puerile weaknesses of its childhood without rationalizing it and thus destroying the virtue of its myth."

His reference to the “virtue” of the prophetic myth, when we recall the rich associations and multiple meanings of the term, provides the clearest indication of the meaning of mythology, as Niebuhr understood it.

In the prophetic tradition, virtue is the truth that breaks the cycle of excessive optimism and disillusionment. It asserts the goodness of life without denying the evidence that would justify despair. Thus "Hebrew spirituality," Niebuhr argued, "was never corrupted by either the optimism which conceived the world as possessing unqualified sanctity and goodness or the pessimism which relegated historic existence to a realm of meaningless cycles.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.372

In policy evaluation, “there is never a point at which the thinking, research, and action is 'objective' or 'unbiased’. It is partisan through and through, as are all human activities, in the sense that the expectations and priorities of those commissioning and doing the analysis shape it, and in the sense that those using the information shape its interpretation and application.”

The top-down models of policy evaluation and formulation do not suggest that elites never disagree about public policy. Elites may share a consensus about goals and values yet disagree on how to achieve them [...] Foundations sometimes fund studies that make conflicting policy recommendations, and think tanks compete with one another for preeminence in policymaking [...] And it is unlikely that there ever was a society in which elites did not compete among themselves for power and preeminence.

But interelite conflict and competition takes place within a broader consensus on the goals of public policy, especially economic growth, global expansion, and the protection of corporate enterprise [...] Disagreement occurs over the means rather than the ends of public policy.

It is the shared consensus among elites over the fundamental values of American society that allows public policy to be guided by “the intelligence of democracy." Political scientist Charles E. Lindblom explains the intelligence of democracy: “Strategic analysis and mutual adjustment among political participants, then, are the underlying processes by which democratic systems achieve the level of intelligent action that they do."

"The staid and dignified policy-formation process is very different from the helter-skelter special-interest process. ... It appears as disinterested and fairminded as the special-interest process seems self-seeking and biased."

The foundations, think tanks, and policy planning organizations generally try to remain above partisan politics. Their tax-exempt status under Section 501C3 of the Internal Revenue Code requires that they remain nonpartisan, that they do not endorse political candidates, and that their policy recommendations be presented as “civic and educational” activities.

They describe themselves as “independent,” “nonpartisan,” “objective,” “problem-solving,” and “public-spirited.”

But strategic analysis and mutual adjustment - the keys to intelligent policymaking - cannot develop in the absence of agreement on fundamental values.

[Thomas R. Dye]
Top Down Policymaking, p.63-4, 174

Science's goal of ultimate law and ultimate level also reflects the prevailing notion in the West of a single, unified deity.

Rather than seeking a single, most fundamental ground, the Native mind prefers to dance among the ever-changing movements of a living, subtle nature. Harmony and balance must accommodate change and the activities of the trickster.

[…] Native science works with a multiplicity of symbols, images, and stories. There is no single, unique reading to a story, but rather many enfolded and interpenetrating levels, none of which needs be thought of as being more fundamental than any other. Understanding comes from a direct experience of the dance between these levels of meaning.

In this sense, understanding within Indigenous science has something in common with Niels Bohr's notion of complementarity. Bohr's complementarity states that a single consistent description will never exhaust the meaning of what is happening at the quantum level. Rather, what is required are a number of complementary, mutually contradictory descriptions.

An electron is described as being both delocalized and wavelike, but also localized and particlelike. Likewise, the meaning of a traditional story depends upon a variety of contexts and can be unfolded in a variety of ways.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.262, 264

[...] what Wilber is presenting in his theory of evolutionary stages is perhaps the most detailed and consistent attempt yet to shoehorn mystical spirituality into the modern belief in progress.

[John Michael Greer]
'Against Enchantment I: Ken Wilber', Ecosophia

The traditional (or modern) way of confronting complexity was to find a secure point of reference that could serve as foundation, a passe-partout, a master key from which everything else could be derived.

Whatever that point of reference might be - a transcendental world of perfect ideas, the radically sceptic mind, the phenomenological subject - my claim is that following such a strategy constitutes an avoidance of complexity.

