28 June 2017

Ah, the refreshing taste of melting Alpine snowflakes

Honestly, I thought the ‘social justice warriors’ would be the first to respond in umbrage to my last piece, but no, it looks like the libertarians are even thinner-skinned. I got a mini-essay in response to it, posted on Facebook (just the venue for the sort of thing, you know) from a certain Herr-Professor-Doktor affiliated with the Acton Institute, with a great deal of harrumphing and dusting of the scholarly weeds, as is the normal case when a man with such high academic position who is very firmly attached to a pet theory is thrown into a snit. I shall fisk the thing with all due prejudice.
the author suffers from a lack of understanding on a number of levels, particularly about both Mises and Hayek, and would have benefited no end just reading some things from them,
Oh dear. It turns out I actually have directly read Mises’ Praxeology (from which I post some relevant quotes here), which happens to be precisely the concept and the conceit which I was linking to the social constructivism of Berger through the work of Schütz on Weberian sociology. As for Hayek…
particularly Hayek’s The Counter Revolution of Science whose first part is a dense trouncing of social-science, and the second an excellent historical essay on the roots of the social sciences in the materialist determinism of such as Diderot and Baron d’Holbach, up through Condorcet. Hayek (as well as Mises) were both violently opposed to social constructionism
Ah yes, the second most-favoured ivory-tower tactic of name-dropping voluminously to intimidate the critic with a miasma of pseudo-citations and blather. Unfortunately I am not fazed.

Getting to the heart of the matter: believe it or not, I am indeed familiar with the thesis of The Counter Revolution of Science. And on a surface level, it would appear that Hayek is attacking ‘constructivism’. But the idea which Hayek labels ‘constructionist rationalism’ is, in fact, more commonly referred to as the much-earlier Enlightenment tradition of positivism: the idea that social truths and orders can be deliberately built up through the correct application of scientific thinking. To a certain extent, as a fellow critic of the Enlightenment, I do actually agree with Hayek’s assessment of positivism – to a point. But here, the allusion is a blatant red herring. Note that when modern-day regressive-leftists attack biological gender as a ‘social construct’, they are very much not granting it a basis in scientific rationalism. Clearly the latter form of ‘social constructivism’ is not what Hayek is criticising. And when the modern-day ‘social justice warriors’ attack not only the ‘social sciences’ but also the ‘hard sciences’, they are using logic which looks and smells distinctly Hayekian: these ‘social constructs’ of brute biological fact are oppressive. They are totalitarian. They allow government to control us. They turn us into serfs.

