Sunday, May 24, 2009

This smooth and easy assimilation of fact, this air of all-over sophistication, is what Americans have learned more and more to admire in business, in conversation, and on television quiz shows --whether the man in the dock is Charles Van Doren or the President of the United States being questioned mercilessly (and pointlessly) about everything from Laos to Tammany. The quiz show did not die out with the exposure that the contestants had been briefed; the candidates in the 1960 campaign were also briefed, as is the President of the United States today and the show goes on. If the reporters sometimes act as if they wanted to trip the President up, the President knows that he can impress the country by way of the reporters. This overall style, so much like the division of even the arts and sciences into departments of Time magazine became a "research" style among the military during the war, and it has now invaded the big universities and "scientific research and development:' It is our national style, intellect-wise. We now admire it --when it comes unaccompanied by personal stress. A recent article in a liberal weekly on "The Mind of John F. Kennedy" turns out to be an entirely admiring study of Kennedy's range as an administrator. This vocational or psychological use of the word "mind" is so typical of our time and place that it probably never even occurred to the author to extend the word to cover "beliefs." Instead we are told that Kennedy's "marshaling of related considerations" defines Kennedy's mind "as political in the most aflencompassing sense. The whole of politics. in other words is co such a mind a seamless fabric, in which a handshaking session with a delegation of women is in exercise directly related to hearing a report from a task force on Laos." And this ability to assimilate on the jump necessary quantities of fact, to get statements of a problem that carry "action consequences"--this is what we have come to value as the quality of intellectual all-roundedness or savvy.
Alfred Kazin, The President and Other Intellectuals. Most of the above appears in a note in Dwight Macdonald's essay The Triumph of the Fact.

Facts are not a value, but if you assume that the liberalism and liberal values of the American model are based on facts then American values are merely the natural result. "In fact", the relation of the individual to the collective in American liberal theory is a belief -no more, no less- and not one that bears much resemblance to actual social relations. The Scandinavian model is also a model of belief and Swedes acknowledge it as such. The American model, in the imagination of American intellectual technocrats, is not a model of belief but truth: of non-contradictory logic. This being the case intellectuals are able to think of themselves as mechanics.

The 'living tree' of constitutionalism or Catholic doctrine is a fact, not an opinion. It's a fact that the Catholic Church of AD 2009, 1955, 1823, 1664 and 1235 are not the same. An actual tree -coniferous, deciduous- is a non-contradictory thing but the 'living tree' of language is contradictory in essence. The naturalized epistemology predicated as continuous with the hard or formal sciences is founded on analogy rather than logic, and that analogy is quite obviously false.
American liberal technocratic 'instrumental' reason is founded on exceptionalism, defended as rationalism.

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