Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Human Action by Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action is one of the most interesting books on economics. In it Mises has presented his entire economic theory, along with conducting a rational investigation of human decision-making.

I had purchased Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action in 2009. The book is divided into 7-parts. In Part 5, “Social Cooperation Without a Market,” Mises has analyzed the problem of socialism.

Here’s an excerpt from Part 5:

No socialist author ever gave a thought to the possibility that the abstract entity which he wants to vest with unlimited power--whether it is called humanity, society, nation, state, or government--could act in a way of which he himself disapproves. A socialist advocates socialism because he is fully convinced that the supreme dictator of the socialist commonwealth will be reasonable from his--the individual socialist's--point of view, that he will aim at those ends of which he--the individual socialist--fully approves, and that he will try to attain these ends by choosing means which he--the individual socialist—would also choose. Every socialist calls only that system a genuinely socialist system in which these conditions are completely fulfilled; all other brands claiming the name of socialism are counterfeit systems entirely different from true socialism. Every socialist is a disguised dictator. Woe to all dissenters! They have forfeited their right to live and must be “liquidated."

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Montesquieu on the Rise and Fall of The Roman Empire

Considerations on The Causes of The Grandeur and Decline of The Roman Empire


“Conquests are easily made, because we achieve them with our whole force; they are retained with difficulty, because we defend them with only a part of our forces,” says Montesquieu in context Hannibal's failure in defending his territory against Rome.

Montesquieu points out that whenever Hannibal could keep his army together, he defeated the Romans. But when he was obliged to put his garrisons into the cities to defend allies, to besiege strongholds, or to prevent their being besieged, he found himself too weak, because in such situations much of his army used to melt away.

Hannibal was a great general, but his Carthagian army was not disciplined and his soldiers were mostly mercenaries—they had little incentive to fight unless they saw a scope for enriching themselves from the spoils of war.

Rapine was common among the Romans too. Montesquieu says that Rome being a city in which neither trade nor arts flourished, rapine was the only way by which the citizens could enrich themselves.

But there was a degree of discipline in the Roman method of plunder. The Roman generals did not allow their forces to embezzle anything. The plunder was done in a systematic way, and everything that was looted was accounted for. When the war was over the Romans would distribute the loot and every fighting man would get his share.

The Considerations is primarily a book of history, but it contains lot of insights on political theory because Montesquieu has peppered the narrative with his political philosophy.

He employs a brilliant aphoristic style in presenting his ideas. In the first chapter, he says, “At the infancy of societies, the leading men in the republic form the constitution; afterwards, the constitution forms the leading men in the republic.”

The conflict between the intellectual Cicero and the warrior Mark Antony is interestingly narrated by Montesquieu. Cicero helped Octavius in defeating Antony. Montesquieu points out that Cicero liked to boast that his robe had crushed the arms of Antony.

Octavius shrewdly played on Cicero’s vanity. “Octavius, in his conduct to Cicero, acted like a man who knew the world; he flattered, he praised, he consulted him, and employed every engaging artifice, which vanity never distrusts.” Eventually Octavius turned out to be a formidable enemy of Cicero’s liberal political ideas.

Comparing Cicero with Cato, Montesquieu says, “Cicero always thought of himself first, Cato always forgot about himself. The latter wanted to save the republic for its own sake, the former in order to boast of it.”

Montesquieu blames Mark Antony for his lack of understanding of human nature. Antony used to think that by raising people in life and lavishing them with wealth he could win their everlasting loyalty. But in the end he was betrayed by his closest generals and kings. Even Cleopatra, the woman for whom Antony had made many sacrifices, betrayed him. Montesquieu cynically remarks, “Load a man with benefits, the first idea you inspire him with, is to find ways to preserve them; they are new interests which you give him to defend.”

Octavius reigned as Augustus and he diminished the Roman institutions. He marginalized the Senate and became a dictator of Rome. His conduct paved the way for a slow and steady decline of the Roman Empire.

On Caligula, Montesquieu says, “Caligula was a true sophist in cruelty, for as he equally descended from Antony and Augustus, he declared he would punish the consuls if they celebrated the day appointed to commemorate the victory at Actium, and that they should likewise feel his severity if they neglected to honor that event; and Drusilla, to whom he accorded divine honors, being dead, it was a crime to bewail her because she was a goddess, and as great an offence to forbear that sorrow because she was a sister.”

With a few exceptions the Roman emperors who followed Augustus were men of low calibre, and they led to a steady degradation in the affairs of Rome. There came a time when the Empire could not defend itself against the barbarians. Montesquieu informs that Attila was charging the Romans a tribute of two hundred thousand pounds of gold.