The obsession to find one essential truth blinds us to the relationary nature of complexity, and especially to the continuous shifting of those relationships. Any acknowledgement of complexity will have to incorporate these shifts and changes, not as epiphenomena, but as constitutive of complex systems.

[…] the suggestion will be that the postmodern approach is inherently sensitive to complexity, that it acknowledges the importance of self-organisation whilst denying a conventional theory of representation.

Scientific knowledge […] habitually legitimates itself by appealing to a coherent metadiscourse that performs a general unifying function. Should such a metadiscourse be found, it will be possible to incorporate all forms of knowledge into one grand narrative. This is the dream of modernism. Postmodernism is consequently defined as 'incredulity towards metanarratives' […]

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.112-4

The postmodern denial of single meta-narratives, and its emphasis on the importance of difference and opposition, is not normally formulated in terms of 'population thinking' (to use the biological expression for the kind of systems thinking referred to here), but the similarities are undeniable.

Although strains of thought that value the importance of relationships - and look for patterns rather than essences - can be found throughout the intellectual history of the West, they have usually been trampled over by more macho theories claiming to have found the Truth: Platonic idealism, rationalism, Marxism, positivism.

In our analysis of complex systems (like the brain and language) we must avoid the trap of trying to find master keys. Because of the mechanisms by which complex systems structure themselves, single principles provide inadequate descriptions.

We should rather be sensitive to complex and self-organising interactions and appreciate the play of patterns that perpetually transforms the system itself as well as the environment in which it operates.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.107

Lyotard's insistence on dissension and destabilising forces, as opposed to consensus - notions which also form the core of Lyotard's critique of Habermas - has serious implications for philosophy in general, and specifically for the philosophy of science.

The role of science has traditionally been understood as one that has to fix knowledge in a permanent grid. Experimental evidence was used to verify theories. Sufficient verification would ensure a permanent place in the grid. It soon became clear, however, that the conditions for objective verification were problematic, that experimental evidence could support a theory, but not prove it.

The experimental process cannot include all the factors that could possibly be involved, nor can it predict how new knowledge would change the interpretation of experimental results. Since one could still disprove theories, the process of verification was replaced by one of falsification. If one could not add to the grid, one could at least disqualify unwanted members.

This strategy of 'throwing away' has the result of making the body of knowledge qualifying as 'scientific' leaner and leaner. Everything too complex or containing uncertainties or unpredictability is, for the time being at least, left aside.

Consequently, large parts of the totality of human knowledge are disregarded as unscientific - most of the arts, most of psychology (for many scientists Freud remains the paradigm of a scientific charlatan), and often, human sciences in general. Working with a narrow understanding of what science should be, even the life sciences (biology) and the empirical sciences (engineering) become suspect.

Pushed to its limits, the theory of falsification implies that only abstract, a priori truths are really scientific.

Lyotard's suggestion is that we discard the idea of consensus since it is impoverishing. To proliferate knowledge, we have to proliferate discourses without trying to fix them into a permanent grid.

This position has some affinity with the position of Paul Feyerabend (1975). Feyerabend insists on a scientific anarchy' in which all the marginalised voices should participate. There should be no immutable 'method' that determines what forms part of the canon and what does not. Instead of throwing away everything that does not fit into the scheme, one should try to find meaningful relationships among the different discourses.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.118

The question that should be posed at this point is the following: can behaviour in accordance with an abstract, universal set of rules be called ‘ethical’ at all? What is at stake here is the very meaning of the word ‘ethics’.

It was part of the dream of modernism to establish a universal set of rules that would be able to regulate our behaviour in every circumstance. Taken by itself, this is a noble ideal, but if we wish to argue that human beings are constituted by their ethical behaviour, we run into problems. Following a universal set of rules (assuming such rules exist) does not involve decision or dilemma, it merely asks for calculation. Given the circumstances, what do the rules decree my behaviour should be? Can this be called ‘ethical’? What kind of human being would act like this? Clearly some kind of automaton, itself constituted by rational, rule-based principles. Modernist ethics, and an understanding of language and the mind in terms of rule-based systems, fit together perfectly.

This concurs with Zygmunt Bauman’s (1992, 1993) analysis of modern and postmodern ethics. For him, modernism’s attempt to structure our existence leads to nothing less than our imprisonment.

