So our threader with the erudite “pomoncon name” of Pseudoplotinus gives us a plausible intrpretation of recent events, scandals, and such:
So here’s a take I haven’t heard yet. This scandal broke weeks after the President declared the War on Terror over. In other words we are not planning to continue our overseas military operations against those intent on attacking us beyond the odd drone attack. So does this not put the entire burden of national security on the surveillance state? And would this not necessarily lead to an expanding omnipresence of such surveillance in light of the onerous challenge of being the only thing that stands between Americans and the Tsernaev’s of the world?
It seems to me it’s time to ask the left which poison they prefer: a prudent geopolitical solution that includes asserting military influence where necessary, or big brother sifting through your underwear drawer.
So the truth is that we simply can’t withdraw from our position of global leadership and become a republic (or even POLIS) and not at all an empire. The president knows that, of course. Based on recent screw ups and disappointments, it is easy to see why the president would want to rely less on military might in the usual sense. So a lot of his enforcing, as libertarians complain, is given over to Drones. And other than that he’s stuck with relying on the techno-superiority of our surveillance system. I’m not denying for a moment that we should be no. 1 when it comes to every form of techno-warfare. It’s just that it’s a kind of Silicon Valley fantasy–one that does seem to justify needless impingements on personal liberty– that we can defeat those out to get us with digital control alone.
There is some creepy connection between this techno-confidence and the Democrats’ obvious techno-superiority when it comes to winning elections, as well as with the growing awareness that in the digital age there’s no such thing as privacy or, a very paranoid guy might say, personal sovereignty.
So the Silicon Valley ideology is that, thanks to the glittering victories of techno-solutionism, we live in the most libertarian of times. The right to privacy or autonomy is on the march. But there’s also no longer any such thing as privacy in the digital age, and, as Tocqueville might say, increasingly no “points of view” that invigorate the spirit of personal resistance against the (apparently) impersonal forces that surround us.
One piece of evidence: The near-disappearance of citizen soldiers and their replacement by “special forces” that don’t resonate with us in any personal way.
I don’t have time to do any linking, but just let me mention some issues that have arisen through my morning’s reading.
The first is techno-surveillance and soft despotism–see Ross Douthat. It’s hard to know whether the main concern here is the government or the cognitive-techno elite in general. We (whoever we is) will be able to control people’s behavior through intimate digital knowledge of all their preferences. The guiding, “nudging” hand will be enlightening ordinary people without them even being aware of it. The prototype here–of course–is the techno-control, based on intimate, digital knowledge, of each individual’s needs and obsessions and how they can be mobilized and discouraged in terms of voting behavior of Obama’s 2012 campaign. You can get really paranoid and think about the disappearance of the distinction betweeen Silicon Valley and the Oval Office in the permanent achievement of enlightened rule by the Democrats.
The second issue comes from Mr. Ceaser et al’s very expert and maybe more-partisan-than-usual book on the 2012 election. Ceaser’s sticking with the fundamental distinction in American politics being between the progressives–marked by the combination of egalitarian redistribution and personal autonomy–and the conservatives–marked by the combination of limited government based on individual, natural rights and Judeo-Christian morality. Another way of putting it: The progressives are all for the French enlightenment, and the conservatives are the party of the American revolution and Constitution (with a renewed emphasis on its federalism) under God.
But all over the web now–beginning with various Daily Beasts–you see the injunction that the Republicans become more modern–that is, more libertarian. They should give up on caring about abortion, same-sex marriage, foreign interventionism, the war on drugs, and all that. And they should be simply about limiting government and reducing entitlements. Today’s young people would vote Republicans if it simply meant more opportunity, more jobs, for them. It seems to me that these emphatically “modernist” Republican reformers are maybe even too obsessed with government surveillance, while being completely tone deaf to the more subtle kind of nudging that comes from the techno-enlightened digital world in general.
So the Daily Beasts want to get Silicon Valley to vote Republican again. And maybe they’ll succeed, because the truth is, as Ceaser suggests here and there, what’s left of Obama’s progressivism is attempting to put on auto-pilot the reform he achieved in his first term. There’s no new, big redistributive scheme in any obvious sense coming down the pike now. The truth is entitlement reform has just been delayed, and ObamaCare–which can’t be reformed by the present divided government–would have to be reformed big-time to actually work.
Want to say more, but out of time.