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon sprawls across 3000 pages, whereas Montesquieu’s Considerations is of just 250 pages. Gibbon packs a lot of historical detail in his work, but Montesquieu, the philosopher of the Enlightenment, provides a better political analysis. In my view, Montesquieu’s book can be seen as a good condensation of Gibbon’s work.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Rational Man by Henry B. Veatch

Today I received from Amazon a copy of Henry B. Veatch’s Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics. The book’s preface is by Douglas B. Rasmussen.

Rasmussen says that Veatch’s arguments in Rational Man “sought to establish three claims: (1) that ethical knowledge is possible; (2) that ethical knowledge is grounded in human nature; and (3) that the purpose of ethics is to show the individual human being how to “self-perfect,” which was Veatch’s way of writing about eudaemonia in Aristotelian moral theory.”

In his foreword to the book, Veatch says that he is giving an account of the ethics of rational man, an ethics that owes its inspiration and articulation largely to the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle.

Here’s a quote from Rational Man:

“In Aristotle’s eyes, ethics does not begin with thinking of others; it begins with oneself. The reason is that every human being faces the task of learning how to live, how to be a human being, just as he has to learn how to walk or to talk. No one can be truly human, can live and act as a rational man, without first going through the difficult and often painful business of acquiring the intellectual and moral virtues, and then, having acquired them, actually exercising them in the concrete, but tricky, business of living.”

Henry Veatch's Rational Man is extensively referenced in The Perfectionist Turn by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen.


Can Socrates Flourish Without Philosophizing?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Agatha Christie's Ultimate Mystery: The 11-Missing Days

In a plot twist worthy of her own novels, the famous novelist Agatha Christie, the creator of fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, disappeared for 11-days in 1926.

At 9.30 PM, Friday 3 December 1926, Agatha Christie climbed into her Morris Cowley and drove off into the night. She would not be seen again for eleven days.

Christie was already a very popular author and her disappearance led to the entire country buzzing with all kinds of theories about what could have happened to her. The government of the day put pressure on the police to make faster progress.

One of the largest manhunts in England was launched. More than one thousand policemen were assigned to the case, along with hundreds of civilians. For the first time, aeroplanes were also involved in the search.

The police soon found her car abandoned near Guildford. But there was no sign of Agatha Christie herself and nor was there any evidence of her being involved in an accident. Suicide seemed unlikely because her career as an author was at its peak. There was no ransom demand so this did not seem like a case of kidnapping. Murder could not be established as there was no trace of the body.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was interested in occult and he tried to find her location by using her discarded gloves. Dorothy L Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, visited the scene of her disappearance and used the clues in the novel Unnatural Death. Some people suggested that her disappearance could be a publicity stunt for her new mystery novel.

Eleven days after she had disappeared, on 14 December 1926, she was finally located. She was found safe and well in a hotel in Harrogate. Bizarrely, she was living under the assumed name of Theresa Neele, her husband’s mistress. The circumstances raised more questions than they solved. Christie could not provide any clues to what had happened. She claimed that she remembered nothing.

Till today it is not clear why Christie disappeared for 11-days. But some commentators have suggested that her disappearance might be related to some kind of amnesia induced by stress. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

David Kelley’s View of the Measurement Omission Theory

A Theory of Abstraction
Dr. David Kelley

In my article on David Kelley’s The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand I write that Kelley does not seem to be completely convinced about Ayn Rand’s theory of measurement omission for concept formation. I drew such an inference because in this book Kelley seems to suggest that it is possible that in future we may acquire evidence against the theory.

“As an inductive hypothesis about the functioning of a natural object—the human mind— the theory of measurement-omission is open to the possibility of revision in the same way that Newton’s theory of gravity was. And the same is true for the other principles of Objectivism.” (The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, Chapter: “Objectivism”)

Also, I have come across a few commentaries where the suggestion has been made that Kelley has doubts about the measurement omission theory.

But A Theory of Abstraction, the monograph that Kelley wrote in 1984, makes it clear that he has not rejected Ayn Rand's measurement omission theory. In fact, he clarifies on the page-6 that his purpose behind writing the monograph is to defend the theory of concepts that Rand has presented in her 1979 book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

A Theory of Abstraction has solid arguments for supporting the measurement omission theory. Here’s an excerpt where he is talking about the second stage of concept formation:
“The differentiating aspect or moment is to distinguish the specific measurements of each object, in relation to the others, from the fact of commensurability. Since the determinacy of each object is seen as a matter of its quantitative relations to others, we abstract from determinacy by omitting or disregarding the specific measurements, and attending to each object merely qua unit. The integrating element of the process is the awareness of the dimension of similarity, the dimension along which the units are quantitatively related, as an attribute they share in different measure or degree. We are aware of the attribute as an axis on which each of the objects at hand, and an indefinite range of objects not present, can be given a place.” 
This is similar what Ayn Rand has said in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. She has defined a concept as “a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.”

