Jeremy Beer on Technocracy, Liberalism, etc.

Front Porch Republic's magazine, Local Culture, devoted its last issue to Christopher Lasch. One of the highlights is this lengthy and excellent essay by Jeremy Beer: "Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technocracy." It explores the curious juxtaposition of license and coercion that is now such a visible feature of the leftward side of our politics, observing that the squaring of this circle is accomplished by the appeals to safety promised by technocracy, which is considered the only source of truly reasonable approaches to any problem.

It seems to me that technocracy, which I'll oversimplify by defining as the idea that society should be governed by the experts, is really the dominant ideology of our time. As Beer points out, almost no one questions the admonition that "We must follow the science." Obviously there are instances where that is appropriate, but there are many more of which science really has nothing useful to say. One of the most striking features of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic of the past year is that the most powerful and authoritative voices, speaking in the name of science, quite deliberately ruled out of order any consideration of the possible damage--the destruction of livelihoods and so forth-- that might be done by measures intended to stop the spread of the virus. For months, such considerations were not just ignored but denounced as dangerous and unscientific (as well as more extreme adjectives, such as "murderous"). (And by the way have I mentioned that I really hate the phrase "the science"? I know "scientific findings" and such phrases are far too bulky for the jumpy contemporary mind, but couldn't they just say "the research"? Or something more precise, such as "epidemiology"? Well, that's too hard, too, I'm sure.)

James Kalb's idea of "the tyranny of liberalism" (one which he shares with various other critics of classical liberalism) is important to the essay. I have never seen a more precise and concise statement of this idea than a few sentences posted on Facebook a while back:

Liberalism makes 3 claims:

1) It has no metaphysics

2) Everyone must convert to its non-metaphysics

3) Every culture and political institution, humanity itself, must be remade, liberated from every attachment not chosen by the individual- family, history, sex, religion etc to get to the "real" person obscured by culture or nature.

That came from a young man named Jonathan McCormack whom I don't know personally but somehow became Facebook friends with. I don't know anything much about him, but he has a very interesting mind, speculative in a playful but serious way, as you can see from his posts at Medium. And insightful, as in this case. The Facebook post continued:

And once man has no beliefs, or believes only in Nothing, peace will be had. Hence, liberalism is enforced nihilism, only a belief in Nothingness is allowed.

We're talking about philosophical liberalism here, not necessarily contemporary political liberalism, though there is a huge overlap. One can argue about whether the original liberals would have accepted this description, but it clearly descends from their ideas, as a logical working-out of them. And is certainly the unacknowledged foundation of an awful lot of current left-liberal political views.

Well, I didn't intend to write an essay of my own. Here again is the link to Jeremy Beer's piece. The whole issue of Local Culture is excellent, by the way. 

The Crown Series Four

This has been out for some months now, and although I enjoyed the first three series a good deal, I was dreading this one a bit. The previous season had taken the Queen and her story up to the late '70s, so this one was inevitably going to deal with Charles, Diana, and Thatcher. And that was, also inevitably, going to be painful at best. Apart from the pain intrinsic to the Charles and Diana story, I know that the hatred of Margaret Thatcher among the sorts of people who run the BBC was and is at least on the level of the hatred of Ronald Reagan among the same sorts of people here. 

So I can't say I was disappointed by the treatment of those two stories. They were no worse than I expected. Well, not much, anyway: Charles is treated as more or less a monster crushing the gentle dove Diana, with a fair degree of assistance from the rest of the royal family, and I wonder how much justification there was for that. I certainly hope it was not as bad as portrayed.

The Thatcher story could have been worse. There was some attempt to treat her as a human being. But that aspect of the series was severely handicapped by the strange and unpleasant manner in which Gillian Anderson portrayed her. I admit that I doubt Anderson's ability to act on the level of those superb English actors. But even if that's not the case and these were conscious artistic choices, this particular portrayal struck me as pretty awful. She's utterly stiff, cold, and just plain weird. For some reason--and I assume there must be some real-life reason--whenever she's in conversation she tilts her head oddly, almost unnaturally, in a way that finally began to make my neck hurt. By the last couple of episodes I was actually looking away. 

I couldn't imagine that Anderson's version of Thatcher could ever have won an election. Wondering if she was really that off-putting, I watched several videos of Thatcher speaking, and while she was certainly no one's idea of easygoing, she was in those clips far more relaxed and normal in her speech and general manner than this series portrays her.

I suppose anyone reading this who's interested at all in the series has already seen it. But in case you haven't and are on the fence: I don't especially recommend it. It's extremely well produced and acted, apart from Thatcher. And Olivia Colman as Elizabeth is great again. What an actress she is!--as convincing when playing a middle-class policewoman (Broadchurch) as when playing  Queen Elizabeth. But in addition to the unpleasant aspects I've mentioned there is the frustration of never knowing how much, apart from public events, is history, how much is reasonable filling in of blanks, and how much is pure invention, with an agenda. And apart from the question of accuracy there's a certain cruelty in treating in raw detail the agonies of real people, most of whom are very much alive. I would not want to be William or Harry watching it. 


Addendum: here, for the moment, is the trailer. I say "for the moment" because I noticed that my link to the series 3 trailer (in this post) is no longer valid:


"Of all deceivers...

"...fear most yourself."


One slightly annoying aspect of the current state of this blog is that at least half, maybe more, of the visits to it are from people who have searched for some relatively obscure thing and gotten a link to one of my posts. Whether or not whatever they found here is useful to them or not, they don't stick around, and they don't come back, at least not soon or regularly. Well, that's fine--happy to be of help, if I was. But it means that when I look at my statistics and want to know how many people read the blog intentionally, I have to figure the number of visits by those people, as opposed to those who have been pointed to some specific post on some specific topic and are otherwise not interested, is at best half of the already small number.

One of the more frequent hits is the 2012 post called "Getting Started with Kierkegaard." A fair number of people want to do that, I guess. The post consists of little more than the question: where to start? And there are some good recommendations in the comments.

Which did I pursue? None. The last two comments there reveal the sad picture: about this time last year someone asked if I had an answer to the question. Sadly, I did not, because after eight years I had not so much as picked up one of Kierkegaard's books: it was another of my intellectual projects that failed before it really got started. 

But I have resumed it, thanks to the Eighth Day Books catalog that I received some months ago. They offered a book called Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Søren Kierkegaard, which is a compendium of brief excerpts intended to provide an introduction to Kierkegaard's thought. I thought that might be a good way to take up my abandoned but not forgotten plan. 

Having bought the book (from Eighth Day), I was a little disappointed to find that the editor has in some cases resorted to paraphrase and abridgement in the interests of making Kierkegaard's meaning clear to the more casual reader. Perhaps I'll want to go on from here to specific works. But on the other hand this may be all the Kierkegaard I need.

At any rate I'm finding it very rich in insight, and besides that enjoying it very much. Isn't that epigram fantastic? 


Here's a link to the publisher's description. And by the way it doesn't seem to be available from Eighth Day anymore.