You’re all alone

In ‘The Rise of Scientific Philosophy’ the logical positivist philosopher Hans Reichenbach writes:

In Leibniz’s philosophy the rational side of modern science has found its most radical representation. The successful use of mathematical methods for the description of nature made Leibniz believe that all science can be ultimately transformed into mathematics. The idea of determinism, of a universe that passes through its stages like a wound clock, appealed to him because it meant that physical laws are mathematical laws.  He applied this idea in one of the strangest creations of rationalism, in his doctrine of preestablished harmony. According to him, the minds of different persons do not interact with each other; the semblance of such interaction is produced because the different minds, in their predetermined courses, go continuously through stages strictly corresponding to each other, like different clocks that keep the same time without being causally connected.

In 1950 the writer Fritz Leiber writes an urban horror novel titled ‘You’re all alone(later expanded in an adulterated edition called ‘The Sinful Ones’) which deals with the slightly different premise that the world is a mindless machine and the main character is the only person alive. At one point we read:

What if Marcia weren’t really alive at all, not consciously alive, but just a part of a dance of mindless atoms, a clockworks show that included the whole world, except himself? Merely by coming a few minutes ahead of time, merely by omitting to shave, he had broken the clockworks rhythm. That was why the clerk hadn’t spoken to him, why the operator had been asleep, why Marcia didn’t greet him. It wasn’t time yet for those little acts in the clockworks show.

Fritz Leiber’s novel weaves together solipsism (the idea that one’s own mind is all that exists) and Leibniz’ view of pre-established harmony in which “windowless nomads” follow their own internal logic but produce the semblance of communication.

Not much information about Leiber’s novel can be found on the internet at this time. Which should be remedied because Fritz Leiber was one of the pioneers of the genre of urban/philosophical horror which would later find a powerful expression in the works of authors like Thomas Ligotti and Mark Samuels.

Counter-modernism

The ongoing flirtation of right-leaning writers with people such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Stirner, Ragnar Redbeard, and H.P. Lovecraft raises the question about the possibility of a unique and coherent Nietzschean/Lovecraftian worldview that is strictly positivist in its epistemology, and  distinctly reactionary in its rejection of egalitarianism and democracy, as an alternative to socialism, (classical) liberalism and contemporary conservatism. Interestingly, Samuel Francis made a related observation in his discussion of the French New Right in a book review for the Occidental Quarterly:

The French New Right, in other words, was heading toward what I have elsewhere called “counter-modernism” rather than the anti-modernism in which it eventually became involved. Counter-modernism is itself a form of modernism and accepts many of its metaphysical premises (including its naturalism) while rejecting the conventional implications and constructs (especially social and political) that the Enlightenment and its heirs have devised. Examples of counter-modernist thinkers in Euro-American thought would be Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, the Federalist Papers, the Social Darwinists of the nineteenth century, the classical elite theorists Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, and James Burnham.

The slide into “anti-modernism”that Francis refers to is well illustrated by an article on Ernst Jünger in a recent edition of that magazine. Alain de Benoist writes:

To finish with nihilism, we must live it to its end—“passing the line” which corresponds to the “meridian zero”—because, as Heidegger says, the technological framework (Ge-stell) is still a mode of being, not merely of its oblivion. This is why, if Jünger sees the Worker as a danger, he also says that this danger can be our salvation, because it is by it and through it, that it will be possible to exhaust the danger.

When Martin Heidegger is discussed for any other reason than to ridicule him or to educate the reader on logical fallacies, it is a safe bet that we are dealing with a tradition of thought that warrants little serious attention. It  appears that the prospect of a counter-modernism that accepts many of modernism’s “metaphysical premises (including its naturalism) while rejecting the conventional implications and constructs (especially social and political) that the Enlightenment and its heirs have devised” remains mostly a product of the imagination.

Another typical example of nonsensical New Right writing is Johnathan Bowden’s H.P. Lovecraft: Aryan Mystic. Bowden rightly identifies Lovecraft’s “mechanistic” and “ultra-conservative” outlook  on life but then continues with the obligatory occultist purple prose and mysticism. In the same piece, Bowden draws attention to H.P. Lovecraft’s publication The Conservative. Despite the growing interest in Lovecraft’s writings, prevailing orthodoxy does not make it likely that someone will produce a complete and handsome  collection of this vehicle of Lovecraft’s most reactionary thoughts  anytime soon.

Look, I am against torture!

Do people who believe that torture is wrong under all circumstances arrive at this conclusion after a painstaking analysis of all the scenarios in which torture might be the only choice to avoid individual or collective catastrophe? Or is it just another way of signaling to the rest of the world that you  are on the right side of history (and thus superior)? Or worse, a necessary political position to take if you want to prosecute your political opponents (although you have won the election)?

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post Michael Scheuer writes:

Surprisingly, Obama now stands alongside Bush as a genuine American Jacobin, both of them seeing the world as they want it to be, not as it is. …As with all Jacobins, Obama cannot allow a hard and often brutal reality — call it an inconvenient truth — to impinge on his view of how the world should and must be made to work.

Further reading: Michael Levin – The Case for Torture

Anti-war.com archive for Michael Scheuer.

HT Ilana Mercer

Undercover at Wal-Mart

The New York Post recently posted an interesting personal account of writer and cryonics activist Charles Platt about working conditions and company policies at Wal-Mart. In Platt’s own words:

Some people, usually community activists, loath Wal-Mart. Others, like the family of four struggling to make ends meet, are in love with the chain. I, meanwhile, am in awe of it.

