New Article on the Destruction of Education

An article of mine has appeared at The Brussels Journal under the title, “Hannah Arendt and Richard Weaver on the Crisis of Western Education.” It is accessible at: http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/5141

Here is a sample:

Arendt writes of assuming responsibility for the inherited world, as the conservative or curatorial heart of education. A strikingly complementary notion occurs in the work of one of Arendt’s contemporaries who also wrote about the perils threatening education in the period of the Cold War. This writer saw in the self-styled progressive pedagogy of his day, which in his view had already begun to subvert traditional education, an essential ‘irresponsibility to the past and to the structure of reality in the present.’ Indeed, he saw that the assumptions of this revolutionary coup-d’état in the classroom could never ‘serve as the foundations of culture because [they] are out of line with what is.’ It was the case that ‘where [these assumptions] are allowed to provide foundations,’ or to allege to provide foundations, ‘they imperil the whole structure.’

The other writer is Richard Weaver (1910 – 1963) and the lines quoted above come from the chapter on ‘The Gnostics of Education’ in his book Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time (published posthumously, 1964). Arendt was a woman of the Left; Weaver was a man of the Right. That their separate and independent commentaries on the same topic, appearing in book form within three years of one another, should be so convergent and complementary is striking. What explains it? A commitment to civilization, shared across the political frontier, might be the best answer to the question. Both Arendt and Weaver, in contrast to the advocates of avant-garde pedagogy whom they criticize, see education in its conservative or curatorial role as a civilizational, rather than as a social, institution. When the high-school English teacher in Santa Monica brought his portable stereo to the classroom and invited his students to listen to Wagner, he appealed to them in the name of civilization, not in the name of society. At the time, society’s idea of music was The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. When I challenge students to read and appreciate Tono-Bungay by Wells, I do so in the name of civilization, not of society, whose notion of literary challenge is non-existent.

Taggard on Atheism

In the discussion thread to my post “Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence,” commenter Taggard offered a lengthy criticism of my position. Since my response to his response is also lengthy, I offer it here.

In this writing, Taggard reiterates what I described as the basic error of the atheist: sticking with an initial negative assumption in the face of positive evidence.

I reproduce here the full text of Taggard’s comment. My responses are in bold:

Taggard, 9:45 am:

I would like to reply to this article point by point, for the most part, but before I do, I need to lay down some definitions, a basic assumption, and a few statements:

Definitions: Atheist – one who lacks belief in all gods. [AR: This is too thin a definition.  The existence of God is too important for a man simply to “lack belief.” For example, if someone told you that there was a bomb, or a check for a million dollars, in your car, you would not be content just to “lack belief.” You would want to have good reasons for acting in whatever way you choose to act. Atheists act as if they are confident that there is no God.] Agnostic – one who does not know for sure if gods exist. Evolution – the process by which living organisms have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. [AR: As defined by the scientific establishment, “evolution” means that the process was entirely naturalistic.] Abiogenesis – the origin of life. Continue reading

Atheism is an Assumption, not a Reasonable Conclusion from the Evidence

I recently listened to a debate between Christian apologist Norman Geisler and Paul Kurtz, one of the heroes of the secular humanist movement.

Several basic points occurred to me while listening. They all have to do with the atheist’s assuming ignorance rather than allowing his mind to go where the evidence (one of his favorite words) points.

The Origin of the Universe

There is overwhelming scientific and philosophical evidence that the physical cosmos (hereafter “cosmos”) has not existed eternally. Therefore there was a time (or perhaps we should speak more generally and say “a domain”) in which there was no cosmos: no matter, energy, space or even time.

Since the cosmos obviously does exist now, it seems obvious that some entity other than the cosmos must have caused it to come into existence. The only alternative is that sheer nothingness somehow “caused” the cosmos, an obvious impossibility.

The typical atheist responds to all this by asserting that we do not know what caused the cosmos, therefore atheism (or at least agnosticism) is the preferred position.

