Showing posts from July, 2010

The Hammer of the Krauts Strikes Another Blow

For illogic:

"This is the kind of brinksmanship you get when leaders of a rogue regime are under growing pressure. The only hope to get them to reverse course is to relentlessly increase their feeling that, if they don't, the Arab states, Israel, the Europeans and America will, one way or another, ensure that ruin is visited upon them."

He's talking about how Iranian president Ahmadinejad recently claimed that the US and Israel were planning on attacking two Mideastern countries soon. How exactly this represents "brinksmanship" on Ahmadinejad's part is a little unclear -- he's not, after all, threatening any attacks, he's claiming others are doing so -- but even more startling is Krauthammer's prescription: Since the pressure on Iran is making the president crazy and reckless (as Krauthammer's sees things), the solution is... even more pressure!

Of course, for Krauthammer, the solution to every foreign policy difficulty is for America to…

Table of Contents

Last step done, and we're ready to print!

Oakeshott on Rome and America 1
Introduction 6
What Is Rationalism in Politics? 7
Comparing the Theory with Some Evidence 8
An Outline of This Work 9
The Manner of Enquiry 12
I. Politics as the Crow Flies 16
Was Oakeshott’s Critique Merely an Apology for Conservatism? 16
The Rationalist ‘Founders’ 18
A Further Examination of the Rationalist Character 22
An Example of Rationalism in a Modern, Liberal Democracy 28
What Is the Character of ‘Anti-Rationalist’ Politics? 31
Conclusion 34
II. The Development of Oakeshott’s Critique of Rationalism 35
Experience and Its Modes 35
The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism 37
Morality and Politics in Modern Europe 43
On Human Conduct 45
Aristotle on Practice Versus Theory 49
O’Neill on Abstraction Versus Idealization 51
Conclusion 53
III. Misunderstanding Oakeshott 54
Some Typical Criticisms 54
Traditionalism as an Apology for the Status Quo 54
Traditionalism as Denigrating the Role of Rati…


My kids are watching some animated kids show from Britain. The teacher character is "educating" the children that "people call tomahtoes a vegetable, but they're really a fruit."

I know I've blogged this before, but I am an OCD sufferer, so I just have to keep blogging it until I fix the problem: 'Vegetable' is a culinary category. It means, roughly, "the non-sweet, non-starchy things we eat as sides to our main course." "Vegetable" has no scientific meaning! No one considers bread or beer to be vegetable dishes, although they clearly come from plants, while most people consider mushrooms to be a vegetable, although they are not plants at all. (I recall watching with horror as another "educator" asked my daughter's class "Which part of a plant does a mushroom come from?" That's like asking "Which part of a plant does a t-bone steak come from?")

"Fruit," on the other hand, has both a…

Interesting New Blog

Big Questions Online, lead by "Crunchy Con" Rod Dreher.

Economic Reductionism

Nice post from John Médaille. A sample:

'However, the elimination of ethics could only be accomplished by a ruthless reductionism: man was reduced to an “economic calculator” capable of acting only in self-interest, while all markets were reduced to a single model of supply and demand curves with a single, well-defined equilibrium points. The new homo oeconomicus was conceived as a pure individual with no natural ties and was no more than a collection of unfulfilled desires, always waiting for the entrepreneur to fill them up, while creating new wants.'

Rational Dress

Rationalists like to believe that they have tossed aside all prejudices, and that the way they do things is based upon pure reason. I recall a rationalist, in the comments here, scoffing at my nod to the importance of tradition in judging the propriety of laws. At one point he asked me, "I suppose you'd be fine living in a culture that forces women (but not men) to cover their face in public, as long as that is customary?"

Of course, as Oakeshott pointed out, devising some "rational" way of behaving by starting from a blank slate, after having rid oneself of all influence from traditions of behaviour, is an impossibility. So to a student of Oakeshott it comes as no surprise that my rationalist interlocuter didn't seem troubled by the fact that he is just fine living in a culture that forces women (but not men) to cover their chest in public, because that is customary.

Who Was Donnie Osmond?

My daughter asked me the above question today.

I replied, "He was the white Michael Jackson... well, at least until Michael Jackson became the white Michael Jackson."

Impeach Obama?

