Nov 132009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 9, “The Nazi Synthesis” — a reference to what gave the Nazis the ability to seemingly offer everything to everyone. Topics we discussed included:
  • How “The nationalists, at heart, were socialists. The socialists, at heart were nationalists. The Nazis took over the essence of each side in the German debate and proudly offered the synthesis as one unified viewpoint. The syntheses is: national socialism.”
  • This synthesis stressed the basic principles common to all groups and served as an opening to every major segment of the population, reactionary and radical alike. At the same time, the non-Nazi parties limited themselves to a narrower, more specific consituency while alienating the rest of the country.
  • The “Twenty-Five Points” document outlining the Nazi agenda: how it demanded special state action on behalf of virtually every group, with the middle class as its most obvious target of appeal. These are the white-collar workers, small tradesmen, bureaucrats, academics — those ravaged by the war and hit hardest by the hyperinfltion, and who felt pinned between government-protected cartels above and government-supported unions below.
  • How the Nazis offered private deals and/or public promises to virtually every significant group in Germany to broaden their support — all the way down to the spinsters. What enabled the Nazis to offer conflicting messages tailored to appeal to each audience, flattering everyone as uniquely important, soothing concerns about their interests, promising punishment of those they felt pitted against.
  • The one real consistency the Nazis offered was that of supporting and sacrificing to the “public interest” — rejecting the Weimarian mixed economy with its partial freedoms for utter totalitarianism.
  • And much more…

The chapter closes by saying:

The poor hated the rich, the rich hated “the rabble,” the left hated the “bourgeoisie,” the right hated the foreigners, the traditionalists hated the new, and the young hated everything, the adults, the Allies, the West, the Jews, the cities, the “system.”


The Nazis promised every group annihilation, the annihilation of that which it hated. Just as Hitler offered Germany a synthesis of ideas, so, appealing to the nationwide, classwide spasm of seething fury, he offered the voters a synthesis of hatreds. In the end, this combination was what the voters wanted, and chose.

If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.

Was Herodotus Right?

 Posted by on 12 November 2009 at 2:00 pm  History
Nov 122009
 

Awesome:

The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology’s biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.

Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

“We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus,” Dario Del Bufalo, a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce, told Discovery News.

Read the whole story for details.

Nov 092009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 8, “The Emotionalist Republic” — a reference to how there was one fundamental principle “everywhere in the ascendancy — among artists and educators, radicals and traditionalists, young and old alike”: the wholesale rejection of rationality for emotionalism. Topics we discussed included:
  • Why Peikoff characterized art as “the barometer that lays bare a period’s view of reality, of life, of man.”
  • The rise of the Expressionism movement in art with its open break with the intellect, with material reality, with all ‘middle class’ values such as work and personal success, industrial civilization, money, business, section standards, law and order, etc. The spread of these values into everything from cartoons in the newspapers, architecture, films, poetry, music.
  • The Conservative reaction to this, which they regarded as a product of “reason”: turning to their traditional values of intuition and feeling with artists who portrayed an irrational, heroic, mystic world “beset by treachery, overwhelmed by violence, drowned in blood, and culminating in … an orgy of self-willed annihilation”.
  • How the “same epistemological cause leads ultimately to the same social effect (whatever the form). The left culturati called their political ideal “socialism.” the right culturati called theirs “Prussianism.” But, as Spengler pointed out in an influential work entitled Prussianism and Socialism, there is no essential difference between these two concepts. Under both approaches, he noted, “Power belongs to the whole. The individual serves it. The whole is sovereign… Everyone is given his place. There are commands and obedience.”
  • The spread of these values via the efforts of both the left and the right into the youth movements and the educational institutions.
  • The effects of such emotionalism in economics: the failure in hyperinflation they would suffer as their mixed, Bismarckian-style economy drove individuals to join into pressure-group warfare.
  • How this all combines into a miserable, volatile circumstance ripe for someone to deliver change and hope…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Oct 292009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 7, “United They Fell” — a reference to Germans’ widespread agreement on important fundamentals despite often fierce political differences that were evident as they strove to create a new, constitutional republic. Topics we discussed included:
  • A tour of the political diversity in both means and ends that was present as Germans drew up their nations new, republican constitution: the four major groups forming two broad coalitions in the Wiemar Assembly — and the two paralleling major groups in the “street”.
  • How despite the seeming ideological diversity, all of the major groups battling to shape Germany’s new government nonetheless shared the same essential ideas in epistemology (anti-reason, mysticism), ethics (sacrificial, altruistic), and politics (anti-capitalist, collectivist). They argued fiercely, even violently, over more derivative matters: In the formal discussions of the Wiemar Assembly, in the end the marxist Social Democrats and their allies sought state control of the economy for the benefit of the lower classes — versus the conservative/monarchical Nationalists who sought state control of the economy for the benefit of the upper classes. And at the same time the major parties active in the “street” were more pure in their desired ends, and more direct in their means to achieving them: the Communists fought for an all-powerful state to determine the fate of individuals’ lives, versus the Free Corps who fought for an all-powerful ruler who would determine the fate of individuals’ lives.
  • And much more…