Here’s the basic problem with that: If someone really doesn’t know what caused the cosmos, then the cause could be anything. That’s what “I don’t know” means. Therefore if the skeptic is serious in his claim, he cannot rule out the possibility of God. If the cause is unknown, it could have been God. After all, the cause would have to exist outside of matter, energy, space and time, and would have be unimaginably powerful if not omnipotent, and either unimaginably lucky or else unimaginably wise.  It would have to have these attributes. And these are some of the primary attributes of the God of the Bible, the one true and living God. Continue reading

Important Essay by Eric L. Gans

In the latest of his ongoing Chronicles of Love and Resentment at the Anthropoetics website, Eric L. Gans discusses the evolution of resentment since the Middle Ages and shows the relation of a debased type of resentment to the reigning victimocracy. Gans argues that only a revival of the concept of sin can deliver us from the galloping totalitarianism of the victim-mentality. I strongly recommend the essay to Orthosphereans.  The link is here: http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/views/vw457.htm

The Allure of Lemuria

I recently set my freshman composition students the task of writing an essay based on each writer’s choice of a topic from a list of two hundred topics. I urged especially that writer-respondents to the assignment should strive to find interest in whatever topics they might select and that they should seek to discover the meanings in their topics. To prove that it could be done, I wrote the following essay on one topic from my own list – “Lemuria.” I append my list at the end of the essay. (TFB)

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Literary Criticism without Literature

My title has two meanings. The first is that, since the 1980s at least, what calls itself literary criticism has consisted largely of abstract theory, most often concerned primarily with itself. An enterprise both gnostic and narcissistic, such criticism reduces ultimately to ideological formulas which, once pried free from the encrustation of verbiage, reveal themselves as the hoariest of political clichés, never out of daily use since 1848, which function mainly as group-identity noises. All contemporary critics are smarter than Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Dostoyevsky, but no one is smarter than le grand Jacques, Noam Chomsky, or Naomi Wolf. Although exiled to the periphery, actual criticism has continued to exist, but it is the tendentious type of discourse that has come to dominate the English and other literature departments over the last thirty years. The second meaning, the one that interests me in what follows, relates closely to the first.

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New Article: From Romanticism to Traditionalism

My essay From Romanticism to Traditionalism appears at Angel Millar’s People of Shambhala website.  The argument is that numerous premises of contemporary Traditionalism find their prototypes in early-Nineteenth Century Romantic Movement.  The essay cites the work of the English lake Poets, especially William Wordsworth and Samuel T. Coleridge, as well as the work of Chateaubriand and Goethe, and of the American “Hudson River School” of painting.  I try to demonstrate the parallelism between Wordsworth’s outlook, or Goethe’s, and the outlook of the founders of Twentieth Century Traditionalism, such as René Guénon and Nicolas Berdyaev.  I offer a sample…

The Romantic subject resembles – or, rather, it anticipates – the Traditionalist subject, as Guénon, Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), and others have defined it.  Guénon himself in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times (1945) characterizes modern man as having “lost the use of the faculties which in normal times allowed him to pass beyond the bounds of the sensible world.”  This loss leaves modern man alienated from “the cosmic manifestation of which he a part”; in Guénon’s analysis modern man assumes “the passive role of a mere spectator” and consumer, which is exactly how Wordsworth saw it.  Of course, Guénon does not write of loss as an accident, but as the logical consequence of choices and schemes traceable to the Enlightenment.  As Wordsworth put it, “We have given our hearts away – a sordid boon.”

According to Berdyaev, writing in The Destiny of Man (1931), “Man is not a fragmentary part of the world but contains the whole riddle of the universe and the solution of it.”  Berdyaev asserts that, contrary to modernity, “man is neither the epistemological subject [of Kant], nor the ‘soul’ of psychology, nor a spirit, nor an ideal value of ethics, logics, or aesthetics”; but, abolishing and overstepping all those reductions, “all spheres of being intersect in man.”  Berdyaev argues that, “Man is a being created by God, fallen away from God and receiving grace from God.”  The prevailing modern view, that of naturalism, “regards man as a product of evolution in the animal world,” but “man’s dynamism springs from freedom and not from necessity”; it follows therefore that “evolution” cannot explain the mystery and centrality of man’s freedom.  When Berdyaev brings “grace” into his discussion, he echoes the original Romantics, whose version of grace was the epiphanic vision, the event answering to a crisis that brings about the conversion of the fallen subject and sets him on the road to true personhood.

Angel Millar has done an exceptional job in presenting the essay.  I take the opportunity here to thank him publicly.

H. G. Wells and Education: How Students Respond to Big Ideas

Wells 02

Posterity remembers Herbert George Wells (1866 – 1946) primarily as a novelist.  He came into public acclaim around the turn of the century on the basis of his “scientific romances” such as The War of the Worlds (1897), The First Men in the Moon (1901), and The War in the Air (1906), but he soon turned his attention to the social novel, demonstrating a talent similar to that of Charles Dickens in Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1906), and The Undying Fire (1919).  Wells was one of the original public intellectuals of the mediated age, his voice familiar to listeners of the BBC, his visage familiar from newsreels.  He believed in the social efficacy of science and technology, called himself a socialist, adding that his vision of socialism was so far ahead of Marxism and Leninism that compared to him their adherents were living in the Stone Age.  In the monumental Experiment in Autobiography (1934), perhaps surprisingly, Wells tends to characterize almost all his activities under the heading of education – and he makes it clear that he thought of himself, no matter to what he put his hand, as above all an educator.  He wrote any number of explicitly pedagogical books.  The Outline of History (1919), A Short History of the World (1923), and The Work, Health, and Happiness of Mankind (1932) come to mind, the first two still useful today.  Wells’s first idea of a career, in his early twenties, was a school mastership.  He persevered through normal training and migrated through a number of appointments until the poverty of it irked him and he turned to writing.