A postmodern attitude sets us free, not to do as we like, but to behave ethically. He acknowledges that this involves a paradox: ‘it restores to agents the fullness of moral choice and responsibility while simultaneously depriving them of the comfort of the universal guidance that that modern self-confidence once promised…. Moral responsibility comes with the loneliness of moral choice’ (Bauman 1992: xxii).

Actually this is just another formulation of the principle that has become a leitmotiv of this chapter: you cannot escape the agonistics of the network.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.137-8

In his criticism of Kant’s abstract idealism, Hegel realises that we are constituted within the social system, but for him it is a system that will ultimately be perfectly organised. Everybody will have their specified place.

Although Hegel realised that the (dialectical) process of organisation is still in progress, his view is, in the end, still a conservative one. At some stage there will be no further need for transformation.

Adorno argues that there are differences among human beings that remain irreducible to a totalising system. He thus reminds us of the importance of differences, not as something that prevents us from finding a comfortable place in the system, but as that which constitutes our humanity.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.138

[…] Rouse rejects the idea of the unity of science ‘which postulates as an epistemic ideal the unification of scientific representations of the world into a single all-inclusive and coherent picture.’

He motivates this rejection by denying that the goal of science is the ‘accumulation of a body of representations abstracted from the activity of research.’ The advance of science is centrifugal rather than centripetal, and in this process established results are often left by the wayside.

The concerns of science are practical rather than representational, and insofar as there is a concern for coherence, it is only local, more local even than the level of the applicable discipline, let alone that of the whole of science.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.132

This projected goal of a coherent world-picture has its reductionist versions, in which the coherence comes from explaining everything in a single privileged theoretical vocabulary (typically that of physics).

It also has pluralist versions, in which the results of different fields fit together as different levels of description appropriate for different levels of organization or complexity in the world.

[Joseph Rouse]
‘The Narrative Reconstruction of Science’

Construed in its traditional way, the unity of science is predicated upon a representationalist view of scientific knowledge, and postulates as an epistemic ideal the unification of scientific representations of the world into a single all-inclusive and coherent picture.

There are three respects in which I reject this construal of the unification of scientific knowledge. Most fundamentally, I do not believe that the accumulation of a body of representations abstracted from the activity of research is a goal of science at all.

Second, I am arguing that, far from inclusively bringing together all or most established scientific results into a single picture, the ongoing narrative reconstruction of scientific practices regularly excises established results from the background knowledge of a field, in order to focus its subsequent development. The coherence achieved through scientific research is thus practical rather than representational.

Third, the advance of scientific research seems centrifugal rather than centripetal.

New fields continually spin off with their own interests, methods, and interpretations. Their practitioners show little concern for how retrospectively to reconcile their interests and results with those of their progenitor disciplines. They will more typically consolidate their own results toward a new advance, perhaps in a still more divergent direction, than look back and try to see how it fits together with its origins.

Scientists' concern for coherence, at least in what they choose to investigate, is usually situated more locally than even the level of the discipline, let alone that of the whole of science.

What we get is not a single coherent picture of the world, but an ever more complex network of interconnections binding together various scientific endeavors. Achievements from one field get reworked and reinterpreted in order to serve the interests of another which may be at cross-purposes.

The loss in coherence is often happily compensated by the creation of new possibilities to explore, and new capabilities for doing that.

[Joseph Rouse]
‘The Narrative Reconstruction of Science’

Vervaeke: […] what myth is always doing - and Levi Strauss had sort of a sense of this with structuralism - is pointing you to opponent processing.

Here's this myth, with this opponent processing; and here’s this myth with this opponent processing - but what's the through line? […] you're trying to find the multi-dimensional nexus …

Peterson: - the meta-through-line -

Vervaeke: … of all the opponent processing.

This is Nicholas Of Cusa with his open sense of infinity. In the ancient Greek world infinity is a bad thing, it's chaos. But with Cusa, and then the whole neoplatonic tradition, it opens up into a positive thing. If I could get all of the opposites, I would see that in infinity they all coincide, and that would be the culmination or summation - not in any entity - of what our cognition is about.

I would have found the source of intelligibility, because I would have moved to the deepest grammar of cognition […]

Peterson: […] and that's the resolution of all opposing conflicts in some sense.