The chapter closes:

Wherever the German turned — to the left, to the right, to the center; to the decorous voices in parliament or to the gutters running with blood — he heard the same fundamental ideas. They were the same in politics, the same in ethics, the same in epistemology.

This is how philosophy shapes the destiny of nations. If there is no dissent in regard to basic principles among a country’s leading philosophic minds, theirs are the principles that come in time to govern every social and political group in the land. Owing to other factors, the groups may proliferate and may contend fiercely over variants, applications, strategy; but they do not contend over essentials. In such a case, the country is offered an abundance of choices — among equivalents competing to push it to the same final outcome.

It is common for observers to criticize the “disunity” of Weimar Germany, which, it is said, prevented the anti-Nazi groups from dealing effectively with the threat posed by Hitler. In fact, the Germans were united, and this precisely was their curse: their kind of unity, their unity on all the things that count in history, i.e., on all the ideas.

If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Oct 232009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 6, “Kant Versus America” — a reference to the fundamental opposition between core American ideals and German ideological imports. Topics we discussed included:
  • German metaphysical idealism coming to America via the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson et. al — an eclectic “literary” version of German romanticism. Then decades of Hegel’s purified Kantianism dominating American philosophy departments.
  • How some advocates of these ideas were open and clear about their rejection of reason for emotion/intuition/will, while others took the tack of presenting themselves as champions of rationality even while undercutting every essential element of it.
  • How advocates of the American system of rights and capitalism tried to find ideological support in classical economics and evolutionary biology — and how this was ultimately a doomed effort because these are not philosophically fundamental. Mill, Smith, Say, and the rest of the classical economists tried to defend an individualist system while accepting the fundamental moral ideas of its opponents (altruism, collectivism). And on the biological evolution front, Herbert Spencer tried and failed to defend capitalism while adhering to more fundamental ideas which clash with it (advocating a species-based collectivist approach that would be inspiration for Eugenicists, and thinking evolution would eventually eliminate egoism in favor of altruism in humans).
  • What Pragmatism is and how it became the main American manifestation of the Kantian trend.
  • Why Pragmatists adopt codes of values and political ideas designed by others (non-pragmatists), usually without consciously acknowledging this, through cultural osmosis.
  • How Pragmatism was the only 20th century philosophy to gain broad, national acceptance in America (and how this happened through Orwellian twists of meaning and language to sell it to an audience who would otherwise recoil). How it enjoyed a disastrous acceleration by taking over the educational system (Dewey), its prevalence in politics, etc.
  • How academic philosophy then all but disappeared in America — as the “dead end” of the Kantian dichotomy between thought and reality, with the public rightly rejecting the field of philosophy as worthless (even though they nonetheless remained powerfully influenced by philosophy).
  • And a lot more…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this past two weeks (due to technical difficulties) was Chapter 5, “The Nation of the Enlightenment” — a reference to the central influence of the ideas and spirit of the Enlightenment in America’s founding. Topics we discussed included:
  • The eras of reason in Western philosophy, and how this relates to Peikoff’s characterization of the US as the Nation of the Enlightenment. Whether the US is indeed unique in being a “nation of ideas”.
  • How achievements in science and philosophy basically proclaimed the world open to reason — with reason becoming a virtue, the norm and expected.
  • The difference between early America and the America that the Founders built. How the American Enlightenment is a ‘profound reversal’ of the Puritans’ philosophic priorities. What brought about the dislodging of Puritanism, and the religious outlook of the founding leaders.
  • Why Aristotle is the first father of this new world. And Locke’s contribution to that legacy.
  • How the founders integrated their considerable knowledge of history to devise a brilliant, practical implementation of these abstract ideas with checks and balances, trying to isolate the operation of the state as much as possible from the moral character of any of its temporary officials, as well as subversion by an aspiring dictator or temporary sentiment.