Further, Kelley says:
“The principle is only implicit in the way subjects attend to the units before them, and to the structure of relations they exhibit. It is implicit in the realization that the specific measurements can be disregarded, and that consequently any number of other objects, bearing any quantitative relation (within a certain range) to the units at hand, might be included in the group. In this way, the principle explains both the universality and the abstractness of the concept which results from the process. It should be noted, however, that after the concept is formed as a new mental unit, the principle does function as something like a rule, in two respects: the possession of the concept involves a kind of mental set or readiness to omit the measurements of new instances as they are encountered; and to omit the measurements of new dimensions of similarity among instances, as they are noticed.” 
In the final paragraph of the monograph, Kelley suggests that in future we may find a neurological explanation of the capacity for omitting measurements. Here’s the excerpt:
“If a concept is a distinct mental unit (and not merely a kind of collective mental name for an unintegrated set of particulars); if it is a way of regarding its instances as identical (not merely as similar), and thus of disregarding their specific measurements; then no matter how we decompose the process of concept-formation there must be a stage at which the awareness of determinate objects, qualities, and relations gives rise to an abstract awareness of them. For all the reasons given in the text, I think measurement-omission is that stage, and I do not see any way to decompose it further. Someday, perhaps, we will have a neurological explanation of the capacity for omitting measurements, and perhaps also an evolutionary explanation for our coming to have it. But I see no way to decompose it further into cognitive stages.”

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

On Being and Essence by Thomas Aquinas

“For human nature itself exists in the intellect abstracted from all individuating conditions, whence it is uniformly related to all individuals [of this nature] outside the soul, being equally a similitude of all, and thus leading to the cognition of all, insofar as they are humans. And since it has this sort of relation to all individuals [of this nature], the intellect forms the notion of species and attributes to it and this is why the Commentator remarks in his commentary on Book 1 of On the Soul that it is the intellect that produces universality in things.” ~ Thomas Aquinas in On Being and Essence 

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Enlightenment versus The Counter-Enlightenment

The Ominous Parallels
Dr. Leonard Peikoff

The Ominous Parallels is a forceful book on the topic of the conflict between the ideas of the Enlightenment and the counter-Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment ideas have challenged the age-old foundations of statism and led to reason, freedom, and production replacing faith, force, and poverty in the Western countries. But the tragedy is that the Enlightenment ideas were not adequately defended, and this has paved way for the resurgence of counter-Enlightenment ideas in the form of Platonism and Kantian theories which inspire nihilistic culture and totalitarian politics.

Peikoff identifies Immanuel Kant as the main culprit for putting an end to the Enlightenment and opening the door to its opposite. “[Kant’s] system represents a massive effort to raise the principles of Platonism, in a somewhat altered form, once again to a position of commanding authority over Western culture.”

The Nazi Germany was a concrete manifestation of the Kantian counter-Enlightenment ideas. To explain how Kant destroyed the last remnants of the Enlightenment in Germany and paved way for Hitler’s Nazi barbarians to takeover, Peikoff takes the reader on a journey through the country’s literary and artistic landscape.

Piekoff draws a convincing connection between the work being done by the German writers, painters, musicians, philosophers, and academic intellectuals, and the Nazi political movement. The Germans did not accept Nazism because of any lack of education, rather it is their high level of education that made Hitler’s rise to power possible.

The infamous Nazi concentration camps like the one at Auschwitz were conceived, built and often administered by the Ph.D.’s. “What had those Ph.D.’s been taught to think in their schools and universities—and where did such ideas come from?”

The German universities were implanting in their students Kantian ideas which reject intellect and reason, and accept the epistemology that proclaims a defiance of reason. These students became the earliest groups to back Hitler.

“The intellectuals were among his regime’s most ardent supporters. Professors with distinguished academic credentials, eager to pronounce their benediction on the Fuhrer’s cause, put their scholarship to work full time; they turned out a library of admiring volumes, adorned with obscure allusions and learned references.”

By themselves, the Nazis could not have created the widespread anti-reason attitude that was prevalent in Germany of that era. The Nazis were cashing in on the slogans of a highly influential nineteenth-century anti-Enlightenment intellectual movement called Romanticism.

