Monday, May 30, 2016

Contemporary Political Culture, continued

A consideration of Confucian attitudes towards law might be helpful in understanding contemporary technocracy and the political culture that supports it. In Political Order and Political Decay (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)  Francis Fukuyama writes:
There was in fact an active hostility to the very idea of law embedded in traditional Chinese culture. The Confucians believed that human life should be regulated not by formal, written laws, but by morality. This revolved around the cultivation of li, or correct moral conduct, through education and correct upbringing. The Confucians argued that reliance on written law, or fa, was detrimental because formal rules were too broad and general to produce good outcomes in specific cases. Confucian ethics is highly situational or context dependent: the right outcome depends heavily on the relationship and status of the parties involved, the specific facts of the case, and conditions that cannot be known or specified in advance. Good outcomes are produced not by the impartial application of rules but by a sage or superior man who can weigh local context. Having a good emperor at the top of the system is a condition for its proper functioning. 
In Fukuyama's history, China "never had a transcendental religion, and there was never a pretense that law had a divine origin." It seems to me that contemporary attitudes towards the basis of law are similar.  John Rawls' has contrived such concepts as "the original position" and "the veil of ignorance" as quasi-metaphysical substitutes for traditional Western attitudes towards the law, and then, upon their acceptance, goes on to build his neo-Confucian technocracy. I view Rawls' concepts as mere psychological substitutes meant to satisfy a cultural need, rather than as solid bases of understanding, as I remain unconvinced by the arguments Rawls and his followers offer in their support. It takes very little thought to identify them as sophistries and deceptions.*

Like the Confucians, Rawls gives us an orthodox morality, and rather than an orthodoxy of law, it is an orthodoxy of institution, an orthodoxy of bureaucratic relationships. For Rawls, behavior and policy is tested against the standard of what he calls the "Just Society" but after the smoke of his argumentation clears, it is evident that morality and policy are determined by the internal politics of the bureaucracy he represents.  As reading Fukuyama in this context suggests, the nature of how the Rawlsian technocracy actually functions and arrives at decisions compares to Confucian attitudes:
Law was seen as a rational human instrument by which the state exercised its authority and maintained public order. The law did not limit or bind the sovereign himself, who was the ultimate source of law.  While the law could be administered impartially, this was not due to any inherent rights possessed by citizens.  Rights were rather the gift of a benevolent ruler. Impartiality was simply a condition for good public order. It was for this reason that property rights and private law—contracts, torts, and other issues arising between individuals and not involving the state—were given very little emphasis. This stood in sharp contrast to both the Common Law and the Roman Civil Law traditions in the West.
Appertaining to my criticisms, in a future Highbrow post I'll discuss some related problems in Rawls and Kant, applying analysis via G.E.M. Anscombe.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Trends in American Political Cuture

Speculation:  There has been a shift away from favoring constitutional (legal) foundations of government towards a "Confucian" view (and maybe mix in a little Plato, Rousseau, Yeats and Rawls). The idea is best described as Technocratic but at the same time it is, emotionally anyway, Aristocratic.  It is the idea that the "best" people will make the "correct" decisions if we could but give them the power.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Brief Note on "Unified Theories"

Scientists (and philosophers) have a tendency to be led by their activity and language into seeking explanations for things, but the explanations (like the questions) are empty, or anyway are not what we really want. Scientists and philosophers are correct in attempting to describe how things happen, but when they are led by their misapprehension of language into attempting to explain why things happen, then they find themselves involved with projects in which they really don't know what they are doing. 

I would not be surprised if the activity of pursuing "unified" theories is similarly credulous; and it is also unprofitable (that is, it does nothing to advance science, philosophical understanding, well-being, or wealth).

Also, I suspect that an investigation will show that the quest to answer how leads to liberalizing epistemological and political habits, while seeking answers to why leads to authoritarianism.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Austrian Cultural Forum panel discussion on literary translation, May 17, 2016

Recently, the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City hosted an international panel discussion on literary translation, exploring some key challenges and surveying the current field of literary translation and publishing in English language. Moderated by well-known critic, author and translator Liesl Schillinger, with panelists Tess Lewis, Michael Orthofer, Ross Ufberg, and publishing researcher Rüdiger Wischenbart. The panel was introduced by ACFNY Director Christine Moser. Recorded by Trafika Europe Radio.

Please click HERE to listen to the discussion.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

From the Desk of Vitasta Raina

Vitasta Raina is the author of the novella Writer's Block. Please click HERE to view the Amazon description.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Codex Sinatra

Astronomical in scope, the human condition exposed in all its vagaries, allegorized as audio impulses and megaphoned through the vibrating codex of shamanic riddles, all possible archetypes lived in full and heaped together in a, so to speak, plastic bag. Was Frank fasting when he wrote this?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Philip Murray-Lawson Interviews "Knox" (Ian M. Carnochan)

I have very little interest in punk rock.  The subject gives me a vague desire to read "Theodore Dalrymple" on the decline of the British working classes.  Nevertheless, an occasional visit to the lowbrow sphere can be refreshing, provided one has a capable tour guide, and I think Mr. Murray-Lawson admirably plays that role HERE in his interview with Vibrators frontman and songwriter, Ian M. Carnochan, who, highbrow posturing aside, is a painter with a fine talent.

Lake 2008
Pen and acrylic on paper, approx 7 " x 10 " (18cm x 25cm)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Defensio Regia and Defensio pro populo Anglicano in one volume

Today I visited a reception at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center to celebrate the completion of Terrance Lindall's new painting, The Madona of the Monsters. The painting was commissioned by Hollywood writer, producer, and directer Robert Parigi.