[Jordan B. Peterson & John Vervaeke]
‘A Conversation So Intense It Might Transcend Time and Space | John Vervaeke | EP 321, YouTube

And that's the third and I think, therefore, best vision of Cognitive Science. That's the vision of Cognitive Science as Synoptic Integration.

Synoptic Integration is not saying that all the disciplines are saying the same thing. But it's not simple eclecticism of “well, they're all saying different things, but let's get them all to be friendly and like each other, and they can have some sort of peripheral influence on each other”.

Synoptic integration is saying, “no, we need to build something right between the disciplines that addresses the equivocation, deals with the fragmentation and fills in the ignorance - tells us about how the levels are actually causally interacting and constraining each other. That's Synoptic Integration.

So what you want to do is you need to say, “They're not saying the same thing, but they're not just saying different things either!”. You have to create this bridging vocabulary that integrates across the disciplines.

So I'm trying to create constructs with multi-aptness. They get this balance between identity and difference that affords and provokes insightful transformation of the theorising from one discipline to another. And I start to create an overarching integration.

[John Vervaeke]
‘Ep. 26 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Cognitive Science’, John Vervaeke, YouTube

The structure of Plato’s philosophy meets all the requirements of the Apollonian Logos. At the top of his theory is the One, surrounded by eternal ideas. This is the peak of the divine, celestial world, illuminated by timeless light. The highest principle is the Good, which exudes its abundance firstly upon the world of ideas (paradigms) and then, through the good Creator-Demiurge, on the created cosmos.

Plato described all three of these world zones in his Timaeus, in particular distinguishing the realm of paradigms (the observatory point of the gods, the Father), the realm of models, or “copies” and “icons” (the Son), and the mysterious khora (χώρα), the space or country which Plato likened to the Nurse or Mother.

In describing the khora (which was later identified by the Neoplatonists with the mother), Plato’s dialogue loses its crystal clarity, thus lending towards the strange assumption that this element can be comprehended only by means of a “special Logos”, which Plato called “bastard” or “illegitimate” (νόθος λόγος).

The vision of the celestial god thus reaches the surface of the earth, the lower limits of the world of copies, but here is confronted with its limits, as it can no longer see anything amenable to clear Apollonian discernment. At the border of the day, the realm of night-dreaming flickers. Timaeus (Plato) restricts himself to only a few suggestions and postulates the khora (space) to be a flat intermediary, beyond which there is nothing, and which is impossible to understand, insofar as there is nothing to properly understand in it.

In the solar Platonic vision, we can obtain only an external, “celestial” view, which sees as its bottom the khora (Χώρα), the space of the subtle film of the chaotic movement of scattered particles not yet formed by the ordering demiurge. Χώρα comes from the same root as mythological “chaos”, χάος, meaning “yawning”, or literally “opening the jaws”, “freeing the empty space.”

Instead of the voluminous “chaos” that creates the three-dimensionality of unordered void, Timaeus sees a film that resists comprehension by the classical Apollonian logos and whose comprehension demands falling into slumber, losing clarity and rigor, and degeneration […] This khora is the view of the back of the Great Mother, a limit unreachable by the Apollonian, where hell begins.

In a certain sense, Platonism is eternal, and has continued in both Christian theology by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, John of Damascus, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Michael Psellos, John Italus, and Gemistus Plethon in the East, and by Boethius and John Scotus Eriugena in the West), as well as in the Renaissance and even amidst modern philosophy.

[Aleksandr Dugin]
The Three Logoi: An Introduction to the Triadic Methodology of NOOMAKHIA, Chap. 2

[...] what Kant presented as the universal and necessary principles of the human mind turned out in fact to be principles specific to particular times, places and stages of human activity and enquiry.

Just as what Kant took to be the principles and presuppositions of natural science as such turned out after all to be the principles and presuppositions specific to Newtonian physics, so what Kant took to be the principles and presuppositions of morality as such turned out to be the principles and presuppositions of one highly specific morality, a secularized version of Protestantism which furnished modern liberal individualism with one of its founding charters. Thus the claim to universality foundered.