Along with Kant, philosophers like David Hume, Rousseau, and Hegel were the ideological drivers of Romanticism’s rejection of the Aristotelian heritage of the Enlightenment and acceptance of nihilism. The Romanticists were against modern science and its outcome—the Industrial Revolution. They asserted that technological and industrial progress thwarts emotional development, and that the life of a primitive peasant is the most suited for mankind.

In the chapter, “The Ethics of Evil,” Peikoff describes that the ethics of self-sacrifice proposed by the likes of Kant and August Comte that corrupted the German sense of morality and paved way for totalitarianism. The Nazis believed that the common good comes before the private good but this view is in line with Auguste Comte’s creed of altruism. Comte’s ideas were based on the ethical theories of Kant. “Kant put an end to the Enlightenment in ethics as he had done in epistemology.”

The counter-Enlightenment philosophers had done so much work that the educated class in Germany were no longer able to think coherently—they had discarded reason and logic. The Nazis, who were the philosophically produced criminals, found a country that was ripe for them.

The Nazi totalitarianism was not an aberration of history—it is possible for such a regime to gain power in America. Peikoff points out that there are ominous similarities in the intellectual environment of Nazi Germany and contemporary America. America is a nation of the Enlightenment and its philosophical foundation has been laid down by Aristotle. But the country suffers from a profound anomaly: “a solid political structure erected on a tottering base.”

The symptoms of barbarism that American politics has been progressively displaying is the result of the invasion of Kantian ideas. The Kantian invasion, led by the intellectuals like Emerson, John Stuart Mill, and John Dewey, has been successful in subverting the Declaration of Independence which was based on John Locke’s ideas, and promoting the Kantian Critique.

The Ominous Parallels is divided into two parts—part one is “Theory,” and part two is “Practice.” In part two Peikoff dwells on the impact that abstract philosophical ideas have when they get translated into concrete political reality. The madness in the realm of philosophy must have political consequence in the form of an equally mad political system. “The intellectuals wanted to destroy values; the public shaped by this trend ended up wanting to destroy men.” The bad philosophy of Germany spawned the culture of hatred and was responsible for the rise of the Nazi concentration camps in which millions were slaughtered.

Drawing a parallel with Nazi Germany, Peikoff points out that philosophy is in a dismal state in contemporary America. There has been a massive importation of German philosophy in the period after the Civil War. This has resulted in a rise of collectivist ideas and a leftist takeover of the nation’s academia, media, and politics. Nihilism is the new standard for the leftists who dominate the intellectual discourse and are hurtling the country in the direction of totalitarianism.

In the chapter, “Convulsion and Paralysis,” Peikoff says that the “American people may oppose the nation’s present course, but by themselves the people cannot change it.” To change a nation’s basic course requires more than a mood of popular discontent. There has to be a definition of the new direction that the country must take—a course correction can only be made only when there is a  “theoretical justification for this direction, one which would convince people that the proposed course is practical and moral.”

Here's how Ayn Rand describes the book in the introduction: “The Ominous Parallels offers a truly revolutionary idea in the field of the philosophy of history. The book is clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned. Its style is clear and hard as crystal-and as sparkling. If you like my works, you will like this book.” There is no doubt that Peikoff deserves praise for identifying the philosophical roots of totalitarianism. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Patanjali’s Epistemology and Metaphysics

Patanjali has made extensive commentary on metaphysics (in the Yoga-Sutras), and on epistemology (in the Mahabhashya).

His ideas are founded on the Sankhya system, which is overwhelmingly atheistic. But Patanjali was a theist. He incorporated mysticism into the Sankhya system to develop a Yoga system of divine order of the universe.

Some accounts suggest that Patanjali may have lived in the 4th century BCE, but there are other accounts that place him between the 4th and 6th century BCE.

The Metaphysics of the Yoga-Sutras

Like the Sankhya system, Patanjali’s yoga system proposes that the universe consists of two entities: Prakriti (nature), and Purusa (spirit). Patanjali states that while it is possible to keep the undesirable elements out of the entanglement between spirit and matter, and have some pleasurable things in the material world, life is mostly painful. The spirits are infinite in number and a being can earn salvation only through individual effort.

Patanjali believed in body-soul dichotomy. He preached that soul must not be identified with the body, or the senses, the mind, and even the ego and the intelligence principle. In order to gain an insight into the soul, man must peer through the veil of materiality.

The objective of the yoga system is to free the spirit or the Purusa, from the bondage of the matter or Prakriti. To achieve such an outcome the individual must follow the progressive system of self-realization based on the knowledge of Yoga.

