The Baneful Sway of French Philanthropy

“A steady patriot of the world alone,
The friend of every country but his own.”*

The centenary of Armistice Day occasioned a good deal of gabble about the evils of nationalism, with the childless President of France, Emanuel Macron, going so far as to denounce it as “a betrayal of patriotism.” I do not see how one can revere the forefathers while reviling their posterity, but that may be because I am, unlike Macron, a father with posterity. What Macron calls patriotism, a more accurate politician called Philanthropy—indeed, in the poem from which my epigraph is drawn, George Canning called it “French Philanthropy.” This was, Continue reading

AI and the Dehumanization of Man

AI and the Dehumanization of Man

Strong Artificial Intelligence is the idea that computers can one day be constructed that have the abilities of the human mind. The contrast is with narrow AI which is already with us – that is the notion that computers can be made that can do one thing very well, such as the Watson computer that won in Jeopardy, or Deep Blue that bet Kasparov in chess.

Strong AI, artificial general intelligence, would mean that a robot fitted with a computer brain could move around in the world as competently as a human.  As F. H. George commented to the editor of Philosophy, 32 (1957), 168-169: “finite automata are capable of exhibiting, at least in principle, all the behaviour that human beings are capable of exhibiting, including the ability to act as poets or creative artists and even to wink at a girl and mean it.”[1] This reference to a wink itself has a poetic touch to it that captures a sense of genuine humanity.

Strong and narrow AI is the difference between an idiot savant who can do one thing incredibly well, such as recognizing prime numbers of incredible length,[2] reading two pages of a book simultaneously with over 90% recall like Kim Peek, and someone with enough nous to handle the wide range of tasks that any normal human being has to face; engaging in a lengthy conversation one minute and enjoying a work of fiction the next. Continue reading

Two Theories of the Renaissance – Berdyaev’s and Spengler’s

Rafael 01 School of Athens

Raphael (1483 – 1520): The School of Athens (Completed 1511)

In the Eighteenth Century, self-congratulatory pamphleteers and encyclopédistes, wanting to effectuate a break with tradition, extol their autonomy, and celebrate what they themselves named the Enlightenment, invented the tripartite historical construction of Antiquity – the Medieval Period – and Modernity.  Edward Gibbon and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel assume this sequence, as do Voltaire and Auguste Comte.  Modernity, the third term, functions for such thinkers as the designation of their own intellectual super-clarity, which they see as the goal and consummation of history.  Hegel, like his successor Francis Fukuyama, believed that the progress of the human spirit had indeed found its goal in his very cogitations and insights, after which further speculation would be otiose.  The Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), writing in his essay on “The End of the Renaissance” (1922), and in the aftermath both of the Great War and the October Revolution, rejects the construction.  Berdyaev offers a prediction: “The school delineations of history into the ancient, the medieval and the modern, are becoming quickly outmoded and will be discarded from the textbooks.”  Whereas the tripartite construction of history has proven itself quite stubborn despite Berdyaev’s conviction at the time, stubbornness nevertheless validates nothing.  Berdyaev gives his reasons.  Modern history, a term that Berdyaev puts in quotation marks, “is now ending,” he writes, “and there is beginning something unknowable, an historical epoch not yet named with a name.”  An epoch is a break in continuity.  If a new unprecedented phase had broken away from modernity such that “we depart from all the customary historical shores,” then that development would necessarily disqualify modernity from its claim of being the end and validation of all historical processes.  “The world is passing over,” Berdyaev claims, “into a state of flux.”

