The Modern Pox Upon the Old City

Western cities more than a century old all feature a stark contrast between their remaining old-fashioned neighborhoods and their horrid modern depravations of the builder’s art. In few however is the contrast as stark as in New Haven, Connecticut. Consider the view from two different windows of a single hotel room in that town, and choose one for yourself.

First, the view south over the post war cityscape:

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Note that grey monolith just left of the Ikea store. Up close, it is far and away the ugliest, most brutal building I have ever seen, literally breathtaking in its visceral affront to the human body. One aches to get away from it; the feeling it provokes is subdued rage. This is perhaps why it stands now vacant. The adjacent Ikea store is positively charming by contrast.

Modern New Haven is dispiriting – it engenders despair. Few pedestrians are to be seen on its barren sidewalks, scuttling quickly on their way, heads down.

Here then is the view to the north, taking in the Yale campus:

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When Nothing Changes

Zola Paradise

In case my tendency to allude to the classroom might strike anyone as tedious or repetitive, I offer an apology in advance and invite the uninterested to skip the following.  The classroom is nevertheless a consistently renewed sample of the contemporary cohorts as they advance up the ladder of what remains of actual social initiation hoping to join the ranks of the accredited when testing the job market for the first time as prospective adults.  In my classroom, a mid-tier state-college classroom, I therefore have the opportunity (and I take it) to observe the diminishing returns of the near-criminal enterprise of North America’s public primary and secondary instruction, especially where it concerns the inculcation of literacy of both the strict and cultural varieties.

In the just-completed semester, my department chair had asked me, as she regularly does, to supervise the graduate-level “Business in Literature” course that English teaches at the behest of and as a favor to the School of Business’s five-year accountancy program.  I like teaching this course because over the years the five-year accountancy students have demonstrated themselves to be cooperative and disciplined in degree sufficient to distinguish them from the general run of students.  In any given semester, I ask the students to read a short anthropological study – The Gift  (1925) by Marcel Mauss – and three or four novels that take as their setting a recognizably “business” milieu.  This semester’s syllabus obliged the enrollment to read the two “Vinland” sagas, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) by William Dean Howells, Tono-Bungay (1909) by H. G. Wells, and The Paradise of Women (1883) by Emile Zola, the last the basis of two recent television serials and a forgotten French sound-film from 1932.  As a means of putting moral pressure on students to complete the reading, I require them to turn in reading-notes, documenting in detail their progress through the chapters, on a regular basis.  I am fairly certain that most of the accountancy enrollment in the just-completed semester did ninety percent of the reading.  (By contrast, in most of my classes, I would estimate that only sixty per cent of students do as much as sixty per cent of the reading.)

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Ontological Depth versus Improper Reduction

The specification string of a class can be finite. But the specification string of any actual is infinite (Rescher: “The number of true statements about any actual thing is infinite.”), for it must include specifications of its relations to all other things – and while the number of things is always definite, there is no upper bound to it. Thus a specification string such as we might derive from our scientific speculations and experiments can work to specify a class of things, but never any particular concrete thing.

When we reduce a thing to nothing but the mechanical operations of the natural laws that we have decided furnish a complete causal account for items of its type, then, we engage in improper reduction, even though these operations do indeed characterize it.

A particular cheetah is far, far more, and denser, and richer, than the class of cheetahs, or the string that completely specifies that class. So likewise with any actuality.

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Minimum Wage or Minimum Insanity?

The minimum wage is in the news again as a putatively respectable policy option among some on the alternative right, in particular for Donald Trump, who recently said he’d be willing to consider the idea. It is an odd thing for him to have said, given his emphasis on the necessity of reducing immigration from the Third World.

Is the prevailing wage for entry level jobs too low to live on? That’s a way of saying that there is an oversupply of labor. So, don’t raise the minimum cost of labor; that will subsidize the oversupply, increasing and exacerbating it while reducing demand for US workers (and increasing demand for robots and Chinese workers). Instead, remove the artificial factors that generate the oversupply to begin with.

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Wm. Lewis on Lawrence Auster on Christian Vulnerability to Liberalism

In a comment here at the Orthosphere, Wm. Lewis quotes Lawrence Auster to great effect in responding to the claim made by some that Protestantism is the mother of Liberalism:

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Some commenters have observed, correctly, that formerly Protestant countries are in the vanguard of liberalism and its destruction of the West. This is due not to some defect within Protestantism; formerly Roman Catholic countries are also being destroyed by liberalism. We also see leaders within the Roman Catholic Church advancing liberal destruction (e.g., American bishops advocating open borders), so vulnerability to liberalism is unique neither to Protestantism nor to Roman Catholicism.