The system of yoga that has been described in the Yoga-Sutras is Raja Yoga. As “Raja” means royal, it is generally believed that Patanjali wanted to develop a system that was fit for the kings. But the term “Raja” can be a metaphor for anyone, even a commoner, who desires to gain a deeper understanding of the world he lives in, and is courageous and adventurous. Therefore it is also possible that Raja Yoga symbolizes a royal road to salvation.

The bondage that binds spirit with matter does not lie outside the individual; it lies inside us. Patanjali preaches that the seekers of salvation must cultivate a spirit of detachment; as long as they remain affectionate towards the seen or revealed objects, they will remain distracted and their quest for freedom will remain unfulfilled.

The Yoga-Sutras describe a series of meditations that are designed to facilitate the attainment of bliss. The focus of the yoga exercises is on aiding the development of a spiritual man, one who is set free from all entanglements with material nature.

Patanjali has preached about the Ashtanga or eight steps through which bliss can be attained. The eight steps are:

1. Yama or restraint
2. Niyama or asceticism
3. Asana or posture
4. Pranayama or breath control
5. Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana or concentration
7. Dhyana or meditation
8. Samadhi or the act of achieving oneness with the divine

The Yoga Sutras recognize the existence of extra-sensory perception and super-conscious experiences. Various methods that can be employed for developing extraordinary and extra-sensory powers have been described in the text.

The Epistemology of Mahabhashya

Patanjali’s Mahabhashya is an important work of Sanskrit grammar. Some accounts suggest that Panini, the author of Astadhyayi, was a brother of Patanjali, and that the Mahabhashya was written to support the grammatical theory that has been proposed in the Astadhyayi.

The focus of Mahabhashya is on the philosophy of language—it seeks to unravel the mysticism that undermines the phenomena of conversation. The text gives a rather spiritualistic look to the way the language is written and spoken.

Patanjali believed that there is mysticism in the phenomenon of speech. He believed that the utterance of a sound is a vivid materialization of consciousness, and that the study of grammar is of direct consequence to a man who seeks spiritual inspiration.

The Mahabhasya portends the birth of a kind of sadhana or worship, in which union with Brahman or salvation can be obtained through knowledge of the sabda, or words. Patanjali takes note of two kinds of words – nitya or eternal, and karya or created. By nitya, he refers to things that are associated with the supreme Brahman or the Absolute. He has endeavoured to draw our attention to the eternal character of the sabda or words.

Patanjali believed that the sabda or the words are not a lifeless mechanism invented by man—their meaning goes much deeper. He viewed words as the manifestation of divinity which makes its presence felt through the act of utterance. Like divinity, the sabda are eternal; they transcend all limitations of time and space.

He preached that one who earns the capacity of using words properly is allowed to enjoy divine bliss in the next life. Therefore a comprehensive knowledge of grammar is the key to the attainment of salvation. The divine light signs upon the man who understands the secret relationship between the denoted object and the denoting word.

He told his followers to get out of the delusion that words are mere sounds. The words are imbued with subtle and intellectual form. The internal source from which words evolve is always calm, serene, eternal, and imperishable. Great deal of sadhana or mental exertion is required have a glimpse of speech at its purest form.

Patanjali believed that dharma or religious duty consists of the practice of applying words in accordance to the rules of grammar. He concedes that corrupt or incorrectly derived words may gain prominence in society, but religious merit can only be acquired thorough perfection in grammar and the consistent usage of rightly derived words.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Utilitarianism and Libertarianism

John Stuart Mill
Many libertarians try to use the theory of Utilitarianism to defend the idea of free-markets and property rights. They believe that free-markets and property rights are good because they promote prosperity in the society.

Utilitarianism has been described by John Stuart Mill as the Happiness Theory. In Utilitarianism Mill says that the theory is an outcome of the principle that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."

But what if the government promotes the happiness of one section of society at the cost of others?

To take care of this problem Mill has proposed the Harm Principle. “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

But when there is no system to measure happiness how can the theory of Utilitarianism be applied? Mill has not provided any clear answer to this question.

