Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rousseau: Pretentious, Absurd, Dangerous

The thought of Rousseau is convoluted nonsense and merits a proper thrashing.
If I took into account only force, and the effects derived from it, I should say: "As long as a people is compelled to obey, and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining its liberty by the same right as took it away, either it is justified in resuming it, or there was no justification for those who took it away."
Were Rousseau correct that shaking off the yoke of oppression were better than obeying it, there could be no virtue in obedience.  In Rousseau's narrative, the people - unable but to act well (in obeying) or better (in disobeying) - is an (the?) everlasting source of goodness.  The Creator, in this telling, is replaced; and the people, tender reader, will go on creating - rights, laws, heresies, bureaucracies, democracies, and other contradictions as, we are told, is their right.  I fully expect this unfortunate trend to continue until a day of rapprochement with their Creator and corresponding reacquaintance with truth.

Lest we forget, though, to obey is to act rightly.  The people that obeys does well insofar as they possess the collective manifest power to disobey.
But the social order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other rights.
Social order is sacred (and, as we see here, a broken clock is right from time to time) - but not only is it not a right; nothing is.
Nevertheless, this right does not come from nature, and must therefore be founded on conventions. 
The benefits (what might be called manifested rights or a sort of acquired privileges) afforded by force over time are in a way demonstrated by conventions.  Social convention, like all manifestations of human action, is almost entirely effect, cause in only the most peripheral, meager, and small of ways, and the wellspring of little of original worth and nothing of ultimate consequence.
Obey the powers that be. If this means yield to force, it is a good precept, but superfluous: I can answer for its never being violated.
The tender reader will dutifully note that the omniscient Rousseau vouches for man's obedience to the powers that be!  The pretension of such a stance is matched only by its absurdity.  Despite the hostile schemes, bloody streams, and painful screams staining the rotten plains of all man's history, the tender reader should rest assured that Rousseau's knowledge, which is as free of bias as it is of gaps, contains no exception to his fantastic rule: the powers that be are always obeyed.

Were such a position plausible, could there ever be a senseless struggle or can the dear Rousseau also assure us that no bloody slaughter has ever been anything but sensible?  To ask this question is to answer the implicit one: no - Rousseau is not a worthy thinker, but he is a dangerous one.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When Knowledge Is Consent

The degree to which Joseph de Maistre possessed very nearly unparalleled understanding goes widely unnoticed by the mass of humanity.  The limits of knowledge are those of its nature, after all.  The poor man's wisdom is despised, yes, and Maistre's oeuvre is woefully deficient of fashionable declamations.  But it is Maistre's grim, dark, raw tone - born of his intensely pessimistic outlook, defiantly steeled heart, and supremely unaffected perspective - that disturbs all but those of the most stern literary tastes.

Perhaps recognizing the effects such reaction might render, Maistre was reluctant to take up the pen:
Joseph de Maistre himself was quite aware of the distinctive character of his prose style. In November 1797, at a time when his literary reputation was growing and he was becoming known as the author (though anonymous) of his first important work, Considérations sur la France , and he was asked by a representative of the future King Louis XVIII to write something about the situation in France following the coup d’état  of Fructidor, he declined, explaining that ‘my style is so well known in this country that if the piece appeared they would recognize my pen, and I would be buried alive.’ And again in 1804, by which time he was posted to St Petersburg as the Sardinian ambassador to the court of the tsar, when he was asked a second time to lend his pen to the French royalist cause, Maistre cautioned against the proposal on the grounds of his style: ‘[...] there is a kind of danger that I will never allow myself to confront: it is that of my style which is too well known. Certainly, I do not mean to brag, for there is nothing in common between better  and different.'
The humility; the grandeur.

Motivation is a funny thing.  Inspiration may come from any number of sources.  Maistre on matters of intelligence, ignorance, and action:
The essence of all intelligence is to know and to love. The limits of knowledge are those of its nature. The immortal being learns nothing: he knows by nature everything he should know. On the other side, no intelligent being can love the bad naturally or by virtue of his nature; for this to be so, it would be necessary for God to have created man evil, which is impossible. If then man is subject to ignorance or evil, this can be only by virtue of some accidental degradation, which can be only the consequence of a crime. The need, the hunger for knowledge, which stirs man, is nothing but the natural tendency of his being that carries him toward his primitive state and shows him what he is. 
If I can so express myself, he gravitates toward the areas of light. No beaver, swallow, or bee wishes to know more than its predecessors. All these creatures are happy in the place they occupy. All are degraded, but are ignorant of it; man alone senses it, and this feeling is the proof at once of his grandeur and his misery, of his sublime prerogatives, and his incredible degradation. In the state to which he is reduced, he has not even the sad satisfaction of being unaware of himself: he must continually contemplate himself, and this he cannot do without shame; even his grandeur humiliates him, since the understanding that raises him to the angels serves only to show him the abominable tendencies in himself that degrade him to the brutes. He seeks in the depths of his being some healthy part without being able to find it: evil has stained everything and man in his entirety is nothing but a malady.[Hippocrates, Letter to Demagetus.] An incredible combination of two different and incompatible powers, a monstrous centaur, he feels that he is the result of some unknown crime, some detestable mixture that has corrupted him even in his deepest nature. 
Every intellect is by its very nature the result, single yet in three parts, of a perception that apprehends, a reason that affirms, and a will that acts. The first two powers are only weakened in man, but the third is broken, and like Tasso's serpent it drags itself along,[Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, xv, 48.] completely ashamed of its sad powerlessness. It is in this third power that man feels himself fatally injured. He does not know what he wants; he wants what he does not want; he does not want what he wants; he would want to want. He sees in himself something which is not he and is stronger than he. The wise resist and call out, Who shall deliver me?[Romans 7:24.] The foolish surrender and call their cowardice happiness, but they cannot rid themselves of this other will incorruptible of its nature although it has lost its dominance; and remorse, piercing them to the heart, constantly cries out to them, By doing what you do not want, you consent to the law.[Ibid., 7:16.]
By doing what you do not want, you consent to the law.

When speaking of divine law (as if any other could exist) is knowledge not consent?  Are wings for flying?

What does man want?  Nothing and everything.  Our problems are general, while our solutions are particular.

I happen to think I'm capable of achieving pretty serious shit.  Yet I lack motivation.  Although I'm a mere man, I think I know that nothing ultimately matters in general.  Or I want to believe so?

But still ... I care.

Doing what I do not wish may fool my family, friends, neighbors, but false pretensions persuade not the conscience.  I know what I'm capable of and I will hold myself accountable.  The small voice whispers, reminding that cowardice is only happiness to the ignorant; I'm not ignorant.  I know that each moment is best used to do the least disorderly thing.  Plus a bit more stuff, endowing this quip with a bit more, shall we say, meaning.

There is no escape.  So what to do?  Well, in a word, everything - not in general but in particular.  The Duke:

Hard pounding this, gentlemen; let's see who will pound longest.