Platt does not found much ground for the negative treatment of Wal-Mart by progressives and singles out labor unions as one of the major sources of misinformation about Wal-Mart:

You have to wonder, then, why the store has such a terrible reputation, and I have to tell you that so far as I can determine, trade unions have done most of the mudslinging. Web sites that serve as a source for negative stories are often affiliated with unions.

But as he points out in his intelligent discussion of labor unions, the reason that people are paid low wages at Wal-Mart and other large retailers simply reflects supply and demand and not any deliberate attempt to keep wages low:

In our free-enterprise system, employees are valued largely in terms of what they can do. This is why teenagers fresh out of high school often go to vocational training institutes to become auto mechanics or electricians. They understand a basic principle that seems to elude social commentators, politicians and union organizers. If you want better pay, you need to learn skills that are in demand.

The blunt tools of legislation or union power can force a corporation to pay higher wages, but if employees don’t create an equal amount of additional value, there’s no net gain. All other factors remaining equal, the store will have to charge higher prices for its merchandise, and its competitive position will suffer.

This is Economics 101, but no one wants to believe it, because it tells us that a legislative or unionized quick-fix is not going to work in the long term. If you want people to be wealthier, they have to create additional wealth.

Although there is less support for labor unions in the United States than in other modern Western countries, the mystery remains why these organizations are taken seriously at all. Labor unions are labor cartels that do not create wealth but can only redistribute existing wealth at the expense of others. In reality, labor unions are often detrimental to increased productivity and creation of wealth because their policies produce unemployment, social unrest, and contribute to an entitlement culture in which people are discouraged from seeking individual solutions to better their economic conditions. As such, labor unions represent a harmful combination of tribalism and economic ignorance.

The writer also draws attention to the issue that small “mom and pop” stores are not necessarily better than large corporations. Many of them simply go bankrupt because they are unimaginative, wasteful, and rude to their customers. There is one caveat to this perspective, however, and that is that government regulation and labor union policies often favor bigger companies over smaller companies. Economies in countries like the Netherlands are heavily regulated by the government and the result has not been more diversity in retail but the depressing development of (designated) urban “shopping streets” that feature the same stores wherever one goes.

Despite their rhetoric about representing the little guy against corporate interests, in reality labor unions feel a lot more comfortable with large scale negation between the government, big corporations, and union representatives than the prospect of a healthy competition between unruly, impenetrable small companies. This (unintended) bias of government and unions for large corporations has recently been made official policy as a result of the “Too Big to Fail” doctrine which shelters failed companies from bankruptcy and socializes losses (corporate welfare).

Perhaps the most telling sign of the times is the influence of government employee labor unions. As an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal notes:

When the movement among public-sector workers to unionize began gathering momentum in the 1950s, some critics, including private-sector labor leaders such as George Meany, observed that government is a monopoly not subject to the discipline of the marketplace. Allowing these workers — many already protected by civil-service law — to organize and bargain collectively might ultimately give them the power to hold politicians and taxpayers hostage.

There is a great taboo on individuals selling their votes but what to think of a President that rewards labor union voters in the public sector (the new privileged class) with more projects, higher wages, and increased job security while people  who work in the private sector cannot escape the consequences of the current financial crisis?

Further reading: Public Sector Unions Are Killing United States

Classical liberalism without philosophy

In a blog post for the New Republic Alan Wolfe writes: What my critics call modern liberalism is instead the logical and sociological outcome of classical liberalism.” He further writes in another blog post that A liberal society, I believe, is one that allows room for free markets, but also allows room for many other kinds of social institutions, some based on love, others on obligation, others on solidarity.”

These statements are far from illuminating. For example, what does it mean to say that modern liberalism is the “logical,” let alone the “sociological,” outcome of classical liberalism? It surely cannot mean that interventionist government is logically implied by minimal government. Perhaps one could argue that in reality modern liberalism is an inevitable consequence of classical liberalism in the sense that as soon as people authorize a government to maintain peace and order, such powers will invariably be used to (further) distribute income, which in turn will generate a subsequent need to produce political philosophical legitimacy for these practices.

There is a sense in which “classical” and “modern” liberalism may be closely related and that is the shared preoccupation with “rights,” “equality,” and “democracy.” Although different liberals offer different interpretations of these concepts, the practice of seeking a society that is guided by these values is shared by most advocates of both  liberalisms. From this perspective both classical and modern liberalism, and even democratic socialism, reflect a tradition in political thinking that attributes values to humans as such and endeavors to move society as close as possible to the realization of these values.

There is an alternative liberalism, however, that cannot be reduced to this kind of reasoning. In this form of (classical) liberalism people do not have “rights” (or deserve respect for their “autonomy”) because there is a philosophical reason for this but because a real world bargain between self-interested individuals produces arrangements that more or less resemble a society that is characterized by respect for individual choice and private property. But such a Hobbesian account of the possibility of liberalism is far removed from the philosopher’s liberalism  that emphasizes values, human rights, and collective choice. It would be the “logical” outcome of practical reason applied to human interaction.

Considering our (evolved) tendency to moralize about the fate of society as a whole, and the widespread obsession with democracy and practical politics, the prospects for this kind of liberalism are even more remote than for either of the two liberalisms that currently compete for attention.