Saturday, January 07, 2012

Henry Farrell, again on Robin, and Mark Lilla. [see here and here] As I've said or at least implied before, Lilla's defense of conservatism doesn't interest me. Farrell:
Al-Ghazali, as quoted by Ernest Gellner, puts Mannheim’s point more pithily – "the genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one."
Farrell agrees with many conservatives as Gellner does that aware traditionalism is impossible. My comment [now deleted]:
That's the aporia we face as defenders of the social in the modern world: How to defend the particular in the age of generalization. I’m remembering Chris Bertram’s comments here
This kind of dialectic has been played out since the dawn of industrialization and, of course, it leads the market-utopians to want to tar all the particularists (for want of a better word) with the same brush. That’s a charge that should be rejected because William Morris ain’t the BNP (or even UKIP). But we’ll carry on squirming and feeling uncomfortable because the left and the right both share a discontent with modernity.
Bertram contra both Robin and Farrell. I should have quoted Panofsky again. Farrell and Gellner are citing the scholastics as authority. What's a Shakespearean actor?

I made another comment, linking to a symposium on Jack Balkin‘s Constitutional Redemption: Political Faith in an Unjust World at Concurring Opinions, and asking how are we to understand our Constitutional "tradition". Farther down I added a third
I'll cut to the chase. I share 8 friends of Facebook with Corey Robin, 7 of them committed anti-Zionists who would defend the conservative Hamas, not universally but against Israel and the IDF.
I mentioned his association with a magazine named for 18th century political puritans. I didn't include this:

Both the links on the page are to comments written by me.

I don't care if Robin's being politic about his public politics, or I wouldn't care if he hadn't chosen to be a moralist and pedant. I care that Robin's moralism is contradicted by his life.

The quote from Al-Ghazali is useful, precisely because it describes problems for those who want to maintain their culture, or even the idea of culture in what's seen as the scientific age of unculture, or of culture as simply the entertainment of one's choice, and otherwise of no consequence.  But Americans are often first and foremost the "Americans" others see them as, not the enlightened universalists they imagine themselves to be.  Graham Green was a novelist and an observer, of Americans among others. And actors are both ironic and very sincere traditionalists.  Moralists are incapable of irony regarding themselves and any irony towards others is cheap.

Practicing scientists often have a better understanding of this -the inevitable fact of culture- than philosophers. As Steven Weinberg writes:"Science can't even justify science." Our decision to seek scientific answers and to seek some answers over others -space exploration over malaria research, rockets over desalination plants- are questions of values not science itself. Nonetheless, Weinberg defends Alan Sokal, and thinks science justifies Zionism.  He calls himself "pretty much a Platonist"; his irony ends where his interests begin.

On Lilla, Brian Leiter's response is better than most.

Years later I'm adding a longer passage surrounding Farrell's quote.

Gellner,  from Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History, 1988, p207

Doctrines which ratify culture and enjoin respect for it were common in the nineteenth century. The fortifying, confirming major premiss no longer claims a transcendent object: it is a theory concerning the role, the function, of culture within the world. Durkheim's own doctrine was one example: religion was to be respected not because it was true (in the straightforward sense assumed by the old theologians), but because it was "true" (i.e. essential and functional within the social order). Durkheim let it be understood that "truth" was just as good as truth, in fact the same thing, really. This general attitude might be called auto-functionalism. It is influential in a very wide variety of forms, in historicist, biological, literary, kulturgeschichtlich and other idioms. The auto-functionalist stands outside all cultures to affirm the major premiss: cultures are functional. The minor premiss is stated from inside: I am my culture. Conclusion: my commitments are valid (in a sense left deliberately ambiguous).

These self-vindications of culture are generally spurious. The medieval Muslim thinker Al Ghazzali observed that the genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one. Cultural prose ceases to be innocent when Monsieur Jourdain proclaims it to be prose. When culture was genuinely authoritative, men either took it for granted or, later, vindicated it by means of a theology which they held to be true in a literal sense, and which they genuinely respected. The dogmas and imperatives which constituted those doctrines were taken very seriously; they placed enormous burdens and strains on believers.

I have no culture! I'm embedded in nothing! I'm a free man!! A perfect fit with Quiggin's claims for  Art, an Enemy of the People

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