In a future Highbrow installment, I will review the painting in detail and consider its various symbolic figures.

In the meantime, I want to describe a small volume that Terrance showed me, dating from 1651. It combines two works of significance to students of John Milton and 16th century English history.  The first text contained in the small volume is Claudius Salmasius's Defensio Regia ("Defense of Kingship"), which was published in May of 1649.  In 1650, Latin Secretary John Milton was ordered by the Council of State to answer Salmasius, and the result was Milton's Defensio pro populo Anglicano ("Defense of the English People"), published February 24, 1651.  I was very happy to be able to examine the volume. Holding this little piece of history was a real joy.

What follows are images of the two title pages, and a photograph of Terrance displaying the small volume.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Horatio's Philosophy

[Beneath] Swear.

Well said, old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast?
A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends.

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…
                                                        Hamlet (1.5.161-8)

Horatio acknowledges the ghost but is unsure... He accepts the supernatural but is dazed. Hamlet is apparently more "accepting " of the phenomenon of the ghost. That is, Hamlet responds to Horatio as if he (Horatio) doesn't believe in ghosts, even though Horatio seems to. It may not be necessary for Hamlet to respond in this way to Horatio, but the line is good and so S'peare sets it down. And, also, it's appropriate to Hamlet's character to speak in such a manner: forceful, confident, wise in all the ways of philosophy -- he is more "princely" than Horatio and so must speak decisively in all things. Is it possible that Horatio's circumspection should have been investigated at this point? TI would seem so. Later in the play, Hamlet will have such profound doubts about the nature of the ghost that he will suspend taking action when he needs to.

Now, that explanation seems a bit complicated but essentially that's it.

Also, this is where Hamlet concocts his unwise plan to act crazy, which is foolish insomuch that when one acts crazy then one has a tendency to become crazy. Basic demonology there? Another observation: Hamlet is (tragically) perhaps one-year-too-young to take control of the situation. Had he been more forceful, more cynical, less intellectual, and more rash, then the kingdom would have been saved.

Coda: like Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and history's Martin Luther, Hamlet has been to university in Wittenberg. Later, Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein will study there as well.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


The esoteric names of HaShem:
  • Adir – "Strong One"
  • Adon Olam – "Master of the World"
  • Aibishter – "The Most High" (Yiddish)  
  • Aleim – sometimes seen as an alternative transliteration of Elohim
  • Aravat (or Avarat) – "Father of Creation"; mentioned once in 2 Enoch, "On the tenth heaven is God, in the Hebrew tongue he is called Aravat".
  •  Avinu Malkeinu  – "Our Father, Our King"
  • Bore – "The Creator"
  • Ehiyeh sh'Ehiyeh – "I Am That I Am": a modern Hebrew version of "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh"
  • El ha-Gibbor – "God the Hero" or "God the Strong" or "God the Warrior"
  • Emet – "Truth"
  • Ein Sof – "Endless, Infinite", (אין סוף) Kabbalistic name of God
  • HaKadosh, Barukh Hu (Hebrew); Kudsha, Brikh Hu (Aramaic); تبارک القدوس (Arabic) – "The Holy One, Blessed Be He"
  • HaRachaman – "The Merciful One"; "Rahman - رحمن" In (Arabic)
  • Kadosh Israel – "Holy One of Israel"
  • Melech HaMelachim–"The King of Kings" or Melech Malchei HaMelachim "The King, King of Kings", to express superiority to the earthly rulers title.
  • Melech HaOlam–"The King of the World"
  • Makom or HaMakom – literally "The Place", perhaps meaning "The Omnipresent" (see Tzimtzum)
  • Magen Avraham – "Shield of Abraham"
  • Ribono shel `Olam – "Master of the World"
  • Ro'eh Yisra'el – "Shepherd of Israel"
  • Tzur Israel – "Rock of Israel"
  • Uri Gol – "The New LORD for a New Era" (Judges 5:14)
  • YHWH-Yireh (Adonai-jireh) – "The LORD Will Provide" (Genesis 22:13–14)
  • YHWH-Rapha – "The LORD that Healeth" (Exodus 15:26)
  • YHWH-Niss"i (Adonai-Nissi) – "The LORD Our Banner" (Exodus 17:8–15)
  • YHWH-Shalom – "The LORD Our Peace" (Judges 6:24)
  • YHWH-Ro'i – "The LORD My Shepherd"
  • YHWH-Tsidkenu – "The LORD Our Righteousness"[67] (Jeremiah 23:6)
  • YHWH-Shammah (Adonai-shammah) – "The LORD Is Present" (Ezekiel 48:35)
  • Rofeh Cholim – "Healer of the Sick"
  • Matir Asurim – "Freer of the Captives"
  • Malbish Arumim – "Clother of the Naked"
  • Pokeach Ivrim – "Opener of Blind Eyes"
  • Somech Noflim – "Supporter of the Fallen"
  • Zokef kefufim – "Straightener of the Bent"
  • Yotsehr `Or – "Fashioner of Light"
  • Oseh Shalom – "Maker of Peace"
  • Mechayeh Metim – "Life giver to the Dead"
  • Mechayeh HaKol "Who gives Life to All", In Arabic "Mohye AlKol - محيي الكل" – "Life giver to All" (Reform version of Mechayeh Metim)