So another book I’ve started to read is Remi Brague, ON THE GOD OF THE CHRISTIANS (St. Augustine’s Press–thanks, again, to Bruce Fingerhut!). It was expertly translated by our Paul Seaton. This Brague seems to have read everything, and you have to read him to see why the God who IS love is a relational being marked by fullest kind of unity. “God is freely united to himself. To be united to God is therefore to unite one’s liberty to God’s freedom. Two freedoms cannot unite as do material objects, by means of fusion or agglomeration. The highest union is the union of wills, in which there is not a mixture but accord, a union that, far from dissolving the identity of its terms, enhances it.”
“[T]he doctrine of the Trinity is nothing else than the stubborn effort to get to the bottom of this sentence of St. John [God is love]….Everything said of the three Persons [in one God]…is rooted in the logic of charity. It is thus the promotion–undreamt of by the philosophers–of the concept of relation.”
So Brague is all about helping us see who we are–what personal identity is–for free and relational beings made in the image of God. That doesn’t mean, obviously, that everything we do is governed by the logic of charity. But it is true that charity is the most personal of the virtues.
You can also learn from Brague why God is characterized by paternity without being a male. But I’ll save that for later.
Speaking of charity, Bob, Kate, and John Lewis have some good stuff to say in the thread below about THE GOODWILL STORE and similar thrift shops. They are well stocked by the rich who care about their tax rate more than the logic of charity; I know the local GOODWILL STORE pretty much lets you determine what your charitable gift is worth for IRS purposes. We who shop at THE GOODWILL STORE might be understood to be animated by PORCHER or ECOLOGICAL PURPOSES. As Kate said, in our prosperous country with mass-produced clothes at reasonable prices, there’s no need for our garments to be preserved by one generation for the next. Hand-me-downs don’t make much sense any more. We shoppers find at THE GOODWILL STORE many quality items that are no longer produced, and we have the option of wearing the best brands of yesterday without wasting money on the pretense of caring about brands or quality craftsmanship. We preserve excellence for another generation. Bob, as you will read below, is particularly excited by how well he dresses, and I could tell similar stories.
So I’ve been reading Jaune’s book on the recommendation of Paul Seaton in the thread. It is a scholary triumph and has all kinds of suggestive stuff in it, although it’s just too French for me. Paul is right that it’s deficient in apporach or in its lack of approach.
1. p. 172: “Man’s inability to understand himself led Tocqueville to indulge in a truly Pascalian reflection in his chapter on poetry in democracy [SIC?] and related manuscripts. These are worth reading closely because they provide the key to the ‘esoteric’ side of Tocqueville the moralist (using ‘esoteric’ in Leo Strauss’s sense).” Well, I really think I was the first to notice something like that. But I’m glad J. does too. He doesn’t really bring the esoteric thing home, though.
2. pp. 174-75, note 63: “Tocqueville…contributed to the forumulation of a modern humanism that combined Socratism, Stoicism, and Christianity.” That combination isn’t a bad description of Tocqueville, and it is, of course, a perfect description of Walker Percy, who was influenced by Tocqueville only a very little. J. again doesn’t really adequately support his insight about the combination from the writing of Tocqueville. It can be done. And he doesn’t really show how and to what extent Tocqueville contributed to this “modern humanism,” which doesn’t appear to me to be that significant a movement. It is 21st century Thomism, and I want it to become a significant movement.
3. p. 183: “It is remarkable to discover the degree to which Tocqueville believed his ‘existential’ situation justified and confirmed his Jansenist-tinged [I would, not being French and all, prefer, Pascal-influenced] view of humanity.” Now J. does provide an abundance of support for this discovery, although he doesn’t really do everything that could be done with this evidence. It’s a bit annoying that he exaggerates the singularity of his discovery here.
There’s a lot more. Overall, everyone who downplays Pascal’s influence on T. should check this book out.
It’s too late in the evening to even begin to talk about this endlessly instructive article. But it confirms what I’ve been thinking for a while: Resting on the Sabbath and honoring your father and your mother are the twin pillars of a civilization that recognizes the true dignity or godlikeness of each of us creatures. Thanks to Paul Seaton for the link. Please divide up into small groups and discuss, when you can find the time.
BIG THOUGHTS HERE. I have an article on the content of LW’s speech coming out in a few days. Meanwhile, I agree with Pat Deneen that it would have been better had the speech actually had some humanistic content. But one speech can’t do everything, and rare is the commencement address that does anything.