Coincidence? Perhaps. I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I do not trust coincidences.
seeing it as one of Marx’s chief fallacies, and this comes out in CRoS, as it centers on Henri Saint-Simon and his secretary, August Comte and their quest for a new society and a new “man,” via “social science.”
That’s exactly right, Doktor Jenkins, but it does not prove your point. Believe it or not, I did take an undergraduate philosophy-of-science class. Comte Henri de Saint-Simon was indeed one of the great pioneers of the aforementioned scientific positivism. Though indeed a figure of the Enlightenment (and thus to be treated with some suspicion), Saint-Simon was not a constructivist in the sense that the term has been used in sociology for the past fifty years, or in the sense that modern regressive leftists are using it now. No, this particular postmodernist madness has a far more proximate source, Doktor, and you’re ignoring it.
Hayek does make the tenuous assertion that Marx drew more heavily from Saint-Simon than from Hegel or Feuerbach. We generally think of Hayek in connection to his theory of prices or his Constitution of Liberty, but this is far and away I think his most important book.
Fair enough. It’s not doing the legwork you want it to here, though.
I would also recommend Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium. Gottfried was Marcuse’s student at Columbia and at a number of places besides the above monograph traces the origins of “cultural Marxism.” (Gottfried realizes the difficulty of the phrase, coined, ironically, by German Marxists in the 1930s as disdain for the members of the Institut für Sozialforschung at Goethe Universitat in Frankfurt. The orthodox Marxists took those at Frankfurt as nothing by ashamed Bourgeois who hated bourgeois institutions, but cared little for economics, though this isn’t wholly true). Since the agenda of Horkheimer et al., was writ large before Mises ever emerged on the scene, the author might want to rethink matters.
Au contraire, Herr-Professor-Doktor. Such an assertion merely adds to my suspicion of the ultimate irrelevance of the Frankfurters to our present plight, and of their impotence to address it. Horkheimer himself was too much a neo-Kantian with an exaggerated belief in the power of objective discursive reasoning to confront and dissuade irrational social behaviours such as those associated with totalitarian government and religion. If anything, the teleology of his thought would be located among those of the nouveau atheist clique who still believe that our problems are the result of not thinking clearly enough with the scientific method. Bourgeois indeed, but not reg-left.
Another book is Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.
Ah, Scruton. Yes, I am familiar with his work. And no, for similar reasons, I do not find its poor aim altogether convincing, nor do I find this particular book the best representation of Scruton’s thinking (as he has seemingly gotten crankier and lazier in his old age). I am not the only idiosyncratic conservative to think so, either.
Both Scruton and Gottfried have baggage, but the coincidence of Marx and Hegel's notions of antithesis and alienation, and the direct path to the place of alterity in modern cultural commentary that they trace (and which I think true, as does Tristram Engelhardt)
  1. More pointless namedropping.
  2. Huh? Hegelian-Marxist dialectic and analysis of social alienation are precisely what the regressive left are not doing, as I thought was clear by now. ‘Gender is a social construct’, therefore gender does not exist as an objective biological reality, is not dialectical in the slightest. It’s a bad-faith monological assertion of the individual against reality and against any possible social synthesis outside of total conquest (or total denial).
  3. Just because you think something, doesn’t make it so, Herr-Professor-Doktor. You and Tristram Engelhardt can think that what kids these days are doing is unreconstructed Marxism (or that you identify as unicorns) all you like; it still doesn’t make it true.
leaves this essay as nothing but a kind of guilt by association smash-up: Berger used a suspect term (and how he was using it isn't made clear) and he had an indirectly indirect connection with Mises, ergo, cultural marxism (whatever it is) is a child of Austrian economics. That wouldn't pass any class I taught.

OH NOES! A failing grade in a class I never took and never intended to take? The horror, the horror! I guess I’d better rethink my entire life and turn in all my degrees, diplomas and tassels now, bowing before the superior wisdom of the great Herr-Professor-Doktor!

Well, consider that raspberry blown. Suffice it to say I’m not impressed with such an academic ad baculum, particularly coming from someone who gives a response this convoluted, this utterly insubstantial and this utterly disconnected from the actual history of ideas that feeds into postmodern expressions of social hysteria. As I think it’s been pointed out before, there is far more of Derrida, Husserl and Heidegger at work in modern sociology classrooms than there is Marx, who is uniformly seen as stodgy and out-of-date. Again, I can attest to this first-hand.

And the very fact that the postmodern deconstruction concept was present in the work of Schütz when he presented his paper on the Aufbau of Weberian sociology, and that he was motivated to seek clarification on unifying history with sociology there of all places by the direct influence of von Mises, should raise our suspicions about the role of the Austrian School in the rise of postmodernism in the humanities – not just œconomics. That isn’t simply a guilt-by-association argument: the parallels are simply too strong. The Austrian methodological conceit that human œconomic behaviour is completely subjective and that its laws can be determined in a state of individual isolation, dovetails far too neatly with the parallel gender-ideological assertion that human sexual behaviour is also completely subjective and that sexual preference and presentation can be determined in a state of individual isolation. Austrian œconomics doesn’t only dissolve institutional analysis; it also dissolves any sort of empirical basis for understanding œconomy, just as gender ideology dissolves any sort of empirical basis for understanding sex.

Even if, as this good Herr-Professor-Doktor would have us believe, this amounts entirely to a string of coincidences and innocent associations devoid of any insidious meaning, the entire Austrian approach to œconomy deserves to be subject to the same scrutiny and scepticism, for the same reasons, as all other forms of Derrida- and Heidegger-derived deconstruction.

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