For what the progress of analytic philosophy has succeeded in establishing is that there are no grounds for belief in universal necessary principles outside purely formal enquiries - except relative to some set of assumptions.

[...] analytic philosophers [...] seem to be determined to go on considering arguments as objects of investigation in abstraction from the social and historical contexts of activity and enquiry in which they are or were at home and from which they characteristically derive their particular import.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.309-11

[...] there are no general timeless standards.

It is in the ability of one particular moral-philosophy-articulating-the-claims-of-a-particular-morality to identify and to transcend the limitations of its rival or rivals, limitations which can be - although they may not in fact have been - identified by the rational standards to which the protagonists of the rival morality are committed by their allegiance to it, that the rational superiority of that particular moral philosophy and that particular morality emerges.

The history of morality-and-moral-philosophy is the history of successive challenges to some preexisting moral order, a history in which the question of which party defeated the other in rational argument is always to be distinguished from the question of which party retained or gained social and political hegemony.

I hold not only that historical enquiry is required in order to establish what a particular point of view is, but also that it is in its historical encounter that any given point of view establishes or fails to establish its rational superiority relative to its particular rivals in some specific contexts.

[...] our situation in respect of theories about what makes one theory rationally superior to another is no different from our situation in regard to scientific theories or to moralities-and-moral-philosophies. In the former as in the latter case what we have to aspire to is not a perfect theory, one necessarily to be assented to by any rational being, because invulnerable or almost invulnerable to objections, but rather the best theory to emerge so far in the history of this class of theories.

It follows that the writing of this kind of philosophical history can never be brought to completion. The possibility has always to be left open that in any particular field, whether the natural sciences or morality-and-moral-philosophy, or the theory of theory, some new challenge to the established best theory so far will appear and will displace it.

Hence this kind of historicism, unlike Hegel's, involves a form of fallibilism; it is a kind of historicism which excludes all claims to absolute knowledge.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.305

[...] in much of the ancient and medieval worlds, as in many other premodern societies, the individual is identified and constituted in and through certain of his or her roles, those roles which bind the individual to the communities in and through which alone specifically human goods are to be attained; I confront the world as a member of this family, this household, this clan, this tribe, this city, this nation, this kingdom. There is no 'I' apart from these.

For the Platonist, as later for the Cartesian, the soul, preceding all bodily and social existence, must [...] possess an identity prior to all social roles; but for the Catholic Christian, as earlier for the Aristotelian, the body and the soul are not two linked substances. I am my body and my body is social, born to those parents in this community with a specific social identity.

What does make a difference for the Catholic Christian is that I, whatever earthly community I may belong to, am also held to be a member of a heavenly, eternal community in which I also have a role, a community represented on earth by the church.

Of course I can be expelled from, defect from or otherwise lose my place in any of these forms of community. I can become an exile, a stranger, a wanderer. These too are assigned social roles, recognized within ancient and medieval communities. But it is always as part of an ordered community that I have to seek the human good, and in this sense of community the solitary anchorite or the shepherd on the remote mountainside is as much a member of a community as is a dweller in cities.

Hence solitariness is no longer what it was for Philoctetes. The individual carries his communal roles with him as part of the definition of his self, even into his isolation.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.201-2

[...] nothing that I have said goes any way to show that a situation could not arise in which it proved possible to discover no rational way to settle the disagreements between two rival moral and epistemological traditions, so that positive grounds for a relativistic thesis would emerge.

[...] there are no successful a priori arguments which will guarantee in advance that such a situation could not occur. Indeed nothing could provide us with such a guarantee which did not involve the successful resuscitation of the Kantian transcendental project.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.322

Recognition of the complex multicultural structure of human societies leads to differentialism and the complete rejection of hierarchy. Moreover, the reduction to the individual, which is the basis of the egalitarian morality of postmodernism, destroys cultural ensembles instead of protecting and strengthening them.

Differentialist anti-racism, on the contrary, merely postulates differences between societies, without attempting to evaluate them with the help of a general 'transcendental' criterion (which in principle cannot exist and any candidate for such status would only be a projection of one of the societies), nor to destroy them.

