Saturday, August 18, 2012

Links and Notes

* The US drought map is starting to look a little dire (see also the current Palmer Drought Index map). This is a big issue, and not just for Americans: the United States is the world's biggest exporter of corn, wheat, and sorghum and is neck-and-neck with Brazil as the biggest exporter of soybeans. It is also a significant exporter of rice and barley, although it's a relatively minor player on both fronts in comparison with the other major exporters. Due to our very high production per acre, our relatively good distribution systems, and lots and lots of good agricultural land, the breadbasket of the United States is one of the breadbaskets of the world; severe drought in the US means harder times elsewhere. It still isn't 1930s bad, but by some measures we are currently in the worst drought since the 1950s.

* Greg Forster corrects David Barton's errors on John Locke.

* A Mosaic Depicting Envy at "Laudator Temporis Acti"

* A website on the Scotist version of the doctrine of the primacy of Christ.

* You can often find people saying that Theodosius I abolished the Olympic Games in the fourth century. As Roger Pearse notes, however, the evidence is not quite so clear.

* David Goldman on circumcision.

* Michael Habib on flying lizards and gliding snakes.

* An interview with Hadley Arkes

* Schwitzgebel on the external world. His posts on this always remind me of Lady Mary Shepherd's approach to the question -- different specific arguments, but the same general idea and inference-structure.

* "The Homeless Adjunct" gives us How the American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps. Not all the details are entirely plausible -- for instance, at several points there is an assumption of deliberateness for things that were probably not at the forefront of most people's minds and were probably mostly due instead to not thinking things through adequately -- but the basic outline seems right.

* I just recently learned that Alan Saunders died this past June. Saunders was the very excellent host of what was the best philosophy-focused radio program in the English-speaking world, The Philosopher's Zone, which was one of the gems in the crown of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

* Liam Heneghan discusses Konrad Lorenz and Nazism. I think there are actually more options on the table with regard to Heidegger, whom Heneghan uses as a comparison case, than are suggested here. It's not all-or-nothing. The position I've advocated with Heidegger has been that the best way to handle it is to read him but accept nothing from him that cannot clearly or rigorously be disconnected from anything even suggestive of Nazi political thought.

I think this is harder to do than many of Heidegger's fans think; I think most of the quick dismissals of the difficulty are due to a naivete about what Nazi political thought actually was, since it was not all of a piece and there was a lot of in-fighting over the precise direction the Nationalist Socialist party and state should go. When you look at early Nazi political philosophy I don't think there's much room to be in doubt that Heidegger's philosophy, while more sophisticated, fit right in; which explains quite easily why Heidegger also had problems with the Nazi Party, since most of the more conservative Nazi philosophers and thinkers had serious problems with the direction they thought Hitler was taking -- and Hitler and his immediate circle, of course, thought that they were refusing to follow through on the principles they claimed to uphold. It's often forgotten, for instance, that Kurt Huber, the famous hero of the White Rose who was executed for stirring up resistance against Hitler, was actually a Nazi philosopher himself, as is clear from his interrogation interviews; he claimed that he was in favor of National Socialism but that he thought that the NSDAP old guard should push for a constitutional regime and that the Hitler faction within the Party was pushing the Party in a leftist direction, of which he regarded the alliance with the Soviet Union as a symptom. (Huber thought that the most natural ally of a Nazi Germany, if the Nazism were old-school rather than Hitlerism, was Britain, and that Britain and Nazi Germany should have joined together to fight Bolshevism as soon as the Nazis took power.) There were multiple philosophical positions vying for power in the Nazi Party, all of them consistent with the general ideology but disagreeing as to details and priorities. Yet I've repeatedly seen people point to Heidegger's difficulties, and the suspicion with which he was viewed, as if it somehow were evidence of a sharp disconnect between Heidegger's philosophy and Nazism. To be sure, some of the connection may well just be general folk conservatism, which is what attracted quite a few people to the Nazi party originally; but this needs to be shown rather than airily assumed. But regardless of the difficulty, it needs to be done. I suspect that this denazification is much easier with respect to Lorenz than Heidegger, I would advocate the same thing with regard to him, as well: nothing accepted that can't be replicated in ways inconsistent with Nazi ideology. And the cautionary tale that Heneghan mentions is also quite important.

* Richard Langworth looks into the matter. Richard Langworth is pretty much the source to go to for determining whether Churchill quotes are spurious or rightly attributed. Did Churchill say:

If you make ten thou­sand reg­u­la­tions you destroy all respect for the law.

The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.

The best argu­ment against Democ­racy is a five-minute con­ver­sa­tion with the aver­age voter.
Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
A fanatic is someone who won't change his mind and won't change the subject.
There are few virtues that the Poles do not possess -- and there are few mistakes they have ever avoided.
Another tidbit: What did Churchill think of the novel, Gone with the Wind, as well as its movie version?


  1. Thanks for the post.

    "I would advocate the same thing with regard to him, as well: nothing accepted that can't be replicated in ways inconsistent with Nazi ideology."

    Pardon me if I'm misinterpreting you, but isn't inconsistency with Nazism a pretty strong criterion for accepting a philosophical position?  I'm sure that much of my own philosophical thinking is consistent with Nazism, but that doesn't make it unacceptable.  You can't rule out, say, epistemic approaches to vagueness (not to say I endorse the, just an example) just because a Nazi could accept them consistently, probably in any formulation.

