My philosophical “credo”: all right (mostly) after all these years

“Elements of a Credo” was probably the first piece I wrote for my antique (i.e., not mobile-friendly) philosophy site in 2004. (Compare the edited version below with the original.) I wrestle with its applicability to my current thinking. That is, I’m unhappy with its pretension to theological “neutrality.” But reading it as though it were written by someone else, I think it good enough to share in the hope that it might provoke conversation.—AGF

“He who tells me only what I already know, what I already believe, and what I like to hear, may please me, but he does not contribute to my grasp of the subject.  Whereas, he who compels me to face aspects of the matter which I would like to avoid really does something for me.”

  George Andrew Lundberg 1

I am a philosopher. That is, I seek to “frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” (Alfred North WhiteheadProcess and Reality).

I am also a commentator on the passing scene.  Apart from any degree of success I may enjoy as a philosopher, I feel compelled to venture provisional, qualified judgments in advance of the completion of my speculative philosophy.

As philosopher and commentator, I seek the truth. To do that, I need the cooperation of some and, more importantly, the noninterference of all.

Some may not refrain from interfering.  They would even coerce my cooperators into shunning me.  For the unfettered seeking of truth invariably leads to the expression of particular truths, or just the exposure of falsehood, which threatens to harm the (at least short-term) interests of the coercers.

That has ever been the nature of the truth-seeking business. It has never been merely about straightening out someone else’s muddled thinking within the ambit of a journal article and then repairing to one’s study for a cigar and a glass of sherry. Socrates made that clear. Nothing has changed since his day. Continue reading “My philosophical “credo”: all right (mostly) after all these years”

Hans-Herman Hoppe’s 2017 Property and Freedom Society talk repays study and debate

When it comes to the fate of Western civilization, I often wonder whether “it’s all over but the shouting,” whether the odds favor our enemies.

(Secularly speaking. The Kingdom of God will interrupt the current evil flow. If you think the secular is all there is, we need to have another conversation.)

The sheer volume of material one has to grapple with to come to a responsible answer overwhelms me. And then there’s what one might call the secondary literature, the thousands of worthwhile blogs and other platforms on which pro-Westerners can hash things out and find their way through the maze. One cannot responsibly dismiss it with a wave of the hand or pretend to have mastered it.

Only today I stumbled upon the text of the talk that Hans-Hermann Hoppe‘s gave to the Property and Freedom Society last year. (Once upon a time I was au courant on all things libertarian. Better late than never.) Hoppe’s frank discussion of our parlous estate is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time (but you may discount the appraisal of one who’s just admitted to being late to the party).

It’s long. You’ll probably skip it. After all, life is short. I understand.

It ends with a list of imperatives I agree must be carried out. But how? I’m left with skepticism, if not despair, about what those who agree with Hoppe’s diagnosis can reasonably hope to do. It seems there is much more sand in the bottom of the hour glass than the top.

I invite debate not only about Hoppe’s remedies but also about the prospects for their ever being applied in time. Ludwig von Mises‘s aphorism* doesn’t allay my pessimism. (Yes, Mises believed this while escaping the grip of the Nazis, and the Institute that bears his name promotes his ideas, and yet . . . here we are.)

Let’s affiliate, help each other find the truth of the matter, support each other’s efforts, build each other up, encourage each other.

Our enemies need to be more than ridiculed, exposed, and refuted. They need to be defeated.

Here’s the link: The Alt-Right and AntiFa—A Libertarian Strategy for Social Change


* Tu ne cede malis [Virgil wrote] sed contra audentior ito. That is, “do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against them.” (Part of it is the motto of The Bronx.) Is giving up tantamount to giving in?

Blanshard, Langer and Voegelin on Cassirer

Over the years I’ve collected short essays by and about the morphologist of the human spirit, Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945)* by diverse thinkers I also admire and posted them on my other site.  Image result for ernst cassirer

In his 1944 review of Cassirer’s An Essay on Man, Brand Blanshard sounded a note of disappointment:

It is hard not to think, as one reads a book so wealthy as this in historic and scientific erudition, but at the same time so oddly inconclusive, that Cassirer was rather a distinguished reflective scholar than a great speculative philosopher. The learning is not mobilized in the interest of any theory; the book is not so much an ‘essay on man’ as a series of essays, all suggestive and enlightening, which converge on—what? It is hard to say. Perhaps there is no end, or harmony of ends, toward which all these activities are moving. But then, on Cassirer’s own showing, no philosophy of man would seem to be practicable; there would only be a theory of art, a theory of religion, and so on. This is in fact what he gives us. And an admirable gift it is, for which I, at least, am thankful. Only it is not what he sets out to give, nor all that the reader hoped to gain.

Image result for cassirer an essay on manWilliam Schultz commented on Blanshard’s assessment:

Here is the assumption of a continental philosopher that a system must ‘converge’ on something or lead to an overall unity of experience, an ideal unity. To some extent, the criticism is correct, for the main arguments are not in An Essay on Man, yet Cassirer’s claims about the need for unity should have alerted Blanshard that they were in his previous books, as Cassirer himself said in the Preface to that work written almost twenty years after the three-volume masterpiece [The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms]. Ironically, both Blanshard and Cassirer share some of the same assumptions about what philosophy should do, but Blanshard did not study Cassirer’s work enough to recognize the revolutionary way in which Cassirer satisfies traditional expectations about what a philosophy is and does. (Cassirer and Langer on MythRoutledge, 2000, 51)

The other subject of Schultz’s study was Susanne Langer, whose thought was shaped largely by her absorption of Cassirer’s writings in the original German as they were published. She contributed an essay on his theory of language and myth to the Library of Living Philosophers volume dedicated to him.Image result for susanne langer anthony flood

. . . myth and language appeared as genuine twin creatures, born of the same phase of human mentality, exhibiting analogous formal traits, despite their obvious diversities of content. Language, on the one hand, seems to have articulated and established mythological concepts, whereas, on the other hand, its own meanings are essentially images functioning mythically. The two modes of thought have grown up together, as conception and expression, respectively, of the primitive human world. . . .