Whence this weakness to liberalism? Any number of factors could be cited, but one of the most important is the inherent risk, as Lawrence Auster put it, of Christian society: Continue reading

The Four Faces of Leviathan

“And what tune is it you pull to, men?”                                                   “A dead whale or a stove boat!”

                              Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

A hundred years ago, the word Leviathan would have struck most people as a name suited to a great steam ship.  Such was the opinion of President Woodrow Wilson when he renamed the commandeered German liner Vaterland in 1917. It was a natural association, a hundred years ago, when men and women understood biblical references and knew Leviathan as a great, smoking creature of the deep.

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Zadok the Priest & Nathan the Prophet Formally Chrismated Solomon King

One worry about formalist schemes such as have interested me is that their necessarily bureaucratic and legalistic formality would flatten political life, eliminating its sacred aspect – which is to say, the fully human aspect, in virtue of which our common life takes its transcendent meaning, and thus earns our allegiance. How is it possible, an orthospherean ought to ask, that any merely formal, bureaucratic scheme ignorant of the sacred character of the Logos, and so of any order deriving from him, including its own, should ever be any real good? Can a society that is not somehow intended to a superordinate consecration – intended, i.e., to be truly and really Good – fail to be essentially wicked? Doesn’t formalism reduce politics to mere business? What man would pledge fealty – would pledge his life in battle – to a business tycoon?

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Doubt is Incomprehension

Once we understand a doctrine properly, it becomes much easier to relate to the rest of the intellectual economy, ergo credible. Indeed, only with elimination of incomprehension is belief really possible. We can’t decide whether we think a notion is either true or false – cannot come to a belief about it – until we know what exactly it is, what it means and portends, how it links up (if it does) to the rest of our experience and knowledge.

Not that we ever attain complete exactitude in our understanding of anything, for we don’t.

Nevertheless there is such a thing as understanding that is good enough for our purposes. Such understanding of a concept generally takes the form of seeing how it fits with other more familiar concepts. What we are really trying to do when we try to understand something new is relate it intelligibly to familiar concepts that have proven reliable in practice – tried and true, as the saying goes.

Once we have arrived at clear comprehension of a proposition, a judgement of its truth often follows with little further ado; or else, the research needed to confirm or deny it makes itself fairly obvious, even straightforward.

Thus the lion’s share of most intellectual work is just getting clear on what is being considered. Once we’ve done that – and provided that a proposal has not in it revealed its utter absurdity – it becomes much easier to see how belief in it could actually work. And once we see how it *could* work, it becomes ipso facto credible. It *could* be true. We then take it more seriously, and then lo! Not infrequently, finding it credible, we find that we credit it. Seeing how it fits into reality as we have understood it, we can find it compelling to accept that in fact it *does* fit into reality.

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Sydney Traditionalist Forum: 2016 Symposium

Our friends at Sydney Trads have just published their 2016 Symposium, the latest in what must be hoped will be a long series of similar collections. Among the essays are three by Orthosphereans: Tom Bertonneau, Jim Kalb, and myself. The other contributors are Barry Spurr, Alain de Benoist, Krzysztof Urbanek, Peter King, Gwendolyn Taunton, Luke Torrisi, Michael Tung, and Valdis Grinsteins.

Many thanks to our antipodean colleagues for their efforts in mounting the Symposia.

Roger Scruton, Utopia and the Final Solution*

Courts and laws

Humans are social beings and we have a sense of justice, just as some furry animals do. This sense of justice seems to be innate – certainly furry animals are not taught it. Young children consider it unfair if they get a small ice cream and someone else gets a bigger one. This complaint has a dose of egocentrism, but also relies on notions of fairness. Fairness means getting one’s just deserts and desserts, and involves reciprocity e.g., one good turn deserves another.

Scruton points out that “law” preexists written law. The original law embodies customs, traditions, and expectations that involve notions of justice/fairness. British common law is an attempt to make implicit law explicit. In this way, the law is discovered, not invented. Even parliament was seen originally as having the function of a court, making commonly agreed upon laws explicit in the interests of resolving disputes.

Common law thus arises organically from the bottom up in patterns of social behavior embodying intuitions of justice. When a judge adjudicates a case he is trying to settle it in terms already being employed by members of the community. Common law represents a piecemeal attempt to solve unanticipated problems as they arise with a degree of trial and error. If a new decision seems to make things worse, then later decisions can modify the law.

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