Friday, April 4, 2014

Cheap shots and Dinge-an-sich

$34K puts you in the worldwide one percent. Image via Bossip.
I meant to offer a cogent critique of the WSJ op-ed by Charles Koch, but everybody else and in particular Steve M and NTodd already did, while I was getting blindsided by one minor detail early in the piece that was too bizarre for anybody more steady-minded than me to take the trouble to notice, where he was Kochsplaining collectivism:

Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers. (Wall Street Journal)
Lolwut? Charles Koch is into Schopenhauer? The dreamy pessimist who inspired Wagner's vegetarianism and his cult of the dissolution of the will in orgasmic self-annihilation?

Was Schopenhauer really a prophetic critic of community organizing in the Alinsky style? Did he really describe an approach of discrediting and intimidating opponents with character assassination instead of free and open debate? Or did he, um, exemplify it?

Schopenhauer on Hegel:
  • ...a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage...
  • The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had been only previously known in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced, general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, as a monument to German stupidity.
  • ...that clumsy and nauseating charlatan, that pernicious person, who completely disorganized and ruined the minds of a whole generation.
  • ...a commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive and ignorant charlatan, who with unparalleled effrontery compiled a system of crazy nonsense that was trumpeted abroad as immortal wisdom by his mercenary followers...
  • If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right. Further, if I were to say that this summus philosophus ... scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.
To be honest, call me a peasant, but that's how I've always felt about Hegel myself. But then I kind of like character assassination as a substitute for free and open debate, at least once in a while. Invectives Я Us.

Then again we're also told that Schopenhauer got a teaching gig at the University of Berlin and scheduled his lectures for an hour when Hegel was teaching too, out of simple malice. As an apparent consequence of which, since Hegel was a pretty popular teacher in spite of his dreadful prose style, only five students showed up for Schopenhauer's class; he "began to despise university philosophy", quit academia, and went on a trip to Italy. He was independently wealthy anyway.
[1820 begann Schopenhauer die Lehrtätigkeit an der noch jungen Berliner Universität. Dabei kam es zu dem berühmten Streit mit Hegel. Schopenhauer setzte seine Vorlesungen zeitgleich mit denen Hegels an, hatte aber nur wenige Zuhörer, da die Studenten Hegel bevorzugten. Bald begann er, die Universitätsphilosophie zu verachten. Als das Bankhaus Muhl 1821 seine Forderungen beglich, verließ er die Universität und setzte seine Italienreise fort. (German Wikipedia)]
Dr. Google thinks it's possible that Koch got his philosophical ideas from one Donald W. Miller, Jr., M.D., at the libertarian website
[Schopenhauer's] philosophy espouses a Western tradition of natural rights that began with the Twelve Tablets of the Roman Republic (450 BC); were enunciated by Cicero (108—43 BC); and further codified by the Magna Carta (1215), St. Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274), Edward Coke (1552—1654), John Locke (1632—1704), William Blackstone (1723—1780), and the American Declaration of Independence (1776). Although not commonly viewed as a successor to these thinkers and philosophers, Schopenhauer quotes Cicero and Locke in his writings, and, like Locke, he believed that respect for the individual is the only viable basis for human relations.
Schopenhauer studied human action in a manner similar to that later done by Ludwig von Mises in economics. He observed that human behavior is directed by three principal motives, which exist in varying degrees in each individual. They are self-interest, compassion, and malice.
I don't know about the "natural rights" thing. The only Schopenhauerian discussions of rights I can easily locate involve animal rights
The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.
and his personal reluctance to marry
"Marrying means to halve one's rights and double one's duties," and "Marrying means to grasp blindfolded into a sack hoping to find an eel amongst an assembly of snakes."
Because even though he thought of sex as extremely important, and is virtually unique among 19th-century philosophers in saying so
The ultimate aim of all love affairs ... is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it.
What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation ...
he was reluctant to participate in the composition of the next generation himself.

What makes him appeal to the libertarian is his political views, in opposition to the "statist" Hegel,
as a proponent of limited government. What was essential, he thought, was that the state should "leave each man free to work out his own salvation"
Of course he was also a Hobbesian sort of statist himself, regarding government as necessary to defend us against the innate destructiveness of the species, and held that such freedom should not be absolutely extended to everybody:
He declared monarchy as "that which is natural to man" for "intelligence has always under a monarchical government a much better chance against its irreconcilable and ever-present foe, stupidity" and disparaged republicanism as "unnatural as it is unfavourable to the higher intellectual life and the arts and sciences."
That's conservative libertarianism in a nutshell: an obsession with freedom, but freedom only for the sensitive, compassionate, properly educated classes, and capital punishment and deprivation for the violent and heedless proletariat. The cult of freedom is a beard, basically, for the maintenance of oppression.

All the same  Koch clearly has no idea what he's talking about. He's just making it up; it's hard to imagine old Professor Noumenon out there combating the vile Alinsky:
Schopenhauer, by his own admission, did not give much thought to politics, and several times he writes proudly of how little attention he had paid "to political affairs of [his] day". In a life that spanned several revolutions in French and German government, and a few continent-shaking wars, he did indeed maintain his aloof position of "minding not the times but the eternities".
Image by Aatheist at DeviantArt.

No comments:

Post a Comment