Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Fool on Prof. Hill

Anonymous image from The Abraham Lincoln Blog.
David F. Brooks dropped his humility lectures at Yale a while back when he unexpectedly learned he wasn't very interested in humility, but he continues on the part-time celebrity faculty as a participant in Yale's Grand Strategy seminar, in the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at the John W. and Susan G. Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. He's not involved in the fall semester, when they study contemporary issues, but in spring he helps actual political scientist Bryan Garsten out with Machiavelli in week 4, early February, and actual historian John Lewis Gaddis with Lincoln in week 8 in March.

That's two classes per year (each presented twice, because Yale has too many young members of the "next generation of leaders" to fit into the classroom) to which he offers what exactly? Punctuating the solemnity of his partners' lectures the way he does the PBS broadcasts with self-deprecatory wisecracks and expressions of pious alarm? He can't presumably use the joke about "I only teach at schools I couldn't get into" more than once a year.

He also sits in on somebody else's classes once in a while, to expand his perspective, as we learn from "The Enlightenment Project" in today's Times:

Being around a college classroom can really expand your perspective. For example, last week we were finishing off a seminar in grand strategy when one of my Yale colleagues, Charles Hill, drew a diagram on the board that put today’s events in a sweeping historical perspective.
That's week 5, "Kant, Constitutionalism, and the Federalist Papers", taught by Hill and Garsten, with a reading list consisting of Kant's “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795), in Hans Reiss, ed., Kant: Political Writings, translated by H.B. Nisbet, 2nd ed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 93-130 (full text), and Federalist #1-13, 23-25, 28, 30-31, 37, 49-51. I have this feeling he may not have done all the reading, and the class itself must have been heavy slogging for him, but he took careful notes on that diagram (like Donald J. Trump, he responds best to the single page of bullet points with graphics), notes I have been able to reconstruct from the column:
John Locke  Immanuel Kant

v. important (Burke not included???)

1. Ppl need stop deferring to authority how to live,
  • think things thru bottom to top 
  • respect facts
  • skeptical examine own assumptions & convictions
(I do all that)

Constitution is skeptical!!! PARADOXICAL
Founders not trustful
not trust ppl
not trust selves

➜  checks and balances pit interest against interest

1. De Tocqueville
democratic govt based on rules -- can it work?
in America it can!
if can make it there can make it anywhere
test case for Enlightenment Project

2. Lincoln is Enlightenment!
not trust mob rule
reverence for law
Civil War -- Enlightenment wins

3. 20th century
global Enlightenment
institutions based on rule (EU, NATO)
restrain threatening powers
preserve balance of power


1. believe religion is dead (WRONG) race is dead (SADLY NO)

2. thin on meaning
    ppl bland rational egotists
    govt soulless technocrats

3. not always works ➜ anti-Enlightenment movements
following WWI/Versailles Marxists & Nietzscheans

Nietzscheans reject separation of powers!
All power to society's winners = master race
 ➜ Hitler & Nazis

Hill: Enlightenment always defeats anti-Enlightenment!
Thank goodness, why we won Cold War!!!

But now they are BACK -- new Enlightenment failures
   financial crisis
   slow collapsing Europe
   Iraq an Enlightenment project! (told you not my fault)

Putin = Nietzschean
China = Marxian
Want Enlightenment benefits but won't obey rules

also anti-Enlightenment
Donald Trump (MY IDEA, not from Hill!)
& racial nationalists & populists...
Against skeptical and rational inquiry
Etc. I should say I have no investment, or even interest, in Professor Hill, a dismal old Hoover Fellow, but he's surely better informed than Brooks's summary. Anyway Brooks wanders quickly back into his own preoccupations. Sequence of eight sentences beginning with subject "Today's anti-Enlightenment movements" (2), "these movements (1), or "they"(5), with a brief interruption between 6 and 7.

I am getting the sense that his head is about to explode, or may have softly exploded already, in the philosophical incoherence of his entire existence, as a person who has made a career of opposing Enlightenment in favor of deferring to authority, mocking rationalism, bowing to religious obscurantism, now trying to root for it though he clearly hates it as much as ever, against the new enemy who embodies the things he's always stood for, but in such a vulgar and unpleasant way.

Because what he really yearns for, as ever, is some better-quality fascism, tastefully appointed, a kindly whimsical fascism with the violence well offstage, a fascism with a human (avuncular) face.

He's not really rooting for Enlightenment as much as he's rooting for another Real Leader, the anti-Trump who will come and pull him out of the funk:

When anti-Enlightenment movements arose in the past, Enlightenment heroes rose to combat them. Lincoln was no soulless technocrat. He fought fanaticism by doubling down on Enlightenment methods, with charity, reason and patience. He worked tirelessly for unity over division. He was a hopeful pessimist who knew the struggle would be long but he had faith in providence and ultimate justice.
We live in a time when many people have lost faith in the Enlightenment habits and institutions. I wonder if there is a group of leaders who will rise up and unabashedly defend this project...
—an Enlightenment person who's anti-Enlightenment, a pessimist who's an optimist! Like Lincoln! O Captain, my Captain! I can imagine Lincoln looking at him quizzically, and coming back with some cornpone anecdote about small-town philosophers who don't know what they're talking about.

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