In The Ominous Parallels Leonard Peikoff has explained why Utilitarianism is a flawed theory. Here’s an excerpt:
“Utilitarianism is a union of hedonism and Christianity. The first teaches man to love pleasure; the second, to love his neighbor. The union consists in teaching man to love his neighbor’s pleasure. To be exact, the Utilitarians teach that an action is moral if its result is to maximize pleasure among men in general. This theory holds that man’s duty is to serve—according to a purely quantitative standard of value. He is to serve not the well-being of the nation or of the economic class, but “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” regardless of who comprise it in any given issue. As to one’s own happiness, says [John Stuart] Mill, the individual must be “disinterested” and “strictly impartial”; he must remember that he is only one unit out of the dozens, or millions, of men affected by his actions. “All honor to those who can abnegate for themselves the personal enjoyment of life,” says Mill, “when by such renunciation they contribute worthily to increase the amount of happiness in the world.”
The libertarians are wrong in thinking that the theory of Utilitarianism can support free-markets and property rights. If equal value is granted to the happiness of everyone then a criminal’s happiness is as important as the happiness of a productive individual.

When happiness of all is the moral ideal, then the government will try to spread happiness by ensuring that everyone has equal income. Therefore the logical outcome of utilitarian ideas is an egalitarian society with income equality. But such a society will be a slave society.

It is no surprise that John Stuart Mill, who began his career as an advocate of liberty, was proposing socialist political theories in his final years. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Intellectual Guerrilla Warfare of George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw is now mostly remembered as the writer of plays like PygmalionArms and the ManThe Devil's DiscipleCaesar and CleopatraMajor BarbaraHeartbreak House, and Saint Joan. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

But Shaw was a lifelong socialist, and a founding member of the Fabian Society—he was a supporter of the Soviet Union, and a devotee of the Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin—he was an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini—a proponent of eugenics, he advocated the extermination of certain races.

In 1931 Shaw went to the Soviet Union on an invitation from Josef Stalin. They had a lengthy meeting, and later Shaw described Stalin as “a Georgian gentlemen with no malice in him.” On the purges and mass slaughter that Stalin had unleashed in the Soviet Union, Shaw remarked, “I have seen all the terrors and I was terribly pleased by them.”

Shaw saw nothing wrong in Stalin’s massacres. In 1934 he said, ”The top of the ladder is a very trying place for old revolutionists who have had no administrative experience, who have had no financial experience, who have been trained as penniless hunted fugitives with Karl Marx on the brain and not as statesmen.” He felt that Stalin had no alternative except to push these old revolutionists off the ladder with a rope around their necks.

A devotee of eugenics, Shaw proposed the doctrine of “life unworthy of life,” which holds that the unproductive people must be exterminated. In his 1910 lecture before the Eugenics Education Society, Shaw said: “We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living... A part of eugenic politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people's time to look after them.”

In 1931, Shaw advocated the extermination of unproductive human beings with these words:

“You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?”

“If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight, and since you won't, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.”

In 1933 Shaw made an "appeal to the chemists to discover a humane gas that will kill instantly and painlessly. Deadly by all means, but humane not cruel…”

Shaw believed that dictatorship was the only political option. He saw Hitler as a “very remarkable man, a very able man.” In a lecture before the Fabian Society in London, Shaw emphasized the weaknesses of a parliamentary system and praised the dictators. He said, “While parliaments get nowhere, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin do things.”

When Stalin and Hitler entered into a pact in 1939 (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact), Shaw celebrated the development as a coming together of Europe’s two great political forces. At the height of the Second World War, Shaw was advocating a unilateral disarmament by Britain. When he was asked what Britons should do if the Nazis crossed the channel into Britain, he replied, "Welcome them as tourists."

Shaw joined hands with leading intellectuals—H. G. Wells, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, and a few others—to found the Fabian Society in 1884. Named after the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus who used the tactics of attrition and delay, or guerrilla warfare tactics, to defeat the enemies of Roman Empire, the Fabians want to propagate “socialism” by conducting “intellectual guerrilla warfare” against the countries with free-market system.

In 1889, Fabian Essays in Socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw, was published by the Fabian Society. This work made a moral case for socialism, and revealed that the Fabians intended to start a new political party to move Britain in the direction of socialism. In 1900, the Fabian Society joined hands with several trade unions and helped found the British Labor Party.

In the last 120 years the Fabians have won the political and intellectual debate in many countries. They have made major intellectual contributions for inspiring the rise of socialist regimes in the British colonies which got independence during the 1940s. They have coerced the Western countries to adopt the Welfare State model.

In The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928), this is what Shaw has to say about life in a socialist regime:

“Under Socialism, you would not be allowed to be poor. You would be forcibly fed, clothed, lodged, taught, and employed whether you liked it or not. If it were discovered that you had not character and industry enough to be worth all this trouble, you might possibly be executed in a kindly manner; but whilst you were permitted to live, you would have to live well.”


How H. G. Wells Distorted The Idea of Liberalism!