[Aleksandr Dugin]

The basic attitude of the Western tradition had grown toward diversity and toleration, based on the belief that every aspect of life and of human experience and every individual has some place in the complex structure of reality if that place can only be found and that, accordingly, unity of the whole of life can be reached by way of diversity rather than by any compulsory uniformity.

This idea was entirely foreign to the Russian mind. Any Russian thinker, and hordes of other Russians with no capacity for thought, were driven by an insatiable thirst to find the “key” to life and to truth. Once this “key” has been found, all other aspects of human experience must be rejected as evil, and all men must be compelled to accept that key as the whole of life in a dreadful unity of uniformity.

[Carroll Quigley]
Tragedy and Hope, ‘The Russian Empire to 1917,’ p.65

The inexorable growth of a world market does not advance a universal civilisation. It makes the interpenetration of cultures an irreversible global condition.

[John Gray]
False Dawn, p.193

Liberalism—and proto-liberalisms such as Christianity, Platonism, Vedanta, and so forth—do not see will at the bottom of the ethical proposition. They see only true.

For them, good is a species of true. For the folkish thinker, true is a species of good, and good is a matter of will. And so, under these proto-liberalisms, the will—whether it be your own will, or that of the king—is always and everywhere governed by propositions. This is the ultimate source of Schmitt’s “forever-deferred decision” of the sovereign.

When will is subordinated to proposition, willing is impossible. Where will is impossible, ethics is impossible, hence the devolution into individualism.

Folkishness, by seeing ethics as second-order commands, reintroduces will into the world. Specifically, this takes the form of the will of the founder. In our terms, this is the Odinic—the great man.

[Imperium Press]
‘Who’s the Boss — Folk or Elite?’, Imperium Press, Substack

[...] if Schopenhauer is led to deny the will it is primarily because he believes in the unity of willing.

Because the will, according to Schopenhauer, is essentially unitary, the executioner comes to understand that he is one with his own victim. The consciousness of the identity of the will in all its manifestations leads the will to deny itself, to suppress itself in pity, morality and ascetism.

Nietzsche discovers what seems to him the authentically Schopenhauerian mystification; when we posit the unity, the identity, of the will we must necessarily repudiate the will itself.

When Nietzsche praises egoism it is always in an aggressive or polemical way, against the virtues, against the virtue of disinterestedness.

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.7

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The Tragic Life

Epic            -          Tragedy
Apollo        -          Dionysus
Inflate         -          Deflate
Complete    -          Lacking

The problem-solving fundamentalism of the Optimiser is a denial of the Tragic Life, because it is not willing to accept that difficulties - darkness, loss, misery and death - are all necessary parts of life.

Tragedy confronts the heroic will with its limitations and compels it to acknowledge its inherent vulnerability. Infinity is bounded.

If all heroism is, at root, a revolt against feminine nature, then 'heroic femininity' becomes self-defeating.

Tragedy springs from opposition, not collaboration; from excess, not moderation. Having struck a deal with nature - all things in good measure - traditional cultures had no sense of tragedy.

“The true goal is veiled by a phantasm: and while we stretch out our hands for the latter, nature attains the former by means of an illusion.”

This mechanism, Nietzsche had argued, could be observed in the functioning of tragedy itself. Too much (“Dionysian”) insight into the reality of life leads to despair and inaction: “Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet.” 

The action of tragedy shows the most powerful individuals trying, and failing, to have an effect on the “eternal nature of things.”

But juxtaposed with this most powerful representation of the vanity of all effort is the tragic chorus, assuring its spectators that even in their efforts to change nature, the tragic heroes, like those spectators themselves, are its products and elements, and the realisation that one is a part of everything that lives makes life “indestructibly powerful and pleasurable” and therefore worth living after all.

A main reason for Nietzsche’s continuing admiration of the Greeks is what he takes as their ability to exploit mechanisms of this sort. Having glimpsed the truth, personified in The Gay Science as Baubo, they were, according to his unsettling view, revolted by it. Accordingly they turned away from its pursuit. They made the preliminary stages of its conquest their final purpose: “Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for this is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, word, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial - out of profundity.”

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 119

Nietzsche seems to have believed that there are some ultimate facts, some noninterpretive truths, concerning the real nature of the world. But he denied that these facts could ever correctly be stated through reason, language, and science.

