Progressivism, or "the Triumph of Conservatism"

Years ago I took some notes on Gabriel Kolko’s classic The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History 1900–1916 (1963). It's a more profound book, I think, than the vast majority of scholarship on the Progressive Era. So here they are... One point I have to quibble with in the beginning is that he does the typical historian thing of arguing that the triumph of conservatism in the early 20th century “was the result not of any impersonal, mechanistic necessity but of the conscious needs and decisions of specific men and institutions.” I.e., things could have turned out differently. But the mere fact that developments were the product of men and institutions doesn’t mean th

Excerpts on moral pathologies

[From Notes of an Underground Humanist.] How is mass inhumanity possible?— When I ask myself how it’s possible that so many white Southerners used to support slavery even on moral grounds, as having a “civilizing” influence on blacks, I’m led to the conclusion that it is very easy for humans to invent and believe in ideologies which justify activities that bring material benefit and social recognition to them. Arguments can always be thought of for both sides of an issue, even moral arguments. Most of the time you’re going to subscribe to philosophies and values that permit you to affirm yourself in the way you’re accustomed to, because your most fundamental values are material comfort and s

The Destruction of Reason

Just a quick note: I recently posted a long summary of and commentary on Georg Lukacs' masterpiece The Destruction of Reason, which has been absurdly--though not surprisingly, given the quality of the West's intellectual culture--neglected and virtually forgotten by everyone except Lukacs scholars. It describes the path to Hitler in the realm of culture, particularly philosophy, and has a great many lessons for our own time. Even apart from this, it's simply a magnificent intellectual history. So here are my notes, which will hopefully whet your appetite to read the work itself. #marxism #fascism #secondworldwar #imperialism #intellectuals #socialism #decadence #nazism #nietzsche

Only Marxism can explain society

Marxism is right, and postmodernism is stupid. That's the thrust of a paper I've uploaded to academia.edu, which actually consists of excerpts from my dissertation on the unemployed in Chicago during the Great Depression. Check out that 'paper' if you want to see why it's absolutely necessary for the sake of understanding and explanation to ground scholarship in the methods of historical materialism. Postmodern idealism is superficial. Ideas, discourses, ideologies, cultures, identities, etc. are not the fundamental determinants of social dynamics; class structures and class struggles are. I'll also copy here an excerpt from a summary I wrote of a classic history of how the Republican Party

Notes on Marxism and empiricism

(Also see these notes.) Reading Maurice Cornforth’s Marxism and the Linguistic Philosophy (1965). A good book, not dogmatic or closed-minded in the old Marxist way. It starts off with a historical overview of philosophical empiricism (which, as you probably know, eventually led into the “linguistic philosophy” of the mid-twentieth century). Summaries of Francis Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, and so on. The end of the first chapter makes a few useful points, starting with this statement: “In the contrast between the theories of Hobbes and Locke there appeared for the first time that dilemma which has troubled bourgeois philosophy ever since—how to follow the paths of science without abandoning bourgeo

The Origin of Capitalism

In history, few topics can be more relevant to our own world than the origin of capitalism. Ellen Meiksins Wood's book on that subject (second edition published by Verso in 2002) is a brilliant commentary on and synthesis of earlier scholarship that everyone interested in capitalism should read. The next best thing, though, is to read the notes I took on it. #marxism #capitalism #revolution #imperialism #privatization

Collectivism

[Excerpts from this book.] Collectivism comes in both noble and evil forms. In the former, the principle of the individual is paramount; in the latter, the principle of the mass. The one means the rule of mutual self-actualization, self-respect, sympathy for others, democracy, human diversity—“an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all,” to quote Karl Marx. It is, in short, authentic community and sociality, healthy equality, a state of society in which, to quote Hegel, individuals recognize the self in the other and the other in the self, humans as human, rational beings as rational—freedom and dignity personified, one’s desire for

Notes on cognitive science, and on pragmatism

Sometimes I like to read about contemporary philosophy and science, to escape the dreariness and intellectual semi-sterility of writings on politics. I'll link here to some notes I've taken recently on cognitive science, and other notes on contemporary pragmatism and also the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars' famous analysis of the "Myth of the Given." Here's the first set of notes. And here's the second. As you'll see (also from these notes), I'm critical of pragmatism but very appreciative of cognitive science. #commonsense #chomsky #biology

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