Jean-Paul Sartre: The Intellectual Henchman of Tyrants 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Steel Romanticism of The Nazi Socialists

In Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels there is a good discussion of the anti-reason epistemology from which the Nazis derived their politics. Here’s an excerpt:
On their own, the Nazis could not have begun to achieve what the intellectuals accomplished for them. On their own, the Nazis could not supply the thinking needed to undercut a country, not even the thinking that told men not to think. They could not supply the philosophy, not even the philosophy that told men to despise philosophy. All of this had to be originated, formulated, and spread by intellectuals—ultimately, by philosophers.  
But finding a country ready for them, the Nazis knew what to do with it. They knew how to add death-laden goose-steppers to the theory of unreason—and even what to call the combination, which was their version of the zeitgeist. Goebbels and Rosenberg called it: steel romanticism
These are “times when not the mind but the fist decides,” declared Hitler in Mein Kampf. The philosophers had eliminated the mind and provided him with the times he needed.  
“I need men who will stop to think if they’re ordered to knock someone down!” Hitler told Rauschning. He had no trouble finding them.  
Epistemology had done its work.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Can Socrates Flourish Without Philosophizing?

The Perfectionist Turn
Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen
Edinburgh University Press 

“Could Socrates not obtain well-being or human flourishing by taking up some other activity with pleasurable and satisfying dimensions, even if they are not philosophical activities?” ask Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen in The Perfectionist Turn’s eponymous 5th chapter.

The context for the question is the scenario that the authors want the readers to consider: Socrates is in jail. Condemned to death by an Athenian court, he has been given hemlock. But he does not die. Instead, a messenger rushes in to inform that Socrates is pardoned. The messenger has an antidote which he administers to Socrates. But there is a catch— Socrates is “no longer allowed to practice philosophy in any way or form.”

In another scenario the Athenian court not only pardons Socrates, it also regrets its decision to keep him from philosophizing. “Athens wants Socrates, given his great gifts in this area, to actively pursue philosophy as often as and wherever possible. The only problem is that because of either something in the antidote or the ordeal that Socrates had to endure, Socrates no longer has any interest in doing philosophy. He would rather take up gardening.”

The search for the answers to the critical questions regarding the fate of Socrates inevitably leads to the idea of individualistic perfectionism. There is a relationship between an individual’s well-being or flourishing and his or her capacities or nature. "It is the life-form of a being, not its mere existence, that provides the basis for understanding its good; and for living beings such as ourselves, that can choose and reason, it is the basis for any obligation we might have."

In The Perfectionist Turn the aim of authors is to provide a defense of individualistic perfectionism, and conduct an appraisal of the ethical and political theories proposed by several non-individualistic thinkers. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, the authors show that how “individualistic perfectionism” can be employed as “both an alternative ethical theory and as a basis for criticism of other political and ethical approaches.” In the second part, the focus is on defending the foundations that have been employed in the first part and deriving some indication of their meaning in practice.

The authors posit that being a good human being involves the actualization of one’s basic human potential, and that what is good for an individual is somehow linked to being a good human being. The idea of ethics that they propose is fundamentally eudaemonistic.

They point out that “what lies at the heart of ethics is the issue of what is worthy of being valued, which for us is ultimately an individual human being’s own self-perfection; and this requires that ethics be primarily concerned with persons determining for themselves in what their individual human good concretely consists.”

Den Uyl and Rasmussen employ novel terminology in the book. For instance, they have proposed two categories for analyzing ethical theory—the template of respect, and the template of responsibility. Also, to describe the idea that ethical and political theories must be firmly integrated with the overall philosophical system, they have used the word “tethering.”

The ideas of the “template of respect,” and “template of responsibility” are introduced at the very outset in the book: “where the source of all norms—even those concerning our life among others—derives from the existential fact that we must make something of our lives, we shall designate as the template of responsibility.”

The eudaemonistic ethical ideas of the Den Uyl and Rasmussen come in the category of the template of responsibility. But the ethical ideas of non-individualist philosophers that have been critiqued in the book fall in the category of template of respect, which relates to the concern that the necessity of living among persons is the principal reason for developing norms of conduct.

In the two chapters—“Tethering I” and “Tethering II”—there is a look at the ideas of the non-individualist thinkers like John Rawls, Martha Nassbaum, Amartya Sen, and few others. Den Uyl and Rasmussen point out that over the last few decades it has become a norm for political philosophers to untether political philosophy in particular from the rest of the philosophy. “Following John Rawls, the current practice often involves a rejection of what is called “comprehensive philosophy,” in favor of a self-contained domain of political theorizing.”

