Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Random Observations

1. Well, I’m back from Alaska. Here’s what I learned: As far as I could see with my own eyes, there are no moose in Alaska, and I did get around. Anchorage is a very sophisticated city with plenty of amenities, but there’s no effective way to drive from there to another such city. Anchorage is not as cold as even Chicago or Detroit. When I left Atlanta last Wednesday afternoon, it was 25 degrees. It was 28 when I landed in Anchorage at midnight. The rest of Alaska is marked by incredible natural beauty and almost uniformly ugly or merely functional human additions. People in Alaska--unlike, say, people in Akron--mostly love it there and think in term of their state’s and their own bright future.

2. It’s possible that Obama has peaked in the lower 48 states, but not in Alaska. I had lunch with an excellent "postmodernism rightly understood"-type philosophy professor and a very erudite history professor. The philosophy guy said that he almost always votes for Republican, but he’s for Obama this time, although he can’t quite explain why. His hope is that Obama will govern like a Republican. The history guy originally hoped to be a Hillary delegate to the national convention, but decided to vote for Obama at the last minute. He was inspired by the all of Barack’s young people and went with his heart, not his head. I will go as far as to speculate that McCain’s moralism about oil drilling has made him unpopular enough in Alaska that Obama might even have a shot there, if the election were tomorrow.

3. I still think Obama will win the two big primaries tomorrow, but I will add that all the excitment over the alleged close races is fake. Hillary would have to win them big to have a chance. Of course, I really do hope she does win them big, and I’m happy to keep hope alive.

4. Economic pessismism is rapidly becoming more pervasive, and people want to believe it when Obama says that the recession is due to bad policies that he can readily fix. Anyone who can save the planet and repair souls should find economic growth and jobs easy. Again, McCain needs to become credible on domestic policies.

5. Does the idea of historicism depend on the Rousseauean/Darwinian view of nature as impersonal mechanism with no support for anything distinctively human (or social/linguistic)--a view that has been thoroughly discredited? Or to put it differently: Nobody really believes Rousseau’s description of non-human man in the state of nature, precisely because it is an unempirical radicalization of Locke’s already unempirical individualistic premises.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Even Rousseau seems to intend his anthropolgy as hyperbolic--the story you get in the footnotes to the 2nd Discourse (which he basically encourages the reader to skip in the intro) and well the book on the origins of language seems to indicate that he was well aware of the un-empirical nature of his hypothesis. Still, I think you're right that the turn to History is borne out of a dissatisfation with nature understood as teleologically structured and knowable in some sense.

Why do I find the idea of a guy voting for Hilary and then getting all fuzzy because Obama "inspires" young people with 1960s pie-in-the-sky rhetoric and some postmodern philosophy professor voting for Obama without knowing why so repulsive? These wimps would have made me lose my appetite. I hope you were able to finish your moose-burger.

If Ivan is right, the whole nature-history distinction is a lie or big exaggeration that got taken seriously for a couple of centuries. And of course Ivan is always right.

Well, I wouldn't say that it's a lie but there was an element of Rousseau's rhetoric (and much of the rhetoric of early modern philosophy) that was persuasive exaggeration; still, I think R's view couldn't ultimately preserve nature as a standard in any stable way opening up for more radical and totally sincere programs to replace nature with history.

"...it is an unempirical radicalization of Locke’s already unempirical individualistic premises."



See I told you so. If only you had listened. :-)

Good to hear from Mr. Filmer. Back to the issue of historicism: sometimes Locke talks as if there very well might be a nature as Aristotle describes but that such a thing is unknowable given the limitations of our minds: this epistemological critique, though, still commits us to a view of nature in disharmony with if not simply hostile to humanity---it means we are radically alienated from nature. Once we're cut off from nature it hard to see how history doesn't present itself as the alternate candidate, unless some more esoteric route, like a transcendental phenomenology, is seen as viable. Historically, however, this lends itself to historicization too (as we see in Heidegger's criticisms of Husserl).

God, and maybe Ivan too, knows what Rousseau is up to in the Second Discourse. I agree that the anthropology is hyperbolic, but to what end, I have no clue. For the sorts of evil progressive projects conservatives always blame Jean-Jacques for, or as a way to push Lockean liberalism to the absurd extreme? To its logical destination? Rhetoric, yes, but to what end?

I'm sure God knows but I can only hypothesize. My inarticulate tendency is to view Rousseau's 2nd Discourse as an attempt to rehabilitate the Enlightenment's tendency towards diremption: the Lockean version liberates us from nature but also fails to comprehend the inextinguishable eros for a kind of wholeness. For Rousseau, that wholeness is only to be located in the pre-rational, pre-moral amour de soi of the natural man. Rousseau exaggaerates this individual's solipsistic individuality, often glosses over his sub-human character, and equivocates on his happiness, for the sake of emphasizing his utility as a standard. Locke's natural man begins and ends at odds with himself--Rousseau radicalizes Lockean nature to provide a kind of end game in the partial and (as he admits) partially dissapointing attempt to return to that pre-discursive happiness. So R introduces a kind of telos and an anthropological account of that telos without making nature teleological.

I should probably note that after a long day this might not make sense.

Your professor friends make absolutely no sense to me, philosophically or otherwise. They are exactly what is wrong with our institutes of "higher learning."

Smart, lovely people, maybe -- but sound (almost purposely) clueless.

Of course, it IS easier for professor types to live in an alternate universe, because everybody else they know lives there too.

I do hope they aren't allowed anywhere near the school's economics department.

Ah, but you see, Rousseau just *knows* that economics is just the problem, all that attention to private property and exchange and so on...

Rousseau (if memory serves) actually tells us that he's not treading in "facts"; he's much more interested in what we can *will* and actually change, in some sense, our nature. So in that sense, I think he's very clearly the father of historicism - whether it depends on him, well, that's another question, isn't it?

I'm not sure I buy, though, that Rousseau is but a radicalization of Locke - how does that work?

I'll leave it to Bill Clinton to explain the difference between a persuasive rhetorical exaggeration and a lie. The big issue is whether Rousseau or Locke is the father of historicism. Ivan and Mr. Simpson may disagree on this. And I'll leave to Ivan to explain how Rousseau's radicalization of Locke works.

Well, I don't have the rhetorical prowess of a Bill Clinton but I'll try to refine my clumsy point. The history/ nature schism is one that Rousseau intentionally generates with a hammer versus a scalpel to maximize his persuasiveness. I think he was aware of the theoretical difficulties attached to this project, was ultimately unmoved by them, and chose to de-emphasize them. So, the lie is not Rousseau's turn to history but rather the philosophical confidence he assumes in this regard; part of this hyperbole is connected to his dual project of radicalizing the Enlightenment while simultaneously correcting it. The radicalization or correction of Locke has to do with the status of man in the state of nature: according to R, if we consistently play out the Lockean logic of our natural individuality, we conclude with a radically a-social and therefore pre-rational and then also pre-moral being who experiences happiness versus the pain of fear or scarcity.

Life in the state of Nature is nasty, poor, bruttish and short. Life under Republican rule is nasty, poor, bruttish and short. Vote Obama for Leviathan: change we can believe in.

"This is the historical age and we are the historical nation."(David Hume on Scotland and the Scottish Enlightenment or Hillary Clinton expressing how honored she is to be in the same league as Obama?)

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