  • How this rising nation of ideas then fell prey to bad ideas in Europe: There was no American attempt to give systematic statement to and defense of the American approach to liberty — we had no major philosophical innovators and relied on Europe to provide this (e.g., Locke). Unfortunately, there were gaps and problems, leading to the “American conflict” between the implicitly egoistic upholding of rights vs. the explicitly altruistic morality of the culture.
  • And a lot more…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast — just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page. And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Sep 302009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 4, “The Ethics of Evil” — a reference to the implications for peoples’ lives that flow from the ideas they accept about values. Topics we discussed included:
  • How Obama matches and doesn’t match fascists in history — an important distinction to observe.
  • The two fundamentally opposed approaches to morality.
  • How Kant carried Christianity’s ethics to its climax — and how Christianity “prepared the ground” for modern totalitarianism by entrenching three fundamental ideas in the Western mind.
  • Christianity’s non-sacrificial ethical nod to Pagan egoism — and how Kant expunged this.
  • How Kant felt he wasn’t an innovator in the realm of morality, but yet he was an innovator in in an important respect: actually divorcing morality from values, with moral perfection being uninterested action devoid of any love or desire.
  • What evil consists in, for Kant: not self-love per-se, but giving self-love priority over morality in one’s heart. Kant’s version of Original Sin.
  • How for Kant, “It is the lot of the moral man to burn with desire and then, on principle — the principle of duty — to thwart it. The hallmark of the moral man is to suffer. … It is sacrifice — sacrifice as against apathy or indifference, sacrifice continual and searing — which is the essence of Kant’s moral counsel to living men.” [p.80]
  • How Kant did not preach Nazism (he likely would have frowned on the Nazis) — yet he established a necessary precondition for their development.
  • The rise of the formal doctrine of Altruism, giving a target to sacrifice… Then Hegel’s development bringing ‘social relativism’ to ethics — and how the Nazis’ pragmatism dovetails with it to strengthen their sacrificial, collectivist program.
  • Why physical coercion and persuasion are the only two methods for people to deal with one another — and how altruism gives the use of force a moral sanction, making it not just a practical recourse, but a positive virtue (in both secular and religious forms).
  • How the many “mindless activists and nonideological brawlers” were nonetheless in the grip of a particular philosophy, morphing and rewriting their program, yet never altering the three fundamental ideas that their program rested on from start to end.
  • That the world has not learned its lesson from history, with these three fundamental ideas still spreading throughout the Western world and increasing in their potency (and damage).
  • And a lot more…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast (just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page). And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Sep 232009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 3, “Hitler’s War Against Reason” — a reference to the implications for peoples’ lives that flow from the ideas they accept about knowledge and its acquisition and use. Topics we discussed included:
  • The connection between the rejection of reason and the use of force.
  • the Nazi “epistemology”: the wholesale undercutting and replacement of reason as a source of knowledge and guide to action — in favor of feelings, instincts, “will” or (as Hitler was so surprisingly breezy in putting it) whatever you want to call such things.
  • Irrationalism as the rejection of reason, Mysticism as the supplementing or replacement of reason, and [non-esthetic] Romanticism’s existing strength in the German culture being necessary for Hitler and the Nazis to accomplish their aims.
  • The timeline and major philosophical players in the transition from the Enlightenment reliance on reason to its rejection for romanticism and voluntarism.
  • Hitler and the Nazi’s profound, central reliance on and promotion of two forms of anti-reason: dogmatism and pragmatism.
  • How this mixture of dogmatism and pragmatism brought something new (and seemingly paradoxical) to the world: “the absolute of the moment, or the immutable which never stands still, issued by an omniscience that ceaselessly changes its mind.”
  • A more general exploration of the subjectivism that underlies the above, how despite being present systematically since Greek times, it was able to take off and dominate a culture at this time and in this place.
  • The naked use of force that subjectivism/primacy-of-consciousness has always brought — even necessitated — in politics.
  • How the Nazis were utterly dependent on the groundwork laid by philosophers, merely “cashing in” on what was already in place.
  • And a lot more…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast (just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page). And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.