The analysis of the ideas of the non-individualist philosophers reveals several lacunae in their ethical and political doctrines, but this facilitates a better understanding of the individualistic perfectionism or eudaemonistic ethics that Den Uyl and Rasmussen are proposing. The authors point out that their ideas are connected to Aristotle who has noted that “for an action to be ethical, it must be chosen, chosen for the right reason, and chosen out of a fixed disposition.” Aristotle has viewed human flourishing as being a fundamentally self directed activity.

In the chapter, “The entrepreneur as moral hero,” the authors have drawn a connection between the market entrepreneur and the ethical actor. “The market entrepreneur confronts a world of diverse activities and investment possibilities which carry with them a social value in terms of relative prices which must be evaluated. Similarly, the ethical actor is confronted with myriad of choices whose “prices” are the cost to be paid in maintaining his or her “value universe,” when investing in any possible alternative.”

In making his choices the ethical actor can rely on the ethical principles, but the principles must be successfully integrated through the process of application of practical wisdom by the agent.

On the issue of socialism in economics and ethics, the authors make this interesting comment:

Socialism is no more successful in ethics than in economics, and for similar reasons: it sacrifices the future to the present by discouraging innovation and inverts the source of positive marginal change by moving it from the individual to society. Ethical wealth, like economic wealth, will be a function of the degree to which individuals take upon themselves to produce good lives.

Overall, The Perfectionist Turn is an absorbing scholarly study of ethical theory. It makes a convincing case for individualistic perfectionism, while giving a broad overview of the ethical and political ideas that have been proposed by several important philosophers. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Journalistic Hall-of-Shame: Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer for Hiding Stalin’s Crimes

Walter Duranty; Starved peasants in Kharkiv, 1933
Walter Duranty moved to the Soviet Union in 1921 and till 1934 he was The New York Times correspondent in Moscow. An ardent communist, he used to gush like a schoolgirl over the most prolific murderer in recent history—Josef Stalin.

He became one of the leading journalists of his day after Stalin gave him an exclusive interview in 1929. In his articles for The New York Times, Duranty claimed that Stalin was the “greatest living statesman.” The entire focus of his journalism was on concealing Stalin’s crimes and painting a rosy picture of life in the Soviet Union.

The work that Duranty did in the Soviet Union was endorsed by Stalin himself. Stalin told Duranty "You have done a good job in your reporting of the USSR.”

Duranty misled an entire generation by killing all reports of the Stalin-engineered famine in Ukraine in which millions died. In his articles he claimed that the Ukrainians were “healthier and more cheerful” and that the markets were overflowing with food—at a time when a massive campaign of purges and genocide was being orchestrated in the Soviet Union.

In the early 1930s, it was well known that Stalin was intent to destroy millions of kulaks (relatively rich farmers) in Ukraine because he felt that they were opposed to the Soviet collectivization of agriculture. On the communist plan, Duranty had this to say: “Must all of them and their families be physically abolished? Of course not – they must be ‘liquidated’ or melted in the hot fire of exile and labor into the proletarian mass.” (The New York Times, 1931)

In many articles Duranty expressed the view that the Soviet citizens who were being sent to Stalin’s brutal gulags (concentration camps) were given the choice between rejoining Soviet society or becoming underprivileged outsiders. But he had no qualms about accepting that death is the final fate of those who do not accept the Soviet system.

Duranty tried to defend Stalin’s infamous Five Year Plans with these words: “Stalin is giving the Russian people—the Russian masses, not Westernized landlords, industrialists bankers and intellectuals, but Russia’s 150,000,000 peasants and workers— what they really want namely, joint effort, communal effort.” (The New York Times,1931)

"Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin's program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding." (The New York Times, 1932)

Duranty attacked the journalists who were insisting that there was a famine in Ukraine and claimed that “there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation.” He claimed that “the food shortage as a whole is less grave than was believed – or, if not, at least distribution has greatly improved, which comes to the same thing for practical purposes.” (The New York Times, 1933)

He did his best to deny that there was a famine in Ukraine. “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. The food shortage, however, which has affected the whole population in the last year and particularly in the grain-producing provinces—the Ukraine, North Caucasus [i.e. Kuban Region], and the Lower Volga—has, however, caused heavy loss of life.”  (The New York Times, 1933)

Despite his dishonest reporting, despite the fact that he was nothing more than Stalin’s useful idiot, Duranty was enshrined with the Pulitzer Prize for his “dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia.” It took The New York Times many decades to admit that Duranty’s work “was some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”


Ayn Rand On ‘The Butcher Of The Ukraine’

Execution By Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust 

Khrushchev’s Secret Speech On Stalin’s Crimes