Someone in the middle of Milford, PA, was manning a booth with a sign saying "Impeach Obama" attached to it. As someone who was in favor of impeaching both Clinton and Bush II, I declare this officially ludicrous--if Obama deserves impeachment, so did every president who ever held the office. Sure, if one is an anarchist or Russian spy, and wants to undermine any possibility of governing the US, one rationally might be for this. But I guarantee this guy is just a rabid partisan, who, incredibly, does not even realize that Obama is giving us "Bush lite" -- more Iraq, more Afghanistan, more Guantanamo, more Wall St. bailouts. It's kind of like someone taking baseball rivalries so seriously that he wants the Red Sox jailed because he's a Yankee fan.

Refuting O'Grady on Honduras

This article pretty thoroughly demolishes O'Grady's case that the Honduran coup was "constitutional", says I.

Stretching Things

I understand the urge to relate historical episodes to current events. But isn't calling the fight against the Barbary Pirates America's First War on Terror pushing the urge ludicrously far? Terrorists blow up symbolically important targets to try to change a government's policies. Pirates steal stuff from ships. Piracy is bad, and terrorism is bad, but that doesn't mean that they are the same thing!

OK, He's a Fool

But still, his book is capable of prompting entertaining reviews.

Money quote: "If he had, he would have to conclude that it is not religion that poisons everything, but human beings that poison everything, including religion and atheism. They also poison garden clubs, baseball teams, industrial corporations, moose lodges, academic departments, and charitable trusts. In short, wherever one finds humanity, one also finds inhumanity."

Yes, and it is not government that poisons everything, or private enterprise, but human beings.

New Blog Rolled

PSH, who comments here, seems to have an interesting blog called Centanium. It's been added to the blogroll.

UPDATE: "seems to have an interesting blog"
Ha! I meant "he has a blog, Centanium, that seems interesting!

Voegelin's Analysis of Liberalism

Eric Voegelin, comparing the messianic positivism of Comte with the "reasonable" liberalism of Littré:

"Littré's type represents the peculiar mixture of destructiveness and conservatism that is an important component in the complex of sentiments and ideas which we call 'liberal.' He is willing to participate in revolution until civilization is destroyed to the point which corresponds to his own fragmentary personality. He is not literate enough to understand that Christianity is one thing, and the corruption of a Church quite another; hence, he is ready to eliminate Christianity from history because, quite understandably, he does not like the state of the Church. He is not intelligent enough to understand the problem of the institutionalization of the spirit. Since he lives in the illusion that one can ruin the prestige of a Church or abolish it, and that then matters will be settled, he is greatly surprised and frightened when a new variant of the spirit ra…

Talk about Going Nuts with the Format Tool

During the debates on the US Constitution, Luther Martin declared ‘slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to tyranny and oppression’.

How to Be a Sports Pundit

Henry Abbott shows us how, when asked if the Miami Heat will win next year's NBA title:

"There's no reason they couldn't."

Yes, Henry, what they were asking you was if it is strictly impossible that the Heat will win.

"It's a one-out-of-thirty proposition."

So one of the teams in the NBA will win the NBA championship?

"Which means you can be the best team in the NBA and still not make it out of random chance."

Rather than random determinism or non-random chance.

"It's like throwing a dart -- the best darts players in the world still miss quite often. So, if I had to bet on any single team I'd bet on the field."

If Henry HAD to bet on any single team... he still wouldn't.

Romantic Conservatism and the Decline of the West

I have a link on my blogroll to The Front Porch Republic. I enjoy reading their blog, and they seem like a generally congenial bunch. They have a pretty good read on the fact the Western Civilization is in deep trouble, and have a pretty good diagnosis as to why.

But I have to sigh when reading some of their posts, because too often their solution is to go back. Stop drilling for oil, stop using computers, go back to the Christianity of 1900 / 1800 / 1700 / 1500, or whatever period they think it was best, go back to Thomistic philosophy, and so on.

Now, it's one thing to realize that history does not march forward without a glance back, and that, in reaching 2010, we have lost some good things along the way. We might even look to the past for hints as to how to remedy present problems. But one thing that never happens is that history reverses itself. Even if you think 1400 was a better year to be alive than today, you can't get back there. Our civilizational crisis will not be…

Ideology and Evidence

In another post, I mentioned that independent commissions were clearing the UEA climate scientists of charges that they had "faked data." When Bob Murphy saw the commissions had been commissioned by the House of Commons, he responded, "Are you kidding me?" These were government folks, and nothing they do could possibly be independent or honest.

Now, I want to suggest this response is a member of a family of similar positions:

X: Well, Phizer set up an independent study that found their new drug was not dangerous.
Marxist: Are you kidding me? They're capitalists!