Myths of American History

 Posted by on 18 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Culture, History
Sep 182009
 

Just remember this article, next time an eco-freak tells you about the peaceful natives that used to happily roam across America: Sacrificial virgins of the Mississippi — “Archaeologists are slowly unearthing the ghastly secrets of Cahokia, an ancient city under the American heartland” — by Andrew O’Hehir

Ever since the first Europeans came to North America, only to discover the puzzling fact that other people were already living here, the question of how to understand the Native American past has been both difficult and politically charged. For many years, American Indian life was viewed through a scrim of interconnected bigotry and romance, which simultaneously served to idealize the pre-contact societies of the Americas and to justify their destruction. Pre-Columbian life might be understood as savage and brutal darkness or an eco-conscious Eden where man lived in perfect harmony with nature. But it seemed to exist outside history, as if the native people of this continent were for some reason exempt from greed, cruelty, warfare and other near-universal characteristics of human society.

As archaeologist Timothy Pauketat’s cautious but mesmerizing new book, “Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi,” makes clear, Cahokia — the greatest Native American city north of Mexico — definitely belongs to human history. (It is not “historical,” in the strict sense, because the Cahokians left no written records.) At its peak in the 12th century, this settlement along the Mississippi River bottomland of western Illinois, a few miles east of modern-day St. Louis, was probably larger than London, and held economic, cultural and religious sway over a vast swath of the American heartland. Featuring a man-made central plaza covering 50 acres and the third-largest pyramid in the New World (the 100-foot-tall “Monks Mound”), Cahokia was home to at least 20,000 people. If that doesn’t sound impressive from a 21st-century perspective, consider that the next city on United States territory to attain that size would be Philadelphia, some 600 years later.

In a number of critical ways, Cahokia seems to resemble other ancient cities discovered all over the world, from Mesopotamia to the Yucatán. It appears to have been arranged according to geometrical and astronomical principles (around various “Woodhenges,” large, precisely positioned circles of wooden poles), and was probably governed by an elite class who commanded both political allegiance and spiritual authority. Cahokia was evidently an imperial center that abruptly exploded, flourished for more then a century and then collapsed, very likely for one or more of the usual reasons: environmental destruction, epidemics of disease, the ill will of subjugated peoples and/or outside enemies.

Some archaeologists might pussyfoot around this question more than Pauketat does, but it also seems clear that political and religious power in Cahokia revolved around another ancient tradition. Cahokians performed human sacrifice, as part of some kind of theatrical, community-wide ceremony, on a startlingly large scale unknown in North America above the valley of Mexico. Simultaneous burials of as many as 53 young women (quite possibly selected for their beauty) have been uncovered beneath Cahokia’s mounds, and in some cases victims were evidently clubbed to death on the edge of a burial pit, and then fell into it. A few of them weren’t dead yet when they went into the pit — skeletons have been found with their phalanges, or finger bones, digging into the layer of sand beneath them.

Go read the whole thing.

Sep 162009
 

The Objectivism Seminar is working through Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s all-too-topical book, The Ominous Parallels. In it, he explores what gave rise to to the fascist, totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — and analyzes whether and how a fascist, totalitarian regime could emerge here in America.

Our focus this week was Chapter 2, “The Totalitarian Universe” — a reference to the implications for peoples’ lives that flow from the metaphysical ideas they accept about the nature of reality. Topics we discussed included:
  • The complex, centuries-long development in the history of philosophy involving dozens of figures that brought about modern German culture and its Nazi climax — boiled down to the essential turning points found in three major philosophors: Plato, Kant, and Hegel.
  • Plato’s metaphysics and what it says about men, ethics, and politics — how the implications in politics mean some men must rule others.
  • The fundamental contrast Aristotle offered.
  • The points at when Plato’s and Aristotle’s contrasting outlooks alternately dominated cultures, and how Kant’s innovations drove the most recent transition to an essentially Platonic outlook.
  • The difference between Plato and Kant — how Kant “purified” Plato epistemologically and ethically.
  • How Kant and Aristotle are similar in their professed political ideas not expressing the implications of their metaphysics/epistemology (and how later thinkers in their lines went on to develop those implications).
  • The role of Hegel as a post-Kantian Platonist; how he “purified” the Kant and made Plato’s totalitarian blueprint pale by comparison.
  • The forms in which Hegel’s ideas propagated — Fascist Italy vs. Nazi Germany — as well as the ways in which Hegel’s ideas were secularized and made more materialistic and seemingly scientific. (Social Darwinism with Hitler, and class/economic determinism with Marx).
  • And a lot more…
If this sounds interesting, you can listen in on the podcast (just download the session’s MP3 directly, or listen to it with the little player on the right, or subscribe to the podcast series over on the Seminar’s TalkShoe page). And if you have something to ask or add, please do pick up the book and join the discussion! We meet at 8:00pm Mountain on Mondays, for about an hour.
Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha