BY ROD DREHER
Senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative.
“The British political philosopher John Gray is one of my favorite writers. He is not a religious believer — he is what you might consider an atheist contemplative, or what reviewer Simon Critchley identifies as a “passive nihilist” — and Gray’s conservatism, such as it is, stands well outside the boundaries of the contemporary Right. In fact, it’s really more anti-liberal than conservative, with “liberal” meaning the entire spectrum of mainstream Western politics. He is profoundly skeptical of the idea of progress, and of the Enlightenment project. Gray is certainly bleak, and his views cannot be reconciled with Christianity, but I always, always learn from his beautiful prose and his provocative insights, even when I disagree with them (though I often do agree). Here’s an excerpt from Critchley’s review of Gray’s newest book, The Silence of Animals: On Progress And Other Modern Myths:
Where does Gray’s loathing of liberalism leave him? He identifies the poison in liberal humanism, but what’s the antidote? It is what Gray calls “political realism”: we have to accept, as many ancient societies did and many non-Western societies still do, that the world is in a state of ceaseless conflict. Periods of war are followed by periods of peace, only to be followed by war again. What goes around comes around. And around. History makes more sense as a cycle than as a line of development or even decline.
In the face of such ceaseless conflict, Gray counsels that we have to abandon the belief in utopia and accept the tragic contingencies of life: there are moral and political dilemmas for which there are simply no solutions. We have to learn to abandon pernicious daydreams such as a new cosmopolitan world order governed by universal human rights, or that history has a teleological, providential purpose that underwrites human action. We even have to renounce the Obamaesque (in essence, crypto-Comtian or crypto-Saint-Simonian) delusion that one’s life is a narrative that is an episode in some universal story of progress. It is not.
Against the grotesque distortion of conservatism into the millenarian military neoliberalism, Gray wants to defend the core belief of traditional Burkean Toryism. The latter begins in a realistic acceptance of human imperfection and frailty. As such, the best that flawed and potentially wicked human creatures can hope for is a commitment to civilized constraints that will prevent the very worst from happening: a politics of the least worst. Sadly, no one in political life seems prepared to present this argument, least of all those contemporary conservatives who have become more utopian than their cynical pragmatist left-liberal counterparts, such as the British Labor Party.
Read the whole review, to which I cannot do justice in a short excerpt. Better yet, read Gray.
There are moral and political dilemmas for which there are simply no solutions. The older I get, the more convinced I become of this. The trick is to discern when accepting this with relation to a particular dilemma shows wisdom, and when it shows foolish fatalism. It is hard for me to think of a political stance that is more alien to the American spirit than the tragic sense Gray espouses. That’s not to say that he’s wrong — far from it. But it is to say that we Americans find this very hard to swallow.”
Useful links and further reading: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/john-gray-hyper-liberalism-liberty/amp/
What is it with anti-Semites now and in the past?
“Numerous factors including theological differences, competition between Church and Synagogue, the Christian drive for converts,decreed by the Great Commission, misunderstanding of Jewish beliefs and practices, and a perceived Jewish hostility toward Christians. These attitudes were reinforced in Christian preaching, art and popular teaching for two millennia, containing contempt for Jews, as well as statutes which were designed to humiliate and stigmatise Jews.
Modern antisemitism has been described as primarily hatred against Jews as a race with its modern expression rooted in 18th-century racial theories, while anti-Judaism is described as hostility to Jewish religion, but in Western Christianity it effectively merged into antisemitism during the 12th century.:16Scholars have debated how Christian antisemitism played a role in the Nazi Third Reich, World War II and the Holocaust. The Holocaust has driven many within Christianity to reflect on the relationship between Christian theology, practices, and that genocide.”(Wikipedia).
If anything in the Bible is to be believed we may deduce: that Jesus was a Jew. Mary the mother of Jesus, Joseph his father, and Jesus’ brothers, sisters and cousins (including John the Baptist, were Jews. The New Testament, like the Old, was written by Jews (including the Letters of Apostle Paul). The God Christians claim to serve is the God of Judaism, no matter what casuistry concerning new and old covenants is brought to bear. Was the New Testament the origin of anti-Judaism and later anti-Semitism, or is it a kind of pagan accretion, a distortion of Christianity? Given Luther’s – and before him – most of Christendom’s persecution of the Jews, I believe it is an admixture of Christian particularism, the need to define the new religion contrast to an ‘evil other’, emergence of pre-christian gods in the West.
Ramban (Moses ben Nahman): Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה בֶּן־נָחְמָן Mōšeh ben-Nāḥmān, “Moses son of Nahman”; 1194–1270), was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Sephardic rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator.
It is argued that the “servant” represents the nation of Israel, which would bear excessive iniquities, pogroms, blood libels, anti-judaism, antisemitism and continue to suffer without cause (Isaiah 52:4) on behalf of others (Isaiah 53:7,11–12).
“Hyam Maccoby (Hebrew: חיים מכובי, 1924–2004) was a British Jewish scholar and dramatist specialising in the study of the Jewish and Christian religious tradition. His grandfather and namesake was Rabbi Hyam (or “Chaim”) Maccoby (1858–1916), better known as the “Kamenitzer Maggid”, a passionate religious Zionist and advocate of vegetarianism and animal welfare.
Maccoby was a Domus Exhibitioner in Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Signals.
Maccoby was librarian of Leo Baeck College in London. In retirement he moved to Leeds, where he held an academic position at the Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Leeds. Maccoby was known for his theories of the historical Jesus and the historical origins of Christianity.
Maccoby also wrote extensively on the phenomenon of ancient and modern Anti-Semitism. He considered the Gospel traditions blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus and especially the legend of Judas Iscariot (which he believed to be a product of the Gentile Pauline Church) as the roots of Christian antisemitism. Other topics of Maccoby’s scholarship include the Talmudictradition and the history of the Jewish religion.”
By Amée LaTour
“The image of a human being as a ‘thrown project’ is highly useful in working out what it means to become stranded. A metaphor may help. Imagine yourself as a little boat that has been thrown into a fast but shallow stream – the stream is ‘the they’. The rudder by which you steer is disengaged; however, the stream alone is not propelling boat-you; your engine is pushing you along as well. You’re both projecting yourself and being carried along by the current. But in order to be truly in control of your course (that is, your possibilities), something needs to turn you toward your steering system.
Becoming stranded is the opportunity to engage your own steering system. When boat-you runs ashore – in other words, when something interrupts your ‘just going with the flow’ – suddenly, nothing is directing you. In the absence of outside direction, you can then become aware of the fact that you can steer your own thinking: that you have the ability to reflect, think and judge for yourself, see what possibilities actually lie before you, and tap into your unique emotional engagement with the world and others.
So how does one become stranded? Heidegger often discusses the disengagement from ‘the they’ as a spontaneous, fleeting occurrence that strikes out of the blue. We are assailed by some mood, such as profound boredom or anxiety, in which we realize that the security and comfort offered by ‘the they’ are false. In such moods we realize that we’re only really grounded if we ground ourselves, as individuals, taking back our understanding and attunement, orienting ourselves toward our discourse, seeing possibilities beyond the status quo, engaging with our emotional investment in life and the world in a more personal way.
There are two approaches boat-you can take at this point of realization. You can plunge your rudder into the water and navigate your own way out of your stranded situation, returning to the world of things and people with a newfound sense of individual agency over your trajectory. This approach requires a lot of energy, responsibility, and, ultimately, struggling with the big questions. Or you could rush back to the current of ‘the they’ with its directive force, casting off the trials and tribulations involved in steering your boat-self, and opting instead for the more passive and comfortable approach to life. Just flowing downstream is the easier option; but steering your own thought is more authentic, because you actually are an individual with your own disclosive capacities.
Although Heidegger was conservative concerning the number of opportunities for becoming stranded, and skeptical of the lasting power of authentic being, I’m a bit more hopeful: I think that the stranded moments Heidegger attributed to special, rare moods, crop up constantly. For instance, we become stranded when a long-held belief is shaken or refuted. Or we become stranded when we ask where our long-held beliefs came from, or when someone else asks us this same question. We become stranded when we start to question why we’re doing what we’re doing. Of course, something has to disrupt our inertia – in keeping with the above analogy, has to run us aground – but this could be a book, an inspiring story, the death of a loved one, even a conversation. I don’t believe that these disrupters are in short supply. We just have to be willing to become stranded long enough to hear ourselves, and brave enough to to engage our steering systems when we do.
© Amée LaTour 2018
Amée LaTour has a degree in philosophy from Marlboro College in Vermont, and works as a writer.
“Some researchers have postulated that Columbus was of Iberian Jewish origins. The linguist Estelle Irizarry, in addition to arguing that Columbus was Catalan, also claims that Columbus tried to conceal a Jewish heritage. In “Three Sources of Textual Evidence of Columbus, Crypto Jew,” Irizarry notes that Columbus always wrote in Spanish, occasionally included Hebrew in his writing, and referenced the Jewish High Holidays in his journal during the first voyage.”
Sartor Resartus (meaning ‘The tailor re-tailored’) is an 1836 philosophical novel by Thomas Carlyle.
It was overcast and rainy in Chester today, and quite dark by 4.30 in the afternoon. I stopped in at The Architect for an ale (Bragdy’r Gogarth ‘dark abbey ale’ from Great Orme in North Wales). I took a small book from the shelf: a 1906 edition of Sartor Resartus by the Scottish philosopher and satirical writer, Thomas Carlyle.
It was delightful. I ordered another half pint of Bragdy’r Gogarth and read further, loving the gentle and at times silly humour, and the strange written language that was the English of 180 years ago. I asked the barman if I could buy the book, as I doubted there’d be a big rush on Thomas Carlyle any time soon. “Have it,” he replied with a laugh, “put a few coins in the charity box”. And so for a few pennies I now own a 1906 edition of one of Thomas Carlisle’s important satirical works.
“In Carlyle’s view, civilization—that is, religion, government, and all the other institutional garments that human beings weave to clothe themselves—is frayed and shabby and needs retailoring.” –enotes
About describes we enlightened ones in the 21st century rather well I think.
“Sartor Resartus teems with wit, irony, fun, either in the guise of, or gently
mocking from beneath, its seriousness and downright difficulty. It also playfully generates uncertainties between fiction and fact, disguise and the naked truth. The text’s humor, often lurking in obscure absurdities and a Sterne-like play with its own fictionality, tends to give way to a gravitas and profundity which
many nineteenth-century readers, particularly at first in America, found both fascinating and a solace for their evanescing religious faith.”
– Ralph Jessop