X: Of course, the Catholic Church did seriously examine Galileo's claims.
Positivist: Are you kidding me? Those guys were priests!

X: You know that Einstein felt he had proved relativity quite adequately?
Nazi: Are you kidding me? Einstein was a Jew!
(STRONG WARNING TO NETWITS: I am NOT saying "Bob is as bad as a Nazi." I am sketching a family resemblance, and some members of a family are …

Methodological Termitism

"Our understanding of the world is built up of innumerable layers. Each layer is worth exploring, as long as we do not forget that it is one of many. Knowing all there is to know about one layer -- a most unlikely event -- would not teach us much about the rest." -- Erwin Chagraff

Consider the oft-despised termite. The obvious 'individual' is the little bug you see crawling around in your wall, obviously 'separate and distinct' from all of the other little bugs. (Yes, I know this is not the technical usage of 'bug'.)

But, for many purposes, it turns out, the real unit of analysis should be the colony, which, in many ways, functions as a super-organism with, for instance, one reproductive organ (the queen), one nervous system, and so on. Or, glancing in the other direction, the 'individual' termite itself appears as a colony, made up of the insect and numerous mixotricha paradoxa (and other symbiotes) occupying the insect's gut and enabling…

The Honduran Constitution and the Coup

From my dissertation:


Our final example concerns the recent ‘coup’ (I put the term in quotes because one of the chief bones of contention here is whether or not what transpired actually was a coup) that took place in Honduras in 2009. President Zelaya was proposing a referendum on reforming the constitution, a maneuver objected to be most of the National Congress and Supreme Court. The Court wound up ordering the military to remove Zelaya from office and the country. Immediately, some voices called the act an illegal military coup, while others praised it as a defense of the Honduran Constitution. It is no easy matter to abjudicate this dispute; the difficulty arises from the combination of articles 239 and 374 of the Honduran Constitution:

ARTICULO 239.- El ciudadano que haya desempeñado la titularidad del Poder Ejecutivo no podrá ser Presidente o Vicepresidente de la República.

El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma, así como aquellos que lo apoyen directa o …

Collecting Old Material

I'm going to be shutting down, so I'm starting the project of moving all of the links I had collected over there to this blog. So let's start with the secrets of Java serialization!

The Spirit of Faction

The Guardianreports that a third independent review has cleared the "Climategate" scientists of any scientific malpractice: '"We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the CRU and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it," the review concluded.'

However, I guarantee that we will still hear, for years, about the "fact" that climate scientists were "exposed" "faking data," just like similar people will endlessly repeat that Ahmadinejad said "Israel must be wiped off the map" years after it was demonstrated that he never said any such thing, or people will mindlessly repeat that Honduran President Zelaya's ouster was "constitutional" because they heard a pundit they like make that claim.

The spirit of faction is stronger than the spirit of truth.

UPDATE: A commenter notes that, while The Guardian article seems to be about the third…

Rationalist Morality

"The morality of the Rationalist is the morality of the self-conscious pursuit of moral ideals, and the appropriate form of moral education is by precept, by the presentation and explanation of moral principles. This is presented as a higher morality (the morality of the free man: there is no end to the clap-trap) than that of habit, the unselfconscious following of a tradition of moral behaviour; but, in fact, it is merely morality reduced to a technique, to be acquired by training in an ideology rather than an education in behaviour. In morality, as in everything else, the Rationalist aims to begin by getting rid of inherited nescience and then to fill the blank nothingness of an open mind with the items of certain knowledge which he abstracts from his personal experience, and which he believes to be approved by the common ‘reason’ of mankind." -- Michael Oakeshott

What I find very amusing is that, almost every time you point out to a rationalist that the above describes a…

Dumb or Dishonest?

Mary Anastasia O'Grady asks "Why Lift the Travel Ban to Cuba Now?" O'Grady has to be one of the most annoying columnists I have read: she repeatedly makes statements that show her either to be a dishonest propagandist or dumb. (My guess is the first, but I don't know.) Let's look at her column from earlier this week.

She starts off, "Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Honduran Supreme Court's decision to order the arrest of Manuel Zelaya, a power-hungry Hugo Chávez acolyte who tried to remain president for life."

Now, what Zelaya attempted to do, as far as anyone who is not a mindreader is concerned, was to change the Honduran Constitution to allow the president a second term. Whether he then intended to "remain president for life" is no more than a suspicion on O'Grady's part -- he explicitly said he would step down at the end of his term even if the constitution was changed.

"It's something to celebrate: Tha…