Berdyaev by 1922 already knew the work of his slightly younger contemporary Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936), the second volume of whose Decline of the West appeared in that year.  Spengler, like Berdyaev, dismissed the tripartite construction of history as a petty conceit of limited minds.  “In fact,” Spengler writes in the Introduction to the first volume of the Decline (1919), “the lay-out of world history is an unproved and subjective notion that has been handed down from generation to generation… and stands badly in need of a little of that skepticism which from Galileo onward has regulated and deepened our inborn ideas of nature.”  Spengler characterizes the tripartite construction of history as “an incredibly jejune and meaningless scheme, which has, however, entirely dominated our historical thinking.”  Spengler, like Berdyaev, foresees the abandonment of the construction.  “The Cultures that are to come,” he writes, “will find it difficult to believe that the validity of such a scheme with its simple rectilinear progression and its meaningless proportions… was, in spite of all, never whole-heartedly attacked.”  Positing itself as the third-stage goal of a three-stage development, the cynically self-naming modernity “rigs the game.”  Spengler detects in the construction the traces of a displaced apocalypse; it is “Magian,” he writes, owing its essentially religious character to Persian and Jewish apocalypse and to the later offshoots of these, “the Gnostic systems.”  The construction designs to justify “one’s own religious, political or social convictions” by the method of “endowing the sacrosanct three-phase system with tendencies that will bring it exactly to one’s own standpoint.”

Neither Berdyaev nor Spengler denies the existence of a modern phase in the temporal continuity of the West.  On the contrary, both Berdyaev and Spengler acknowledge modernity as something like a total and commanding presence, inveigling itself dictatorially into every corner of life, but they never assent to modernity’s notion of itself.  Whereas modernity sees itself as Reason or Enlightenment, Berdyaev and Spengler see it as occlusion – as a radical diminution of consciousness far from liberating in any true sense, but rather as oppressive and destructive.  Berdyaev and Spengler view modernity in negative terms, as the cause of violent upheavals.  The two writers also agree on the origins of modernity, the earliest glowering of which they assign, perhaps surprisingly, to the Twelfth Century.  Both Berdyaev and Spengler, mention the work of the monk Joachim of Fiore as a foreshadowing of the modern tendency to close down history by calling it to a halt in the consummative present moment.  Both Berdyaev and Spengler see again in Joachim’s hermetic vision the initial glimmerings of what they commonly regard as the first distinctive phase of modernity – the so-called Renaissance of the Italian city-states beginning in the Fourteenth Century.  Naturally, neither Berdyaev nor Spengler interprets the Renaissance as modernity interprets it.  What then is the real character of the Renaissance? And what is the real relation of the Renaissance to the prevailing cultural dissolution of the modern centuries, according to the two thinkers?

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The Acid Eating at Tradition is Not Capitalism, But Cheap Information

Reactionaries often blame capitalism for eviscerating tradition and reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. But capitalism – i.e., free exchange – is not a recent phenomenon. It was not invented by the Franciscans, forsooth, but rather discovered by them as a subject amenable to moral, theological and philosophical analysis, and so to discourse, development and elaboration. Capitalism has been around since the beginning of human society. It is no more than a fancy word for exchange that develops surplus, after all; for mere trade, and commerce. For almost all of human history, capitalism supported and indeed mediated local tradition – or, at least, did not vitiate it.

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The Way of Decay on a Dull November Day

“Gather therefore the rose, while yet is prime,
For soon comes age, that will her pride deflower.”*

“Life with its glories glides away,
And the stern footstep of decay
Comes stealing on.”**

I turn sixty-one today, and thus am now but two years short of the momentous birthday our forefathers knew as the grand climacteric.  They said that a man arrives at the threshold of old age when he turns sixty-three.  The word climacteric literally denotes a step on a ladder (Greek climax), and therefore was used as a metaphor to denote the step changes (or paradigm shifts) that mark the four ages of a man’s life. In the old reckoning, these climacterics occur at multiples of seven (or nine) years, with the most significant steps at twenty-one, forty-two, and sixty-three (hopeful systems added a fourth climacteric at eighty-four).  The intervening ages are childhood, youth, maturity, and old-age. Continue reading