Yet he also believed […] that tragedy, primarily through the musically inspired, “Dionysian” chorus, can intimate the final truth that the ultimate nature of the world is to have no orderly structure: in itself the world is chaos, with no laws, no reason, and no purpose.

Tragedy gives a non discursive glimpse of the contrast between “the real truth of nature and the lie of culture that poses as if it were the only reality,” a contrast that “is similar to that between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the whole world of appearances.” It shows that the orderly, apparently purposeful world within which we live is a creation we have placed between ourselves and the real world, which pursues its own course without any regard for our views, and our desires.

But what makes tragedy even more remarkable in Nietzsche’s eyes is that in the very process of revealing this painful truth, it offers a consolation for the negative and desperate reaction this is bound to generate. It shows that ultimately we are not different from the rest of nature, that we are part and parcel of it, and belong totally to it. 

It leaves its audience, which at least for a moment ceases to regard itself as separate from the rest of the world, with the “metaphysical comfort … that life is at the bottom of things, despite all the changes of appearance, indestructibly powerful and pleasurable,” and that its blind, purposeless, constant ebb and flow is to be admired and celebrated.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 42-3

A Blackfoot Elder said that the white race is the youngest race. It has great energy and potential, but, for the past few thousand years it has been playing like a child while it is watched by the black, yellow, and red peoples.

Now the time has come for the white race to begin to learn, and assume its responsibilities along with the three other colors in the world.

As we Western thinkers listen and learn, we will begin to understand the achievements of Native American societies and acknowledge their worldviews as viable alternatives to our currently dominant industrial worldview.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.311

Friedman’s mission, like Cameron’s, rested on a dream of reaching back to a state of ‘natural’ health, when all was in balance, before human interferences created distorting patters.

[Naomi Klein]
The Shock Doctrine, p.44

The Social Contract (1762) begins: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Pitting benign Romantic nature against corrupt society, Rousseau produced the progressivist strain in nineteenth-century culture, for which social reform was the means to achieve paradise on earth.

The bubble of these hopes was burst by the catastrophes of two world wars. But Rousseauism was reborn in the postwar generation of the Sixties, from which contemporary feminism developed.

Rousseau rejects original sin, Christianity’s pessimistic view of man born unclean, with a propensity for evil. Rousseau’s idea, derived from Locke, of man’s innate goodness led to social environmentalism, now the dominant ethic of American human services, penal codes, and behaviorist therapies. It assumes that aggression, violence, and crime come from social deprivation—a poor neighborhood, a bad home.

Thus feminism blames rape on pornography and, by a smug circularity of reasoning, interprets outbreaks of sadism as a backlash to itself. But rape and sadism have been evident throughout history and, at some moment, in all cultures.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.2

Our focus on the pretty is an Apollonian strategy. The leaves and flowers, the birds, the hills are a patchwork pattern by which we map the known. What the west represses in its view of nature is the chthonian, which means “of the earth”—but earth’s bowels, not its surface.

Jane Harrison uses the term for pre-Olympian Greek religion, and I adopt it as a substitute for Dionysian, which has become contaminated with vulgar pleasantries. The Dionysian is no picnic. It is the chthonian realities which Apollo evades, the blind grinding of subterranean force, the long slow suck, the murk and ooze. It is the dehumanizing brutality of biology and geology, the Darwinian waste and bloodshed, the squalor and rot we must block from consciousness to retain our Apollonian integrity as persons. Western science and aesthetics are attempts to revise this horror into imaginatively palatable form.

The daemonism of chthonian nature is the west’s dirty secret. Modern humanists made the “tragic sense of life” the touchstone of mature understanding. They defined man’s mortality and the transience of time as literature’s supreme subjects. In this I again see evasion and even sentimentality.

The tragic sense of life is a partial response to experience. It is a reflex of the west’s resistance to and misapprehension of nature, compounded by the errors of liberalism, which in its Romantic naturephilosophy has followed the Rousseauist Wordsworth rather than the daemonic Coleridge.

[Camille Paglia]
Sexual Personae, p.5-6

Aristotle's belief in the unity of the virtues is one of the few parts of his moral philosophy which he inherits directly from Plato. As with Plato, the belief is one aspect of an hostility to and denial of conflict either within the life of the individual good man or in that of the good city.