  2. I don't really think it's all that strong as a condition, and I would have no problem ruling out an epistemic approach to vagueness if I genuinely thought it was fully consistent with being a Nazi, although I'm also perfectly willing to give most philosophical positions the benefit of the doubt if they aren't proposed by Nazis or for Nazi-like reasons. But (1) we aren't talking about someone in a non-Nazi context presenting a philosophical position when we're talking about Heidegger, but about a Nazi who presented a philosophical position he claimed at the time supported Nazism; and (2) I explicitly make an exception even such cases if it can be shown that the same position could also be part of a philosophical position inconsistent with Nazism.

  3. Three questions come to mind:

    What would be involved in making a philosophical position part of a broader position inconsistent with Nazism?  What would qualify as an example of integrating a formerly Nazi position into a non-Nazi context?

    Why shouldn't we accept any positions consistent with Nazism?  I quite honestly do not see what reason we have to comply with this demand.

    Why should we give non-Nazi positions benefit of the doubt in assuming them to be incompatible with Nazism?  Is there any special reason to think a given philosophical stance prima facie inconsistent with Nazi doctrine.

  4. First, it's Heidegger in particular for which there is especially good reason not to accept any position consistent with Nazism, because he was a Nazi who linked his philosophical approach to Nazism; second, as I said even this has to be understood as still allowing not merely direct inconsistency but also indirect inconsistency (insofar as even if it is in itself consistent with Nazism it can be part of a position that is inconsistent with Nazism). Third, in this broader sense of consistency, I have no problem rejecting any position that is fully consistent with Nazism, although I do think in general no one should, because I don't think it's actually a very high standard at all, and I therefore would be utterly unimpressed by any philosophical position that could not meet it. On your questions:

    (1) I'm not sure what you're asking. It's not actually very difficult: If I have a Christian phenomenology, for instance, with conclusions or principles inconsistent with basic principles of Nazism (e.g., human dignity and the sacredness of human life) and I can, within that phenomenology replicate some of the results of Heidegger's phenomenological investigations, I've shown, at least to a reasonable extent, that this part of Heidegger is not directly or ineluctably tied with any Nazi tendency, principle, or conclusion.

    (2) I'm baffled by the question. A position that is neither inconsistent with Nazism nor even be made part of a larger position inconsistent with Nazism is a position that is consistent only with Nazism and similar philosophical positions. And there's obvious independent reason to reject any position consistent with Nazism, unless it can be made part of a position inconsistent with Nazism, with Heidegger: Heidegger was a Nazi and held at one time that his philosophical approach (in particular, its intersection with questions of technology) led to Nazism. Treating this as a minor thing would be ethically frivolous and facile.

    (3) Why shouldn't we give benefit of the doubt to them, when we don't have any reason to suspect bad intent in the construction of the position or bad influence on it? We give the benefit of the doubt to people all the time on all sorts of issues. And in this case, as I said, it's not a very exacting standard: the only positions that can't be made indirectly inconsistent with Nazism are positions that are only consistent with Nazism. So when, unlike the Heidegger case, we have no reason to think that something might be directly linked to Nazism, we have no reason to think it doesn't meet the standard.

  5. I have no doubt that I am unqualified to comment on many aspects of "How The American University was Killed", even though it's been broken down into easy steps for those of us who don't have occasion to peek into the sausage factory of academia, but it stretches my incredulity a bit that our best and brightest might find the most plausible explanation of the decline of educational prestige to be the Big Bad Conservative Corporate Conspiracy. From my admittedly back seat view of Corporate America, there are enough inefficiencies and internal battles to be fought simply in making a profit that there isn't actually all that much time or financing left for ruining the educational system as well. 

    I do have to say that The Homeless Adjunct's vision of What Killed Education is correct, it doesn't actually say all that much for the quality of education and analytical thought in the Golden Age of Academe described in the third paragraph that this concentrated environment of people vaunted for their critical thinking and mental flexibility was so helpless against the onslaught of the intellectually unwashed.

  6. Also, I have to say that when I read such facile comparisons of almost anything in the American experience with life in the Communist Bloc, my unshakeable impression of the author is one of invincible historical ignorance.

  7. That's fair enough, I think! The elaborate conspiracy thinking, by which it is all somehow deliberate trickery and abuse by People who are Not Us -- the inability to grasp the idea that people may simply make mistakes, and the inability to recognize the role of academics in the problem -- is unfortunately one of the things that make it hard to do anything to fix the problems involved.

    I think it's actually true that the generation the post lauds is the generation that started the ball rolling on all the problems identified in the post; good intentions and unholy alliances, as they say. Most of the problems identified go back in their roots at least forty or fifty years, not the mere thirty suggested, which seems obviously chosen in order to fit political presuppositions rather than from any serious evidence. And there was once plenty of time to stop it; the whole thing is at least as much the fault of academics as it is of anyone else.

  8. I see I was writing with my snark on this morning, which is cheap because it's so easy to do. I don't mean to sound as disagreeable as all that! The hammer tapping on my knee-jerk reaction was the connection I was drawing between the assumptions of the author of the post, and those Catholics who bemoan the salad days of the 50s, when the Church Triumphant reigned on earth until the smoke of Satan entered the sanctuary and the evil liberals hijacked the Church during Vatican II. This is such a simplistic, self-contradictory analysis that it sets my teeth on edge. 

    Still, there's very little that justifies one in indulging in such pomposity in a combox. For my penance, I will not use the phrase "sausage factory" for the rest of the day.

  9. While there was definitely snark, I didn't think it was disagreeable or pompous at all (although the penance seems reasonable!).

    I think your analogy is actually a pretty good one -- the problems in both cases are real, but one of the problems is precisely the perspective from which they are viewed.


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