The first dichotomy in the emotive or mythic phase of mentality is not, as for discursive reason, the opposition of ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ of ‘a’ and ‘non-a,’ or truth and falsity; the basic dichotomy here is between the sacred and the profane. Human beings actually apprehend values and expressions of values before they formulate and entertain facts.

Continue reading “Blanshard, Langer and Voegelin on Cassirer”

Lord Acton: ambiguous democrat, libertarian modernist

Christopher Lazarski’s Power Tends to Corrupt: Lord Acton’s Study of Liberty  (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012) is, or at least ought to be, a reputation-making book.Image result for Power Tends to Corrupt: Lord Acton's Study of Liberty

It is the best discussion of the ideas of John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton in sixty-five  years, that is, since Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and PoliticsGertrude Himmelfarb’s ground-breaking study.

Image result for Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and PoliticsThe author achieves this in about the same number of pages (at least, sans apparatus) but, more importantly, he does so with equal readability, all the more remarkable since English is not his mother tongue.

After having immersed himself in the events of early 20th-century Russia, the fruit of which being his 2008 The Lost Opportunity: Attempts at Unification of the Anti-Bolsheviks: 1917-1919, Lazarski shifted his scholarly interest to the political thought of a 19th-century European who, while not predicting the Bolshevik Revolution, identified the spiritual fault lines that help explain such an anti-libertarian rupture with the past.

Currently Associate Dean in Warsaw’s School of International Relations at Lazarski University (founded by a distant relative), our author draws upon Roland Hill’s magisterial life of Acton for frame and meat, but does not minutely track that monumental biography.Image result for roland hill acton

What he does track are the contours of Acton’s prodigious learning. He divides his terrain into four parts, three devoted to Acton’s areas of interest—the ancient world (Jerusalem and Athens), the modern alternative (especially the Anglo-American tradition), and the revolutionary crisis to which that alternative succumbed (the French Revolution). A fourth part expounds and interprets Acton’s view of “the best regime,” a question rarely absent from Lazarski’s neat encapsulations of the master’s texts.

Continue reading “Lord Acton: ambiguous democrat, libertarian modernist”

Antony Sutton’s Inconvenient Research

I’m not an expert on the works of Antony C. Sutton (1925-2002), but I hope to be one day, and this post will explain why.Image result for antony sutton

Deep within the second volume of his magnum opus, Sutton posed the following alternative:

To subsidize and support a system that is the object of massive military expenditures is both illogical and irrational. . . . it calls into question not only the ability and the wisdom but indeed the basic common sense of the policymakers. The choice is therefore clear: either the West should abandon massive armaments expenditures because the Soviet Union is not an enemy of the West, or it should abandon the technical transfers that make it possible for the Soviet Union to pose the threat to the Free World which is the raison d’être for such a large share of Western expenditures. Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1945-1965, Stanford, Hoover Institution, 1968, p. 400.

Image result for western technology and soviet economic developmentWhen I chanced upon Sutton’s trilogy at a public library in the early ’70s, I was still viewing the world through Herbert Aptheker’s red-tinted spectacles. The massive amount of evidence of technology transfer that Sutton had discovered, organized, and published—under the imprint of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution—cohered with neither the Communist worldview I then held nor my anti-Communist one a few years later.

For Sutton proved that for at least fifty years capitalists had sold their supposed mortal enemies helming the Soviet Union much more than the proverbial rope with which to hang them (thereby fulfilling a prediction apocryphally attributed to Lenin).

Continue reading “Antony Sutton’s Inconvenient Research”

Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order

“What ‘banged’?”

That was the derisive reaction of Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) to someone’s mentioning the prevailing cosmology, the Big Bang theory (not to be confused with the television comedy whose theme song’s lyrics encapsulate the disordered cosmology Voegelin analyzed*).

He asked that rhetorical question on March 26, 1983 in Newton, Massachusetts during a Friday night-Saturday afternoon conference arranged by organizers of the annual Lonergan Workshops. (During that year’s meeting in June I’d meet Bernard J. F. Lonergan, SJ, whose mind I revered as much as Voegelin’s.)voegelin

Being a Rothbardian libertarian, I could hardly resist asking Voegelin about the seminars that Ludwig von Mises led in Vienna in the twenties. Smiling, Voegelin said he appreciated learning from Mises that inflation is not an increase in prices but rather the central bank’s increase in the money supply not commensurate with an increase in production of commodities. (A government may politically “freeze” prices, but then the economic effect of the inflation, that is, of the physical increase, is a shortage of the goods whose prices were frozen.) 

At the cocktail hour I asked Voegelin (I paraphrase from memory) how he could communicate with scholars whose grasp of the historical material was far below his (among whom he did not number Father Lonergan, but I certainly include myself). “With a kind of controlled irony,” he deadpanned. 

Continue reading “Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order”