Both Plato and Aristotle treat conflict as an evil and Aristotle treats it as an eliminable evil.

The virtues are all in harmony with each other and the harmony of individual character is reproduced in the harmony of the state. Civil war is the worst of evils. For Aristotle, as for Plato, the good life for man is itself single and unitary, compounded of a hierarchy of goods.

It follows that conflict is simply the result either of flaws of character in individuals or of unintelligent political arrangements.

This has consequences not only for Aristotle's politics, but also for his poetics and even his theory of knowledge. In all three the agon has been displaced from its Homeric centrality. Just as conflict is not central to a city's life, but is reduced to a threat to that life, so tragedy as understood by Aristotle cannot come near the Homeric insight that tragic conflict is the essential human condition - the tragic hero on Aristotle's view fails because of his own flaw, not because the human situation is sometimes irremediably tragic - and dialectic is no longer the road to truth, but for the most part only a semi-formal procedure ancillary to enquiry.

[...] there is a certain tension between Aristotle's view of man as essentially political and his view of man as essentially metaphysical.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.184

Consider in this light Aquinas' claim that if we encounter genuine moral conflict, it is always because of some previous wrong action of our own.

Clearly this is one source of conflict. But will it cover Antigone and Creon, Odysseus and Philoctetes, or even Oedipus? Will it cover Henry Il and Thomas Becket? For [...] each of these conflicts could as genuinely be within a single individual as between individuals.

Aquinas' point of view, like Aristotle's, precludes tragedy that is not the outcome of human flaws, of sin and error. And, unlike Aristotle, this is the outcome of a theology which holds that the world and man were made good and are only flawed as the result of acts of human will.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.208-9

The United States has, in these fortuitous conditions, become a society which today by a powerful optimistic alchemy transforms the prophetic pessimism of Judaism, and the injunctions of asceticism, humility, and self-sacrificing charity of Christianity, into the sentimental and vulgar consolations of a bourgeoise […]

Such phenomena […] are integrally related to an American international politics that assumes the possibility - indeed, the proximate possibility - of a fundamental reform of the institutions and behaviour of mankind at large. They are evidences of the continuing, and (as yet) invincible, isolation of American civilisation from the major experiences of Western history and modern politics.

They evidence the American national isolation from, or, more deeply, the American suppression of, the perception of human tragedy and desolation, or irrationality and perversity.

[Edmund Stillman & William Pfaff]
The Politics of Hysteria

"Apollo overcomes the suffering of the individual by the radiant glorification of the eternity of the phenomenon" he obliterates pain. Dionysus, on the contrary, returns to primitive unity, he shatters the individual, drags him into the great ship-wreck and absorbs him into original being.

Dionysus and Apollo are therefore not opposed as the terms of a contradiction but rather as two antithetical ways of resolving it; Apollo mediately, in the contemplation of the plastic image, Dionysus immediately in the reproduction, in the musical symbol of the will.

Dionysus is like the background on which Apollo embroiders beautiful appearances; but beneath Apollo Dionysus rumbles. The antithesis of the two must therefore be resolved, "transformed into a unity". Tragedy is this reconciliation, this wonderful and precarious alliance dominated by Dionysus.

Dionysus is the only tragic character, "the suffering and glorified God", his sufferings are the only tragic subject, the sufferings of individuation absorbed in the joy of original being [...]

[...] the tragic in its totality is thus defined as original contradiction, its Dionysian solution and the dramatic expression of this solution.

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.11-12

[...] Nietzsche [...] opposes the tragic vision of the world to two others: the dialectical and the Christian.

Nietzsche insists on the fundamentally Christian character of the dialectic and of German philosophy and on the congenital incapacity of Christianity and the dialectic to live, understand or think the tragic.

Life needs to be justified, that is to say redeemed from suffering and contradiction. The Birth of Tragedy is developed in the shadow of the Christian dialectic; justification, redemption and reconciliation.

Dialectics in general are not a tragic vision of the world but, on the contrary, the death of tragedy, the replacement of the tragic vision by a theoretical conception (with Socrates) or a Christian conception (with Hegel).

[Gilles Deleuze]
Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.10-11, 18

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