Our Meddling Intellect

“Greek civilization was undermined by a sophistical excess of speculation which, calling in question the bases of ordered human existence, proved fatal to the permanence of all public and private relations and duties.”  (William Samuel Lilly, On Shibboleths, 1892)

“They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.  Hence it is we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves in seeming knowledge . . .” (Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, 1604-1605)

That “an unexamined life is not worth living” is neither self-evident nor suggested by experience, and this is so even if we follow Socrates and stipulate “not worth living for a man.” I have known many a man whose self-examination proceeded no further than a close inspection of his reflection in the glass, but who nevertheless found life highly satisfactory and very much worth living. And I knew one man who followed the advice of the old gadfly, opened the hood, inspected the machinery, and then fell into a despair that he ended by suicide.  My poor friend fell to the mischief that is caused by what Wordsworth called the “meddling intellect.” Continue reading

John Bradford’s Grace of God

You have no doubt heard, indeed have very likely used, the expression “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Tradition attributes this quote to the sixteenth-century English evangelical John Bradford, who is said to have uttered the words when he saw a condemned man led to the scaffold, and who with these words disavowed any grounds for personal pride in the fact that his own neck was not about to be snapped.  As there is no written testament, some naturally doubt the tradition, but a man such as Bradford might have expressed such a sentiment if he beheld such a scene. Continue reading

The Corollary of the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So then likewise: as you do unto others, so would you have them do unto you.

Social Justice Warriors always project (hat tip: Vox Day). They insist that we foment violence and hatred, e.g., when it is of course they who mostly do so. They accuse us of being antiscientific, when of course they are the ones who reject the plain data and revolutionary discoveries of climatology and of genetics, which radically undermine their most precious most romantic notions of how humans really are and how life might be, if only it were not for our deplorable sort. They accuse us of being intolerant and close-minded, when of course they are the ones who are most intolerant and close-minded. They accuse us of irrational barbarity, when of course they are the ones who rage and foam inarticulately – who tear their clothes off in their madness (this is what the OT called “rending one’s garments”) – would be maenads, hapless, hopeless, who have no longer even the art of dismemberment, who know nothing of butchery, or even of sharpening, and a fortiori do not remember how to eat raw bloody male flesh.

There is no point here in rehearsing the myriad instances of such projections on their part. All of us on the Right are quite familiar with the phenomenon.

So here’s the thing that struck me the other day. Our adversaries project upon us their own emotional and intellectual defects and inadequacies. They propose radical policies in response to those defects.

The question then is this: given that they diagnose us as suffering from the defects that in fact bedevil them, may we not infer that the way they propose to treat us is the way that they think – at some deep, unconscious level of their psychic economies – they themselves ought to be treated?

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Our Present Crisis: Daddy Issues Writ Large

The Social Justice Warriors project their own Daddy issues onto politics, because that is safer than confronting Daddy. It is also safer than confronting their anger at Daddy. And it is easier and safer than doing the hard, scary psychotherapeutic work, and indeed spiritual work – the work of growing up, at last – that is needed if they are to understand their Daddy issues the way that adults understand things, and so lay them at last to rest.

So is it that the Left are stuck in childhood. They cannot reason, but can only emote. Their essential complaint is that of the four year old, disappointed at the exigencies of family life: “It’s not fair!”

We can tell it is Daddy issues that bedevil and urge the Left, because they tell us so: they blame all the defects of life upon old white Christian men, like their fathers, and hate such men.

I wonder if there was something about the men of the Greatest Generation that particularly inclined them to failure as fathers, and so fostered the rebellion and resentment of the Boomers – especially Boomer daughters. Was it WWII? How?

My earliest memories are of a time when the horrors of WWII were only 12 years past. Literally everything of my earliest childhood was colored by that war. Its memory loomed over every tiny mundane thing. Was it that Great War – really only a codicil to WWI, despite its much greater extent, so that the two were one gigantic catastrophe in the history of civilization – that queered the West?

I hope not. I so do.