David Bentley Hart on Modern Freedom

We all talk about freedom, or freedoms: the modern period is shot through with liberating the individual from the tyrannical claims of the group, and various self-help and movement-politics trends position themselves as furthering the cause of freedom.

Talk of freedom –the concern for further spreading freedom-as-liberties, for maximizing personal freedom-as-autonomy– is everywhere today, and the pursuit and establishment of freedom are a hallmark of the modern period. Financial success and stability is marketed as offering freedom. The Stoic trend that has steadily risen in philosophically-oriented self-help fora concerning liberation from one’s own passions is one form of this concern for freedom — it simply turns the eyes of the individuals from liberation from external forces and conditions that enslave to liberation from internal masters. The LGBTQ movement is another form of this, overturning conventions and taboos for the sake of freedom. Fears about potential or actual threats against journalistic freedom are another form of this; concerns about religious freedom are another form of this; movements to bring about a state of greater economic parity between segments of the population are yet another form of this. I could go on.

The concern for freedom is everywhere. But what is freedom?

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The Lure

Loki has nothing on Aphrodite;

the real trickster can start the siege of Ilium

and have you teary-eyed looking at old pictures

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Excerpt #22 — Steven Smith on Neo-Kantian Liberals & Their Neo-Hegelian Communitarian Critics

In some ways, this is a follow-up to an earlier post comparing Lilla and Fukuyama.

To recap: only now, in my third graduate degree at a major research institution, have I come across what is often known as the “social justice left”, and have found it maddening to interact with, very different from the liberal left (social justice movements are illiberal) with which I largely identify (with some communitarian sympathies). It turns out that the graduates of institutions that push this agenda are militant and intolerant, and carry this agenda with them into their workplaces.

It is, thus, imperative to make sense out of what it is, rather than fear it, or react to it. How to make sense out of it, its roots, its character, its principles? I began with Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal, which I’ll probably review here sometime relatively soon. I then moved on to Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, which I enjoyed more. I am only pages away from finishing Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity (Appiah also wrote The Ethics of Identity, which I own, but have not yet read), and when I am done with that, I will immediately begin Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “height”) and Greg Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation for Failure, largely on the merits of Haidt’s many lectures I came across on YouTube where he sanely covers the issues involved in this movement. 

One of the tasks I set for myself, in order to come to terms with some of the issues brought up by one course in particular that I took, was to cover a particular transition of Marxist language into social justice contexts. The social justice folks seemed to use it differently than what I remembered reading in Marx.

Thus, I set out first to understand the transition from the classical liberal tradition to Hegel’s response. Secondly, I tasked myself to see how Marx emerged from the post-Hegelian tradition. Thirdly, I purposed to ascertain how and whether the Marxist-sounding language used by many of the authors syllabused (it’s a good neologism, and you heard it here first, folks) in the class I took –Marxist-sounding language used to support the social justice tradition– was aligned with Marx himself and the Marxist tradition; it seemed like it was not. 

I am starting with Steven B. Smith’s Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism: Rights in ContextIn the opening chapter, he makes some seemingly-insightful comments on how the tension between neo-Kantian individualists (on the one hand) and communitarians (on the other) is a “reinvention of the wheel”, and that Hegel’s critique of the liberal tradition can avoid the weaknesses of these two positions while absorbing their insights and praising the accomplishments of liberalism. When he speaks of neo-Kantians, he has in mind figures like John Rawls

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Texts Written for the Ear, Not for the Eye

In the ancient world, texts are written for the ear, not for the eye.  Continue reading

On Oceans (and Ascetics) and Mechanisms (and Revolutionaries)

For Yuri; an afterthought to how Dostoyevsky may have replied to Gerard’s objections to the focus on tending to the heart, and his championing of economic development and rationalization of the social world as the primary route leading to the reduction of the world’s problems and, seemingly, the improvement of human nature — in which moral and ascetical practices, such as tending to one’s heart, are seen as superfluous at best. What follows below is not an argument against this (who would begrudge development?), simply an attempt at being an amanuensis of sorts.  Continue reading