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Things you can’t ask about symbols: False resolutions

Please excuse me while I argue with myself.

1. The Bible was written for the simple people of that time and used images and metaphors because that’s what people could understand.  We’re smarter, so we can discard that now.

You’re no smarter than the people who first listened to Moses.  If they needed images and metaphors, you need them too.

2. It’s all lies!  Silly fables!  Let’s just have done with it.

Even if this weren’t the word of God we’re talking about, that would be a silly thing to say.  Sure, it seems next to impossible that all the world’s animals really descend from those on the Ark.  Still, a story like the Flood, shared by peoples all over the world, has got to be more than just the product of some random storyteller’s imagination.  Perhaps there was some event that all peoples vaguely remember.  My suspicion is that every legend has some basis in fact.  But even if you don’t believe this, it’s pretty remarkable that this story is so widely shared.  If we assume nothing like what it describes ever happened, then it means either that lots of peoples independently keep recreating this story, or else this story has some sort of special appeal that it transmits quickly from people to people, even when they’re not much interested in other aspects of each others’ culture.  Either way, we have the sense that this story is some kind of given, an archetype not manufactured but discovered, a truth of the human imagination if not of natural history.  It is certainly worth getting to the bottom of.

3. It’s all well and good to say that Genesis is really giving us symbols of spiritual truths, but to be credible as anything but face-saving in the face of scientific disproof, you’d better be able to say exactly what the symbolism is, and why it had to be related in this way rather than plainly and literally.

If I could tell you exactly what the symbols say, then there wouldn’t have been any need for them, and they would ipso facto not have been necessary.  Symbols are not code for literal propositions; they exist to express truths and connections that can’t be expressed with literal propositions.

4. But the only reason you’re looking to chuck the literal–in the modern sense of that word–meaning is that you’re embarrassed by it.  The authority of the Bible doesn’t lead you to these weird interpretations, just the fact that you don’t believe what the Bible is telling you.  That means that, whatever you may tell yourself, there actually are authorities that trump the Bible for you.  Why not be honest with yourself?  If you can’t salvage your faith, at least preserve your honesty.

That’s mean.  Especially since I’ve already expressed my hunch that there is some historical kernel to all of this.  I don’t pretend to have any general principles to offer, but a guideline is to notice when scripture is expressing the inexpressible.  For example, Genesis begins with God about to impose form on the Earth, and the chaos of formlessness is represented (as it is for pretty much all peoples) by the primordial waters.  Now, in reality, formlessness is one thing that the human mind can’t truly conceive, because the way to think about anything is precisely to extract the form.  All our ideas about space, time, mass, and energy are formal aspects of material being.  And even after God forms the world, the primordial waters remain as a sign of whatever lies beyond the realm of intelligibility, a beyond about which, by its very “nature”, we can say nothing direct.  I suspect that all peoples retain this intuition that beyond the realm of order is a vast chaos, not a mere absence of being, but something active, always ready to crash in on the ordered realm, dissolving form and identity, destroying and renewing.  Thus the resonance of the story of the Ark, since indeed the ordered realm is conceived as itself a sort of Ark surrounded by the primordial waters.

Could it be true, that some physical, psychological, or social force of chaos once overwhelmed humanity?  If so, it could only properly be remembered by myth.

Repost: No Evidence for God?

To piggyback on Bonald’s post below:

At his blog, our Proph recently reposted an item that linked to an essay of mine at the old Intellectual Conservative. Since the old IC was taken down by evil leftist (but I’m redundant) hackers, Proph’s link to my essay is dead. So here is my old IC essay.  Its basic thrust: When atheists claim there is no evidence for God, they are assuming atheism at the beginning, looking at life through atheist-colored glasses, and then seeing nothing but atheism. They are being supremely illogical.

 No Evidence for God?

Atheism now has a confession of faith. Christians say “Jesus is Lord.” Moslems say “There is no God but Allah.” And English-speaking atheists now say “There is no evidence for God.” But are they correct? Continue reading