Friday, December 16, 2011

Casaubon Revisited

I used a recent post to pile on links critical of Republican Newt Gingrich. Each focused on his scatter-brain insistence in a "Toffler-ite future" where everything can be quantified and understood--via government planning. Mark Steyn was particularly good listing Newt's "Brainstorms-of-the-Week":
"The Triangle of American Progress," "The Four Great Truths," "The Four Pillars of American Civilization," "The Five Pillars of the 21st Century," "The Nine Zones of Creativity," "The Fourteen Steps to Renewing American Civilization," The Thirty-Nine Steps to the Five Year Plan of the Six Flags of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers of the Nine-Inch Nails of Renewing Civilizational Progress for 21st Century America, etc.
I'm pretty sure the last one's a joke, but plausible.

I've devoted many electrons recently to the perils, and unlawfulness, of technocratic government. Newt's not alone in this, of course: Mitt Romney strays into the same territory, albeit minus the head-turning rapid-fire inconsistencies of Gingrich. And, of course, the left has been there for years.

But not before Marian Evans, better known under the pen name George Elliot. Her 1874 novel "Middlemarch" is among my favorites. One reason is her setting forth what has become known as the Casaubon delusion: an excessive and pathological search for all-inclusive answers. Such as -- I have argued -- global warming and scientific determinism. (To give a dying man his due, Christopher Hitchens sees religion the same way.)

Whether practiced by liberals or conservatives, we ought not to "impose our wishes on the world so as to make it conform to how we would like it to be." As Yuval Levin said (quoted here last week):
The framers were disdainful of the potential of technocratic know-it-alls whose abstract expertise was often of value only in what Hamilton calls, in Federalist 28, "the reveries of those political doctors whose sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction." And even men with expertise in administration should not be given too much power. In Federalist 68, Hamilton argues that, while good administration is very important, the idea that the best-administered regime is the best regime is a "political heresy." There is much more to government than administration.
Rely on the legal forms and popular sovereignty in a representative democracy--not judges nor scientists. And markets, not five year plans. In other words, the Constitutional process, not the Casaubon delusion.

Anyone know a Presidential candidate with that platform?


Warren said...

Christopher Hitchens, militant pundit, dies at 62

OBloodyHell said...

Warren beat me to it.

God grant grace if he's at all deserving.

OBloodyHell said...

>>> Whether practiced by liberals or conservatives, we ought not to "impose our wishes on the world so as to make it conform to how we would like it to be."

Nice sentiment, but not a possible behavior. This is one of those situations where inaction is an action in itself.

Even if we act to prevent others from imposing their will on the world -- for example, Saddam Hussein -- how, then, are we not doing exactly that ourselves?

The only argument can be for the greatest freedom of option for the widest array of people. And even that is based on a view of how the world "ought to be", is it not?

So my own goal is to make the world a better place because I was here. And yeah, I'm the only one who gets to judge if it's a "better place" or not, in terms of my actions, though I freely grant others the chance to dissuade me that my goal is wrong.

Others may well disagree with my own inevitable conclusions and the actions/decisions based on them, and act against my own designs.

This is The True Nature of Things.

KitWistar said...

Thanks for picking up my misplaced answer on Xmas music; I was referencing that posting and ..well, whoops.

On Hitchens---I agreed with him, I violently disagreed with him, but he always made me think & re-think.Thank you, Hitch.

I would never have guessed that you would be a fan of "Middle march" & Eliot...
Its time for me to re-read it; each time I do I get something new from it, apart from savouring the exquisite writing itself. I
am also a fan of Edith Wharton's less well known works for some of the same reasons I love Eliot.

Warren said...

Peter Hitchens on the death of his brother:

In Memoriam, my courageous brother Christopher, 1949-2011

Carl said...

Never have managed to enjoy Edith Wharton. And more on Hitch Monday.

Carl said...

OBH: I'm not disparaging certainty. Indeed, in the example you used (Saddam) both Hitch and I agreed he had to go. Which says something.

In Middlemarch Edward Casaubon spends his whole life searching for, and attempting to write, a framework that will encompass the entirety of ancient mythology. Casaubon believes that he, alone, has the "key," to this corpus, though he never learns German (and so never reads German language sources) and dies before completing the work. Realizing that the task is hopeless, his widow, Dorothea, breaks her vow to Casaubon and abandons completing the book.

Middlemarch is not a plea for sloth. Analysis and action are, for the most part, to be encouraged; the Casaubon delusion is the belief in all-inclusive answers. See, e.g., libertarians. I believe in free-market capitalism as much as anything, but free doesn't mean un-regulated. Similarly, I believe in governing by the will of the people expressed through their elected representatives, but that doesn't negate the necessity for courts.

I, too, want to leave the world a better place after I'm gone (hence NOfP). But, I neither think I can compact everything into five or 14 principles. The issue is not whether others disagree (some always will); the delusion is exhibited when such principles are inconsistent and all-encompassing. So when I say we ought not "impose our wishes on the world so as to make it conform to how we would like it to be," I meant we ought not fool our self into believing that our perception and prescription will be welcomed and work for everyone.

KitWistar said...

Did you not mean, in your last sentence: "...not fool ourselves..."?
It is both elitist and presumptuous to believe thus. I fear, however , that far too many Americans do not understand this.
Absolutely Saddam had to go---but in keeping with the above thought, though, was it or was it not OUR job to do?

Islamofascism --isn't that what Hitchens called it?---terrifies me, but religious fascism/extremism of ANY sect does.
To a one, they subjugate women. I am hardly a feminist in the current understanding of the word, but theological eradication of my sex is utterly horrifying to me.
Yet... & I go back to your last sentence.

Dorothea has always been one of my favourite characters in English literature--
what a mixture of traits she is--she's so real, I feel like I know her. To my thinking, Casaubon did not deserve her,yet neither realised this.